|How NVIDIA GeForce GRID Will Change Video Games|
|Articles - Opinion & Editorials|
|Written by Olin Coles|
|Thursday, 17 May 2012|
How NVIDIA GeForce GRID Will Change Video Games
NVIDIA GeForce GRID and NVIDIA VGX Cloud Computing Technology Introduce Change to Video Games and the PC Platform
NVIDIA recently unveiled two new graphics technologies at the 2012 GPU Technology Conference: NVIDIA GeForce GRID and NVIDIA VGX. You're probably not familiar with either of these 'Cloud Computing' technologies, but in the next few years they'll develop to become quite commonplace. One day in the not so distant future, you could find yourself choosing between a NVIDIA GeForce GRID subscription or NVIDIA GeForce graphics card to play the latest high-end game. In this editorial I explore what these two new technologies offer, and how they will change the graphics industry.
Not everyone has a computer device with the power to do whatever they want with it. If you're reading this then you're one of the lucky few, but for many people of other nations a modern computer is an unknown luxury. Most desktop PC systems can be upgraded with new hardware, but notebook computers lack this ability and cannot run may of the latest video game titles or play back high-definition multimedia content. Tablet and SmartPhone devices suffer a similar fate, and have limited capability. Traditionally, video games have been played on the most capable system, usually a PC or console. Now NVIDIA GeForce GRID technology removes this need for an expensive system, and gives gamers the ability to play video games from any connected device with a display screen (think: HDTV, monitor, notebook, tablet, SmartPhone, etc).
Back in 2002 I built a Citrix MetaFrame server to conduct an experiment: connect several very old PCs into one mainframe computer system and enable friends to play video games on each using the high-end GPU installed on the Terminal Server. The experiment was successful with low-end 2D multiplayer games (this was before the era of countless browser-based games that now cover every genre), but multiplayer 3D games such as Quake III lacked OpenGL support on our server platform. Using a Local Area Network connection to join several friends together via Ethernet cables into a multiplayer game worked very well, up until high-speed Internet became the household standard across the planet and made LAN parties virtually obsolete. Ten years later NVIDIA has made my experiment into reality, and one remotely-located high-end system can offer the performance that other connected devices lack.
The Internet is Everything!
Some of us can remember back to a time when video games only offered one mode: arcade. It wasn't for many years later when dial-up Internet service was common that video games offered a multiplayer mode, and then many more years before broadband Internet helped make multiplayer gaming the standard (suggested reading: Before PC and Console Games: The Video Arcade). Now everything is connected, and it's difficult to find a modern video game title that doesn't feature an online multiplayer mode. Multiplayer games helped fuel the home entertainment market, while wiping out an entire arcade industry.
Although my Terminal Server experiment back in 2002 was uninspired, cloud-based gaming isn't new. First-generation cloud gaming platforms suffered high network latency times (ping) referred to as lag, had low quality graphics, and were expensive. NVIDIA GeForce GRID technology promises to overcome these issues and make game streaming as common as renting a movie online. Cloud-based NVIDIA GeForce GRID servers will be outfitted with several of the latest GeForce GPUs to provide the best graphics processing power available, while having lower server latency so that cloud-based video games play just like they were installed locally.
America is one of the greatest developed nations in the world, but it's also one of the worst for network infrastructure. NVIDIA GeForce GRID technology requires fast Internet connections in order for it to work well with real-time multiplayer games, especially first-person shooters where response and reaction times mean life or death. GRID networks need to offer a server cluster near to your Internet Service Provider to reduce packet transfer hops and travel time, or the network latency will get your character killed. NVIDIA VGX technology, which focuses on the Enterprise segment and relates to software applications, visual presentations, and multimedia playback, will require only a standard broadband Internet connection.
Cloud Computing Kills the Desktop PC... and Console.
Would you spend money on a new gaming console or desktop PC system upgrade if you could simply power-up any Internet-connected HDTV and start playing a library of video games using the best graphics settings possible? Most people would make the obvious choice to move with technology, but there will always be a few die-hards out there who refuse to keep with the times and cling to their old devices. Some readers may recall that several of my past editorials foretell a future where the desktop computer platform no longer exists, and this section ties into the others.
If you're not up to speed on this topic Benchmark Reviews has published related articles that go into detail on each topic: Fears and Predictions, Statistical Obituary, and How Video Games Killed Desktop PC Computing. If you haven't already read these articles, you should, and might also consider Killed By Overclocking and Saved By Overclocking as well. I might even convert you to my school of thought after you've read them all. So getting back to this matter of killing off PCs and game consoles...
NVIDIA GeForce GRID and NVIDIA VGX technology, once made available and adopted widespread, will mean that users won't need to buy that high-end computer system to play games or run complex design applications. They won't need a powerful processor and graphics card, extreme amounts of system memory, constant updates and patches, or expensive network servers... they'll merely need an Internet-connected device. Because some businesses may fear downtime and resist complete dependence on their Internet connection, the desktop computer platform could survive longer in the Enterprise segment than everywhere else, but the landscape for enthusiast hardware is certain to change.
Use Your Imagination
It's still too early to rate the value of NVIDIA GeForce GRID technology since there are competing product already available (such as OnLive and Evolve), but if we consider these announcements at face value there's plenty of potential for NVIDIA VGX server-side graphics to become the world standard for connected businesses. Websites are already server-side, as are many online games and productivity programs, so it's really not much of a stretch to imagine a day where most complex tasks are handled by an offsite super-computer. Most companies dread mandatory hardware upgrades made for the sake of operating on the latest version of essential software, and Cloud Computing's offset in costs could make sense for cash-strapped businesses.
Of course, this would mean steep declines in consumer revenue for everyone involved in selling computer hardware. Intel, AMD, NVIDIA, and everyone else in the supply chain would be hard-pressed to continue selling desktop hardware in a world where only servers need powerful components and everyone else uses a simple Internet-connected device to access them. All this time I've been worried that mobile phones, laptops, and game consoles might be killing off the desktop platform, but in reality it could be the server that does us in.
Only time will tell how accurate my predictions will be, so weigh-in with your comment below.