Microsoft Research 'DeLorean' Cloud Gaming Technology Employs Speculative Processing For Lag-Free Gaming
It seems obvious that the cloud is going to become a big part of our gaming future, but there are a number of issues to work through before it really hits the big time. Undoubtedly the biggest hurdle at this point is simple bandwidth; so many people deal with subpar connections, either due to slow speeds, low bandwidth caps, or both. Once that problem is solved, though, there's still the issue of latency - a fast Internet connection isn't quite as impressive if ping times are high.
When you're playing video games that are installed to either a console or PC, latency is virtually non-existent. Even the inevitable input delay that comes with wireless peripherals seems non-existent because our brains can't interpret a latency so small. With cloud gaming, though, even the best Internet connections might add a 50ms delay to things; potentially reduced if you live close to wherever the game is being streamed from, or worse when you live further away. The problem here is obvious.
For the most part, a latency like 50ms is suitable for online gaming, so it seems likely that most people would be satisfied with that when streaming a game as well. Of course there's the problem of added latencies when online gaming, and again, someone having to deal with a sub-par net connection. These are problems that Microsoft is aiming to solve with DeLorean, a predictive technology that the company says can compensate for up to a staggering 256ms.
It's not entirely clear if DeLorean would be a software or hardware solution, but what it does is gauge what player actions are likely to happen next, and prepare the frame in advance. Because your action might actually differ from what DeLorean expected, multiple possibilities would be queued up. As you might guess, this dramatically increases the workload of the cloud server, as well as the amount of bandwidth required - the tech report mentions that depending on the ping time, the bandwidth increase over straightforward game streaming would be 1.5x ~ 4.5x. Clearly, that's not going to be ideal for those who already suffer with less-than-ideal connections, either from the speed or bandwidth cap side of things.
Admittedly, a technology like this seems, to me, to be a pipe dream; the extra resources required are large, unless perhaps there's some sort of hardware accelerator brought in, and it seems way too likely that people will not like the random behavior that could be caused from such a solution. It's mentioned in the tech report that DeLorean would be willing to introduce visual artifacts if required, and that of course won't be kosher with everyone.
Personally, I almost think I'd rather have a higher ping time than the potentially bizarre behavior of DeLorean, but, it must be said that with internal tests using Doom 3 and Fable 3, most people couldn't tell the difference between playing the locally installed copy and the streaming version through DeLorean. Perhaps my skepticism is uncalled for.