Google's new game-streaming service Stadia demonstrates the possibilities of gaming from the cloud, but experts say it's hindered by a lack of compelling video games and a convoluted pricing scheme.
Piers Harding-Rolls, head of games research at IHS Markit, called Tuesday's launch more of a public beta test than an actual debut. He said the real test will come next year, when Stadia begins to compete with new video game consoles due out from Sony and Microsoft.
"It is not at the moment a challenger to console companies or PC gaming," he said. "At this stage it is really about getting the product into market and into hands of consumers."
Google can learn from that and fine-tune the service as it grows and competition intensifies, he said.
Much like movies and music, the traditional video-game industry has been shifting from physical hardware and games to digital downloads and streaming. Such an approach lets gamers play from a variety of devices, picking up where they left off as they switch, without having to buy expensive equipment.
Tech companies such as Google are trying to establish a foothold early — even with some kinks — before streaming becomes as established in gaming as Netflix is in video and Spotify in music.
The benefits go beyond subscription revenue. While Stadia itself won't have ads. Google will try to tie Stadia with its other services, like YouTube and its digital assistant. Ultimately, as more people use Google services, the company can collect more data on user habits and show more ads targeted to those interests.
But these tech companies must compete with gaming stalwarts Sony and Microsoft, both of which have streaming ambitions of their own. Unlike Google, they also have decades of experience negotiating with game publishers and navigating the gaming industry.
Microsoft's $10-a-month Xbox Game Pass lets players download more than 100 games on the Xbox console at no additional cost. The company is also working on a streaming service, Project xCloud, though few details are available. Sony's PlayStation Now, also at $10 a month, or $60 a year, lets users stream or download games on its PlayStation 4 console or a personal computer.
Stadia, on the other hand, isn't meant for the console. But it requires a PC with Google's Chrome browser or a Google-made device — a Chromebook laptop, a Chromecast TV streaming device or a Pixel phone. It won't work with other phones using the company's Android operating system, or on iPhones, for now.
The service will eventually cost $10 a month, but it's currently available only to those who bought a $130 bundle that includes a three-month subscription. The service currently offers 22 games — most carrying a separate fee. For example, the adventure game "Red Dead Redemption 2" starts at $60.
Apple is also getting into the game-subscription business with Apple Arcade. The $5-a-month service lets users download a variety of games to play on iPhones and iPads. Games don't cost extra. Apple Arcade lets people download games to play offline, but Stadia does not.
Google is competing on this front, too, with a separate subscription called Google Play Pass. The $5-a-month service gives users access to about 350 games and apps on Android devices.
Video game streaming typically requires a strong connection and more computing power than simply streaming video, as there is real-time interaction between player and game. Google says it is tapping its massive data centers to power the system.
From a technological front, Stadia impresses, said Randy Nelson, head of mobile insights at analytic firm Sensor Tower.
But elsewhere, Stadia falls short. He said there is a disconnect between the hard-core gaming audience that Google appears to be targeting, and the few compelling games actually available.
"Gylt," a fantasy horror adventure game, is the service's only new exclusive title. Other games available at launch include "Shadow of the Tomb Raider," "Mortal Kombat," "Just Dance 2020" and "Destiny 2" — but all of these are available on other game platforms, too.
"It does seem to be a bit of a bare-bones launch to get this service out the door," Nelson said. "Hopefully Google will expand it over time."
Nelson said Google's approach is odd because it targets hard-core gamers who probably already have a console or PC, as well as many of the games on offer, rather than trying to reach more mainstream or casual users who don't want to invest a few hundred dollars in a console.
"There's certainly a missed opportunity here to position Stadia as a gateway to console-style gaming for casual and mobile players," Nelson said.
Also, consumers might be confused about pricing.
Google sold "Founder's Edition" bundles in advance, but is now offering a "Premiere Edition" bundle for the same price and benefits. Besides a three-month subscription, the bundle offers a Chromecast Ultra streaming device and a controller.
A stand-alone monthly subscription won't be available until 2020. A free version will also be available then. And while games are sold separately, the price depends on which level of service the gamer has.
"It all stacks up to being a bit of a confounding offering from Google," Nelson said. "They're likely to struggle a bit initially getting traction due to a bit of misunderstanding part of consumers about what it is offering."
Google hasn't disclosed subscription figures, nor have Microsoft and Apple. Sony said PlayStation Now has 1 million subscribers.
NASA is testing an underwater robotic explorer in Antarctica this month to look for life under the ice, according to a release of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) on Monday.
Developed by engineers at the JPL, the Buoyant Rover for Under-Ice Exploration (BRUIE) could one day explore ice-covered lunar oceans like those on Jupiter's moon Europa and Saturn's moon Enceladus, said the JPL.
The upcoming test of the rover's endurance at Australia's Casey research station is its first trial in Antarctica.
According to the JPL, there are moons throughout the solar system believed to be covered in deep oceans hidden beneath thick, frozen surfaces. Kevin Hand, JPL lead scientist on the BRUIE project, believes that these lunar oceans may be the best places to look for life in the solar system.
"The ice shells covering these distant oceans serve as a window into the oceans below, and the chemistry of the ice could help feed life within those oceans," Hand said.
The Antarctic waters are the closest Earth analog to the seas of an icy moon, which makes them an ideal testing ground for BRUIE technology, said the JPL.
The buoyant rover, one meter long and equipped with two wheels to roll along beneath the ice, can take images and collect data on the important region where water and ice meet.
"BRUIE will carry several science instruments to measure parameters related to life, such as dissolved oxygen, water salinity, pressure and temperature," said Dan Berisford, JPL mechanical engineer.
