It Starts with the Music: How to Become an Audiophile

I’m in an audiophile group chat at my day job, and someone new to audio asked a very simple question, which to me, the musician, audio, and tech geek, was not easy to answer with just a few words.

“How can I improve my ear when comparing things like headphones and speakers? How can I tell the difference between things and have something to refer to or think of when listening to music?”

I could have just said that they should listen to the different instruments in the track and try to compare them. Or that they should just listen to a $1,000 piece of gear and a $20 one to compare the obvious differences, right?

But for someone new to audio, they may not understand audio in the same manner that I do. They may not know the difference between bass, midrange, treble, understand audio terms like frequency and reverb, or know the right audio jargon to even begin to appreciate the differences between a good pair of headphones and a mediocre one.

So I decided toapproach my answer to the question by starting with the fundamentals – without knowing much about audio and music production, how can one claim to truly discern and understand the differences in different audio gear itself, and appreciate the value that better gear will bring them in terms of sound quality and sonic differences?

So I decided to look deep into my knowledge and experience in this area, and start with the basics. My answer follows:

Introduction

So an introduction on my audio experience so you know where I’m coming from: I originally started as a musician, where I produced and mixed my own music, played keyboard, and sang vocals for choir and my own music, as well. I think that experience forced me to learn the difference between sounds and understand them fundamentally, as well as then pick audio gear that would be high-quality and accurately present the sound (without overblown, boomy bass and distortion at high volumes like cheap consumer speakers), and would let me do my job properly. This experience led me to recognize the difference between different instruments/sounds in music and all audio, and then led me to separate bad gear from good. I’ve always valued a “richer” sound, and so once I started having my own cash to spend, I started doing research and experimenting a bit with higher quality audio gear. My original goal was to get gear that improved my audio for music production and mixing (I previously used a Bose Companion 3 speaker set which sounded good to me, but was not up to pro standards), and then that split off into me just buying new gear so I could enjoy my music and gaming audio more and be more immersed in it. So for the last few years, that’s where I’d say I really came to understand myself as an audiophile.

So onto my advice on someone just starting out in this world… This will all probably be overwhelming at first, but when I thought about it, to anyone with an untrained ear and not too much knowledge/experience on audio itself, I think it’d be very hard to be a discerning audiophile right away.

So I think for someone to really be able to understand and appreciate how to pick good gear for music/audio, you have to understand some fundamentals on music and audio too. So I’ve divided my reply into two sections, Section 1 for understanding fundamentals on audio and music, and then with all that knowledge in mind, Section 2 for then knowing how to pick audio gear (and my recommendation for a starter pack).

If you don’t want to learn too much about audio itself or already know about music production basics, you can just skip to Section 2 for a more direct answer to your question – but if you’re not too familar, then I really recommend going through Section 1 and watching the linked videos first to be able to understand how to listen properly and appreciate different audio differences and understand all the terms that the videos in Section 2 will mention.

So without further ado:

Section 1


Here are my thoughts on everything you can learn and practice to become discerning in music, after which you can then start listening to different higher end gear and start to understand how better gear lets you hear your music or other entertainment in better quality.

Beginning Resources


First, some general starting resources. These will answer this question in a simple form, but will contain some terms you may not understand. This is why I would recommend reading through and watching all the videos in section 1! But check it out, and if all this checks out for you, good, move to section 2! If not, keep on reading 🙂
https://www.shure.com/en-US/headphones-earphones/amplify/critical-listening-how-to-train-your-ears
https://www.reddit.com/r/audiophile/comments/2xpqku/becoming_an_audiophileear_training/ (good suggestions in the replies)
https://www.audioadvice.com/videos-reviews/training-ear-learn-listen-like-audiophile/

Getting Deeper Into It
The more you learn about the composition and different instruments within music, the more you’ll start hearing distinct things in tracks. I think the most essential thing to learn about first is the difference between the different frequencies that make up sound and music. There’s bass (lowest on the frequency spectrum), midrange (the vast middle of the spectrum), and treble (highest sounds in the frequency spectrum). Bass is the low roaring parts of a track (kick drums, bass notes), mid is the vocals, piano, guitar, main drums (makes up the majority of the sound you hear), and treble is the highest on the audio frequency spectrum (drum cymbals, hi-hats, very high notes on instruments or vocals).

