After years of being nothing more than a pipe dream, set-top boxes that stream PC games to your TV are everywhere these days. But most of them have some glaring issues: Valve’s Steam Link is limited to Steam games alone, Nvidia’s Shield Android TV console will set you back $200, and Razer’s Forge TV never actually rolled out its Cortex Stream solution for PC gamers, with the company recently abandoning the idea all together after mammoth delays.
Enter Emtec's tiny $99 Gaming-Entertainment-Multimedia (GEM) Box, revealed at CES 2016. You could call it the poor man’s Shield console—it even uses a hacked-together version of Nvidia’s streaming technology to beam your PC games straight to your TV.
The Android-powered GEM Box relies on Moonlight Game Streaming, an open-source implementation of Nvidia’s GameStream, to stream your games—and anything else—after you’ve installed the Moonlight client on your GeForce graphic card-equipped PC. Sorry, AMD users: A lack of Radeon support is this box's glaring weakness.
As with other PC-streaming set-top boxes, your network strength will affect performance, but Moonlight (formerly Limelight) has been out for years now and enjoys a strong reputation. The developers say you’ll hit a rock-solid 60 frames-per-second with minimal lag when you’re streaming PC games over a robust network.
Emtec’s GEM Box supports GameFly’s relatively new game-streaming service, as well, and it’ll also pack the Android versions of Twitch and YouTube, along with several other undisclosed entertainment apps. Don’t see an app you’d like? Just install it! The GEM Box will ship with Google’s Play Store. If you’re looking for ways to get locally stored media on your TV, Emtec’s device comes with a USB connection and a microSD port, and it supports the Miracast and AirPlay wireless display technologies, as well.
Emtec’s not talking about the GEM Box’s internals, aside from saying that it’s “powered by Gigabyte Technology’s award-winning motherboards and graphic chipset configurations,” nor is it revealing a release date yet. But that $99 sticker price—half the price of Nvidia’s Shield—will get you a Bluetooth controller to go with your Box, and the GEM supports up to four controllers for multiplayer action.
Why this matters: At $99, the GEM Box’s price is certainly right, and it seems packed with utility—but what really matters in the living room is user experience. Emtec is promising a custom interface for its console built from the ground up around gamepad input. Will it kick ass or be a pain in the ass? And how well will it stream PC games, since that’s really the core appeal of this device? People have been using Moonlight happily for years at this point, but if Emtec’s implementation falters for any reason, the GEM Box’s usefulness would be seriously diminished. Just look at how sluggish PC streaming killed our enthusiasm for NZXT’s Doko box.
The GEM Box definitely looks intriguing on paper, though—at least if you're rocking a GeForce GPU.