Last week, Nvidia introduced its next-generation line of graphics processors, but the company’s silicon is only half the reason I’m excited about the future of gaming on PC.
Nvidia will launch its GeForce GTX 1080 for $600 later this month. Then in June, it will launch the GTX 1070 for $380. Both of these devices feature the company’s new 16nm architecture, which means more power, less heat, and better visuals. That’s going to lead to some seriously impressive benchmarks, which is the kind of thing that gets people excited to buy a graphics card. Nvidia knows that, but the company doesn’t put all its focus on its chips. It is also keenly aware of what makes you happy to own its GPUs throughout the length of the product’s life. And knowing the distinction between getting a consumer to buy something and making them happy that they own it is crucial.
Nvidia reported strong earnings yesterday that beat analyst expectations, and that’s largely due to a thriving gaming-related business that was worth $687 million in revenues in the first quarter of the year. As it reloads with the 1080, the company is looking to do even better through the rest of 2016 even as AMD prepares to unleash its own new cards based on newer architecture. But Nvidia chief executive Jen-Hsun Huang isnt planning to rely on impressive benchmark scores alone.
“It’s about evolving all of the algorithms that sit on top of our GPUs,” he said. “It’s about making sure the experience just works.”
And looking at all the ways in which Nvidia software intersects with my life, I believe Huang when he says this.
A hardware company that’s great at software
Games are going to look gorgeous on the GeForce GTX 1080. Check out the new Doom running on the card:
But modern gaming is a lot more than plugging in a card and booting up a game.
I want to make sure I’m getting the best visual settings from a card that set me back a few hundred bucks. At the same time, I don’t want to spend hours tinkering in menus. I also want to record and share video of my games. And I want to edit those videos using professional tools while also getting the benefit of my powerful graphics card. I want the power of my PC, but maybe I want to play on my television downstairs or on another device in bed.
Nvidia has built services and features for each of those circumstances and more.
GeForce Experience is the company’s software hub to help people get the most from their devices. It automatically finds and installs the latest drivers for you, and it can even adjust the settings for your games so that they look great and run well for your specific hardware. It’s also the central tool for a number of other key Nvidia features.
And what’s crazy about GeForce Experience is that it really “just works.” You may get better results with certain games on your PC if you jump in and manually fiddle with the settings yourself, but Nvidia’s tool only takes a few seconds. And I’m willing to trade visual perfection for saving me time.
The GeForce Experience was the first tool I remember using from Nvidia, and my positive experiences with it convinced me to try some of its other efforts. And now most of those are a part of my regular gaming and even work life.
GameStream, which enables you to stream games from a GTX-powered PC to another PC or other devices is how I play a ton of games. I first tried this with a laptop, but I moved on to using an Nvidia Shield tablet. This enables me to play games in bed or on my TV using its HDMI cable. I’ve since switched to a Steam Link for my TV, but the Shield is still one way I’ll get 30 minutes of gaming in before falling asleep each night.
Again, all of this just works.
Nvidia for productivity
These days, Nvidia is nearly as much a part of my work day as it is my leisure time.
As part of job here at GamesBeat, I’ve started doing a lot of videos. That’s had me experimenting with Open Broadcaster Software and Xsplit. For me, while livestreaming, I prefer Xsplit. But for recording raw gameplay footage, for me, nothing beats Nvidia’s Shadowplay.
Shadowplay is always a quick keyboard-shortcut away from instantly recording my gaming in high-quality HD. It also doesn’t hit my CPU like some other recording options, which I love.
At the same time, Nvidia has also built a tool to make livestreaming on Xsplit or editing video using Adobe Premiere easier. The company built the open-source NVENC video codec that primarily uses the GPU to encode high-quality video. This means that in Xsplit or OBS, I can set the codec to NVENC, which once again saves my CPU. In Premiere, I can turn on GPU rendering, and it speeds up my whole systems rendering so that I can see video previews faster. I even jumped through a few hoops to add a way to export NVENC clips from Premiere, which has cut the time it takes me to export videos by around 75 percent. That is so incredibly useful because it enables me to get more work done in a day.
Why Nvidia’s software matters
Of course, Nvidia isn’t the only one out there offering free software tools with its hardware. That’s something you get with Apple and Windows computers or with consoles from Sony and Microsoft. But the point here is that I actually use what Nvidia makes.
I could record games on my PS4 using the Share button, but I don’t because I think the footage doesn’t look great. I play PC games on my TV using Steam Link, but I think the experience stinks, so I’m looking into getting Nvidia’s Shield TV instead. I like the idea of Microsoft including Xbox features into Windows, but I never actually engage with it
The difference here is that Nvidia isn’t building software as some marketing ploy. Its software features aren’t about trying to put another bullet point on the side of the box for the 1080. Huang knows that the reason you’re going to buy the 1080 is because of the speed, the performance, and the promises of 4K-resolution gaming.
At the same time, Huang and Nvidia understand that once they have you as a customer, you stop thinking about the speed, the performance, and the promises. You don’t care about benchmarks for something you already own. Instead, you only care about the experience of using it. And that’s where everything from in-home streaming, video recording, and game optimization comes in. That’s where Nvidia convinces you to come back to them in four to five years when it’s time to upgrade your 1080 all over again.