Understanding Frequency in Audio
You should watch these videos to understand this before you can know how high-end audio gear would improve frequencies in your music:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jveKIYyafaQ (frequency 101)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sho0elN1Pm8 (frequency demo)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=amAzRbasAmI (frequency demo on a real song)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XbMAnnNe4ME (difference between frequency of different instruments and effects)

Understanding Music Production and Arrangement

It also depends on the level of your familiarity with music production itself, in my opinion. I suggest to listen carefully to music and pick out all the different instruments on a low quality pair of headphones or speakers, and then listen to a higher end pair and compare – you should notice there is now more space and separation between the instruments, you can hear more details or sounds in the tracks you’ve never heard before, and the sound might sound warmer and richer overall.

I think the best type of music for learning this is jazz music or classical. If you can learn the differences between all the different instruments in an orchestra, then you’ll have a much easier time picking them out separately while they are all mixed together in a recording.

Here’s a couple videos to watch to learn this in the context of the orchestra:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eATjBwGDQzY (ignore his assignment at the end)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sr-l2m8twX0 (listen to each instrument and pick out which ones are bass, mid, treble)

Now watch this and try to recognize all the different instruments and which ones are low, mid, high:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tMhgEsbKXHM

What you learn from analyzing the orchestra (the most complex genre to learn, in my opinion), your learnings here will apply to every other music genre.

Audio Mixing in Music

Last for this section, I think learning about about mixing and audio effects would be helpful too, so when you compare audio gear, you can know how the mix can become clearer, and different audio effects within the mix may sound different:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEorsfZe4vU (Learn about the process of mixing music and identifying the different sounds and instruments within a mix)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UL73IwwBy5M (Learn more about mixing, and why most music is mastered after the mix, further affecting the final sound of professional music tracks)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJ2WzLg5rDc (Learn about some common effects used in mixing, which you will hear in millions of songs)

Analyzing Music with an Audiophile Mindset

Before I move onto actual audio gear stuff, this is a great final video on how to analyze music to hear differences:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5OzHnTMdvQ

Section 2

So now that you understand audio better and what to listen for in music, now you can learn about the benefits of buying higher-end gear (DAC, amp, cables speakers or headphones):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pu8Q2P1Fi-A (good general overview video on how to get acquainted with audiophile stuff, that most directly answers your initial question. Most important point is for any of this to make a difference to you in the first place, it’s first and foremost important to listen to your music and focus in on the details, rather than having it on in the background)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6Aa-o6tAUA (explains types of headphones and how to choose the right one for you)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUgGEQ4aDVc (choosing between dynamic headphones like Sennheiser brand and planar magnetic headphones like Audeze brand)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ovNqXKlDY-I (good to know, what soundstage is and benefits of getting better gear/headphones for wider soundstage closer to real life)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2RL-IumWJK8 (explains DACs and amps and why you will want better ones for better sound)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GUZhtQheELg (good vid on what’s important and what’s not in audio gear/media for a beginner)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MbnZamTMROw (importance of loudspeaker placement on the sound in your room)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cTnituQu8ig (learn about the importance of your room when using loudspeakers and treating it… this is why I prefer headphones for listening to music, which your room doesn’t affect)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8iiU0Vx8HY (great video on how to recognize audiophile terms and know how to describe your music, and thus the differences you’ll hear with better/different gear)

Hi-res Audio

Lastly, it’s good to learn about the benefits of high-res audio. Not as important as the rest, because this will affect your sound less than anything else above, but higher-res versions of music will still also offer improved clarity, detail, and overall sound quality, and will also show you the importance of buying audio gear that can handle higher resolutions for sound:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ultp3tofA6Q
Hi-res audio streaming services available to try are Amazon Music HD and Tidal HiFi.

Recommended Gear

As for what gear I recommend:
It’s going to vary from person to person, and everyone has different ears, so everyone will have different preferences for what they want in their sound. Ex: some may prefer warmer sound, while some prefer more neutral. Some prefer more bass, some prefer less bass that sounds more natural. And some headphones with less soundstage are actually better for some music (acoustic sets) and wider soundstage for others (orchestral, gaming). It varies by music or content genre.


