Nvidia has announced a substantial revamp of its GeForce Now cloud-based streaming service. The system is set for a March relaunch, allowing you to stream your existing PC games library from the cloud. On stage at the CES keynote, Nvidia boss Jen-Hsun Huang showed Rise of the Tomb Raider running from Steam on a Mac, streamed from a datacentre running GPUs based on the firm's latest Pascal-based architecture.
The idea is simple - and remarkably similar to the original OnLive pitch. This is all about taking the expensive gaming hardware out of your home, relocating it to the cloud and letting the service provider take care of aspects such as upgrading the system. The user simply streams the output of the server to their home over the internet. The kicker is the price: Nvidia is charging based on the time spent using the system, with costs starting at $25 for around 20 hours of gameplay. If you want access to more powerful Pascal-based hardware, you'll get fewer hours of gameplay.
The way the pricing works is like this - register for GeForce Now and you get 1000 free credits, and you buy further credits at a rate of $25 for 2500. Playing on a GTX 1080-based PC uses four credits per minute, while a GTX 1060 PC uses two credits per minute.
So, if our maths is correct, you should get something close to 20 hours, 50 minutes of access for $25 for the GTX 1060-based system, dropping to around ten hours, 25 minutes on a GTX 1080-based system. Meanwhile, the free trial gives eight hours, 20 minutes of GTX 1060 access, dropping to four hours, 10 minutes of GTX 1080 gaming. Assuming GeForce Now retains its current 1080p60 streaming limit, basic settings management on a 1060-based system should make the GTX 1080 option very difficult to justify (unless you really like super-sampling). The 1080p benchmark video here should give you a better outlook of performance on challenging titles using ultra settings.
Regardless, in a world where gaming is often compared to other entertainment media such as TV and movies, the pricing model looks expensive compared to the Amazons and Netflixs of the world - and the notion of charging based on a block of hours on top of the game purchase cost has already set in motion a backlash from hardcore gamers. On the one hand, paying for a block of hours you access occasionally (for example, when you take your laptop on vacation, leaving your main PC at home) sounds like a pretty good idea. However, the lack of an 'all you can eat' streaming cost makes the concept of GeForce Now as a complete system replacement much more difficult to justify for those that pile on the hours. The more you play, the better off you are simply buying or building your own gaming PC.
And of course, there's also the quality of the service to take into consideration. In many ways, OnLive 'poisoned the well' in terms of the perception of the quality of a cloud gaming service, owing to its poor latencies and often terrible image quality. All we can say here is that the current 1080p60 GeForce Now streaming seen on the Shield platform is by far and away the best cloud-based system we've ever used - perfectly playable with more than acceptable image quality. It's a world away from the quality seen in OnLive and a significant step-up compared to PlayStation Now, but running the hardware locally will always be preferable.
The new GeForce Now system is due to kick off in March in the US, with further territory roll-outs to follow. We will be testing the system as soon as we can.