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Geforce Now: How does game streaming work?

Instead of a pricey gamer PC, an old laptop and a fast Internet connection will do. The computing power is provided by the Cloud. Nvidia is also getting in on the act of game streaming. How does it work and is the service any good? Let me shed some light on the matter.

It’s an open secret that Microsoft, Sony and Co. expect games to be streamed via the Internet in the near future. No wonder, as the technology is already being successfully applied. Sony uses Playstation Now to stream hundreds of games – no installation required. Nintendo recently announced the launch of «Assassin's Creed Odyssey». The game will exclusively be run as a Cloud version – but only in Japan for the time being. While Sony is primarily focussing on older games and Nintendo has only dipped one toe in the water, Nvidia is going for the full package. Geforce Now theoretically allows you to play all games from the Steam, Uplay and Blizzard library. A similar service, recently tested by my colleague Kevin Hofer (article in German), is provided by French service Shadow.

Shadow-PC im Test: Streamen statt aufrüsten
ComputingReview

Shadow-PC im Test: Streamen statt aufrüsten

How good is Geforce Now in practice?

For Android TV, the service has been available for a while.

To get started with Geforce Now, all you need to do is install the app for Windows, Mac or Nvidia Shield (Android TV). That’s it. You can start streaming games. Unlike Shadow, it does not allow you to install your own software. Instead, you either directly start a game or go to Steam and select a title there. It’s just as if you were using Steam in big picture mode on your PC. Savegames etc. are still synchronised via Steam. Officially, Nvidia supports several hundred titles and guarantees that the 20 most popular games will also be playable. If a game is not officially supported, you need to download it manually (and do so every time you use Geforce Now again). But after that, you can get started directly. Nvidia says it takes 30 seconds from starting the app to being able to play. What’s more, updates are carried out through the server, so you’ll never have to wait until the gigabyte-sized updates are loaded and installed. Kevin will be happy to hear that.

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GamingBackground information

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In recent years, I gave the service a go a few times on my Android TV. Recently, a beta PC version has become available. While there’s nothing to complain about when it comes to image quality (4K, 60 fps, no image artefacts), its Achilles heel is still the input lag. The delay – particularly with the mouse – is just too big for my taste. This flaw also means you’re very limited when it comes to playing shooter games. Less reaction-intense games, however, work fine. Having said that, I don’t enjoy «Jurassic World Evolution» as much when the mouse doesn’t react with the utmost precision. Part of the problem is probably down to the slow reaction time of TVs. But the problem also occurs when I’m using my PC, so that explanation doesn’t quite cut it.

During a conference call, Nvidia explains that being close to the data centre would definitely help. According to them, there are customers in Frankfurt am Main who are fully enjoying 4K without any issues. «What’s also important is that your internet connection does not have high fluctuation,» Nvidia says. The company adds that the ping is also extremely important.

The ultra-streaming mode is supposed to enable frame rates of up to 120 fps; however, it also reduces graphics details until a stable frame rate is reached. This is not a compromise I’d be willing to make. Nvidia must have applied a similar technique to reach 60 fps at 1280 × 720 pixels with a lag of just 16 ms. This was recently demonstrated by the tech company at a conference of telecommunications company AT&T in San Francisco. For the demonstration, they used the mobile network – at 5G, of course.

Either way, the functionality of Geforce Now is impressive. Maximum details, resolution up to 4K and HDR on any Android television or measly notebook.

What happens during streaming?

Server centres deliver the power needed for gaming.

Once you’ve logged in to Geforce Now, you’re connected to the closest data centre. Nvidia owns eleven worldwide, four of which are in Europe. The closest one for Swiss users is located in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Proximity is essential if you want a lag-free gaming experience. At the data centre, you’re connected to a server that is equipped with a Tesla P40 graphics card. There, a virtual environment optimised for Cloud gaming is started for you with Windows. But you’ll notice none of this as your games are started directly or via Steam etc.

Performance is delivered as required, Nvidia explains. «If you’re playing Day of the Tentacle, you won’t be needing 1080 Ti performance.» For games such as «PUBG», on the other hand, you’ll be provided with full power. Gaming sessions are capped at four hours. If you go on for longer, you’re automatically logged out. The reason for this is simple: «It’s quite possible that there’s a cat sitting in front of the PC and you’re unnecessarily consuming performance other users could be using.» Should you want to game for more than four hours, it’s really easy to just log in again.

As regards ray tracing, Nvidia did not want to comment.

Geforce Now – not just for hardcore gamers

As long as the lag persists with Geforce Now, the service will not be interesting for hardcore gamers who place great importance on precise mouse control. When it comes to lags, the controller is a lot more forgiving. In any case, Nvidia is not primarily targeting people like me. «Worldwide, there are billions of PCs that are unfit for gaming. Geforce Now is offering them a whole world of new possibilities,» the Nvidia spokesperson tells me. He’s convinced that streaming is the future. «There’s no point in just watching. You’ve got to join in. It’s like with self-driving cars.» Although Nvidia is a hardware manufacturer, the company is not worried about competing against itself with its service. «GTX/RTX cards are still first choice when you’re looking for the best.» However, if you don’t have a premium computer at home or if you’re a Mac user, streaming is a viable option. Nvidia is confident it will reach the point when there’s no difference between streaming and directly gaming at your PC. And even if the company should fail to reach this point, it’s got solutions in the pipeline to solve both problems.