But here’s an affordable list that I think anyone would be happy to start with:
1) DAC – Schiit Modi 3 (big improvement over cheap stuff that will sound good to start out with)
2) Headphone Amp – Schiit Magni (enough to power most midrange headphones)
3) Headphones – Sennheiser HD600 (accurate, neutral, and detailed)
4) Speakers/monitors – a pair of KRK Rokit 5 speakers (what I currently use for music production)
5) Cables – anything from Cable Matters, Monoprice, or AmazonBasics on Amazon. Cables are the lowest priority for audio, and while nicer cables do make a difference, it’s not as much as the speakers or other audio gear. Just don’t buy no-name brands with bad reviews and you’ll be fine in this area.

The audio you get here, even at these prices, will be miles ahead of the onboard audio on your PC or your headphone jack on your smartphone or tablet. Just by moving to dedicated components, it’s going to bring a big improvement in sound quality, as there is no electrical interference, or power/space confinements with stuff built into your devices. If you value the improved audio you hear with these, it may be all you need!

But for many of us, once you try more things higher up the range, you will start discovering new sound profiles you like, and moving up to higher end gear will have even bigger improvements in sound quality, richness, detail, clarity, soundstage, etc. This is where the “audiophilia” starts.

My recommendation is to try a couple things and if you think you can be happy with the cheap gear, great! You’ve saved a lot of money. But if you find the improvements with higher end gear worth it, then go ahead and spend more. But if you’re on a budget (most of us are), just do your research, and keep things reasonable! And remember audio is something you can build on over time – never feel like you have to get everything at once. I’ve never bought any one piece of gear over $1,000, but by doing a lot of research, learning what I value in my sound and in my gear, and only spending on what I’ll really use and makes sense for my situation, I’ve already built a sound system that, when I press play, sounds like a million bucks. Music and sound in entertainment, when done well, can be transformational and truly take you to new worlds. That’s why this is such a fun hobby! Just remember it’s still a hobby after all, so spend or save on what’s important in life first, and you can always spend your extra on your audio throughout your life, as you see fit. Just be smart and take it slow!

Conclusion

So I really hope all of that helps! Sorry I can’t give a TLDR, as there are just so many factors involved in sound from recording to gear to output, and then it’s important to understand different facets of audio itself so you can know what to focus on.


I know it’s a ton of stuff to take in, but you can take it all a bit at a time. I thought of all this based on all my experience and research I’ve done for years, so I don’t expect anyone to try to learn all this in one day. Also, all of us are always learning new things too, so even with all this, it’s important to note that we are never really done learning, no matter how comfortable we may seem about all this stuff.

Overall, the general benefit I take from being an audiophile and being into better gear is that in the end, better gear helps me get closer to the music (hearing more details, richer sound quality) and get more immersed in the music and forget the world around me (gear that lets me experience a wider, more realistic soundstage). Whatever helps me get closer to feeling like I’m in the middle of a concert hall in person, or in the middle of a battlefield in a videogame, is worth it to me – and I think, when it boils down to it, that’s the reason we are all here and love this hobby so much.


P.S. I had a lot of fun writing that, it took me through my own mini audio crash course and I actually learned a few new things myself by watching through some of those!

And this is just a note to the universe, I feel compelled to add this – in the end, remember this is all supposed to be fun, it’s really a hobby after all imo, and if at any point you’re not having fun anymore, whether that be learning something new, enjoying new content, or rediscovering old content anew, then it’s totally fine to step back or take a break and do something that is more fun at the moment. What you choose to fill your free time with in life is always best up to you!

GeForce NOW vs. xCloud vs. Stadia – Full Comparison

With the launch of Nvidia GeForce NOW this week, I thought it would be a great time to put the current top services from major gaming brands head-to-head to see which comes out on top, and which may be best for you.

What is game streaming?

Game streaming is basically a way to play full console and PC games from any mobile device, laptop, or PC, even if that device cannot natively run that game itself. Instead of installing the game to your PC, console, or mobile device, you just use an app or web-browser that you access the game from. You access the game from a remote datacenter it’s pre-installed on, and then just hit play to start the game. Once you hit play, your device takes your controller or mouse/keyboard inputs and sends it over the internet cloud to the remote server that’s running the game. In real-time, the server runs the game and sends a high-res video feed back to your device’s screen. This all happens instantaneously, so as long as you have a fast connection, it will feel like you are playing the game right on your device locally.

