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Nvidia GeForce Now game streaming comes to Shield devices for $8 per month

With more than 50 older games available to play instantly, plus the option to purchase select first-run titles, Nvidia challenges PlayStation Now with its new Internet-based gaming service.

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Nvidia

Who wants to pay $8 a month to play a bunch of two-year-old games?

That's the question Nvidia is about to pose with the release of GeForce Now, a new game-streaming service that runs exclusively on Nvidia's Shield devices, namely the Shield Android TV box, Shield Portable and Shield tablet.

Available to Shield owners October 1, the service will cost $7.99 per month in the US and £7.49 in the UK, and Nvidia is hoping to lure gamers in with a lengthy, three-month free trial. That's plenty of time to accumulate enough Homefront progress to think twice before canceling, but barely enough to beat Witcher 3.

Game streaming refers to the process of playing a game over the Internet. The game itself, and all related updates and progress saves, are stored on a remote server farm, rather than on a physical disc or downloaded file on your PC or game console. Ideally, it works just like Netflix streaming for video, providing nearly instant access to many more games than you likely have access to at home, for a subscription fee. It requires much faster Internet connection than Netflix, however, and the experience generally doesn't measure up to gaming from a local source.

Nvidia's chief competitor in game streaming is Sony, whose PlayStation Now service costs $19.99 per month, or a three-month package for $44.99 (about $15 per month). It offers more than 400 games and streams to PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 consoles, the $40 PlayStation TV micro-console and select Sony and Samsung TVs. (The subscription option is currently only available in the US; UK gamers can rent individual titles at a range of prices.)

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Nvidia

May the GeForce be streamed

At launch, around 50 games are available to play instantly via streaming to GeForce Now subscribers. Most are second-run, older titles that have been available for at least a year or two on consoles and PCs, names like Batman: Arkham Origins, Saints Row: The Third, Homefront, Lego Marvel Super Heroes, Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, Borderlands, Dirt 3 Complete Edition, Gas Guzzlers: Extreme and more. The company plans to add more games each week, but declined to mention any forthcoming titles.

A few newer games are also available, which Nvidia classifies as "Buy and Play Instantly." You pay full price for the privilege of streaming these games, which include The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt ($59.99), MotoGP15 ($39.99) and Saints Row IV ($19.99). Nvidia says it's still in negotiations to add Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor.

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Nvidia knows most gamers will balk at having to pay full price for a streaming-only game, especially if the service, like game streaming pioneer OnLive, gets shut down at some point in the future. To address this issue, many of the titles come with a download token that works with a traditional download service, like Good Old Games (GoG). Buying the game on GeForce Now allows you to download it to a PC as well, but game saves between the streamed and downloaded versions are not synced.

The advantages of game streaming over downloads, according to Nvidia, include instant access and the fact that the company can upgrade its servers on the back end, to improve graphics performance for example. One of the major downsides is the requirement for a fast Internet connection: at least 10 megabits per second for the lowest-resolution stream, and at least 50Mbps to take full advantage of the system.

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Nvidia

We got a look at the early version of the service last year when it was called Grid. At the time, it suffered from some lag -- delay between issuing a command and seeing it enacted on-screen -- and occasionally choppy graphics, making the experience less satisfying than playing a local copy of the game. Still, the games were surprisingly playable.

Since then Nvidia has improved graphics from 720p resolution to 1080p resolution at 60 frames per second, beefed up its six data centers (three in the US, two in Europe and one in Japan), and reduced network-related latency (lag) to about 160 milliseconds, which it characterizes as "very playable." In short, Nvidia says the overall experience is a lot better now.

We'll weigh in with hands-on impressions soon.