Industry leader NVIDIA has stepped into the cloud gaming market with the announcement of GeForce GRID. Put simply, the company’s award-winning graphics cards have been redesigned to fit into a cloud-based server, meaning that video games are delivered to you on demand, just like films and other video content. You don’t need any dedicated hardware or any special connections, and you don’t need to wait for downloads or installing endless updates: Just plug in, open a browser and play.
Now that’s a simple overview, but the technology behind it is pretty slick, too. Phil reassures us that the GeForce GRID GPUs have all the same impressive gaming features as the standard GeForce release, with a few key inclusions to improve their cloudy capabilities.
To start things off, the video is being provided through an advanced on-chip H.264 encoder, supporting remote displays (obviously!), and optimised specifically for wide area networking. There’s also an ultra-fast frame buffer and render target capture APIs to reduce latency, and the multi-GPU boards are passively cooled, for efficient cooling as well as high-game density in each data center.
Combine all of these things and you’ve got a pretty awesome, low-latency, super-efficient rendering system which means video games can be hosted in a remote data centre and played on any display device which features an H.264 decoder. That means it’s not just TVs, but also PCs, tablets, smartphones and iOS devices.
Want to know the numbers? Playing games at 720p30Hz on a 5Mbps connection, you can get latency as low as 150 milliseconds playing on a GeForce GRID server. In comparison, that’s very similar to what you’d get playing a console game on your television over HDMI – but your Xbox doesn’t come with GeForce functionality!
Launched in late May, GeForce GRID has already attracted some big names: Gearbox Software, Epic Games, Lucasarts, THQ, Capcom and CCP are just a handful of the companies who are supporting the new service. At present, there are more than 400 PC game titles released which use the new system. In fact, in the background of our interview, you can see snippets of Meteor Entertainment‘s Hawken, being played from a data centre somewhere else in California.
To its credit, NVIDIA acknowledges that this cloud-based solution is not for everybody. The dreaded hardcore gamer will still want to do everything themselves, running a GeForce board in their own, customised PC.
But if these gamers want to play their beloved PC titles on a different device, perhaps on the big screen in the living room (or on the small screen in your pocket), GeForce GRID brings the goods. It’s also perfectly suited for more casual gamers who play games in slightly lower resolutions and who don’t demand super-fast twitch reflexes. (In fact, MMO titles like World of Warcraft and Star Wars: The Old Republic have been specifically designed to handle high latency, so your next raid might just be on your television!)
Cloud gaming is still a new technology, and companies like Gaikai are still working through a few teething problems (mainly dealing with latency over large distances), but it’s great to see NVIDIA raising the bar. GeForce GRID is not technically a gaming service, but as the platform behind gaming services, it’s set to revolutionise the industry. Is dedicated PC gaming a thing of the past?