Experiment Setup

We have set up a GamingAnywhere testbed in our lab. We conduct the experiments using Windows 7 desktops with Intel 2.67 GHz i7 processors if not otherwise specified. For evaluation purposes, we compare the performance of GamingAnywhere against OnLive [29] and StreamMyGame (SMG) [34]. Figure 6 illustrates the experimental setup, which consists of a server, a client, and a router. The OnLive server resides in OnLive's data centers, while the GamingAnywhere and SMG servers are installed on our own PCs. More specifically, the OnLive client connects to the OnLive server over the Internet, while the GamingAnywhere and SMG clients connect to their servers via a LAN. To evaluate the performance of the cloud gaming systems under diverse network conditions, we add a FreeBSD router between the client and server, and run dummynet on it to inject constraints of delays, packet losses, and network bandwidths.

Because the OnLive server is outside our LAN, the quality of the network path between our OnLive client and the server might affect our evaluations. However, according to our observations, the quality of the path was consistently good throughout the experiments. The network delay of the path was around 130 ms with few fluctuations. Furthermore, the packet loss rates were measured to be less than 10−6 when receiving OnLive streams at the recommended 5 Mbps. Therefore, the path between the OnLive server and our client can be considered as a communication channel with sufficient bandwidth, zero packet loss rate, and a constant 130 ms latency.

Since the performance of cloud gaming systems may be game-dependent, we consider games from three popular categories: action adventure, first-person shooter, and real-time strategy. We pick a representative game from each category, and briefly introduce them in the following.

  • LEGO Batman: The Videogame (Batman) [2] is an action-adventure game, created by Traveller's Tales in 2008. All the interactive objects in this game are made of Lego bricks. In this game, players control the characters to fight enemies and solve puzzles from a third-person perspective.
  • F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin (FEAR) [1] is a first-person shooter game, developed by Monolith Productions in 2009. The combat scenes are designed to be as close to those in real life as possible. In this game, players have great freedom to interact with the environments, e.g., they can flip over a desk to take cover.
  • Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II (DOW) [3] is a real-time strategy game developed by Relic Entertainment in 2009. In the campaign mode, players control squads to fight against enemies and destroy the buildings. In the multiplayer mode, up to 8 players play matches on the same map to complete a mission, such as holding specific positions.
Modern video encoders strive to achieve the highest video quality with the smallest bit rate by applying complex coding techniques. However, overly-complex coding techniques are not feasible for real-time videos given their lengthy encoding time. As such, we empirically study the tradeoff among the bit rate, video quality, and frame complexity using x264. More specifically, we apply the real-time encoding parameters summarized in Appendix , and exercise a wide spectrum of other encoding parameters. We then analyze the resulting video quality and encoding time. Based on our analysis, we recommend the following x264 encoding parameters:

--profile main --preset faster --tune zerolatency
--bitrate $r --ref 1 --me dia --merange 16
--intra-refresh --keyint 48 --sliced-threads
--slices 4 --threads 4 --input-res 1280x720,

where $r is the encoding rate. We configure the GamingAnywhere server to use the above-mentioned encoding parameters, and we set the encoding bit rate to be 3 Mbps. For a fair comparison, all games are streamed at a resolution of 720p. Whereas we configure GamingAnywhere and OnLive to stream at 50 fps, StreamMyGame only supports streaming at 25 fps. We design the experiments to evaluate the three gaming systems from two critical aspects: responsiveness and video quality. We also conduct experiments to quantify the network loads incurred by different cloud gaming systems. The details of the experimental designs and results are given in the rest of this section.

6.2  Responsiveness

We define response delay (RD) to be the time difference between a user submitting a command and the corresponding in-game action appearing on the screen. Studies [8,17,46] report that players of various game categories can tolerate different degrees of RD; for example, it was observed that first-person shooter game players demand for less than 100 ms RD [8]. However, since measuring RD in cloud gaming systems is not an easy task (as discussed in Section 2.2), we adopt the RD measurement procedure proposed in [5], in which the RD is divided into three components:
  • Processing delay (PD) is the time required for the server to receive and process a player's command, and to encode and transmit the corresponding frame to that client.
  • Playout delay (OD) is the time required for the client to receive, decode, and render a frame on the display.
  • Network delay (ND) is the time required for a round of data exchange between the server and client. ND is also known as round-trip time (RTT).
Therefore, we have RD=PD+OD+ND.
Figure 7: Response delays of GamingAnywhere, OnLive, and StreamMyGame.
ND can be measured using probing packets, e.g., in ICMP protocol, and is not controllable by cloud gaming systems. Moreover, ND in a LAN is much smaller than that in the Internet. Therefore, for a fair comparison among the cloud gaming systems, we exclude ND from RD measurements in the rest of this paper. Measuring PD (at the server) and OD (at the client) is much more challenging, because they occur internally in the cloud gaming systems, which may be closed and proprietary. The procedure detailed in [5] measures the PD and OD using external probes only, and thus works for all the considered cloud gaming systems.

For GamingAnywhere, we further divide the PD and OD into subcomponents by instrumenting the server and client. More specifically, PD is divided into: (i) memory copy, which is the time for copying a raw image out of the games, (ii) format conversion, which is the time for color-space conversion, (iii) video encoding, which is the time for video compression, and (iv) packetization, which is the time for segmenting each frame into one or multiple packets. OD is divided into: (i) frame buffering, which is the time for receiving all the packets belonging to the current frame (ii) video decoding, which is the time for video decompression, and (iii) screen rendering, which is the time for displaying the decoded frame.

