When Google Stadia was announced a little over a year ago, one of the big headline features that many of us got very excited about was – 4K/60fps. For a cloud based game streaming service to be able to proclaim 4K gaming when the current gen of consoles rarely achieved this when being piped straight to the TV – was a bold claim indeed, and as it turned out it would return to haunt them time and time again. In fairness what was actually said was ‘up to 4K’, and we later discovered that although the stream may be always-on 4K, whether the games stream at 4K or not is entirely down to developers and clearly most had yet to work out how to do this and maintain sufficient quality. But those few games that have delivered on 4K have done so comparing favourably with what’s on offer in the current gen consoles – which is a technical marvel whichever way you slice it up.
But all that’s about to change. As we approach the end of the year both Microsoft and Sony will release their next-generation consoles on the gaming world. Both boast insane graphics capabilities with not only 4K – but passable ray tracing to boot. Will this undermine one of Stadia’s major selling points? Well yes – but no.
A couple months back word started to circulate that some developers were being given access to ‘Gen 2 sever blades’. A server blade is the technical name for the ‘pack of tech’ that runs games on Stadia. Although very little information was being released, apparently these second generation servers were much faster than the first generation and were capable of handling much more demanding graphical requirements. Just this week Google on Twitter suggested that ray tracing was available to developers should they wish to use it. So, is this an indication that the next generation of servers are being deployed?
My prediction, for what it’s worth, is that whether Stadia wants to or not, they will have to make a song and dance about the next gen servers in order to not get swallowed up in the PS5 and Series One hype. But, I don’t think they will simply refer to Gen 2 blades – this is way, way too techy and meaningless. Instead, I expect to see a new graphic profile added to the list – 4K Ultra – above 4K, 1080p and 720p. This new profile will enable Stadia to list the additional features of ‘Ultra’, which will of course include higher graphic fidelity and ray tracing – while making it clear that it is in addition to the original profiles. It will still be down to developers whether or not they want to employ the features of the ‘Ultra’ class, and Stadia have to be careful not to overstretch expectations, but by at least indicating that it’s a ‘thing’, it will keeps the tech current and on a competitive footing with the next gen consoles.
Meanwhile over at Microsoft – XCloud at 720p anyone?