PAX West 2019: Google Stadia Hands-On

Google is giving PAX attendees one of the first chances to play with Stadia, their new streaming game service. Initially announced and detailed earlier this year, Google Stadia promises to provide top tier gaming experiences entirely through the internet, bringing games like Destiny 2 and DOOM to phones and laptops.

In our hands-on with Stadia, we demoed the upcoming DOOM: Eternal and Mortal Kombat 11. Google says that those games were selected because of their reliance on quick reactions from players – a lackluster frame rate in either game can be the difference between success and failure. In order to maintain visual quality, Google will prioritize frame rate over resolution in an attempt to get a locked 60 frames per second to keep things on the screen moving. That adaptive resolution was apparent in our demos, especially in the slice of DOOM: Eternal that we played. The frame rate was consistent enough for the game to be playable, but the visual quality paled in comparison to the version of the game that was playable at E3.

The largest roadblock on the road to the streaming future that companies like Google and Microsoft are trying to pave is the wide variability in Internet speeds around the world. In the United States, the average internet speed hovers around 20mpbs. Stadia will require at least 10mbps for a 720p/60 experience — if your connection drops below that, Google will suspend your session for 10 minutes, giving you a chance to pick up on another device. For our demo, Google artificially restricted their network connection to match the 20mbps average, but the service will scale up to 4K (which requires internet speeds of 35mbps).

If you’re interested in Stadia, there are different ways to get to streaming. The Stadia Pro plan is a subscription service at $10 per month, which launches in November. With this service, you’ll get one free game per month like Xbox’s Games with Gold program. This tier maxes out resolution at 4K.

If you’re not interested in a subscription model, you’ll have to wait till 2020 to grab Stadia Base. With this, you’ll buy games a la carte at a set price per game. This level maxes out resolution at 1080p.

Stadia will only be compatible with Pixel phones at launch if you want to play it on a mobile device. Tablets have to be running Chrome OS, which limits brands you can stream with for now. The representative at PAX West said Apple devices would eventually be supported, but there’s no timetable for that yet.

If you want to play Stadia on your television, you’ll need the Stadia controller and a Chromecast Ultra. You won’t be able to use a PS4 or Xbox One controller with a Chromecast device. If you’re running Stadia through a Chrome browser, you’ll be able to play with any major game controller. As for the Stadia controller? We liked it when we played with it. Editor merritt k described it as “an Ouya controller, but good.” It’s a bit flatter than an Xbox controller but for the most part it felt sturdy.

Another interesting fact about the Stadia controller is that it uses wifi to communicate directly with the Stadia servers, so there’s no input latency via Bluetooth that would interfere with frame-perfect moves. Both DOOM: Eternal and Mortal Kombat 11 played like their console counterparts albeit with some noticeable resolution differences in the case of the former.

The Stadia Founders pack is available in November. With it, you’ll get a Chromecast Ultra, Stadia controller, and first dibs at a username for $129.