This sponsored post is produced by Nvidia.
It’s taken streaming a remarkably short time to become our preferred way of consuming media. Netflix launched its video streaming service in 2007, while Spotify first went public in 2008, and since then streaming has been on the up and up, except in one area: games.
It’s an area with its own particular challenges, which means that game streaming has had difficulty gaining any traction; however the 2015 saw the birth of a new generation of game streaming technology that will make instant access to the latest triple-A games just as easy as enjoying the new season of House of Cards.
The benefits of streaming games are clear: while streaming a movie gives you much more choice and frees you from the hassle of getting a DVD off the shelf and putting it in a player, streaming games means that you don’t have to deal with downloads, installation, setup and patches before you can play.
Even console games these days tend to come with multi-gigabyte day one patches that need to be installed before you can get into the action, while PC gamers have the extra fun of juggling settings to find the perfect combination that’ll make a game look good and run at an acceptable frame rate on their particular system. The possibility of simply choosing a game from an online library and playing instantly seems irresistible.
Why has game streaming been such a long time coming?
The simple answer is that it’s a lot harder to do successfully. Streaming media is relatively undemanding, requiring servers at one end that can deliver video or audio at a consistent rate, and enough bandwidth at the consumer end to receive it. It takes roughly 2.5Mb/s to stream SD video, 5Mb/s for HD, and 9Mb/s for ultra-high definition 4K video; easily attainable through fibre optic broadband.
Games are a whole other matter, though. The servers aren’t just delivering video files; they’re having to run demanding games in high quality, process player input and act accordingly, and deliver the results without dropping frames and ruining the experience.
This requires a perfect combination of high-end servers configured specially for games, a client suitable for actually playing games, sufficient bandwidth to deliver game content and, crucially, a fast ping time. You can have all the bandwidth in the world, but if the ping between you and the server isn’t fast enough then streaming games – especially fast-paced triple-A titles – just isn’t feasible. If there’s lag between your button presses and the action unfolding onscreen, you’re going to notice it and you’re not going to want to play for very long.
It’s going to take a commitment to tackle these problems head-on. For example, streaming entrants like NVIDIA’s GeForce NOW have optimized for gaming with servers powered by constantly-updated GeForce GTX hardware that can render the most graphically demanding games at 1080p and 60fps, and they’re distributed across six datacenters worldwide, meaning that wherever you are you should be able to get the 60ms or faster ping needed to play without latency getting in the way.
Naturally the bandwidth demands are high; while 9Mb/s may be enough to watch 4K video it’s not quite up to the job for gaming. Streaming gaming in standard definition requires 10mb/s, while HD gaming in 720p 60fps needs 20mb/s, and if you insist on your games being the full 1080p 60fps then you’re going to need a massive 50mb/s.
To ensure that games are delivered in a quality to match the output of its servers, NVIDIA is only offering GeForce NOW on its own SHIELD range of devices including SHIELD Android TV and SHIELD Tablet K1. It may seem counter-intuitive when you consider that you can get the Netflix app for just about anything, but considering the challenges of delivering a consistent gaming experience it makes a lot of sense; Sony is taking the same approach with its PlayStation Now service, which is currently only widely available on PS4.
Game streaming may not yet offer the sheer volume of content available on Netflix or Spotify, but the fact that it’s available now and works seamlessly is what counts; streaming from the cloud is fast becoming a way of life, and with games finally getting up to speed we really are witnessing the birth of a new generation of gaming.
Jim McCauley is Editor-in-Chief of Tech and Games at Dialect, Inc.
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