(Pocket-lint) - Those who pre-ordered the Google Stadia Founders Edition in the UK, US and 12 other countries should have had their access codes by now. Many will be enjoying the cloud gaming service already. Or not, as the case may be.
Shortly before its official launch on Tuesday 19 November, a stack of reviews came out across multiple websites and some, it must be said, were highly unflattering.
Our review, on the other hand, was very complementary to the service.
But, how can that be? How can the exact same "product" get such negativity from one quarter and positivity from another? Which side has got things so drastically wrong?
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Funnily enough, the answer is remarkably simple: nobody has.
Stadia can be great or bad depending on numerous external factors
That's because, unlike a review of a single game, camera, smartphone or toilet brush, it is impossible to be fully subjective about something wholly dependent on external factors.
Stadia isn't a product per se, it is a service and, as such, requires multiple puzzle pieces to fall in place in order to present the best experience. Many of them are beyond Google's control.
Therefore, it is hard to form an opinion about it without the direct influence of your own setup.
For example, for our own test, we hardwired a Google Chromecast Ultra to our router via Ethernet. And, our broadband is a Virgin Media account that, on average, achieves download speeds of over 250Mbps, uploads of over 15Mbps and a ping of 11ms. That's very fast for the UK - not the fastest but amongst the best.
We do not struggle with 4K Dolby Vision and HDR streaming on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video or YouTube, so didn't expect to struggle with Stadia. Thus proved to be the case.
Video performance on Stadia, for us, was impeccable. Still is after launch, regardless of many more people joining the servers.
However, others have reported stuttering and, worse, even being kicked out completely. That will certainly have given them a very different opinion to ours.
Now, we can only make an educated guess as to why. And, we don't think it's necessarily home broadband that's at fault.
One thing we've noticed in some reviews (not all) is that reviewers linked their Chromecast Ultra devices wirelessly. That's fine, of course, as it's meant to work that way. Plus, many consumers will only have that option to hand, as their router might be shared or in another room entirely. But, Wi-Fi is nowhere near as stable as a wired connection and that can affect performance for sure.
If multiple devices in a household are all connecting over Wi-Fi at the same time, there is a finite amount of wireless bandwidth for everything to work effectively. Some things don't need much - a smart kettle, say - but others, like Stadia, need a far greater, more consistent slice of the available bandwidth you have in your home. You might even find Wi-Fi conflicts caused by devices you thought inactive, but are updating their firmware automatically, for instance.
It's also worth considering that the Chromecast Ultra is two year-old tech and while it is the only device that can currently play Stadia on a TV - save for linking a PC, MacBook or Chromebook via HDMI - it won't be for long. Better specified devices will undoubtedly gain access soon (such as the latest Nvidia Shield TV).
Of course, you can only judge what's in front of you and that means the full TV experience is presently dependent on the 4K HDR dongle provided in the Founders (and Premiere) Edition packs. So, different households will have different outcomes, it seems.
For us, we have a great experience every time, others not so. That's why negative and positive reviews are both valid, because they detail how it has worked for each specific individual. It might better or worse for you. Just make sure you connect your Chromecast Ultra through Ethernet first.
As for mobile use - currently only available on Google Pixel phones - we've not had many problems there neither. And, we tested it on a Pixel 3a XL using both the official Stadia controller wired to the phone using USB-C and an Xbox One controller connected via Bluetooth.
Of course, external factors come into play here too - namely, your network data and signal when not connected to Wi-Fi. So, we do understand some will have different experiences to others, but you can hardly blame that on the service itself.
Is Stadia an upgrade to PS4 or Xbox One?
We're less swayed by some of the other arguments put forward in negative reviews. There seems to be a common suggestion that Stadia is far from an upgrade to a PS4 or Xbox One. Indeed, it is a pale imitation.
However, in our opinion, that shouldn't even be a factor. It isn't designed to replace your Xbox One, PS4 or Switch. Nor act as an alternative to Project Scarlett and the PlayStation 5 coming next year.
Gamers might see it in those terms, but cloud gaming has never professed to being a replacement, rather an attraction to those who have never really wanted a dedicated games console under their TV. It is a neater solution, not a better one.
As we said in our own review, cloud gaming as a concept - and Stadia itself - cannot match the exact lack of latency and pin-point responsiveness of a dedicated console or games PC, and is never likely to. But it does come close.
And, that will attract a new audience to gaming, as well as provide a portable, instant, additional platform for those who already game on something else.
Hardcore gamers might lament its lag (however fractional) and tiny dip in video quality over what they are used to on the better machines - PS4 Pro and Xbox One X - but we suspect there are plenty of consumers out there that will be more than happy with what it does offer. Not least, its convenience.
Of course, Project xCloud could come out of its Preview phase and bat Stadia out of the park in 2020. But, until then, Stadia is a great example of how game streaming can and should truly work. Yes, there seems to be the universal agreement that games available on the platform are too expensive, and there are too few of them at launch but, for us, the technology does exactly what it set out to.
And, that is what resulted in our own upbeat review in the face of others less so.
It is why you're more likely to find us with our heads firmly in the clouds while others are, understandably, more grounded.