Done well, it opens up the possibility of playing AAA console/PC games from any device anywhere you have internet. It also provides the benefit of not needing to wait for a game to download, install, or update, allowing instant access to the games you love. This may seem trivial, until you realize it can save you hours of valuable time, as well as money in not needing to buy more or faster storage every time you need more room for games or want to load them faster.

With that in mind, there are now a bevy of streaming services to choose from, some free, some paid, and some freemium (free with paid premium options). Some are also still in a beta testing phase and aren’t yet final. Today, we’ll be comparing three streaming services from some of the biggest companies and will see how they compare.

Methodology

The game I used to test every service was Destiny 2. Since every service offers this game, it’s only fair to use it as a basis for comparison. To get an idea on how each service compares to a native game experience, I’ve compared each service against the Windows 10/Steam version as a base running on my gaming PC connected via ethernet to a fast fiber optic connection. On that setup, I used a mouse and keyboard and an Xbox One Elite controller connected via USB. Subsequent tests were in the Chrome browser for Stadia, the GeForce NOW desktop app, and the xCloud beta app on my Android phone. For the mobile comparison between each service, I used a Google Pixel 3 XL Android phone connected to a 5GHz WiFi connection on the same network, with an Xbox One S controller connected over Bluetooth as my controller. The Bluetooth connection will add a negligible amount of input lag compared to using a USB connection for the controller, which I did not have access to at the time of this review. Many people will use a Bluetooth controller to play, so this should be a good representation of the common mobile experience.

My comparisons will be based on my subjective experience with each, as I am unable to measure exact latency figures accurately using any tool available at the moment. Being very attentive and experienced with gaming in several formats, though, I feel I have a good perception of the differences, so my anecdotal experiences here should reflect your experience, as well, provided you have a good-quality internet connection and live close enough to the data center for each service.

Without further ado, let’s see how Destiny 2 compares on each service.

Performance Comparisons

Google Stadia

Setup

Getting the game ready to go on Stadia is a piece of cake. After redeeming the game, it will appear in your library. Press the play button on the game, and the game begins loading instantly. After a few seconds, you are seeing the Bungie logo.

Loading Time

Loading times were almost the same as PC, but a few seconds less. Whereas my PC with the game installed on a HDD loaded into The Observatory at about 1:30, Stadia loaded in at around 1:10. This time is notably improved due to Stadia’s SSD tech vs. my PC’s HDD the game is installed on.

Visuals

The Google Stadia version runs at 1080p, but is sent through bitrate compression, so comes off noticeably more blurry than the PC version. The graphics settings are not as high as the PC version, so I noticed more aliasing on edges as a result. However, these sacrifices are made to offer a solid 60fps, which results in a smoother and more responsive experience compared to console, where it runs at half the framerate, 30fps. With this in mind, Stadia’s presentation, while a bit soft, is more responsive.

Audio

Testing the audio, it is noticeably not as high-fidelity as the PC version, but I could still hear everything clearly. It’s like listening to a decent quality MP3 file instead of a lossless WAV or FLAC file. Thankfully, the quality is good enough that it doesn’t bother me at all.

Performance & Latency

Onto the most crucial part for playability: latency. Testing with a keyboard and mouse, additional input latency here is noticeable compared to PC, but the game is surprisingly still very responsive. While running, jumping, and changing my camera’s direction, I could perceive a slight delay, but after a few seconds, it felt totally fine to me. I was initially afraid of how much the latency would be here, but the mouse and keyboard feels very playable here. Switching over to a controller on the PC version, it feels slightly less responsive, but that’s just the nature of controller actions vs. a mouse and keyboard. Over on Stadia’s side, it feels less responsive with a controller than on PC, but I feel it’s still something I can get used to. In this case, I prefer mouse and keyboard for a faster response, though. Notably, Stadia has no controller rumble with an Xbox One controller on PC, but the other streaming services do.

