Parsec vs Moonlight: Which Tool Is Better for Remote Gaming?
Game streaming has revolutionized the gaming industry, allowing players to play the latest games at high settings on their phones, tablets or cheap office laptops wherever they are. While there are a few great off-the-shelf cloud gaming services with fairly big libraries of supported games, players who seek more freedom also have the option to stream games from their own gaming PCs or rented cloud PCs. Two leading tools for that purpose are Parsec and Moonlight, each developed with distinct goals and unique features in mind.
Parsec is a free game streaming client that has gained significant popularity due to its simplicity of setting up and focus on delivering a low-latency stream. Initially developed by Parsec Cloud, Inc. and now part of Unity, this tool empowers gamers to stream demanding titles to most lower-end devices. While the free version of Parsec is sufficient for cloud gaming, Parsec also offers a paid version of their client for $9.99 / month with more features mostly interesting for creative professionals.
Moonlight is an open-source game streaming project that relies primarily on the NVIDIA GameStream technology. Developed by the community, Moonlight has garnered a dedicated user base thanks to its availability on a large variety of platforms and its focus on providing the best streaming quality.
In this blog post, we’ll undertake a comparative analysis of Parsec and Moonlight, taking into account various criteria to help you discern which tool aligns best with your gaming needs and preferences. Whether you’re seeking low latency, the best stream quality, or the most user-friendly experience, we’ll explore how these two platforms measure up in each aspect.
Before we dive into the comparison, please note that both Parsec and Moonlight require you to have access to a powerful enough PC to run your games. If you don’t own one, you can rent a cloud PC starting from $0.65 per hour.
1. Latency and Responsiveness
Parsec has been developed from day 1 with the goal to provide the lowest latency ensuring a responsive gaming experience with minimal lag. This makes it the first choice for fast-paced games and competitive gaming.
While Moonlight’s focus is on quality, it also provides a low-latency stream and near-native experience, especially if you’re streaming on the same network. Overall it feels just a tad less responsive than Parsec.
2. Stream Quality
Parsec offers a great stream quality with bitrates up to 50 Mbit/s which is sufficient for a clear picture even when streaming at 4K 60 FPS.
Moonlight supports bitrates up to 150 Mbit/s and any resolution and refresh rate that your host PC supports which means you’ll get a crystal clear picture if you have a high-speed connection to your host PC. Recently, Moonlight also added support for the new AV1 codec which offers even better quality at lower bitrates if your hardware supports it.
Moonlight offers more options to increase the stream quality
3. Device Compatibility
Parsec offers wide compatibility, supporting Windows, macOS, Linux and Android devices. Parsec is not available for iOS, iPadOS and Android TV. It’s also worth noting that Parsec only supports streaming games from Windows PCs or Macs.
Moonlight supports even more platforms: It’s available for Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS, iPadOS, and ChromeOS as well as a few game consoles, smart TVs and even single-board computers like the Raspberry Pi 4. It’s possible to stream from PCs running Windows, macOS or Linux.
4. Multiplayer Support
One of Parsec’s standout features was multiplayer support. It enabled you to invite friends to play games with you remotely, creating a seamless social gaming experience. Unfortunately, that feature was removed in April 2023. It is still possible to connect multiple controllers for “local” multiplayer and to connect with multiple clients to the same host. If you’re planning to play online with your friends, Parsec also offers the option to pass through your microphone so you can use in-game voice chats.
Moonlight supports connecting multiple controllers for “local” multiplayer sessions. It’s also possible to connect multiple client devices to the same host. Microphone passthrough is not possible with Moonlight.
5. Cost and Licensing
Parsec is proprietary software but offers a free tier which offers everything you need for remote gaming. You will have to sign up with your email address though. The paid version of Parsec offers more features like better color quality and multiple screens but those extra features are mostly interesting for creative professionals.
Moonlight is entirely free and open-source published under the GPLv3 license. This makes it an attractive choice for those who prefer community-driven software. You can use Moonlight without having to provide your email address.
6. User Experience
Parsec is known for its user-friendly interface, making it easy for beginners to set up and start streaming games. Both hosting tool and client are integrated in the same app so connecting your gaming PC with your client device is as easy as downloading Parsec and signing in with the same email on both devices. If you’re connecting to a PC outside your local network, Parsec will handle establishing a stable connection so it’s almost never necessary to touch your router configuration.
Parsec offers a more user-friendly interface
Setting up game streaming with Moonlight is also relatively easy, especially when you’re streaming on the same network. Since Moonlight acts as a GameStream client, you’ll have to install a compatible hosting tool like Sunshine on the PC you want to stream from. Once everything is installed, you can pair your client device to your PC and start streaming. If you’re planning to stream to a client device outside your local network, it may be necessary to open ports through your router or use a direct VPN service like Tailscale or ZeroTier.
7. Updates and the Future
Parsec was initially developed by Parsec Cloud, Inc. which was acquired by Unity in 2021. The Parsec app has still been getting regular updates after the acquisition and there are no plans to discontinue the free version of the app. Just keep in mind here that Parsec is being owned by a company with a different focus than providing a free game streaming app, so things can change anytime.
Moonlight is being actively developed by the community without any particular company backing the development. Since Moonlight is open-source, there is zero no chance the tool will just disappear or be put behind a paywall.
Your choice between Moonlight and Parsec hinges on your specific gaming needs, hardware, and preferences. To pick one over the other, consider the distinctive strengths of each tool, whether it’s open-source flexibility, stream quality and extensive device compatibility in Moonlight or the responsiveness and user-friendliness of Parsec. Whichever tool you select, both work well and will give you a great game streaming experience. Happy gaming!