Game Streaming: Microsoft vs Sony vs Nintendo

All three of the console war contenders now support game streaming to external displays, but not all game streaming software is equal, with some definite upsides and downsides to their experiences.
If you’re a gamer, the odds are high that you’ve been in a situation where you’ve had a game you wanted to play, but the TV that’s connected to the console of your choice is being used for some other pursuit. Patience is a virtue, they say, but who has time for patience when there’s aliens to blast or puzzles to solve?
Enter game streaming; the ability to stream the video and audio from a console to a secondary display screen. In one sense this is nothing new; retransmitters have existed for decades and if you could run a cable long enough, you could stream output from just about any console to a connected retransmission base, albeit usually with snowy results depending on the retransmission technology. What’s interesting in the current generation of consoles is how all three systems now have native inbuilt streaming options, albeit in slightly different ways and with slightly different benefits and drawbacks. The recent launch of Windows 10 has enabled Xbox streaming from an Xbox One, bringing Microsoft into a game that’s otherwise been Sony and Nintendo-centric.

Microsoft Xbox One/Windows 10

Game On: What’s great about it:
Microsoft’s streaming solution revolves around the free Xbox App for Windows 10, which is itself a free operating system on qualifying hardware. It’s quite simple to pair up an Xbox One and a Windows 10 PC, and if your experience is anything like mine, you’ll find that the Xbox One already has the section for streaming pre-ticked as part of the most recent update.
Xbox streaming mostly treats the Xbox screen like just another Windows 10 app, which means it only takes input when the app is at the forefront. For gameplay, response is very good, but then it should be, because you’re using exactly the same input device as you would on an actual Xbox One itself. The Xbox One controller is a joy to use, even in a streamed format.
Game Over: What’s not so hot:
There are limitations; you can’t play Blu-Ray discs or utilise certain streaming video services through the Xbox App, and you’ve got to connect the Xbox One controller to your Windows 10 via microUSB cable, which rather tethers you in place.
It’s a Windows App, and that means that it can behave unpredictably. This is a little more than lag woes — more on that below — including straight out crashes, a few instances where it couldn’t “see” the Xbox One on the same network and some issues when coming out of a suspended state. Naturally, because you’re running actual Windows on the receiving display, anything that chews up processing cycles on your PC can and will affect Xbox streaming performance.

Sony Playstation 4/PS Vita/PS TV/Xperia

Game On: What’s great about it:
Sony has by far the most ways to virtually view your Playstation 4 output. You can stream to a PS Vita console, to a TV screen via the Playstation TV or straight out to a number of Sony Xperia Mobiles. You’ll need a really solid upload connection, but it’s even technically feasible to stream to a Sony Xperia Mobile from an outside network, something that none of the competitive game streaming solutions supports.
When it’s working, Playstation 4 streaming is a joyous experience with the second easiest setup process of any game system for this purpose, although the input method can vary depending on whether you’re using a dualshock controller and PS TV/Xperia, or the controls on the Playstation Vita itself. This also allows you to, rather oddly, use a PS3 Dualshock controller for PS4 games.
Game Over: What’s not so hot:
All of Sony’s solutions involve spending a little extra money one way or the other. If you want to stream out to a Playstation Vita, well, you’ve got to cough up for the Vita. Likewise, the Playstation TV, although I’m starting to see that discounted here and there. Sony’s Xperia streaming is limited to Xperia phones, which isn’t to everyone’s tastes.
Controls are also an interesting issue if you’re using the PS Vita. I generally like the Vita, but experimenting with it for PS4 games can be a frustrating experience. It’s possible to play, for example, The Witcher 3 with the PS Vita, but the interface and use of the touchscreens on the front and back make for a less than stellar gameplay experience.
Sony’s tried hard to make game streaming “simple”, and in one sense that’s laudable, but at the same time it also means that when things do go wrong, they tend to go very wrong, crashing either external streamers or, in a couple of instances, the PS4 I was testing on. A simple control UI doesn’t give you much room to tweak around variables for best performance.

Nintendo Wii U

Game On: What’s great about it:
When you talk game streaming, most people don’t even consider the Wii U, but the reality is that it’s managed game streaming since day one, thanks to the gamepad controller and its inbuilt screen. A large number of games mirror the large screen display directly onto the Gamepad controller, and many can isolate it only to the Gamepad. This means that you can play games directly there, and what’s more, you’re playing them exactly as they were programmed to play, because it’s got to be built into the Wii U game to function at all.
Game On: What’s great about it:
Notice how I said “a large number” and not “all” games? This is the weak spot for Wii U game streaming if the main TV is busy. If you’re playing, say, Mario Kart 8 it’s fine to switch down to the smaller screen, but a number of titles, even higher profile Ninty titles such as Splatoon sadly don’t support gamepad screen play.
From an observational point of view, the Wii U’s Gamepad also has the shortest range tolerance of any of the streaming solutions I’ve played with, because it expects the Gamepad to be in the general proximity of the Wii U console itself; by comparison the PS4 and Xbox One are a lot more forgiving.

The Big Lag Issue

The one factor that unites all game streaming solutions is lag. I noticed in a lot of coverage of the Windows 10 Xbox app how some writers declared their entire experiences to be “smooth” without issues.

This screenshot exists like this literally because it happened to lag while telling me it had started streaming...
This screenshot exists like this literally because it happened to lag while telling me it had started streaming…

I envy those folk, but at the same time I have my doubts, especially if they’re using a wireless solution to feed their game streaming habit. Fixed ethernet is a different story, but even on a high-end 802.11AC router, I found that all three consoles have their moments of lag. Sometimes it’s just a single frame skip and you move on with the game, and other times it’s a total breakdown of screen fidelity or even a complete connection dropout.
There are words for what goes through your mind when you’re 95 per cent of a way through a complex game mission and the Xbox app crashes on you, or the PS TV or Wii U gamepad suddenly tells you that it can’t see the console any more, but they’re not polite words.
The reality here is that as with online competitive gaming, lag can be a killer, and it can strike any of these solutions. They’re definitely nice to have in any situation where you’ve got shared screens and can’t always rely on having primary access, but they’re a stopgap rather than permanent solution.

1 thought on “Game Streaming: Microsoft vs Sony vs Nintendo”

  1. Please sony if you’re listening…please make a sony app for Windows 10. The ability to do what xbone can do without having to be reliant on xperia hardware would be super duper fantastic

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