Game streaming is slowly clawing its way into a viable position as a mainstream alternative to consoles - and a native TV app is a big step forward.
While the ongoing pandemic is preventing the industry from gathering in Las Vegas, the Consumer Electronics Show continues online - and one of the biggest announcements for video games was quietly made by TV maker LG as it revealed its 2021 line-up. That reveal? Several of LG’s new TVs will support native apps for playing Google Stadia games. Some older LG TVs will also get an update to offer the app at a later date.
Right now, playing Google Stadia on a TV relies on you having a Chromecast device that you plug into a TV’s HDMI port. You sync a controller to the Chromecast device, then boot into a Stadia app within that to play. This is a notable development, as it removes the middle man: just as with services like Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, you’ll be able to boot right into Stadia from your TV, no other hardware required.
This, obviously, is a big moment for Stadia. Google’s entry into gaming has become a bit of a joke. Touted as the next big games revolution, it quickly became a punchline as games arrived late or not at all. What looked like a deadly threat to Xbox and PlayStation suddenly looked like a minor footnote. But the reveal of this native TV app is another quiet shift away from that, one that can sit comfortably alongside things like Stadia being one of the cheapest ways to play an actually-working version of Cyberpunk 2077 last month. Quietly, the service is making a case for itself.
The advantages of having Stadia built right into your TV are plain. People willing to play games through these services are already happy to make some small sacrifices around visual clarity for the sake of convenience and cost, just as a Netflix subscription will never quite match the experience of physical media. In this proposition, ease of use becomes key: and what is easier than already having it ready to go on your TV? All you need to do is sign in and sync a cheap bluetooth controller. The natural next step, of course, would be a Stadia button right on the remote.
As it stands right now, much is unclear about LG’s implementation. We know it’ll work on the WebOS 6 TVs introduced this year, and that WebOS 5 devices can expect an update at some point this year. We don’t know if it’ll support the subscription-based Stadia Pro, however, which is what lets you play at 4K, with HDR and surround sound.
What is clear is that the addition of these sorts of services to TV applications has the potential to be a pretty huge deal. The shortcomings of the Stadia service are well documented in the games media, but if it improves, the TV app could prove a killer app, and a great way for Stadia to find new customers.
LG isn’t alone, either. Sony’s just-announced 2021 TVs run on the Google TV operating system - meaning Stadia support is likely a given. Other TV manufacturers are likely to follow.
Equally, one has to imagine others in this market are keen to get their services into TVs natively. Xbox Game Pass Ultimate within a native TV app could add millions to the Xbox ecosystem. LG already has plans to also support Nvidia GeForce Now, which for PC gamers could potentially allow for streaming both from the cloud and their local PC. It’s enticing stuff.
Hopefully more TV manufacturers follow LG’s lead on this front, and hopefully we also see more apps for more services. Game streaming isn’t for everyone, but it definitely has potential to find an enormous audience - and I dare say this might be how that’s done.