GeForce NOW

Setup

Having just launched out of a lengthy beta period, GeForce NOW is the newest of the bunch. And it performs very well… when it works. To get started with a Steam game on GeForce NOW, once you find the game on the service, you press play. Unlike on Stadia, you need to authenticate through Steam first. My game needed to be updated there, but once I pressed update, it happened instantaneously. Once there, I pressed play within the streaming version of Steam, and the game started to load. On first load, it ran within 30 seconds. However, on subsequent sessions, it took upwards of two minutes to get going. Stadia and xCloud both beat it there for convenience.

Loading Time

As for the loading times once in the game itself, I was very impressed here. Whereas my PC and Stadia both clocked in over a minute, GeForce NOW took less than 30 seconds. It’s truly amazing how fast Nvidia’s storage implementation is here. Whatever Nvidia is using for their servers is a much faster SSD implementation than Stadia, though Stadia still beats any current PC or console HDD.

Note: on a subsequent Stadia session, that service loaded The Observatory in just over 10 seconds, which is amazing. Whether that’s because the game was still loaded into the server’s memory from my previous play session, though, I’m not sure. So I will not be counting those results in the comparison for now.

Visuals

Onto visuals, the graphics looked notably sharper than Stadia’s, even though both games run at 1080p. Once into the game, the visuals looked higher-quality too. Since you’re running the Steam version of the game here, you can adjust many of the video settings and see that Nvidia’s remote PC can run every setting at max or near-max settings and get very high framerates. Aliasing looked slightly more noticeable compared to my gaming PC, but this may be due to the compressed feed. Compared to my PC, the game looked a bit softer, but most of the same high-quality settings were on.

Audio

Audio-wise, the audio sounded a bit better than Stadia’s, but still noticeably compressed over the PC version. I’m very impressed with the audio quality here, given it’s coming from a compressed feed.

Latency & Performance

Onto performance. My network test from within the GeForce NOW app showed that I had just a 3ms latency between my location and the US Southwest server! Therefore, my experience should be very responsive. Stadia is known to add 40ms of latency at least to games from one reviewer’s tests, but with 3ms here, it should have a huge advantage in responsiveness.

And finally, onto input lag. I must say, the input lag here is the most impressive I’ve ever experienced on any streaming service. Input lag was noticeably better than Stadia due to my 3ms connection to Nvidia’s Southwest server. It felt nearly identical to the PC experience, which was great. Unfortunately, though the response was fast, the video had many more microstutters throughout vs. Stadia, though, making for a slightly less pleasing experience. This didn’t detract from the gameplay, but made it look a bit worse than Stadia or PC visually due to microstutters. I’d compare it to looking similar to screen-tearing, but it’s a different effect.

Mobile Comparisons

Here’s where we jump from testing the game on my PC between the services to testing strictly on my mobile device.

Project xCloud (beta)

As Microsoft’s Project xCloud service is still in beta, it only runs on Android devices for now via the xCloud app. As this is a beta, performance may improve in the consumer release, but for now, here are the results.

Setup

The setup on Project xCloud was quite simple. It offers a clean interface where you simply scroll down the list and choose your game, then hit play. I’d say it’s in between Stadia and GeForce NOW in ease of getting a game running.

Loading Time

Loading times on xCloud were about the same as my PC, clocking in at just over a minute to The Observatory. It’s within the general range of PC and Stadia.

Visuals

Image quality is decent at 720p since it’s on a small mobile screen. It’s better than I expected given it’s running on a mobile device. However, you can see some macroblocking from compression occasionally. Some aliasing is noticeable, but not nearly as much as on PC, due to the smaller screen. Visual settings look to be very similar to an Xbox One S, but don’t approach the quality of the Xbox One X, mostly due to resolution. Crucially, since the version here is based on the Xbox One version and runs on similar hardware, the game only runs at 30fps, which impacts smoothness and responsiveness noticeably.

Audio

The sound quality here was good, but as seen with the other two services, noticeably compressed. However, I did not notice any negative effects due to too low of a bitrate and the sound was pleasing overall. I’d categorize it similar to Stadia’s performance here.

