Latency is quite simply the time it takes for a data packet to make a round trip between the sender to the receiver and back to the sender. When it comes to cloud gaming, this can be translated as the delay between a user’s actions and the game’s response to those actions. Measured in milliseconds, this latency is unavoidable but it can and should be minimized to ensure the best immersive gaming experience.
Low latency in cloud gaming, myth or reality
With cloud based gaming latency, every millisecond really does count. The time between the player pressing a button and the time it takes for the game to respond accordingly is critical. Any lag between issuing an instruction and action executed will result in a frustrating and unrealistic gaming experience.
From a server standpoint, the latency can be reduced by the hardware power and architecture, the software algorithms, scalable resources and high-speed protocols. Well arranged virtual cloud environment may have less latency than a dedicated remote computer. That is why big companies, such as Amazon, Google, Paperspace and Microsoft, well known on the cloud market, have deservedly taken a spot in cloud gaming too.
However, small companies, that concentrate their resources entirely on the performance and reduced latency of their gaming servers, have achieved rather decent results in this industry as well. We will review several cloud gaming services with the lowest latency later in this article.
Ways to reduce cloud gaming latency for the user
Besides server performance, there are several factors that may affect latency on the client side. Make sure that you are fully prepared for a seamless gaming before using cloud gaming providers, or your experience will not be as good.
Distance matters. If you are connecting to a data center that is geographically located further away from you, you will experience higher latency. Data is passed from router to router until it reaches the final destination. The longer it takes for the data to reach its destination, the higher the latency.
Using a satellite connection will result in a higher latency. A wired network will always be preferable to a wireless one. Wireless signals are affected by many things within the environment. Wi-Fi signals experience refraction as they have to pass through various objects to reach their destination. If you use Wi-Fi for cloud gaming, make sure to use 5GHz and stay as close to the router as you can.
Always ensure that you use the latest technologies and standards with your network connections. If you are restricted to mobile internet, 5G cloud gaming technology will allow for improved range, speed and performance.
Older and outdated hardware may also contribute to poor latency during game play. Older monitors, a slow CPU and even incompatible hardware can add to your latency issues.
Other services and applications such as firewalls, load balances and intrusion prevention systems can possibly affect your latency.
Concept of Negative Latency by Google Stadia
Tech giant Google has a good understanding of cloud based gaming and the effect of latency on the user experience. With the launch of their cloud gaming platform Stadia, Google has thrown a new buzzword into the cloud gaming arena. In a recent interview with Edge Magazine, Madj Bakar, VP of Engineering introduced the market to “negative latency”. Google predicts improvements in technology that will result in faster and more responsive cloud based games – even going so far as to suggest that the games would run faster online than it would if played locally.
Negative latency will allow a user to play a game with a buffer between the server and client. This buffer will attempt to predict the amount of latency that will be experienced and take actions to actively reduce this. By using games with a super-fast framerate, player actions can be predicted and preempted and acted on quicker. Bakar believes this can make a game feel more responsive than one played locally at 30fps with a wireless controller.
By harnessing Google’s existing research and development in the area of AI and machine learning, it’s not unrealistic to think that Google can predict a user’s button presses.
Services that claim to have lowest latency in cloud gaming industry
With the increasing popularity of cloud gaming, many companies have extended their services into the world of online gaming. All of these services understand the importance of minimal latency and they all claim to have the lowest latency in the market. Which you opt for should depend on not just their claims, but also location and costs.
- Parsec – the amount of latency experienced when using Parsec depends greatly on the network and the hardware used for hosting. The number of concurrent connections will also affect the latency rate. Parsec provides a latency info console to monitor game performance.
- Playkey uses a decentralized infrastructure and a proprietary adaptive game streaming protocol that is based on AI to stream the games. This results in a FullHD picture at 120 fps gaming experience with a latency rate of 4ms.
- GeForce Now makes use of the best hardware to ensure the lowest latency. NVIDIA drives gaming technology – delivering 39 petaflops of graphics horsepower with their SuperPOD servers. Each server consists of over 1,000 GPUs. Each one with 25 teraflops of performance – that exceeds a XBox Series X nearly threefold.
- Shadow.tech assures its users that the issue of latency and how to reduce it is at the forefront of their innovations. Between hardware optimization and other service configurations, Shadow.tech are constantly reviewing user feedback and identifying and eliminating latency issues. One such innovation is ‘smoothing” technology. Through this they try to anticipate any data packet losses to allow a smoother gaming session, independent of end-user connection quality.
- Amazon Luna includes their Luna Controller or gamepad which connects to Amazon via its own Wifi connection which reduces latency by up to 30 milliseconds.
- Connecting to Google Stadia with the Stadia Controller experiences significantly less latency than any other bluetooth controller.
As a gamer you understand the importance of latency and how it affects your gaming experience. When selecting a Cloud Gaming service provider, opt for one that has a data center that is geographically closest to you. Where possible opt for a wired network connection and invest in the best hardware you can.