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Nvidia’s GeForce Now wants to be the Netflix for games

(Courtesy of Nvidia)

Nvidia is convinced that gaming from the cloud is the future. Now it's trying to show us all how it will work.

On Wednesday, the company unveiled a service called GeForce Now that promises to stream games in 4K for $7.99 per month. The service will work with the company's existing Shield line of devices. That includes its $200 Android-based Shield set-top box, which already lets users stream video and some games to their TV through the company's existing Nvidia Grid cloud-gaming service.

GeForce Now re-brands Grid — tying it, in name, to the company's line of high-performance graphics processors — and offers streaming games and games for purchase for $8 per month.

The service launches Thursday with 50 games, including major recent titles such as "The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt" and "Mad Max." Down the line, the company plans to add new games every week, aiming to get new releases on demand on a timeline similar to how the movie industry spaces out its in-theater and on-demand releases.

Some GeForce Now games will also be bundled with a key that lets players buy games for download on their own PCs, company officials said on a pre-release briefing call last week.

Nvidia really seems to be looking at Netflix as a model for its pricing and beyond. "Our target market is similar to Netflix," Phil Eisler, Nvidia's general manager of cloud gaming, said on the call, noting that GeForce Now will have games for kids and adults rather than going strictly for a hard-core gaming audience, which may always opt to pick up a console instead.

That puts it, in some ways, in competition with tech giants such as Apple and Amazon for control of the living room; both companies have made games a focus for their upcoming set-top boxes. It's also not the only cloud-gaming service out there. For example, Sony's PlayStation Now is up and running, offering more or less the same type of service. But it costs a lot more, at $20 for one month or $45 for three months.

Where Nvidia hopes to really distinguish itself, however, is in the quality of the games its service offers and its technical performance. The catch for cloud gaming has always been how to let players stream a game without compromising quality or running into lag. It's nice to skip the time it takes to download a game, but not at the price of having to buffer at a critical time later. Latency, after all, is literally a life-or-death problem for your video game characters — mistime a duck by even a millisecond and you're dead.

GeForce Now promises that you will be able to load and start playing games within 30 seconds, for a lag-free experience. And it is offering its games at the high standard of 1080p with 60 frames per second — though it will adjust that quality based on the speed of your Internet connection. If you have a connection of at least 50 megabits per second, you get the highest quality. Below that point, the service will either drop the frame rate or, for even slower connections, drop the quality down to 720p.