Nvidia GeForce Now: Hands-on with the cloud-streaming king

Google Stadia has got everyone hyped up for cloud gaming, promising players the ability to play video games without the need for powerful hardware. No doubt an exciting prospect, but rival service Nvidia GeForce Now is looking so good Stadia may be defeated before it’s even launched. 

GeForce Now has been in public beta for a while now, as Nvidia irons out the kinks in its cloud gaming service. But an official launch will be very soon, with Nvidia suggesting it’ll be “in the coming months”. That pits it directly against Google Stadia, with the two cloud gaming services set to go head-to-head.

We’ve had hands-on demo experiences with both services, and have read up on every breadcrumb of detail between the two. Which is the best? Which should you sign up for? We’ve answered all of your questions and more. 

Related: Gamescom 2019

What is GeForce Now?

Just like Stadia, GeForce Now is a cloud service which allows you to stream games from servers, so there’s no need to use a device with a powerful GPU to play some of the most intensive titles around.

You won’t have to sit around waiting for updates or patches to install with GeForce either, as Nvidia will be sorting all the heavy lifting on their end. 

Nvidia GeForce Now

Nvidia GeForce Now on Android Preview – Hands-on at Gamescom 2019

During Gamescom 2019, I got the chance to try out GeForce Now running on mobile. Nvidia representatives gave me a Razer Raiju Mobile controller, which had a Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus equipped. To my surprise, Shadow of the Tomb Raider was running on it, and it looked absolutely gorgeous.

It was difficult to comprehend I was actually playing this AAA title – one even certified gaming PCs can struggle with – on a smartphone. Of course, with GeForce Now, the hardware is irrelevant as all the heavy lifting was being done by Nvidia’s servers in Frankfurt via the Wi-Fi connection.

In terms of performance, Shadow of the Tomb Raider ran incredibly smoothly. I saw no frame rate issues, no screen tearing or even texture popping. It was as if I was playing it on my gaming rig at home – just on a smaller screen. I did sense a little input lag though, which was insignificant enough to still be perfectly playable, but it could pose a bigger issue for online multiplayer.

Nvidia did stress the input lag was likely down to the low download speeds of the shaky Gamescom Wi-Fi network, which is a totally plausible explanation. The fact I was streaming Shadow of the Tomb Raider at all using the Gamescom Wi-Fi was a wonder in itself.

Even more mind bending was the fact ray tracing was in full effect here, as I could immediately see Lara Croft’s reflections in the many puddles streaking across the rain forest floor. So far the feature is only available with expensive RTX graphics cards, so to see it working on an Android smartphone was incredibly surreal.

Nvidia then showed me GeForce Now running on some old laptops, with a 2010 Apple MacBook being the most shocking. Apple computers have never really been able to play AAA video games, but GeForce Now suddenly makes that possible.

I came away extremely impressed with GeForce Now, fantasizing about a future where I could slip a 5G phone out of my pocket and jump straight into a game of the Witcher 3 with no waiting around for downloads or updates.

Most exciting of all is that GeForce Now will work with virtually any video games you’ve already bought on the likes of Steam, Origin or Epic Store, with no additional purchase required besides the subscription – a killer blow to Google Stadia which requires you to amass a new game library from scratch.

Related: Ray tracing

Is GeForce Now free?

GeForce Now is currently free via the public beta, but once that finishes you’ll be expected to pay.

Nvidia is yet to reveal its pricing plans for GeForce Now, but the service expected to have multiple subscriptions like Google Stadia. Not only will you likely pay for different resolutions (Full HD, Quad HD and 4K for example) but it’s also likely that you’ll need to spend more to get RTX features such as ray tracing. 

When asked whether there will be a free option, similar to what Google Stadia offers with its Full HD gaming tier, Nvidia representatives reiterated they can’t confirm anything, but hinted that it’s “not impossible”. 

What will GeForce Now work on?

GeForce Now lets you play several ways: on the computer (Windows or macOS) app, the Nvidia Shield TV and – since its reveal at Gamescom 2019 – an Android smartphone.

LG and Samsung phones were mentioned specifically by Nvidia, but the service is expected to roll out to many, many more after launch. You essentially just need a device that can install the GeForce Now app as well as a recommended internet connection of at least 15mb/s. 

Related: Google Stadia

When will GeForce Now officially launch?

Nvidia’s GeForce Now is currently available via public beta, but an official launch is expected “in the coming months”. When asked if that means 2019, Nvidia refused to confirm anything, but hinted that it’s likely. 

The public beta will soon roll out the RTX servers, which allows the use of ray tracing and DLSS via the cloud. Northern California and Germany will be the first locations treated to these improved data centres, but the technology will soon arrive in the rest of Europe and North America ahead of the official launch. 

There’s no official timing for when GeForce Now will support Android smartphones, but expect it to be very soon. 

Related: Xbox 2 vs Google Stadia

GeForce Now vs Google Stadia

A key advantage of GeForce Now over Stadia is that it works with games bought from other established online stores – such as Steam, Origin and Epic Store – rather than locking you in to one specific store as Stadia does. 

This not only means you’ll be able to use games that you’ve already bought, but also that only one purchase is required to play games both via the cloud and with your own hardware. 

This also resolves the issue of game ownership, as if Nvidia was to one day close the GeForce Now service, you wouldn’t lose access to all of your purchased games. Google Stadia doesn’t offer such a luxury. 

Nvidia won’t actually store your saved data as Stadia does, with the digital stores providing the cloud save data instead. This means you’ll be able to swap devices, even between cloud gaming and traditional gaming, and carry on where you left off. Of course, each game will have to support cloud saves, but that’s the large majority of titles these days.

While the majority of games you find on Steam, Epic Store, Origin and the like will work with GeForce Now, Nvidia is looking to optimise performance on the service for as many as possible. So far Nvidia claims GeForce Now supports over 500 games – this is a marked difference to Stadia which is building its game portfolio from scratch. 

Meanwhile GeForce Now looks to offer all the same benefits as Stadia, such as the capability to connect any Bluetooth controller. The Shield, Razer Raiju Mobile and Steelseries Stratus Duo controllers are all confirmed to work with GeForce Now, while the likes of the PS4 DualShock and Xbox One gamepad aren’t officially confirmed, but will almost definitely be compatible. 

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