As Geforce Now is still in its beta version, I’d recommend giving it a go first (there’s a waiting list). It’s impressive to see how far technology has advanced in the last few years. Personally, I can’t wait for the moment to come when I get to play my PC games on any device without suffering any quality loss.

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Philipp Rüegg, Zurich

  • Teamleader Odin
Being the game and gadget geek that I am, working at digitec and Galaxus makes me feel like a kid in a candy shop – but it does take its toll on my wallet. I enjoy tinkering with my PC in Tim Taylor fashion and talking about games on my podcast . To satisfy my need for speed, I get on my full suspension mountain bike and set out to find some nice trails. My thirst for culture is quenched by deep conversations over a couple of cold ones at the mostly frustrating games of FC Winterthur.

26 comments

3000 / 3000 characters

User EISBRG

Sehr spannender Artikel, vielleicht noch den ersten Satz korrigieren "Es ist ein offenen Geheimnis...", dann ist er perfekt.

26.09.2018
User sitcom

Bitte unterstützt das nicht. Ansonsten endet das ganze wie mit den Streaming Diensten. Man wird mehrere Abos Brauchrn und monatlich/jährlich zuviel zahlen. Und wenn dann mal was streikt bon Router bis Server, dann kann man auch gar nicht mehr spielen...

28.09.2018
User JJ2207

hmmm eine DP28 auf Sanhok.... :)

27.09.2018
User ELGURU

asking the real questions

28.09.2018
Answer
User Len0xy

Spannender arikel. Aber eine schnell Leitung im Titel?

26.09.2018
User Philipp Rüegg

Eieieiei, ganz schwacher Einstieg 🙈. Habs korrigiert

27.09.2018
Answer
User mawi95

@Philipp Rüegg
Könntest du mir vielleicht verraten um welches Modell es sich beim Dell-Laptop auf dem Bild handelt?

Hoffentlich kannst du mir weiterhelfen ;-)

27.09.2018
User Philipp Rüegg

Ist der aktuelle Dell XPS15

27.09.2018
Answer
User Anonymous

"In Frankfurt am Main gäbe es Kunden, die 4K problemlos geniessen können."

Kein Wunder, da steht ja auch der grösste Intenetknotenpunkt der Welt (DE-CIX).

27.09.2018
User sitcom

Bitte unterstützt das nicht. Ansonsten endet das ganze wie mit den Streaming Diensten. Man wird mehrere Abos Brauchrn und monatlich/jährlich zuviel zahlen. Und wenn dann mal was streikt bon Router bis Server, dann kann man auch gar nicht mehr spielen...

28.09.2018
User NenntMichLino

Also ich bin seit ca. 3 Monaten in der Warteschlange der Beta von geforce now. Du könntest noch erwähnen das man in eine Warteliste kommt!?!!!

27.09.2018
User Philipp Rüegg

Stimmt, das kann leider etwas dauern. Hab's ergänzt 👍.

27.09.2018
User Anonymous

auf ebay gibts keys ;)

27.09.2018
User PreHack

hab mich vor ca einem monat angemolden, ging keine woche bis zur aktivierung :)

30.09.2018
Answer
User cyril

Hei Philipp
Hast du schon mal den Cloud Gaming Dienst „Shadow“ angesehen? Meiner Meinung nach etwas vom geilsten was es so momentan gibt, dort kommt auch bald die Version für Ios um damit einen Vollwertigen pc unterwegs. Wollte deine Meinung dazu. Lg cyril

27.09.2018
User Philipp Rüegg

Meinst du den hier ;) digitec.ch/de/page/shadow-p...

27.09.2018
User Anonymous

shadow is ultrabuggy und die gpu gefaked und gedrosselt, hab mein geld zurüvkverlangt. seit wann läuft nvidia now mit mehr als 1080p?

27.09.2018
User Anonymous

auf meinem mac mit 1440p läuft es nur mit 1080, was unansehbar ist

27.09.2018
Answer
User Doomer_66

Ich sehe darin absolut keine Zukunft.
Man ist zu stark von einer guten Leitung abhängig und aktuelle Hardware auf der man vernünftig spielen kann , ist auch nicht mehr so teuer dass ich auf einen Streaming Dienst wechseln würde.

29.09.2018
User comwrap

Dem Internet wurde auch zugesprochen dass es keine Zukunft hat. ;)

29.09.2018
Answer
User mattnold

es heisst: statt einEM teurEN gaming pc....gleich im abstract so ein fehler! ansonsten toller artikel

01.10.2018
User Philipp Rüegg

Ich nehm jetzt mal den Genitiv. Ich glaub, ich hab schon alle Fälle durchprobiert, irgendwann klingt alles falsch 🙈

01.10.2018
Answer
User klemen.cerne1991

Did you maybe test how much internet connection do you need to run it “smoothly”. Or what is the recommended speed of the internet connection?

03.10.2018
User Philipp Rüegg

I think it's 25 or 50 Mbit depending on your resolution. But I have a 1 Gbit connection so that can't be the issue.

04.10.2018
Answer
User davidrama

Did you compare GeForceNow vs Shadow ? Would be interested in you opinion too
Thanks

04.10.2018
User Philipp Rüegg

Yes, I also briefly tried Shadow. I think, Geforce Now performes a bit better but Shadow gives you more freedom in installing various programs

04.10.2018
Answer