Today NVIDIA ramped up their battle to own the performance lead in the set top box market by launching GeForce Now an update to their shield PC gaming service for their uniquely powerful Shield set top box. Mine was enabled late yesterday and I spent much of my evening, to the chagrin of my wife who wanted to watch some of the new TV shows, playing with it on my large screen 4K TV. While I did notice some frame rate issues the images were stunning and as network improve the performance of the Shield product should continue to lead the high end of this market.
Let’s revisit the set top box battles now that GForce Now has launched.
The 4K Problem
The big problem with 4K right now is the lack of 4K content. Amazon and Netflix have a few titles, a few vendors have announced 4K Blue Ray TV players (but good luck finding them or finding anything that will play on them) and traditional game consoles don’t output 4K. Of the top set top boxes on the market the new Apple TV doesn’t support it, the Google Nexus player doesn’t support it, and the Roku 3 doesn’t support it. The only two that do support it are the new Amazon Fire TV (which isn’t shipping yet) and the NVIIDA Shield set top box.
Interestingly both the Amazon and NVIDIA products support gaming but NVIDIA is far more aggressive. In addition, because Amazon uses their own custom version of Android, much like it is with their Kindle tablets, they have access to a subset of Google’s apps and games. Shield is fully supported by Google and gets the full suite but given Android is mostly used for Tablets and Phones the pickings can be pretty slim regardless.
This is why Gaming is so important.
Many PC games have been designed to work at resolutions up to 4K and they are one of the few ways you can truly see what your TV could show if you could find 4K programing. But hooking up your PC to your TV or having a second PC hooked to your TV is problematic. Shield natively will stream games from your PC to your TV at 4K resolutions so when you want to go big you can on the Shied set top box.
You can plug in a wireless keyboard and mouse or use gaming controller. I found that, given these are PC games, the keyboard and mouse route worked better but for some that I didn’t have a table close enough to the TV screen to work so suggest a laptop table like the Wookrays 360 table on Amazon. This way you can kick back on your couch or living room chair and play to your heart’s content with a good basic gaming wireless keyboard and mouse. I’m going to leave driving games to PCs or consoles for now because I suck at driving using a controller and it just doesn’t feel as real as a good wheel (I haven’t found a wheel that will work with Shield yet but I’m still looking).
This is actually a very nice way to game and it showcases the unique flexibility of the Shield gaming solution nicely.
Additional 4K Content
There is one trade off in that Shield does support Google Music and Movies but does not support Amazon Instant video while the new Fire TV supports the Amazon offerings but not Google’s. For a lot of folks who have these services on their TV that might not seem like a problem but many 4K TVs evidently won’t stream 4K content (go figure?). Both support Netflix which is the more common 4K offering.
Fire TV has Alexa which is pretty cool, the issue is that Alexa works better with Echo because it has its own speakers and is always on standby. I also see a problem if you have the new FireTV and Alexa in that both may thing you are talking to them. For instance last night there was a TV ad for Echo and mine immediately perked up and tried to respond to the TV commands. It was kind of strange that the Echo on the TV was clearly able to do things that the Echo on my table couldn’t do.
In use the two systems are comparable but if Amazon figures out how to better connect their Echo to their FireTV they could eventually gain an advantage for now this likely represents more of a problem if you have both systems.
Wrapping Up: Netflix For Games
Years ago I had an argument with Robbie Bach while he was still running the Xbox group. I argued that the future would likely be streamed content once the bugs were worked out of the systems and he argued that that was stupid. Well he is gone and now both NVIDIA and Sony (who bought OnLive which was the firm I was using as an example) have moved to Streaming. Interestingly making this all work was more about building a back end than it was about the network as there were no servers that could handle he kind of loads that gaming generates when OnLive launched (they had to create their own and as a very small startup that proved problematic).
Well with GeForce now it has arrived and while, initially, it is just HD, 4K is coming and, in the end, gaming may be one of the more compelling things you can do in 4K until we get to a critical mass of content.