Playcast Beta Review: Cloud Gaming on the Fire TV

Yesterday, Playcast Media announced the start of their Cloud Gaming beta trial for the Fire TV. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, cloud gaming allows you to a use a graphically weak device like the Fire TV to play high-end video games remotely running on a server. The advantage of cloud gaming over traditional local gaming is the ability to play games on inexpensive hardware that would normally require expensive dedicated game consoles like the Xbox One or PlayStation 4. Read on for an explanation of the service, what is offered, and my initial impressions.

Getting Started with Playcast
The Playcast cloud gaming service is currently in a beta trial. To use the service, you have to request access by completing their signup form. Eventually you’ll receive an email granting you access to the trial with a link to download the app. My invite came 16 hours after signing up. You will need to sideload the app since it is not yet available in the Amazon Appstore. I’m sure that will change once the service goes live for everyone.

Playcast uses Amazon’s AWS cloud computing service to run the games you play. Once launched, the Playcast app will test your connection to Amazon’s AWS servers and determine the best server location to use. Amazon has United States based servers in Virginia, California, and Oregon. Additionally, there are Amazon servers in Singapore, Sydney, Japan, and Brazil. You can test your connection to Amazon’s servers on this site.

The smaller your latency is, the more it will feel like you are gaming on a local device. In my opinion, latency below 20ms is ideal. Latency around 50 is acceptable for most games, and latency above 100 will result in a poor experience. I am in the Los Angeles, California area so the Playcast app expectedly chose Amazon’s Northern California servers and reported a ping of 46ms.

App Interface
The app interface is very basic. There aren’t any configuration options. You are just presented with a carousel of games to choose from with the ability to view all games, or view games in one of 4 categories: Racers, Action, Family, and Casual.

Once a game is selected, you are presented with a screen displaying your achievements and scores. From here, all you can do is select to play the game or go back to the game selection screen. These two screens are the extent of the user interface.

Game Selection
There are currently 34 games available to play. All games are free and fully functional, however I assume that will change once the service goes live. Similar cloud gaming services offer various pricing models from purchasing and renting games, to monthly all-access subscriptions. The games currently available are:

  • Action
  • Sleeping Dogs
  • Mafia II
  • Darksiders II
  • Batman Arham Asylum
  • Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition
  • Shank
  • Shank 2
  • Red Faction: Armageddon
  • Fear3
  • Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising
  • Red Faction: Guerrilla
  • Street Fighter IV
  • Overlord II
  • Dark Void
  • Deep Black
  • Racers
  • DiRT 3
  • Grid
  • MotoGP 13
  • Sonic and the All-Stars Transformed
  • Sonic and SEGA All-Stars Racing
  • MUD
  • Family
  • Lego The Lord of the Rings
  • Lego Batman 2
  • Lego Harry Potter Years 1-4
  • Lego Harry Potter Years 5-7
  • Sonic Generations
  • Totally Spies! Totally Party
  • Casual
  • Ethan: Meteor Hunter
  • Chameleon Gems
  • Ether Vapor
  • Ballance
  • Magus
  • Inca Ball
  • Electra

Gaming Experience

View on YouTube Video

Connection latency is the most important factor in your gaming experience. Depending on the game genre you choose to play, the acceptable latency will vary. First-Person shooters tend to require low latencies for an enjoyable experience, where as games like the Lego series can get away with higher latency due to the lack of precision required in the game. You can see from the video above how my 50ish latency results in a slight delay between pressing a button and the game character reacting. The delay is noticeable, but not long enough to make the game unenjoyable.

Playcast has created button mapping specific to the Fire TV Game Controller. Each game has a layout screen as seen above. The games themselves appear to be running on Windows hardware and think you are using an Xbox game controller. This causes a bit of confusion when a game will prompt you to “Press Start” and the Fire TV controller has no start button. The Fire TV game controller’s menu button is usually used as a start button.

Most settings and online multiplayer menus have been made inaccessible. Trying to access these menus results in a message in the upper left corner of the screen telling you the option is not available. This was a bit of a shame because it seemed that some games, like Dirt 3, were stuttering and dropping frames because the graphic settings were set too high. I would have preferred to change some settings for a smoother game experience.

Local multiplayer was thankfully supported. I was able to play 2 player Street Fighter IV and Lego Harry Potter. Adding a second player didn’t appear to degrade the experience at all as far as lag and latency is concerned. It was a bit of a chore at times to figure out how to start the second player’s game since the prompts on the screen do not correlate exactly to the Fire TV controller buttons. I ended up just mashing all the buttons on the second controller until the second player was picked up. It surprisingly worked every time.

I’m overall impressed by Playcast on the Fire TV. Sure it’s not equivalent to playing on a local gaming console or gaming PC, but it’s definitely good enough if you have a good enough connection to the servers. Ultimately, it all comes down to your connection and lag tolerance. I can definitely see myself using Playcast for less lag-sensitive generes like racers, casual games, and third person adventure games. The only remaining factor for me is pricing. For that, time will tell.

  1. Mike Wright says:

    It seems to operate just like the onlive service that failed last year. American networks are just not good enough to handle this type of thing. Current broadband is not fast or widespread enough. Good idea that is ahead of it’s time.

  2. KydDynoMyte says:

    I am kind of cheating and using Playcast Beta on FireTV over wireless, but it worked pretty good. It connected at only the 8meg profile with 28-33 ping, but I was able to try Sonic All Stars Racing and got 1st place on my 1st try. Didn’t notice any lag during game play. There was lag on loading screens. I was using a wired xbox 360 controller and the joystick and button mapping on Operation Flashpoint was all messed up to where I couldn’t play. The right trigger was handling y-axis (pitch). I have to look into how to remap controls.

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