There are still many who doubt the long-term viability of Google’s game streaming service but it’s hard to deny that, at least for now, Stadia is the talk of the gaming town (right next to the Xbox Series X). Part of its appeal is the promise of being able to play graphics-intensive AAA games on almost any device but it really proves that point with the Chromecast Ultra, the primary and blessed Stadia “console”. It was, to some extent, a rather cunning strategy to sell more Chromecast Ultras through the Founders’ Edition but now Google has opened the doors for any ordinary Chromecast Ultra to finally be Stadia-ready.
As previously theorized and confirmed by Google itself, there is no hardware difference between the Stadia Founders Edition Chromecast Ultra and the circular HDMI streaming dongles Google launched years ago. Both support 4K output, even if some Stadia games don’t deliver that, and HDR. They apparently also tend to get pretty warm with prolonged intense use, something which some Stadia gamers have loudly complained about.
The difference, then, lies in the software that runs on the Stadia Chromecast Ultra that enables specific gaming functionality and performance tweaks. It was a version of the software that Google said wasn’t yet ready for the Chromecast Ultra. It was perhaps also a way to make the Founders and Premiere Editions have exclusivity for a short period.
Now that exclusivity is finally over and Google is pushing out an update that will make any Chromecast Ultra run Google Stadia. Of course, that only matters if you already have a Stadia account anyway, perhaps through a Buddy Pass from a Founder. You’ll also need a controller, of course, and the official Stadia Controller is available on its own for $69.
The addition of regular Chromecast Ultras to the compatibility list could help increase Stadia use which, in turn, could further help stress test Google’s servers and connections. There have been a few complaints about the latency in performance despite Google’s promises. And that despite Stadia being available to only a small number of subscribers.