Latency & Performance

Here’s the most crucial part. Unfortunately, xCloud has, hands-down, the most noticeable input lag here. Whereas on PC and GeForce NOW I could forget I wasn’t streaming the game due to its responsiveness, with Stadia and xCloud, the response time is always slightly noticeable. Whereas Stadia is easier to get used to, after several minutes of playing through the game’s opening moments, I was constantly aware of a more sluggish response here. Crucially, I didn’t have too much issue hitting the game’s enemies, but when I missed, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I would have been a bit more accurate playing on another platform.

Thankfully, the game had very little in the way of stuttering. Even though the game felt a little laggy to control, it was very stable and consistent, which in the end is the most important. Too much stuttering or dropouts and you could get killed or miss your shot. That didn’t happen here.

Google Stadia (Mobile)

Setup

Google Stadia’s setup on mobile is very similar to on PC. Just download the Google Stadia app, choose the game from the list, then choose your device (in this case your phone), and then hit play. The game begins loading in, just like on the Chrome browser.

Loading Time

Loading time was, in this instance, better than my first run on PC. I loaded into The Observatory in seconds this time, potentially because my previous session may have been in the server’s memory already. This is speculation, though,

Visuals

Stadia was slightly better than xCloud in visual quality. Aliasing was, again, less noticeable here due to the smaller screen. Visual settings looked similar to xCloud, and identical to the PC browser version of Stadia.

Audio

Over my Bluetooth headphones, the game sounded slightly different than xCloud, however it also did not sound bad to me. They were similar enough that I can’t pick one over the other. Both are clear and get a thumbs up from me.

Latency & Performance

Stadia was noticeably better than xCloud in terms of response. I felt slightly more latency compared to my controller on PC, but it was very negligible. The WiFi and Bluetooth don’t add too much latency over my desktop ethernet and USB connections, fortunately.

Interestingly, Stadia stuttered far more on my WiFi, though, compared to the desktop experience and Project xCloud. I played for a few minutes and the microstutters persisted throughout. Though still playable and not too distracting, this did affect my enjoyment of the game more than the microstutters I experienced using GeForce NOW through PC. xCloud beats it here.

GeForce NOW (Mobile)

Setup

GeForce NOW on mobile has a similar interface to the desktop version, but I’d say it’s slightly more simple. Like on PC, you choose your game from your game library and load in.

xCloud and Stadia have a more quick and simple interface vs. the other two, as you still need to go through the extra Steam authentication layers to launch the game. One cool feature on GeForce NOW mobile vs. PC, though, is you can use your touchscreen on the Steam interface within the app.

Unfortunately, once I hit play on the game, even though I was on mobile this time, the game still took over 2 minutes to start.

Loading Time

Once in the game, I experienced the same 30-second load time as on PC. Not as fast as Stadia on my subsequent sessions using it, but still very speedy.

Visuals

Compared to Stadia and xCloud, image quality was easily the best out of the three, due to the higher PC settings. Aliasing was less noticeable than PC too, due to the smaller screen. This is the way to go for the best visual quality.

Audio

Unfortunately, this was the first out of any of the ways to play that disappointed me. On mobile specifically, GeForce NOW had a noticeably lower audio bitrate than on PC, and lower than any of the other platforms I tested. I can tell the sound was lower quality, as cymbals and high strings in the music had a low-quality whooshing sound that took place of the details in the music, giving it a low-quality MP3 effect, something that for me as an audiophile, cannot contend with. I’m not asking for lossless quality here, but Nvidia may have gotten a bit too lenient with the sound quality on this version.

Latency & Performance

Finally, onto latency. Thankfully, the excellent PC performance I received carries over to the mobile version over WiFi and Bluetooth. GeForce NOW was the fastest out of all three services on mobile and felt almost like playing on my PC natively. Though there was some additional stuttering over WiFi, it fell in between what I experienced on the mobile versions of Stadia and xCloud.

Picking a Winner?

Google Stadia

In terms of absolute convenience, Stadia takes the cake for the most easy way to get to your games anywhere. With a simple interface and no hoops to jump through, it operates more like a game console in that it is very simple to get to your games and play with minimal issues and less troubleshooting to get things working. Stadia feels the most polished out of all three experiences in that regard.

