Google is about to make video games even weirder than they already are, and you might have to learn what some numbers mean to keep up.
Last week, Google revealed launch information for its Stadia gaming platform. The sales pitch for Stadia is a strong one on the surface: You can play the biggest games with the highest visual settings without buying any new hardware. If you own a Chromecast or any device that runs a Chrome browser, you’re set.
Stadia does this by basically being Netflix for games. The game isn’t running in your home, it’s running on a powerful computer in a Google data center near you. You’re streaming a video of yourself playing a game, which means you can’t play anything without a stable internet connection.
As such, you need to know how fast your home internet is before you even consider trying Stadia when it launches later this year.
What does Google recommend?
In its first Stadia Connect livestream last week, Google revealed its recommended internet speeds for Stadia gaming. We took a screenshot so you don’t have to search for it yourself.
What exactly does this all mean?
Stadia can run games at a variety of resolutions, as seen above. It looks like the minimum is going to be 720p, which requires 5 to 10 megabits per second (or Mbps) to stream. That probably won’t look great on a large living room TV, but it should be playable — in theory.
At 20 Mbps, you get 1080p resolution with high dynamic range (or HDR) video, assuming your display supports that. You’ll also get 5.1 surround sound, which is nice. This might be a decent baseline for most people. Affordable 4K sets are a relatively recent phenomenon, and a lot of people might not own a TV that goes above 1080p yet.
If you do have a 4K TV and want the best possible Stadia experience, Google recommends a 35 Mbps connection. That’s 4K, HDR, and 5.1 surround sound coming straight from a Google data center, assuming any of this tech actually works.
According to data collected by SpeedTest (disclosure: Mashable and SpeedTest have the same parent company), the average download speed in the United States was higher than 35 Mbps in 2018. However, rural areas could still struggle to hit that benchmark.
How can I test my internet?
There are a few different ways to find out if Stadia should work in your home. Google actually made a test page that gives you the download speed of whatever connection you’re currently using in just a few seconds. (It should go without saying that you should only do this on the network where you plan to play Stadia.)
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Unfortunately, the Stadia test page only tells you download speed, so it’s not quite as useful as it could be. Thankfully, there are other, more detailed methods to find out whether you’ll have functionality.
SpeedTest will test your connection from an internet browser, and it’ll give you an upload speed and ping number alongside the download speed measurement. Additionally, if you have an Xbox One or PlayStation 4, you can perform network tests there. Hit “Test Internet Connection” in the PS4 network settings menu or “Detailed Network Statistics” in the Xbox network settings menu to find that information.
That might be overkill, but hey, it’s always good to know that your devices are connected.
What do those numbers mean?
You’d be forgiven for not knowing the significance of download and upload speeds. It’s slightly technical jargon that most people never have to worry about in their daily lives. But it’s actually pretty simple to understand.
Download speed is the rate at which your network can retrieve data. A faster download speed will let you stream high-quality video with less buffering, or load webpages more quickly. A slow download speed, meanwhile, could make the internet entirely unusable.
Upload speed is the opposite. This is how quickly your network can send data to others. This is pretty important for online gaming, as well as things like video calls. If your download speed is significantly higher than your upload speed, don’t fret. Most networks are designed that way on purpose.
You might also notice a “ping” number, which measures how quickly your connection responds to requests in milliseconds. This is also important in video games, but unfortunately, Google’s presentation didn’t recommend specific upload speeds or ping times for Stadia. We’ve reached out to Google for clarification on that.
It should be noted that nobody knows how well Stadia will work on any connection right now, because it’s not available to the public yet. Google’s recommendations could be off, or the service could struggle to keep up with a mass of users. We’ll find out later this year.