Video gaming has transitioned through multiple iterations and mediums throughout the years. Whether we’re talking about arcade cabinets, VR headsets or mobile gaming, it’s always kind of a crapshoot to predict where exactly the gaming market will flock to next. One thing is certain, success relies on more than just a fresh idea, but also on opportunity, capability, and execution. Samsung has found its opportunity with their Gaming Hub, and the South Korean technology powerhouse has proven it is more than capable. Now, as the Gaming Hub rolls out across some older Samsung TV models, and will come standard on many future monitors and TVs, it’s time to see if Samsung has nailed their execution.
Last week during PAX, I was treated to an offsite demo of Samsung’s Gaming Hub at Samsung’s Seattle Office. The private demo was given by none other than industry legend Mike Lucero, known for his work managing and launching Microsoft’s Xbox Live and growing Twitch to the premiere game streaming service it has become. Now he sits as the head of product management for Samsung’s Gaming Department. As we stepped into the gaming room at Samsung, Xbox controllers awaited our arrival, alongside a newer model of one of Samsung’s TVs.
If you’re unfamiliar with Samsung’s Gaming Hub, then it’s highly likely you’ve missed their media push over the past year as they showcased its capabilities at Summer Game Fest, The Game Awards, Gamescom, and several other game shows. Although Samsung didn’t specifically have a presence at PAX, we were able to schedule some time for Mike to show off, not only what the Gaming Hub is capable of (which includes playing its growing roster of MMOs), but Samsung’s new hardware, their portable projector, the Freestyle Gen 2.
“I met with our president Won-jin, and he asked ‘what should we do?’” Mike told me. “The problem statement was, we know that gaming is the biggest form of entertainment, and we know that if we don’t do some special stuff with gamers, that we’ll quickly become irrelevant. We noticed some trends happening that could favor us right now, so we needed someone to channel all that into something. So I pitched him the Gaming Hub, which is basically all things gaming in one place, in a contextually relevant environment for gamers.”
Within moments the Gaming Hub was on the screen, and he began to flick through several menus. The first thing that caught my attention was that he was utilizing an Xbox controller, but we weren’t utilizing the Xbox Console yet. The interoperability was built within the TV itself, and the crazy thing was, when we attempted to pair a controller with the hub later on, the pairing process to get your controller to work with the TV was far easier than attempting to pair a new controller with the actual Xbox Console itself. According to Mike, you can pair about 90% of gamepad peripherals, but you can also pair headsets as well. Keyboard and Mouse are generally not supported for Xbox Console games and may not be supported for other streaming services, so even though you can connect KB&M to most Samsung Devices, you may not be able to utilize them in-game.
All Things Gaming in One Place
I would come to find much later that Samsung’s Gaming Hub will also warn you that your control is paired to the TV prior to you accessing the Xbox Console, opting for you to swap whether the TV or the Console takes precedence of your input device. I found this out during my at home test of Samsung’s Gaming Hub on my Samsung QN65S95B, which I’ll get into in greater detail later on.
The main home page of the Gaming Hub is a comprehensive synthesis of multiple gaming platforms on one easy to access page. For those that may have a newer Samsung TV, you can find the hub as a controller icon situated on the left-hand side of the screen. By default, there are several popular cloud options available for selection, like Xbox Game Pass (Xbox Cloud), GeForce Now, Luna, and Utomik. Unfortunately, you can’t add any of your own services to the Gaming Hub, or at least, I wasn’t able to find a way to install services like Shadow Cloud as of this article. Still, that leaves players with over 3000 games that you can choose to stream, and there are plenty of MMO’s available on these services, such as Elder Scrolls Online, Lost Ark, New World, Black Desert and many more.
If you have any systems attached to the TV (like I did on my TV at home) these also appear as apps or devices available for you. While some sponsored content will vie for your visual attention, and some rows of recommended or new games will fill the space to keep you in the loop, the main page makes it easy to swap quickly between services, while it keeps a familiar schema to Samsung’s Tizen powered Media Hub. Not so coincidentally, you could also navigate the other hubs on the Samsung TV utilizing your preferred controller if you wanted to.
If you’re thinking a simple integrated display screen isn’t that impressive, you’re not wrong. The Gaming Hub doesn’t just collect cloud gaming and connected systems and display them on a single screen, Mike explained that there was a lot of forethought into the technology to decrease latency, which will aid in using your peripherals with cloud gaming services.
