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Nvidia’s 'Netflix for Games' launches

The Nvidia Shield Android tablet.
Nvidia
The Nvidia Shield Android tablet.

Nvidia tried to bridge its mobile and PC gamer audiences earlier this year with the well-reviewed Shield Android tablet; now it's going to find out if it can be the one to deliver their games as well.

Starting this month in North America and next year in Europe and Asia, the graphics card company will roll out its Grid game streaming service for the Shield Tablet as well as its predecessor device, the handheld mini-tablet/gamepad now called the Shield Portable. Rather than streaming games from an Nvidia-chipped PC as the devices already do, it will pull them down from the cloud, much as Sony's PlayStation Now service does on the PlayStation 4.

"PlayStation Now is based on PS3 chips, which Nvidia designed about 10 years ago," Grid general manager Phil Eisler said in an interview. Ouch! According to its own benchmark tests, Nvidia says Grid is 12 times as powerful and gets twice the frame rate as games streamed over PS Now.

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Nvidia doesn't disclose how many units of each device it has sold, while Sony says it has sold 13.5 million PS4s. A competing game streaming service on the PC, OnLive, relaunched this year under new management after a notorious first outing, but has been largely quiet and has not announced any user numbers thus far.

Nvidia isn't shying away from calling Grid a "Netflix for games"—the term came up at least twice in an interview without my prompting—although the library is pretty small to start: Twenty games, ranging from a year to a decade old, including the first two Batman Arkham games from Warner Bros., Saints Row the Third and Borderlands 1 and 2. Nvidia plans to add new games every week and hopes to get up to more than 100 games next year.

The devices already play other games, however. They can access normal Android apps or play games streamed from the user's home PC over Wi-Fi, provided that PC has the right type of Nvidia processor.

Grid will launch as a free preview for Shield Tablet and Portable users "for the foreseeable future," Eisler said, and the company has not yet decided on an end date for the preview or a final pricing plan. Grid will be free for Shield owners at least through the first half of 2015.

Currently, Grid will not support the ability to export game save data—meaning games started through Grid can't be picked up and resumed outside of Nvidia's ecosystem once the company starts charging—though Eisler said the feature has been discussed "a couple times."

The streaming happens over Wi-Fi, and Nvidia recommends Internet connections of at least 10 megabits per second. It is possible, via a USB to Ethernet adapter, to plug either device into a hard line ethernet port, Eisler noted.

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The company also announced that Lollipop, the latest version of Android, is coming to the Shield Tablet soon, and the Portable in the coming months. The higher-end version of the tablet, which has 32 gigabytes of storage and an LTE data connection, will be bundled with Android versions of three much-loved games developed by Valve: Portal, Half-Life 2 and the newly mobilized Half-Life 2: Episode One.

By Eric Johnson, Re/code.net.

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