NVIDIA GRID Beta Testing on SHIELD - An Optimistic First Hands On
Streaming games straight from NVIDIA
Over the weekend NVIDIA released a December update for the SHIELD Android mobile gaming device that included a very interesting, and somewhat understated, new feature: Beta support for NVIDIA GRID.
You have likely heard of GRID before, NVIDIA has been pushing it as part of the companies vision going forward to GPU computing in every facet and market. GRID was aimed at creating GPU-based server farms to enable mobile, streaming gaming to users across the country and across the world. While initially NVIDIA only talked about working with partners to launch streaming services based on GRID, they have obviously changed their tune slightly with this limited release.
If you own a SHIELD, and install the most recent platform update, you'll find a new icon in your NVIDIA SHIELD menu called GRID Beta. The first time you start this new application, it will attempt to measure your bandwidth and latency to offer up an opinion on how good your experience should be. NVIDIA is asking for at least 10 Mbps of sustained bandwidth, and wants round trip latency under 60 ms from your location to their servers.
Currently, servers are ONLY located in Northern California so the further out you are, the more likely you will be to run into problems. However, oing some testing in Kentucky and Ohio resulted in a very playable gaming scenarios, though we did run into some connection problems that might be load-based or latency-based.
After the network setup portion users are shown 8 different games that they can try. Darksiders, Darksiders II, Street Fighter X Tekken, Street Fighter IV, Alan Wake, The Witcher 2, Red Faction: Armageddon and Trine 2. You are free to play them free of charge during this beta though I think you can be sure they will be removed and erased at some point; just a reminder. Saves work well and we were able to save and resume games of Darksiders 2 on GRID easily and quickly.
Starting up the game was fast, about on par with starting up a game on a local PC, though obviously the server is loading it in the background. Once the game is up and running, you are met with some button mapping information provided by NVIDIA for that particular game (great addition) and then you jump into the menus as if you were running it locally.
We actually ran the performance test in SFIV and found some interesting data:
These servers are running Windows Server 2008 R2, have Intel Xeon E5-2670 8-core Sandy Bridge-EP processors and the GPUs are listed as NVIDIA GRID K520s. According to NVIDIA's own GRID pages, this GPU can support 2-16 users with a pair of GK104 GPUs running at 800 MHz. Based on our benchmark results of 200 FPS at 1280x720 with high AA settings, I would be curious to learn how these GPUs are scaling.
Overall my experience with the first beta of GRID was very positive including both latency and image quality. Yes, there were definitely times when we got a lot of macro-blocking due to bandwidth hiccups, but they were infrequent. You could tell pretty much anytime there was motion on the screen that you were watching a video rather than native gameplay, but I think the effect is much less apparent now than it was when I first tried services like OnLive.
Input latency is also definitely seen, and was most evident in my testing with Street Fighter IV. You can even see some of it in our video embedded on this post. That is something that NVIDIA claims to have really optimized for with their integrated H.264 encoding on the server GPUs, but getting more servers in more locations will help tremendously moving forward.
To be quite clear: this is a very early beta and NVIDIA hasn't even finalized plans to offer this service directly to consumers, though I do believe that is the right move for them going forward. You can depend on partners and ISPs to integrate this technology, and it might happen, but NVIDIA has traditionally been very aggressive with new technologies (3D Vision, G-Sync, SLI Memory) and I would be surprised if the big dogs in the boardrooms don't take that route with GRID as well.
For now, if you have a SHIELD, give it a shot and let us know what you think!u can
Think this new feature makes SHIELD more appealing? You can pick one up at Amazon.com for $249!!