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GeForce Now vs. Google Stadia: Good and bad in all the same ways

It's still about uncertainty.

Nvidia GeForce Now and Google Stadia are among the leaders of the pack for cloud gaming -- technology which renders and streams supported games from data centers to phones, PCs and Macs so you can play on devices that might otherwise not be able to run them. Among high-profile newcomers there's also Microsoft's Project xCloud, still in testing but with the advantage of the Xbox game library behind it.

That's a pretty big advantage, given that both GFN and Stadia are both are having problems delivering on their promises, from Nvidia losing support for a lot of popular games post launch, to Google's small selection for the money and big letdown on Doom Eternal's "4K." It can't be emphasized enough: don't buy a game just to play it on either service because you may be out of luck before the year ends.

With the exception of their underlying purpose, as well as their inability to run on iOS, GFN and Stadia couldn't be more different. GFN works with games you already have (sort of); Stadia only works with games you buy from Google specifically adapted for it. GFN has apps for a variety of devices and platforms; Stadia requires some Google operating system, like Android or Chrome OS or the Chrome browser. Nvidia touts ray tracing as its quality perk for paying customers; Google pushes 4K, HDR and 5.1 sound. Nvidia rations capacity with playtime limits; Google doesn't really need to ration.

Nvidia GeForce Now vs. Google Stadia


Google Stadia Base Google Stadia Pro GeForce Now Free GeForce Now Founders
Cost Free $9.99/month Free $4.99/month for 12 months; free 90-day trial
Availability Coming some time this year Now (only with $129 Premiere Edition bundle) Now Now, limited time offer
Quality Up to 1080/60fps, stereo sound Hardware permitting, up to 4K/60p HDR and 5.1 surround Up to 1080/60p, stereo sound 1080/60p with RTX ray tracing acceleration
Perks None Periodic limited-time offers for free games and game discounts None Priority access
Restrictions Requires Stadia-specific games Requires Stadia-specific games One hour per session limit Six hours per session limit
Minimum network requirements Wi-Fi only; 10Mbps (720p), 20Mbps (1080p), 35Mbps (4K)  
Wi-Fi only; 10Mbps (720p), 20Mbps (1080p), 35Mbps (4K)  
5GHz Wi-Fi or Ethernet; 15Mbps for 720p 60fps, 25 Mbps for 1080p 60fps. 5GHz Wi-Fi or Ethernet; 15Mbps for 720p 60fps, 25 Mbps for 1080p 60fps.  
Platforms Chrome browser on Windows or Mac OS desktop or laptop, Chromebook, Android; there's an iOS app, but you can't play games on iOS Chrome browser on Windows or Mac OS desktop or laptop, Chromebook, Android; there's an iOS app, but you can't play games on iOS Nvidia Shield, Mac OS, Windows 10, Android; Chrome OS (early 2020) Nvidia Shield, Mac OS, Windows 10, Android; Chrome OS (early 2020)
Big name games Assassin's Creed Odyssey, Borderlands 3, Destiny 2, Metro Exodus, Mortal Kombat 11, NBA 2K20, Red Dead Redemption II, Shadow of the Tomb Raider Definitive Edition (Doom is listed in the library but unavailable) Assassin's Creed Odyssey, Borderlands 3, Destiny 2, Metro Exodus, Mortal Kombat 11, NBA 2K20, Red Dead Redemption II, Shadow of the Tomb Raider Definitive Edition (Doom is listed in the library but unavailable) n/a n/a
Notable upcoming games Baldur's Gate 3, Cyberpunk 2077, Doom Eternal, Gods and Monsters, Marvel's Avengers Watch Dogs Legion Baldur's Gate 3, Cyberpunk 2077, Doom Eternal, Gods and Monsters, Marvel's Avengers Watch Dogs Legion n/a n/a

Both experience performance glitches thanks to the vagaries of in-home network connections, but either can perform well enough at any given moment to hook you into staying. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

At its best, GeForce Now can be a seamless experience, nearly indistinguishable from playing a game installed on the machine in front of you. But even then, fast-paced first-person shooters are the most sensitive to network and backend issues, and more often feel just a few split-seconds off, enough to distract from the experience. If you're a devotee of free-to-play games, those seem pretty safe and are probably worth the price of admission (and certainly the zero price if you don't mind getting punted out once an hour). But until the supported game catalog becomes more stable, you may want to think twice. Read our Nvidia GeForce Now review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Because it requires customized versions of games, Stadia only has a handful of popular titles -- the catalog seems padded with different editions of the same game, and for instance, while Doom has been on the Stadia site since launch you can't actually find it in the store. And at the moment, it really doesn't feel like it's worth the $129 for the Premiere bundle plus $10 per month (after the free three-month trial) plus another $60 for a game that you may already own or that you may not be able to play if Google pulls the plug on Stadia -- a nontrivial probability given the company's historyRead our Google Stadia review.

Now playing: Watch this: GeForce Now takes on Google Stadia in cloud gaming
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