NEW YORK — Ask anyone who's played a console or PC game recently, and you'll probably hear the same refrain: "It was fun, but it took forever to install." Downloading and installing a game can take hours, but Nvidia has just introduced a way to play beautiful big-budget games within 30 seconds of purchase. The GeForce Now service offers a selection of subscription and standalone games that play in full HD on an Nvidia Shield TV in seconds instead of hours.
Nvidia invited me to a private press event, where I got to get some hands-on time with GeForce Now. First, the basics: GeForce Now is a streaming service for games, much as Netflix is a streaming service for TV and movies. In order to use the service, you'll need either an Nvidia SHIELD tablet or SHIELD TV. Instead of downloading content to your SHIELD device, you stream it from the cloud, just like a streaming video or music service.
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You can pay $8 per month to play as many games as you want from a rotating selection, or purchase games à la carte. At present, there are about 50 games in the subscription service, including slightly older titles like Lego Marvel Super Heroes, Batman: Arkham Origins and Saints Row 3. You can also purchase newer games like Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor or The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt for $50 and $60, respectively. There are currently 11 à la carte games available, but Nvidia expects the number to increase within the next few months.
During my time with GeForce Now, I played three titles: racing game Grid Autosport, action/adventure game Lego Marvel Super Heroes and role-playing game The Witcher 3. The first two games were extremely impressive, boasting full 1080p resolution and 60 frames per second within 30 seconds of loading up, just as the Nvidia reps promised. I didn't notice any kind of lag, jitter, tearing or loss of resolution during my time with either title, whether I was speeding down a straightaway in a fancy European car or saving New York City with a blocky version of Mr. Fantastic.
The Witcher 3 wasn't quite as perfect, however. The frame rate appeared to be lower all around, especially during cutscenes and dialogue trees. Characters did not have the same fluid animation that the game boasts on PC and consoles, and the game would often lose frames when characters gestured or moved quickly. Oddly enough, the game looked much steadier during combat, where it appeared to run just as smoothly as its console and PC brethren.
To be fair, the Witcher 3 is a much more intensive game than the other two titles, although it does suggest that not every game will stream equally well. Streaming quality will be quite dependent, too, on individual setup. Game streaming in full HD requires a hefty amount of bandwidth, and if you have a slow connection or use your SHIELD system with Wi-Fi instead of Ethernet, you may experience lower resolutions and slower frame rates.
For now, GeForce Now offers around 70 titles, but this number will change as Nvidia introduces new games and retires less popular ones. The company did assure me, however, that players who like unpopular games will not be left high and dry. After a game leaves the subscription service, Nvidia will (whenever possible) make that game available for individual purchase, and transfer over a user's save files. These save files will live in the cloud for at least five years.
Over the next few days, I will test GeForce Now under real-world conditions and see how it holds up, as well as how it impacts the overall worth of the SHIELD TV. Tentatively, though, I can say that the service works extremely well under ideal conditions, doesn't cost much and seems like exactly the kind of innovation that could help justify the SHIELD TV's high asking price.