The media streaming software company Plex has just announced a new paid feature called “Plex Arcade”. It’s a $3 monthly service that allows you to install emulators and roms on your main Plex server and play them through any connected device that allows a bluetooth controller. To accomplish this, they’re using the well-regarded Parsec streaming SDK, which allows games to be streamed with minimal lag! More thoughts below…
Plex Arcade: https://www.plex.tv/arcade/
List of games officially on the platform: https://www.plex.tv/arcade/#modal-arcade-library
In my opinion, you might as well ignore the list of games they’re currently featuring as bundled with the platform; They’re obviously just there to get people started and throw around the “Atari” name. In fact, I’d be willing to bet Plex already lost a bunch of potential users, as many gamers probably walked away thinking this was another Atari cash grab. Instead, Plex should really be highlighting the true star of the show: Parsec.
The Parsec SDK has been thoroughly tested by the most hardcore gamers worldwide and the results are really impressive. Here’s how it works: The Parsec software is loaded on a main PC, where the game (or software) is launched. They use their proprietary software to intercept the audio and video being processed after the CPU and GPU do their job, but before the video is sent to the video card’s framebuffer. The audio and video are then sync’d to a target device, along with any controller information being processed on the target. In their local area network testing, the Parsec team was able to have video appear on the target device at the same exact time as the main PC monitor. Seriously.
In fact, a few retro gaming tournaments were forced to go online this year and successfully run via “Cloud Parsec”; An arcade emulator was installed in an AWS server and the competitors each used parsec to connect to that server. Even remotely, the latency was good enough that pro-level players were still able to perform.
So, what does this mean for Plex users? If you install Plex on a fast server with a quality video card, you should be able to install games, as well as emulators on that server and play them via the Plex app on your target devices. Imagine loading BSNES on your server and playing the 16:9, hd-rendered patch of your favorite game right on your TV through the Plex app? Sounds way cooler than playing some old Atari games you probably already have on your phone for free, right?
…but there’s a lot that can go wrong in a setup like this. How does using Plex differ from just using a PC and Parsec to play games? While the lag Parsec introduces over a LAN shouldn’t be noticeable by itself, how will it perform when bluetooth controller lag, emulation lag and display lag are all added into the mix? Did Plex add any tweaks Plex with these questions in mind?
All are questions I’d love to find out myself someday. Truthfully, the potential is there for this to be an awesome solution for Plex users. I’ll try and make time to test this myself, but until then, check out this in-person interview with some of the Parsec team to hear for yourselves why I’ve always been so enthusiastic about it.