Image Quality and Gameplay
Image Quality and Frame Rate
First, a caveat: at the PC Perspective offices we have a Gigabit fiber Internet connection that can push the full 1000 mbps downstream and 250 mbps upstream, so our testing conditions are a “best case” to say the least. When I did a speed test to the GeForce NOW servers we returned a ping of just 29 ms and a jitter rate of only 16 ms. Clearly, if anyone is going to have a good experience with GeForce NOW…it’s going to be us.
With that, I must say I was impressed with the image quality that GeForce NOW provided while playing through about 10 different games in the last 2 days. I started out with Trine 3, a stunning platform adventure game that has always had aesthetics as one of its key selling points. Playing the game over NVIDIA’s streaming service resulted in the same amazing visual quality with bright colors, sharp edges and detailed textures. Our bandwidth levels were clearly able to push the 1920×1080 60 FPS maximum quality settings of GeForce NOW and you could see that clearly even though I was playing just a few feet away from our 42-in Sony TV used on the studio set. I am still quite sure that if I was able to take side by side screenshots from the same levels and positions on the PC version of the game, the local variant would be sharper and more detailed, but I walked away impressed from my experience with Trine 3.
The Witcher 3 also looked great running at 1080p and streaming at 60 FPS. The colors did look a little more washed out than I am used to seeing on our gaming test bed but it is hard for me to tell is that was a result of the streaming compression, the TV / HDMI port settings on the screen or maybe even in-game setting differences between the configurations. I played some LEGO Marvel Super Heroes and felt the same reaction – this isn’t perfect but it looks damn good for a streamed game! Considering the solid colors and flat shading that the LEGO games utilize, this is another win for NVIDIA’s service.
Obviously we’ll have to see how others fare with lower end networking connections. NVIDIA claims that anything over 50 mbps downstream should be able to provide the best image quality – anything less than that and you’ll drop down to 720p60 or lower settings.
Here’s where things get complicated. Let’s start with the positive first. There are some games that you can easily adjust to the added latency of a streaming gaming scenario. For example, with Trine 3, having not played it locally on a PC before, I never once felt that the controls were lagging or holding me back. The game felt a little “swimmy” in the way that many platforms (Little Big Planet, etc.) feel but I was able to play through several levels with different characters and have a lot of fun while doing so.
The same can be said of my time with the two different LEGO games I played – the experience seemed perfectly fine for me and the game didn’t require any kind of timing precision where my eyes and hands noticed any kind of latency or delay on the SHIELD controller to the cloud and back. And honestly, there are lot of games on that list above that fit into this category: the Batman games, Darksiders, most of the racing titles like DiRT 3, Red Faction, etc.
But then there are other games to consider, like Metro 2033, Ultra Street Fighter IV and even Borderlands. I have had lot of game time with these on other platforms, whether it be a gaming PC or a console, and I could still feel the difference in the controls when playing these titles. Take Street Fighter for example – here is a game that not only expects but REQUIRES perfect timing for things like combos and breaks if you want to play at increased difficulty or get into anything regarding multiplayer. Both Metro 2033 and Borderlands are first person shooters that require accuracy of aim and movement to be fun and it was more difficult to do that when playing via GeForce NOW. As I played the games for longer sessions I could feel myself adapting to the differences – letting go of the rotation stick a bit earlier when looking down my gun sight – but it still wasn’t enough for me to WANT to come back to it; at least on these specific games.
This isn’t unexpected of course. Despite all of NVIDIA claims that it has integrated technology to lower latency, and I have no doubt that is true, there are fundamental laws of physics that have not been overcome when it comes to interactive streaming services. Watching Netflix with 60-80 ms of roundtrip latency? No issues. Getting a headshot with that same 60-80ms roundtrip? A tough sell. I think of the different services I have used, OnLive and PlayStation Now among them, GeForce NOW provides the best overall gaming experience, but that doesn’t mean I would recommend it for all games or for all gamers.
With a price tag of just $7.99/mo. for GeForce NOW, I do think that NVIDIA has the best streaming gaming service available anywhere, on any platform or hardware. It offers the best image quality I have seen for streaming games as well as better than expected latency that enabled more games to be playable than ever before. It doesn’t make EVERY game playable in my opinion, but for many it will be a low-cost, fast and easy way to get some game time in every day.
As I said yesterday, I still think the biggest detractor for GeForce NOW isn’t the product itself but the platform that it is on exclusively: NVIDIA SHIELD. I actually really like my SHIELD Android TV box and find it to be a fantastic connected device for streaming media of all kinds. But just because I like it doesn’t mean millions of people own it. Because you can only run and play GeForce NOW games on SHIELD today, it will definitely limit the audience the service has and that’s a shame – because I think NVIDIA could appeal to the mainstream and cost conscious crowd of gamers that see the value in the fast loading, on-demand nature of GeForce NOW.
Personally, I’ll be keeping an eye on what titles are added (or removed) from these game lists on GeForce NOW to see how the product changes. If NVIDIA starts adding more AAA purchase and play titles that include both the streaming game as well as a downloadable game key (which some of the current 7 do today) it might make GeForce NOW a value over just buying the game alone. For today though, GeForce NOW is an inexpensive streaming game solution for consumers that already own a SHIELD Android TV device and hopefully the service can grow in the directions necessary to push forward to a larger audience.