For me in my location, input lag is more prominent on Stadia vs. GeForce NOW, though your results will vary. For example, if you live closer to a Google datacenter and further away from an Nvidia datacenter, you will most likely have the opposite experience. Stadia is the most stable over an ethernet connection, with less microstuttering. But on mobile WiFi, I experienced more hiccups vs. the other services. Visual quality will be the lowest of the three at the current moment, but still looks at least as good as an Xbox One S. On other games, native 4K matches Xbox One X or higher.

In terms of value proposition, though, Stadia offers the toughest sell if you already own a PC or Xbox game library, with only 2 free monthly games as part of the $10/month subscription. Stadia is aiming to be a primary gaming platform competing directly with Xbox and PlayStation, and therefore the store will resemble those, with full prices and occasional game sales. Given that Xbox Game Pass is coming to xCloud, unless Google introduces a Stadia game subscription with a catalogue of included games, xCloud will offer many more games included in its subscription when it launches.

Stadia currently offers a library of 42 games, though Google has stated it will have 120+ by the end of 2020.

If you want the most convenient and polished experience that “just works” everywhere you go, though, Stadia wins in this regard. Whereas GeForce NOW can feel a little janky getting a game up and running sometimes, Stadia always works as soon as you hit play. The experience just feels more magical and similar to what console gamers have come to expect.

Nvidia GeForce NOW

GeForce NOW is the best option for you if you don’t want to compromise on PC quality, but need to play where you don’t have a gaming PC setup. For existing PC gamers, this service is a win, as you get instant access to over 1000+ Steam games, playable for no additional charge as long as they’re in your Steam library.

Visuals are top notch, boasting a high-end Nvidia GPU with 16GB of VRAM and RTX graphics if you take advantage of their paid Founders tier. The service overall offers the lowest latency on desktop PCs and mobile, and the experience is great on both, though mobile sound quality isn’t great.

With access to over 1000+ games from Steam and the Epic Games Store (provided you own them), GeForce NOW gets you a lot of value for its free tier or its premium tier, just $5/month, provided you already have a library of PC games. However, if you are just trying out cloud gaming for the first time and don’t own any PC games, both Stadia and xCloud are already outpacing Nvidia’s selection of just 30+ included games.

Microsoft Project xCloud

Project xCloud is a bit of a different animal from Stadia and GeForce NOW at the moment, due to it still being in beta testing, only being available on Android, and not having a final payment model at the moment.

In its current state, xCloud has the most noticeable input lag out of the three services. However, it is the only service you can play Xbox exclusives on, and crucially, it will likely end up having the most value for an Xbox gamer.

With support for Xbox consoles and PC in the future, coupled with the prospect of Xbox Game Pass coming and many developers only needing to simply “flip a switch” to allow for their games to come over to xCloud, xCloud could become a serious contender for the cloud streaming battle over the next several years.

As of this writing, xCloud has over 90 titles in the beta, and will continue to grow after the beta hits its final release.

It Really Depends on You

While all of these services has their pros and cons, I would be very happy playing Destiny on any of them. Besides their technical performance, which service you choose will more likely be based on which ecosystem you are already a part of.

With Microsoft’s xCloud, someone who already owns an Xbox will get the most value out of the service, as Microsoft has stated that Xbox console gaming will continue to be the focus for the premiere experience, with xCloud serving as a complimentary experience when you cannot be at your console. With the service coming to Windows and Xbox later this year, though, Microsoft’s ambitions could be growing. Eventually seeing 4K and HDR support isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

With GeForce NOW, Nvidia is targeting the audience who already has a gaming PC with a Steam library, but wants to play those games away from their PC with little compromise. Similar to Microsoft’s focus with xCloud, Nvidia sees the service as mostly a companion to when you are not at your gaming rig, not necessarily the primary place to play, given its short native game library and lack of 4K support.

Google Stadia is the first and only major streaming service that aims to make streaming the primary way you play games, rather than a companion. As a streaming-first platform, then, Google tries harder to deliver a full console or PC-like experience with features like 4K, HDR, and 60FPS.

The downside of being a new platform is it requires you to build your library from scratch VS. playing games you already owned from Xbox or PC, but offers the promise of features you can only experience in the cloud, such as 40-person car races, thousand player battle royales, splitscreen over the internet, more destructible environments, and Google Assistant support. While not all of these features are available quite yet, they show that Google is trying to build the future of gaming by putting the baseline of power in the cloud, where less limits exist than even the most powerful PC hardware.