NASA is already at work constructing the Europa Clipper orbiter, which is scheduled to be launched in 2025 to study Europa, laying the groundwork for a future mission that could search for life beneath ice.
Amazon has considered adding facial recognition technology to its Ring doorbell cameras, according to a letter to a U.S. senator defending its video-sharing partnerships with police.
The company told Sen. Ed Markey that facial recognition is a "contemplated, but unreleased feature" of its home security cameras but that there are no plans to coordinate that feature with its law enforcement partnerships.
Markey wrote to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in September raising privacy and civil liberty concerns about Ring's video-sharing agreements with police departments across the country. The company encourages police to tap into Ring's Neighbors app, a forum for residents to share videos of suspicious activity captured by their home security cameras.
The Massachusetts Democrat also expressed alarm that Ring may be pursuing face-scanning technology after a patent application showed the company is exploring a system that could flag certain people as suspicious and automatically alert police.
Markey released Amazon's responses Tuesday.
"If our customers want these features in Ring security cameras, we will only release these features with thoughtful design including privacy, security, and user control," Huseman wrote.
Markey's questions about facial recognition were part of broader concerns that some lawmakers and civil liberties advocates have about Ring and its police partnerships. Amazon sought to address those concerns in its letters to Markey, emphasizing that camera owners have a choice about whether to share videos. The company noted that police aren't allowed to seek recordings that are longer than 12 hours in duration or that cover a geographical area that is too specific or broad.
But Amazon also said it doesn't require law enforcement to delete a user's video footage after a certain period. Nor would it entertain Markey's request that it commit to never selling users' biometric information, saying only that it doesn't do so now.
Markey said Tuesday that Amazon is not doing enough to ensure that its products don't run afoul of civil liberties.
"Connected doorbells are well on their way to becoming a mainstay of American households, and the lack of privacy and civil rights protections for innocent residents is nothing short of chilling," he said in a statement.
"If you're an adult walking your dog or a child playing on the sidewalk, you shouldn't have to worry that Ring's products are amassing footage of you and that law enforcement may hold that footage indefinitely or share that footage with any third parties," he added.
More than 600 police departments have signed up to Ring's network since last year and many say it is becoming a useful crime-fighting tool. Among them is the police chief of Markey's hometown of Malden, Massachusetts. Chief Kevin Molis said he is Markey's neighbor and has known him since the 1970s but disagrees with him about Ring.
"We consider it a valuable tool for public safety," Molis said in an interview. "Is it a bad thing that private citizens, in order to make their streets safer, are investing their own money in a product that's allowing crimes to be solved and crimes to be prevented?"
But staff attorney Mohammad Tajsar of the ACLU of Southern California said Amazon's responses to Markey raise grave privacy concerns. Amazon told Markey it has no way of knowing if its cameras are collecting personal data from children or positioned in such a way that they're intruding on a neighbor's privacy.
"Even if you don't sell data, or provide data to law enforcement, you're creating a mechanism whereby people can express latent biases and racism and classism in a portal that encourages it," Tajsar said.
NASA scientists have completed the first map showing the global geology of Saturn's largest moon Titan, according to a release of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) on Monday.
The map fully reveals a dynamic world of dunes, lakes, plains, craters and other terrains, said the JPL.
"Titan is the only planetary body in the solar system other than Earth known to have stable liquid on its surface. But instead of water raining down from clouds and filling lakes and seas as on Earth, on Titan what rains down is methane and ethane ... that behave as liquids in Titan's frigid climate," it said.
"Titan has an active methane-based hydrologic cycle that has shaped a complex geologic landscape, making its surface one of most geologically diverse in the solar system," Rosaly Lopes, a planetary geologist at JPL and lead author of new research used to develop the map, was quoted as saying by the JPL.
"Despite the different materials, temperatures and gravity fields between Earth and Titan, many surface features are similar between the two worlds and can be interpreted as being products of the same geologic processes," she said.
According to the release, Lopes and her team worked with fellow planetary geologist David Williams of the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University in Tempe. Their findings, which include the relative age of Titan's geologic terrains, were recently published in the journal Nature Astronomy.
"Lopes' team used data from NASA's Cassini mission, which operated between 2004 and 2017 and did more than 120 flybys of the Mercury-size moon. Specifically, they used data from Cassini's radar imager to penetrate Titan's opaque atmosphere of nitrogen and methane," said the JPL.
"In addition, the team used data from Cassini's visible and infrared instruments, which were able to capture some of Titan's larger geologic features through the methane haze," it said.
"This study is an example of using combined datasets and instruments," Lopes said.
"Although we did not have global coverage with synthetic aperture radar (SAR), we used data from other instruments and other modes from radar to correlate characteristics of the different terrain units so we could infer what the terrains are even in areas where we don't have SAR coverage," she said.
An Israeli communications satellite Amos 17 launched in August from Florida, U.S., has reached its orbital space point, Spacecom, the company that operates the satellite, announced on Monday.
According to the Israeli company, based in the central city of Ramat Gan, the satellite has successfully completed all necessary tests and will begin its commercial operations within days.
The 250-million-U.S. dollar satellite, manufactured by U.S. aerospace giant Boeing Company, is expected to provide communications services to Africa, the Middle East, and Europe over the next 15 years.
The satellite is specifically designed to provide solutions for rising media activity in Africa, and is replacing the Amos 5 satellite, which was lost in space in December 2015.
In 2016, Spacecom also lost Amos-6 after a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket exploded on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.