“We worked collaboratively with all of our partners in terms of latency,” Mike said as he showed off the quick navigation through the menus. “We had two opportunities to reduce latency. The first was between the Bluetooth controller and the TV. As you can imagine, every millisecond counts, so even if it’s just 10 milliseconds, that’s actually a huge amount, so we shaved off a number of milliseconds from between the Bluetooth controller and the TV. And then we also have this thing that’s called Game Mode that takes 30% of latency out of the TV itself and that’s done through our chips. So, we’ve done our share of the heavy lifting.”
However, when it comes to cloud gaming, hardware can only take you so far. The other half of the problem relies on the services themselves, and of course, your internet connection. “Our partners, obviously they have their own great infrastructure, but we had a minimum bar they had to hit from a latency perspective, and they’ve achieved that. And the telcos prioritize their network traffic, so that it’s higher in their prioritization rank, so it doesn’t get pushed down with everything else.” These features lend themselves to the best possible performance you could expect, especially when you start comparing the latency and streaming ability to lower cost stream-capable devices that consistently have high latency and poor performance such as Amazon’s Firesticks.
Reduced latency through Samsung’s technology is certainly a huge boost, but what Gaming Hub is working to cultivate is a better software experience for gamers. Integrated within Gaming Hub are useful features, such as Spotify integration so that you can play your favorite songs while you play your favorite games, and Metacritic integration, so you can quickly get an aggregate score of games that pop up on the Hub. You can also browse Twitch and YouTube Gaming videos, which can be accessed as part of the Gaming Hub Overlay. Unfortunately, at this time you can’t watch videos while you’re also in a game, which would be extremely helpful for those looking for guides and walkthroughs, but Mike told me that they are looking into that functionality.
During the demo, we booted up Skyrim through Xbox Cloud and we were off and running. In the ideal conditions of the Samsung Office, the game ran very well, and although Skyrim’s graphics are outdated, and Xbox Cloud compression leaves a lot to be desired in terms of visual acuity, the experience was solid. Fast forward several days, after PAX concluded and I was finally able to loaf on the couch with my Xbox controller in hand, connected to my Samsung TV, and a more realistic experience started to take shape.
The model of TV that I have, the S95B was regarded as one of the best price-to-performance TVs of 2022, and the picture quality is truly superb. I’ve had the TV for a while, but I was never drawn to the Gaming Hub before, mostly sticking to the Media Hub even when I choose to game on my consoles. My primary gripe with the Media Hub on my TV, revolves around Samsung’s insistence on utilizing Tizen as their OS.
For the Media Hub, Tizen still feels clunky, and there is a noticeable delay at times when I’m scrolling through Media. This issue wasn’t as noticeable when I was sifting through the Gaming Hub. The first game I booted up was Starfield. Due to the nature of Xbox’s Cloud Gaming, you can’t really expect as crisp of details as you would have had if you downloaded the game, and because I was used to playing the PC version of Starfield to begin with, I wasn’t impressed by what I saw. This is more of a difference between the cloud service and playing a game natively, so Samsung isn’t at fault here. Performance-wise, the controller latency was still exceptional, and I couldn’t really tell any difference between the controller through the TV itself, or if the controller was connected to the Xbox.
The main difficulty I experienced while playing had to do with lag related to the streaming services themselves. Streaming games in my experience is always a risk, and this is coming from someone with extensive Cloud Gaming experience with a multitude of services. From time to time I would get some lag, hiccups, and visual distortion, and that wasn’t just on Starfield from Xbox Cloud, but also on Wayfinder through GeForce Now. There are so many factors that determine how well Cloud Gaming performs, that even with a premiere user experience to bridge that gap with Samsung’s Gaming Hub, there are many cases where performance may still suffer. Luckily, it was easy to look past the paltry performance pitfalls for a great game experience.
In terms of the Gaming Hub itself, there were a few issues that I feel gamers will want that haven’t been implemented. Screenshots, especially while using the Xbox controller (and slapping the screen capture button) didn’t take any screenshots. This was equally an issue with any kind of screen capture, and I feel like this is a major hurdle that Samsung will likely find trouble addressing, primarily because most TVs have very limited storage to house screenshots. Some of these services do allow for screenshots to be taken, and housed in the cloud, but even in those cases, Samsung would need to find a way for gamers to access that media. I suspect Streamers or game streaming will equally be of interest, and as of this article, there were no Game Streaming options available.