Pure value for money isn’t quite there yet over the other services, but if Google’s promises come true, they could come out far ahead in game experiences once they start making good on their promises.

At the moment, whatever service you choose depends on which ecosystem you’re in (or not in) at the moment, what quality you desire, and where you want to play your games. One would be wise to look at the future trajectory of these services and ecosystems too before committing too much into any of them.

Regardless, we do know one thing for sure: with cloud gaming services allowing people the option to play true high-end games anywhere, the market for game streaming will only continue to grow.

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Nintendo Still Has a Lot to Prove in 2019

With the second calendar year of the Nintendo Switch now in the books, it’s now time to look to 2019 and all it has in store for the Switch.

Nintendo has had its share of ups and downs this year. Although Nintendo had some great moments in 2018, like the launch of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Pokemon Let’s Go, it’s been a much softer year in terms of first-party content for Nintendo Switch.

2017, in comparison, was stacked with hits throughout the year, with Breath of the Wild, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Splatoon 2, and Super Mario Odyssey all filling out that year and making the Switch Nintendo’s fastest-selling console. In contrast, due to a lack of first-party hits, the Switch hasn’t sold so fast this year.

Additionally, the ill-received launch of Nintendo Switch Online and the lack of more legacy content (Virtual Console) on Nintendo Switch, have left fans eagerly awaiting solutions to these problems.

With 2018 now over, fans have been looking eagerly to 2019 for Nintendo to release more games, and hardware. While we know another Pokemon game, Animal Crossing, Luigi’s Mansion, and Fire Emblem games are coming next year, there are still many unanswered questions in regards to what else Nintendo has up its sleeve.

Indeed, in 2018, after numerous credible rumors, Nintendo fans expected games like Metroid Prime Trilogy, Metroid Prime 4, Bayonetta 3, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD, and Star Fox Racing to be announced at E3 or The Game Awards. However, many gamers were left in the cold with these games never showing up. Even then, despite these games not coming to light, some of these credible sources have said that these games are real and in development – they just haven’t been shown yet.

Additionally, credible rumors of a much-needed Nintendo Switch hardware upgrade have fueled fans’ desires to see what Nintendo has cooking, even more. With certain Switch games suffering from very low resolutions, bad framerates, or many third-party games simply not being able to make it over from other modern consoles to Switch (Resident Evil 2, I’m looking at you), an upgraded Switch that could potentially handle these games with ease has never felt so necessary.

Thus, we look forward to 2019 with excitement for the new titles on Nintendo’s hardware, but also anticipation for what Nintendo hasn’t shown yet.

Since Nintendo Directs have been a thing, as the important Holiday season comes to a close, Nintendo has always hosted a Nintendo Direct in January to inform fans and investors what they are planning for the new year.

Besides seeing more info on expected games, if Nintendo wants to truly stay competitive and in many fans’ and investors’ good graces, January is the time to finally pull the lid off of some of the surprises it has in 2019.

As we reflect on 2018, it’s never been a better time to be a Nintendo fan, not only for what it has offered thus far, but especially for what it has in store in 2019. If Nintendo’s track record is anything to go by, we will find out very soon.

What do you hope to see on Switch in 2019? Let us know in the comments below.

thatgamecompany Panel at WonderCon 2018

I was excited to be able to attend a panel featuring one of the great developers that continues to inspires me and countless others with their beautiful games. This company brought games like Journey to life, which touched many people across the world. I knew this panel would be special, so I decided to record it.

You know them from Flow, Flower, and Journey. You saw their upcoming game, Sky, at Apple’s iPhone press conference 2017.

Now go behind the curtain and learn the inside stories on how thatgamecompany came to be and crafted some of your favorite indie games of the generation!

I also got to chat with the developers after, and learned that Sky may come to more platforms after iOS. They were also willing to give me career advice and share some of their own story, which was very helpful for me.

Watch their presentation below!

All in all, it was a great experience, and just a slice of my WonderCon experience. Stay tuned to the blog for more content coming soon!