Monthly Archives: November 2019

The perils for early adopters – Stadia

There has, in the gaming world, been a lot written, tweeted and said about Google’s new online cloud based gaming service Stadia. It has turned out to be pretty much what I expected it to be but that doesn’t stop it also delivering some fresh let downs.

The principle of just using a controller and a “dumb’ screen with a fast internet connection to a service has clearly worked for things like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, we are able to watch UHD content flawlessly (most of the time)

However a game service such as Stadia is a bit more complicated, as unlike a film, a game is rendering content as needed based on input from the users controller, it is not simply a stream of known content that can be cached or buffered. After all in watching a film when you press play, if the film starts 0.5 seconds later to give the buffering a chance to provide smooth images based on network conditions, you just would not notice. In a game you do, so latency and any delays are utterly obvious.

In IoT, especially industrial internet of things we discuss Edge vs Cloud and latency and processing data as close to the source as possible is an obvious solution, rather than round tripping to cloud.

A game is pretty much an ideal case for edge computing, and has been for many years. That does not mean that the edge needs to be isolated, you cache and render locally but may get elements of data remotely, like the postion of other players. Those few streaming coordinates are very different to a full frame 4K image that is rendered remotely, followed by another and another at 60fps.

Hence my experience of Stadia is this…

Glitches in sound, dropped frames intermittent pauses. I have not captured the worst of it as if you capture in game via stadia it captures it at source, and the videos are perfect. So the indicates it is not the end infrastructure for the game but the network between me and it. Google suggests that using the Chromecast box that plugs into the TV you use also use an ethernet cable and plug straight into the router. I do do this with the Xbox One (Due to its wireless interface being so bad) but the PS4, Switch and various iPads, PCs and Macs are all wireless and have no trouble with “networked” games or downloads. That of course is all because the content is local, the rendering is local. My network is a very robust mesh network, ironed out many kinks working from home and being big consumers of digital content over the years. We also have 70Mb broadband.

I wanted the cloud approach to work, in fact we had OnLive on the Cool Stuff Collective back in 2011. It was part of a piece where I descried what cloud computing, 9 years ago. OnLive was trying to get cloud gaming going. In emerging tech we are well used to the ebb and flow of trying and it being too early, waiting then it returns (look at VR and virtual worlds), and eventually it takes but at the moment Stadia doesn’t seem to have it sorted.

It is not just the intermittent breaks in smooth content that are a problem at the moment though. I have a Stadia Pro subscription, one where you apparently get games under an all you can eat subscription. The only trouble is there are 2 games, samurai showdown, a retro beat em up (fast moving so lag matters) and Destiny 2, of which the redeeming feature is that it has cross platform character saves. The rest you buy (and not really very many of those either that I don’t have on other platforms already). None the less I re-bought red dead redemption 2 just to try and support the platform and see what it could do. I have several times been greeted with this experience.

Rdr 2 stadia

The game thinks it lost the controller, the controller is still able to summon up Stadia content, stope the game etc, but none of the buttons worked.

I also stepped away from RDR 2 having paused it for a relatively short period, just a few minutes whilst I sorted something out and returned to this.

Rdr 2 stadia

A Stadia message saying I was dumped out of the game, where the mission had not completed, so was not saved. Some RDR 2 missions take a while and with the choppiness and this the level of frustration destroys the experience.

I was also expecting to be able to play on my IoS devices, but I can’t yet. On the PC the system down scales so will not do 4K images (not that it is in real 4K anyway.

Friending people doesn’t work. Purchases of content (should you want to) have to be on a mobile app not in the system, replays and captures are only viewable on mobile. the list goes on.

Microsoft and Amazon are waiting in the wings with their streaming services. For me the Microsoft and my Xbox Game Pass library and purchased library will be a bigger draw, though the network issues will be the same for any provider. Yes OK, 5G might help, but that’s a way off yet in reality running at full pelt. Latency and physics will alway remain an issue (unless we deal with quantum physics that is!)

Electric Vehicle Upgrade – Big changes – Tech wins.

A few weeks ago we upgraded our EV Nissan Leaf to the newest version of the Leaf Tekna. It is now our 3rd Leaf having been a very early adopter over 5 years ago. The last to we had were pretty similar but the new Leaf has undergone some significant changes, and they are all good I have to say.

The shape and outside styling is a little more angular with cuts and flashes of bodywork and lights, which is pretty much the styling of most of the Nissan range now. In particular the rear lights wrap around to the side of the car.

Leaf old
2017 Leaf
Leaf new
Late 2019 Leaf

The changes on the interior are a little more obvious with a new centre console and a few of the buttons have shifted around, like the eco button and strangely the start button. A new steering wheel has a squared off base, again like many other Nissans in the range.