The Most Bang for your Buck
Watching videos and gaming at the same time, which I briefly mentioned earlier, was also burdensome. In order to search for a video or watch something, you had to stop playing, and close out of the game entirely. Cloud Gaming can be temperamental, and some services will log you out after a period of inactivity anyways, but closing out of the session to watch a video, then going through the rigmarole to restart the service was a little much.
It’s important to take into consideration that the Gaming Hub is still a work in progress, and I’m sure there are a lot of features that are going to change. The Gaming Hub also provides performance options depending on the type of game you’re playing, though after testing several of the presets, I really couldn’t tell a difference in performance at all. All of these features will be honed in time, but until then, I foresee my experiences with Samsung’s Gaming Hub will be limited to trying out games on services like GeForce Now and Luna on my TV when I don’t want to haul myself up the stairs to my PC. Mike believes that Samsung will actually capitalize in other ways with Gaming Hub.
“There’s so many use cases, for example, we talked to thousands of players and did a lot of research, but one of the things that we’re going to see is PlayStation gamers who don’t want to buy an Xbox, but want to play the games – like Starfield they’re really going to want to play – that’s an example where Gaming Hub will bring other gamers into the fold. It broadens the platform. PlayStation players can play Xbox games,” he said. This particular use case certainly resonated with a lot of players, as Microsoft has purchased some of the best RPG development studios, such as Obsidian, Blizzard and Bethesda, and could eventually make more titles exclusive to the Xbox ecosystem. PlayStation players with Samsung TVs not only would be able to play these games through Xbox Cloud without buying a separate system, or changing devices, but they would also be able to use their PlayStation controllers to play.
Flashback to my time in the Samsung Office, Mike and I were wrapping up our Skyrim gaming session. We shifted focus to Samsung’s new Freestyle Gen 2 Projector, so the lights were dimmed, and the projector beamed a light on to a nearby wall displaying the familiar screen of Samsung’s Gaming Hub. GeForce Now was selected and within moment’s Baldur’s Gate 3’s chanting melody played through the integrated 360-degree speakers. Mike was giddy to show off the Freestyle Gen 2’s Auto leveling, Focus, and Keystone features, which provided exceptional picture quality. Our only gripe was that the office had far more ambient light than we would have liked, washing out some of the visuals. The Freestyle is a projector, after all, and while it has some ample benefits, such as its portability along with its battery expansion, Bluetooth capabilities to connect your peripherals, and the ability to point the projector at any angle (which would make it excellent for playing games on a ceiling in bed), the scourge of ambient light is still a very real and present peril.
Unfortunately, I didn’t leave with any extensive experience with the Freestyle Gen 2, but in coordination with the push to make Samsung’s Gaming Hub an all-inclusive nexus for cloud gaming, I could clearly see some fun experiences planned just based on the portability options alone. As my time at Samsung came to a close, I was optimistic about what the Gaming Hub may become in the future. I am arguably Samsung’s prime demographic. I’ve consistently used their hardware for gaming, and have been utilizing cloud gaming services for years. I can see some major benefits, including the presence of a built-in cloud gaming console on many of their products which include TVs, monitors, and projectors.
Mike specifically outlined Samsung’s approach, and how the hardware giant plans to achieve value both in the short and long term when it comes to bringing the best services and partners to the platform. “We have the biggest market share for Televisions, so what we bring to partners is scale. We’re obviously the first stop because if they’re going to make an investment, they’re going to get the most bang for their buck with us. Another reason is because we have very good TVs, and we do support cloud streaming so we have the tech to justify that.”
As a platform, Samsung still has an uphill battle to fight. Cloud gaming is gaining in popularity, but it’s not quite widespread enough or coveted enough on its own to warrant a TV purchase outright, especially when most android devices can piecemeal the apps together, even if the performance leaves a lot to be desired. With that in mind, Samsung’s major strength will be in their user experience, and if they can manage to build important streaming and capture features, expand their gaming library, and integrate gaming content as part and parcel to the Gaming Hub without taking you out of the game, I can see a major following here.
Even in this early stage I can tell that the Gaming Hub has legs, and with a little love, gamers might do away with consoles altogether, and utilize the hub to stream their favorite games instead. Are you ready to check out the Samsung Gaming Hub? You can find it on newer Samsung TV models ranging from 2020 – 2023 and beyond.