Steam released its latest client update yesterday, which mostly included minor bug fixes and and a few new features, but one addition to Steam’s Remote Play is a bit curious. Spotted by PCWorld, Remote Play will now support up to 8K streaming—odd considering just two modern graphics cards actually have the specs to handle such a high resolution, and 8K TVs can cost thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. This is far out of reach for the average consumer.
If you’re not familiar with Remote Play, it’s one of Steam’s core features that lets users play any game in their library on another device (iOS, Apple TV, Android phones, etc.) from the Steam Link app as long as their PC is turned on. The stream quality is partially dependent on the hardware that’s in your rig. So if you only have an RTX 3060 or something similar in your PC and want to stream to your TV at 4K, that graphics card can’t handle streaming at 4K unless you turn the graphics setting down in the game, which sort of defeats the point of 4K streaming.
Nvidia’s RTX 3090 and AMD’s Radeon RX 6900 XT are the only consumer cards on the market that can handle 8K streaming, and even those GPUs can’t reach 60 frames per second in most games with the graphics setting on high. Most GPUs can’t even do 4K, at least not at 60 fps on ultra settings.
According to Steam’s most recent hardware survey, only 0.30% of Nvidia GeForce owners have an RTX 3090, and none of the new AMD Radeon 6000-series GPUs even show up on the survey. The newest AMD GPU with the most users is the RX 5700 XT at 1.02%. Close to 10% of users still have a GTX 1060 graphics card.
There’s also the issue of bandwidth and data consumption. Steam’s Remote Play works similar to cloud gaming, but instead of connecting to an Nvidia or Stadia server, you’re connecting to your own PC. That data is transferred over your home internet connection to your TV, phone, or whatever device you’re using to play your game, and the inputs you make on your device are transferred back to your PC. That’s a lot of downloading and uploading going on.
Streaming games in 4K can take up as much as 20GB an hour, according to Stadia. 8K streaming could take up twice as much, up to 40GB an hour or 25 hours of gaming for an entire month, assuming no one else is using the same data pool. That’s good news if you’re an ISP with data caps, but bad news if you’re someone who has to pay for going over that data cap. You’ll also need somewhere in the vicinity of a minimum 75-100Mbps download speed to handle that amount of data coming through the pipeline.
8K will become the de facto resolution for consumers one day, but that day won’t come any time soon, thanks to the cost and availability of 8K TVs and graphics cards. There are simply too many barriers to entry right now.