Nvidia’s Grid Is Like Netflix for Game Streaming, but There’s a Catch

Nvidia Grid
Nvidia Grid

The Holy Grail of gaming is this: being able to stream high-quality games to any device without needing a pricey PC or console. Graphics card maker Nvidia’s newest service is pretty close to delivering just that.

Nvidia says Grid, which it calls a “Netflix for games,” streams PC games with high-quality graphics at a resolution of 720p and a buttery-smooth 60 fps. (That’s the number of frames a computer renders each second. The more frames, the better your game moves.)

There’s just one catch, which is that Grid is only available to owners of the company’s Shield tablet ($299), as well as its Shield handheld console ($199).

Sony’s competing PlayStation Now service, which is still in beta, also streams games at 720p, but its frame rate is limited to 30 fps.

What it’s like to play
I got a chance to try Grid during a meeting with Nvidia last week and was genuinely impressed with the service, but remained skeptical that it wouldn’t work as well in the wild as it did during my demo.

Contrary to my preconceptions, however, Grid worked just as well in my office as it did during Nvidia’s demo session.

I connected my Nvidia Shield test unit to my office’s wireless network and, after downloading a quick update to the included Shield Hub app, had access to Grid Games in less than a minute.

After opening the app, I was instantly browsing Grid’s selection of 20 available games (more coming soon) with titles including Batman: Arkham CityStreet Fighter X TekkenBorderlands 2, Darksiders 2, Saints Row: The Third, The Witcher 2, and others.

Not only did games look crisp, but their graphics quality was also on par with what I’ve seen while playing these games on expensive gaming computers. What’s more, there was no lag. Move the controller a bit, and your onscreen character instantly reacts to your input. It was as if I were playing the game on my home PC.

Nvidia Grid
Nvidia Grid

How you get it
You access the Grid service via the available Nvidia Hub app on your Shield Tablet or handheld console. Once you select a game, Nvidia’s remote Grid servers begin loading and preparing it for you to play. The game is then sent to your Shield device as a video stream. 

You do need a relatively fast connection to stream games to the Shield. Nvidia recommends that gamers use wireless routers compatible with the 5 GHz spectrum, as they are better at fighting interference and offer better overall speeds.

The company says it has a list of routers that work best with the service. If your connection happens to dip while playing, Grid will automatically reduce its quality to make sure the game doesn’t lag.

According to Nvidia, you can stream your games over your Shield tablet’s 4G LTE data connection, but doing so might result in slowdown and other issues. Oh, and it’ll likely demolish your phone bill with data overage charges.

Grid is available only through Nvidia’s Shield tablet and Shield portable. Sony’s PlayStation Now, a similar game streaming service, on the other hand, is available for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, and PlayStation TV.

Through June 30, 2015, Grid and its games are available for free. Nvidia pegs the value of the games it’s offering at more than $400. PlayStation Now hasn’t finalized its subscription pricing but charges from $2.99 to $19.99 for game rentals.

Want to give the service a try? You can pick up an Android-powered Shield tablet for $299 and a controller for $59. A Shield handheld console can be had for $199 and includes a built-in controller. The service launches today in the U.S. and rolls out in Europe and Asia next month.

Email Daniel at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley or on Google+ here.