Our previous two cars had a type 1 charger, and we have an installed cable unit, this new care has the type 2. I thought we would be easily able to upgrade the cable/charge unit but it seems the various government grants to install a charger do not apply to upgrades. So it is around £900 to get a new charging unit even though the installation would just be switching the head unit not the 6 hour job it is normally scheduled to be. However a range of adapters exist, so for £100 we have a solution in place. Not ideal but it made the scheduling of handover of the cars from one to the other less complex.

The big changes are really quire impressive though. We have ProPilot on the car which is a modern driver assistance set of tools. It is not quite a Tesla in the self driving sense but it certainly helps get closer to not having to do the driving. Now purist drivers and petrol heads (I think I am/was one) might baulk at the thought of not being in complete control but we have had a lot of computer controlled safety aids on vehicles for many years, traction control, ESP, ABS braking and even Sat Nav. ProPilot when on a motorway allows the car to maintain its lane, speed and distance from any car in front, handling the acceleration, braking and steering. You do have to maintain hands on the wheel though. If you want to over take you indicate, and start to steer the car then accelerates to get past the car you are overtaking. It is particularly good when the cars in front start to brake. I was hovering over the brake pedal on my first longish journey and it started to brake at a stoppage just before I was about to hit the pedal. It needs white lines to follow and lets you know if it can see them, also lets you know if it thinks it is following a car in front. You can set you comfort distance between you and the car in front as well via a 1, 2 or 3 bar system. It can feel a little odd as it makes small corrections in steering that maybe as a driver I would not bother.

Knowing whether to trust code and systems like this is a tricky one. However on the way back from out recent holiday I got to drive the hire car back to the airport, it was Diesel stick shift Nissan but did have some of the smart features and sensors. It reminded me what an archaic system stick shift is, yes it gives you plenty to do, but it is made for us as a driver to have to adjust to the design of the engine and gearbox. It seemed a right pain. Then when we got back Gatwick I got to drive our 2007 Petrol Automatic Honda people carrier back to Basingstoke. This has almost no driver aids or sensors, except a reversing sensor. It does have cruise control, but I never have used it as it has no idea what is going on in front of it. It is a blind lump of metal. A lot has changed in the past 12 years. When I got back I popped into the new Leaf and headed to the supermarket. With all the sensors running just on local roads it felt brilliant, but it also faster, more fun and much more agile and light to drive than both the ICE cars that day.

One of the other tricks the Leaf has is one pedal driving. EV’s don’t need gears due to the torque of the electric motor. Hence no clutch, but they do have a stop and a go pedal. With a switch on the console you can switch to 1 pedal driving only using the accelerator. If you lift off the accelerator the car slows down using the brakes itself as needed. This feels even weirder that the self driving motorway pro pilot, but it is actually works really well. It is still using all its senses to understand what it in front, even being able to emergency stop, or at least start the process quicker than the driver can. You can still apply brakes, its not they are turned off BTW. As you approach a roundabout or junction and you ease off you quickly start to feel how much to reduce the pedal by, it almost feels the car learns from that, not that it is really. It is also using the regenerative braking to recharge the battery. This is something that they have got better and better at over the years. In stop and go traffic jams it removes almost all the hassle, aside from the delay. Gently creeping forward and stopping dead as you lift off the pedal works really well. I certainly don’t miss the clutch, brake, try not to stall, apply handbrake, repeat malarky.

We did not opt for the self parking option on the car as another 5k was a bit steep for something that is so easy to park anyway with its all round camera and sensors. It even looks out the back of the car both ways for you as you reverse to detect a sudden on coming car or pedestrian.

Other nice things about the vehicle is it now has Apple CarPlay. Plug the phone in and I get music apps like spotify though the awesome Bose sound system. It also reads out incoming text messages which can be responded to via voice commands too. It is a little confusing having the in car voice control and then it side loaded with Siri but I like it.

EV’s always have the range question thrown at them. Not a major problem for us as most journey in this are the shorter town ones, which is why we switched in the first place but both range and power have been upped. I used to press the eco button not the steering wheel in the last one to turn eco off and have a turbo boost to leave a roundabout if needed. So far even in full eco and full energy recovery the car launches pretty much the same it seems. There is a different with eco on or off as to the amount of pedal travel on the accelerator and how much power it delivers but it is still very nippy. Having been a long time Subaru Impreza WRX owner, that thing launched with a very impressive 0-60 but the Leaf off the line feels faster and lighter. EV power deliver is pretty constant so yes it would fall away after the 0-30 but I think many people don’t realise just how quick these things can be. It is how heavy footed or how fast you drive that impacts the range. The last Leaf on full charge indicated a guessed range of 110 miles. This could easily be halved on a motorway at 70. This Leaf indicates around 150miles on charge but it doesn’t seem to tail off on the motorways quite as much. I am sure it can easily do 100-120 miles. Probably the full 150 on country roads.

In short. I like it. EV’s FTW!