Nvidia launched its Shield Android TV set-top box back in May, but one of the prime benefits is coming on Thursday with the launch of Nvidia’s GeForce Now cloud gaming service.
Competing with the new Apple TV, Nvidia hopes to position the Shield as the ultimate Android TV alternative and the Netflix of gaming. And the GeForce Now service — which streams high-end games to your living room without the need for an advance download — is one of the linchpins of Nvidia’s strategy.
The Shield offering has now become much more interesting since Nvidia launched it on May 28. Nvidia is also announcing new apps such as Showtime, a launch in Europe, and other good stuff. All told, more than 1,000 apps are available on Android TV, and there are 135 games available on the Shield Hub app and 300 games on Google Play.
“Apple TV has come out, but if you are an Android user, Shield is the best device for you,” said Ali Kani, general manager for Shield at Nvidia, in an interview with GamesBeat. “We like Apple TV because it confirms our theory that the smart TV category is exciting.”
We all expected Nvidia to launch GeForce Now with the Shield itself, but the company did more testing than expected. In a nine-month test, 100,000 people tested the GeForce Now service in 180 countries. Nvidia streamed more than 600,000 hours of gaming during that test. The average rating was 4.5 stars out of 5, said Phil Eisler, general manager of GeForce Now at Nvidia, in a talk at the Cloud Gaming Summit in San Francisco this week. People played 2 million gaming sessions on an average Internet connection speed of 15 megabits a second.
The Shield outdoes the processing power of the new Apple TV since it has the new Tegra X1 mobile processor — with a 256-core Nvidia graphics processing unit (GPU) and a 64-bit central processing unit (CPU). Nvidia says that gives Shield three times the processing power of the new Apple TV, and it enables it to support ultra-high-def 4K displays without compromise. About 10 current games can take advantage of 4K resolution on Shield.
With GeForce Now, Nvidia processes a game in the cloud, or Internet-connected data centers. It then streams the game imagery to the Shield, which displays it on a TV. By contrast, consoles and PCs process a game on local hardware, and the games are limited by the power of that particular hardware.
GeForce Now (formerly known as GeForce Grid) has more than 50 popular PC games available, including titles from the Batman, Lego, Witcher, and Resident Evil series. GeForce Now is available on Thursday, with three months free on Shield devices. After that, you pay a subscription fee of $8 a month. Available games include The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, Mad Max, and Lego Jurassic World.
Kani said the rebranded GeForce Now is the culmination of five years of work, which included adding video encoding to GPUs and developing cloud infrastructure. That work, as well as better bandwidth, means you could play a game like Batman: Arkham Knight, which takes 213 minutes to download, in a matter of seconds or minutes via the cloud.
“We think it’s going to be the most convenient way to enjoy games,” Kani said.
Nvidia had to work on a lot of things to get the latency, or delays in interaction, down as low as possible, Eisler said.
As long as you have a connection of 50 megabits a second or better (my Comcast connection is about 172 megabits a second), you can play a game at up to 1080p resolution at 60 frames per second, with gameplay starting in 30 seconds. If you have 25 megabits a second, you can play at 1080p resolution with 30 frames per second. And if you have 10 megabits a second, you can play with 720p resolution.
Meanwhile, Shield (the 16-gigabyte version) and Shield Pro (with a 500 gigabyte hard drive) are available on Oct. 1 in the U.K., France, Germany, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Sweden. In the U.S., Shield is already available in more than 1,000 stores.
In a software update, Shield will now support lossless audio, including Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio pass-through plus WMA-Lossless decode. It provides movie-watching at 23.976 fps playback, and hardware acceleration support for video codec formats such as VC-1 (including M2TS and ASF/WMV container support), MPEG-2, and WMV9.
Eisler said that average broadband speeds are rapidly improving, particularly now that Nvidia has access to a lot of cloud-gaming data center locations around the world, said Eisler.
“The question is not if, but when cloud gaming will take off,” Eisler said. “I feel like we have the GPU requirements and the bandwidth to put cloud gaming onto an exponential growth curve.”