GeForce Now review: Nvidia’s ‘Netflix for PC games’ is impressive, but impractical – PCWorld

Nvidia proved long ago that its cloud PC gaming service was a cut above others. Even in a preview phase last year (under the name Nvidia Grid), streaming games over the Internet from Nvidia’s servers already felt smooth and fairly natural. There were times you’d almost forget that you weren’t playing on a high-end PC.

Not much has changed with the launch of GeForce Now, the paid service that has sprung from those early previews. Cloud gaming can still be a surprisingly enjoyable experience, only now you must pay $8 per month for the privilege, or purchase from a small library of standalone games for sale.

But now that Nvidia is asking for money, it’s all the more disappointing that the company hasn’t devised an attractive business model, or expanded the number of devices on which GeForce Now runs. You still need an Nvidia Shield Portable, Tablet, or Android TV set-top box to use GeForce Now, and the small gaming selection is still largely walled off from your personal PC game library. As such, it’s hard to imagine who the service is really for.

All about optimizing

GeForce Now works in similar fashion to other cloud gaming services, such as Sony’s PlayStation Now and the recently deceased OnLive. Instead of requiring a gaming PC at home, Nvidia’s remote servers provide all the serious computational power, delivering the game to you as a compressed video and audio stream. This allows a lightweight device such as Nvidia’s Shield Tablet to play modern PC games such as The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Batman: Arkham Origins. You don’t even have to download the whole game; streams launch in roughly 15 to 30 seconds.

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Pick a game from the GeForce Now library, and it loads in less than 30 seconds.

Playing games this way involves a set of rules. Here are the requirements that Nvidia lists on its website:

  • 10 Mbps minimum connection speed, 20 Mbps for 720p and 60 frames per second, or 50 Mbps for 1080p 60 fps
  • Dual-band wireless router
  • Less than 60ms ping to one of Nvidia’s six data centers (spread across North America, Europe, and Asia Pacific)
  • Nvidia Shield PortableShield Tablet, or Shield Android TV set-top
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The lighter the green, the closer the server.

Even if you meet those requirements, streaming quality is not guaranteed. Move too far from your wireless router, and a warning message tells you to get closer. If you’re on the borderline for available bandwidth, any other significant network usage (such as a Netflix stream on a laptop) can introduce serious stutter and lag.

Nvidia also enforces a couple of other rules as you play: Only one stream is allowed per account at a time, and if you idle for too long (about 15 minutes, in my experience), you’ll get booted from your session. It’s best to hit a save point before pausing for dinner.

Despite all these potential obstacles, GeForce Now is still pleasant under ideal conditions. My Nvidia Shield Android TV would typically hum along in games at 60 frames per second, with only the occasional (and minor) glitch. Yes, the controls aren’t as responsive as in native PC gaming, and serious gamers won’t have any problem noticing this. But they’re not laggy enough to make gaming unenjoyable, even in first-person shooters such as Borderlands.

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