Quick review of Parsec – In-home game streaming for the masses

I generally don’t review software but ever so often I will use something that works so well and is just incredible in terms of implementation that I just have to talk about it. For the past 4 days I haven’t been able to sit at my main desk space due to the air conditioning in my room not working. Despite having 2 laptops and full RDP access to my desktop that I use for work and school I still had one use case unaccounted for: playing PC games. Now, I’m not a competitive or hardcore gamer by any means but being able to play Call of Duty Warzone with friends has been a go-to social activity while we are all social distancing. I knew that RDP would not be a solution for gaming, but that’s when I remember watching a Linus Tech Tips video on Parsec. Although Linus and his team were using Parsec for video editing, Parsec brands itself as an in-home game streaming solution that allows users to remotely connect to their PCs with super low latency video encoding and decoding, making it ideal for gaming. I was a bit skeptical at first, thinking that delivering 1080p at 60 FPS with around 4-8ms of latency would be impossible but I was pleasantly surprised to see that Parsec delivers on it’s promise of low latency desktop streaming, and then some.

The setup was dead simple, just sign up for an account and setup Parsec on a host a client machine and you should be able to connect. My setup is pretty simple which involves my Dell Inspiron 3847 desktop (specs on my About page) and my Lenovo ThinkPad E750. The desktop is connected via Ethernet to a gigabit switch to a Spectrum “high performance” router. My ThinkPad is connected to this router through a 802.11ac 5 GHz connection, courtesy of an Intel Dual Band 2×2 8265 wireless chipset. I generally play with a PS3 controller, which is not supported natively in Windows 10. I already have this working with my desktop using and old version of SCP DS3 but I need to pass through the input on my ThinkPad, so I used Shibari since I was unable to find a working version of SCP DS3. Both SCP and Shibari make the PS3 DualShock controller appear as an Xinput controller, specifically an Xbox 360 controller, so games that have native controller support can work pretty much flawlessly. Parsec automatically has pass thru Xinput support, so no additional config was needed for my controller.

I finally fired up Call of Duty Warzone and wow is this piece of software impressive. Now there is definitely some input lag and this is due to both the video encode/decode latency and Vsync enabled in Parsec (but still disabled in the game). I opted to leave the Parsec Vsync on since I already experience a ton of screen tearing in Warzone (it pretty much maxes out the performance of my GTX 1050 Ti) and didn’t want to exacerbate the problem when I’m streaming it. Star Wars Battlefront II and Grand Theft Auto V performed quite a bit better since they rely less on low latency input and overall the experience was great, except for one complaint. Parsec can pass thru audio output just fine, but currently does not support mic input. This is fine for most of the games I play except for Warzone, and since my friends are playing on console they can’t use something like Discord for comms. The workaround proposed by Parsec is super janky as it consists of using two Discord accounts, a audio driver to loop back audio out to audio in, and having to subject your friends to incredibly annoying echo’s while talking. I tried this out and it did not bode well so I went back to just having to point to stuff in game, which makes communicating a lot harder in a game where good communication is essential. Overall, I’m still really impressed by Parsec and will continue to use it while I’m away from my desk.

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