Results. Figure 7 reports the average PD (server) and OD (client) achieved by the considered cloud gaming systems. From this figure, we make several observations. First, the OD is small, ≤ 31 ms, for all cloud gaming systems and considered games. This reveals that all the decoders are efficient, and the decoding time of different games does not fluctuate too much. Second, GamingAnywhere achieves a much smaller PD, at most 34 ms, than OnLive and SMG, which are observed to be as high as 191 and 365 ms, respectively. This demonstrates the efficiency of the proposed GamingAnywhere: the PDs of OnLive and SMG are 3+ and 10+ times longer than that of GamingAnywhere. Last, among the three systems, only GamingAnywhere achieves sub-100 ms RD, and may satisfy the stringent delay requirements of networked games [8].

Figure 8: Delay decomposition of GamingAnywhere.
Figure 8 presents the decomposed delay subcomponents of PD and OD. This figure reveals that the GamingAnywhere server and client are well-tuned, in the sense that all the steps in the pipeline are fairly efficient. Even for the most time-consuming video encoding (at the server) and video rendering (at the client), each frame is finished in at most 16 and 7 ms on average. Such a low delay contributes to the superior RD of GamingAnywhere, compared to the other well-known cloud gaming systems.

Figure 9: Network loads incurred by the considered cloud gaming systems.

6.3  Network Loads

We next quantify the network loads incurred by GamingAnywhere. In particular, we recruit an experienced gamer, and ask him to play each game using different cloud gaming systems. Every game session lasts for 10 minutes, and the network packets are captured by Wireshark. For a fair comparison, the player is asked to follow two guidelines. First, he shall visit as many areas as possible and fight the opponents as in normal game plays. Second, he shall repeat his actions and trajectories as much as possible.

Results. Figure 9 plots the uplink and downlink traffic characteristics, including bit rate, packet rate, and payload length. The bar charts show the average values with 95% confidence intervals. Figures 9(a)-9(c) reveal that the proposed GamingAnywhere incurs a much lower uplink traffic loads, compared to OnLive and SMG. The only exception is that, with Batman, SMG incurs lower uplink packet rate (Figure 9(b)). However, SMG also produces a larger uplink payload size (Figure 9(c)), which leads to a higher uplink bit rate than that of GamingAnywhere (Fig 9(a)). Figures 9(d)-9(f) reveal that the downlink bit rates of OnLive are between 3-5 Mbps, while those of SMG are between 10-13 Mbps. This finding indicates that the compression algorithm employed by OnLive achieves up to a 4.33 times higher compression rate, compared to that of SMG.

Figure 10: Achieved video quality in PSNR under different network conditions.
Figure 11: Achieved video quality in SSIM under different network conditions.
We can make another observation on Figure 9(d): GamingAnywhere incurs a download bit rate ≤ 3 Mbps, which is also much lower than that of SMG. However, given that we set the encoding bit rate at 3 Mbps, the download bit rate should never be smaller than that. We took a closer look and found that, with GamingAnywhere, only Batman achieves 50 fps; FEAR and DOW only achieve 35-42 fps, which leads to lower download bit rate and may result in irregular playouts. Our in-depth analysis shows that, unlike Batman, both FEAR and DOW use multisampling surfaces, which cannot be locked for memory copy operations. More specifically, an additional non-multisampling surface and an extra copy operation are required for FEAR and DOW, which in turn hurts the achieved frame rates. As one of our future tasks, we will optimize the multi-threaded design of the GamingAnywhere server, so as to minimize the synchronization overhead.

In summary, we have shown that GamingAnywhere incurs much lower network traffic loads. Even though the current GamingAnywhere implementation only achieves 35-42 fps for games using multisampling surfaces, such a frame rate is still much higher than the 25 fps of SMG. On the other hand the slightly lower achieved frame rate may affect the fairness of video quality comparisons between GamingAnywhere and OnLive. Therefore, in the rest of this section, we only report results from Batman.

6.4  Video Quality

Video streaming quality directly affects gaming experience, and network conditions are the keys for high-quality streaming. In this light, we use dummynet to control three network condition metrics: network delay (ND), packet loss rate, and network bandwidth. We vary ND between 0-600 ms, packet loss rate between 0-10%, and bandwidth 1-6 Mbps in our experiments. We also include experiments with unlimited bandwidth. For OnLive, the ND in the Internet is already 130 ms and thus we cannot report the results from zero ND. Two video quality metrics, PSNR [40,p. 29] and Structural Similarity (SSIM) [41], are adopted. We report the average PSNR and SSIM values of the Y-component.

Results. Figures 10 and 11 present the PSNR and SSIM values, respectively. We make four observations on these two figures. First, ND does not affect the video quality too much (Figures 10(a) and 11(a)). Second, GamingAnywhere achieves much higher video quality than OnLive and SMG: up to 3 dB and 0.03, and 19 dB and 0.15 gaps are observed, respectively. Third, GamingAnywhere suffers from quality drops when packet loss rate is nontrivial, as illustrated in Figures 10(b) and 11(b). This can be attributed to the missing error resilience mechanism in GamingAnywhere. Nevertheless, high packet loss rates are less common in modern networks. Last, Figures 10(c) and 11(c) show that the video quality of GamingAnywhere suddenly drops when the bandwidth is smaller than the encoding bit rate of 3 Mbps. A potential future work to address this is to add a rate adaptation heuristic to dynamically adjust the encoding bit rate, in order to utilize all the available bandwidth without overloading the networks.