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Review: Nvidia's Grid is like Netflix Instant streaming for games

I tried out Nvidia's instant streaming service for video games, and I was pleasantly surprised with how it performed.

030415 nvidia grid video game gaming streaming
Credit: Nvidia via Facebook

Last week I reviewed Nvidia's Shield Tablet – an Android tablet focused on playing games. And it truly is an awesome gaming device, but one of the most intriguing parts of this little system comes in the form of the Nvidia Grid Streaming Service.

Simply put, the "Grid" is "Netflix streaming for games."

Browse through a collection of games, select one, and a few moments later, you start playing. The game itself is stored "in the cloud" on Nvidia's servers with the audio and video streamed down to your Shield device. (Now seems like a good time to mention that the Grid requires one of Nvidia's Shield devices – including the Shield Tablet and the new Shield TV console that it just announced – along with at least one Shield game controller. Which means there is a $200 entry to buy a device that grants you access to Nvidia's Grid.)

Now, there's no way this could perform well… right? Remember the early days of Netflix Instant Streaming? Intermittent and flakey buffering ruined many a movie experience for me in those days of yore. Luckily, Netflix, and video streaming in general, has gotten a hell of a lot better since then.

And this is gaming we're talking about! Being able to have immediate response to your controls is absolutely vital. Which means one major thing: no buffering. We can build up a few minutes of video buffer to make sure the playback is smooth, but if you hit a button in a video game and the character on the screen doesn't immediately jump, the game might as well not exist at all.

But you know what? It works really damned well. I tried this service out (it's free for owners of Nvidia Shield devices until June 30th) by playing quite a few rounds of a number of PC games (specifically Alan Wake, Borderlands 2, and LEGO Marvel Super Heroes). And in all cases, it played quite well.

Some games take a few moments to load, but I was never left waiting more than, say, a minute. And I won't lie, I experienced lag.

But only a little.

Once, while playing Alan Wake, I encountered a little bit of stuttering for two or three seconds, which would be maddening if it were to occur on a regular basis. But during a one-hour gaming session, that moment of lag occurred only once. Was Nvidia's service having a hiccup? Was it my terrible internet service through Comcast? Who knows? (But my bet is that it was Comcast's fault.)

Graphical quality is astoundingly good as well. Supposedly the service runs all the way up to 1080p, and the games are running at some of the highest visual quality settings, but I'm not familiar enough with these specific games to fully critique how good they look on Grid compared to how they look on other platforms. What I can say is that the games all looked fantastic.

Now the price… is unknown. Nvidia seems to be keeping that card rather close to their chests. Netflix streaming video is, what, $8 (USD)? I would expect Grid to run somewhere in that rough ballpark. If Nvidia puts it out there for $10 a month, I'd bite.

I really dig the Grid. The game collection right now is fairly small (50 titles), but there are some pretty major game titles in there. Enough to make it worthwhile. If Nvidia can keep up the pace of adding a new game every week, then I think the Grid stands a real chance at becoming huge. Games will make or break this system. If they let off the gas – even for a moment – of adding new games to Grid, they could be in trouble.

Let's change gears for a moment and talk about why this really excites me.

This means we have a Linux-based platform (Android) that is allowing us to play Windows PC games without needing to own a Windows-powered PC. Or the games.

I don't envision that the Grid will become the one place I do all my gaming. I've still got my desktop Linux and Android-powered machines that I use for gaming, but having the Grid adds a really nice option to play games that I wouldn't otherwise, as a Linux-user, be able to access.

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