The fall and rise of PC gaming
It runs Android 4.1 and will play existing games from Google Play, but it has wider gaming appeal than a tablet. Using a forthcoming version of Nvidia’s GeForce Experience application, Shield can use Wi-Fi to stream any PC game – including those on Steam – from a PC with a GeForce 600 Series GPU.
All the grunt work is done on the PC, with the encoding handled by Nvidia’s Kepler GPUs.
A minimum GeForce GT 650M is required, but otherwise the only limitations are the controls (Shield’s dual thumbsticks won’t be ideal for strategy games) and the detail settings your PC can support.
This isn’t an entirely new idea – Nintendo’s Wii U console can also stream games to the screen of its Wii U GamePad – but it liberates PC gaming from, well, the PC.
Of course, the streaming doesn’t stop there. The gaming on-demand OnLive service might have failed to popularise game streaming, but Nvidia is backing hardware-accelerated streaming to laptops, tablets and even TVs via its Grid cloud gaming platform, where game servers pump HD graphics to devices with the aid of clustered GeForce GPUs.
“It isn’t only about enjoying the PC gaming experience, but also extending that experience to any room in your household,” says Paul.
Crytek is also experimenting with streaming for its new Gface social/cloud gaming platform, although it’s putting the strain on the host machine. “It’s the future, for us at least,” says Button-Brown.
But what if you want truly mobile PC gaming? There’s hope here, too, with gaming peripheral manufacturer Razer and its Edge Pro PC gaming tablet. It looks like a standard Windows 8 slate, but inside there’s a Core i5 or i7 processor, plus an Nvidia GeForce GT 640M LE GPU. A clip-on case adds dual-analog stick controls, while a dock with an HDMI output means the Edge Pro can power the same games on your TV at home.
Razer is bullish about its product.
“Mobile console solutions out there don’t come close to playing top PC games out of the box,” says Razer’s CEO and creative director Min-Liang Tan. “Other tablets fall similarly short, with modified operating systems and chipsets that can’t accommodate hardcore PC gaming titles. The Razer Edge is a fully featured PC with mobile console-style controller options.”
At $999 for the base configuration, and up to $1,499 with the controller case bundled in, the Edge won’t come cheap, and battery life is a mere two to four hours. However, it could easily find a niche among PC gaming enthusiasts, who won’t be able to resist the lure of Crysis 3 or Skyrim on the move.
Steam: the big picture
The other big shift is into the living room. Fast APUs, more power-efficient GPUs and smaller mini-ITX form factors mean that anyone can build a quiet, living-room-friendly gaming system for less than £400 – and Dell’s Alienware brand sells PCs in console-style cases.
However, Valve now wants to take things further with the help of its Steam service. Last year it oBig Picture, an optional TV-focused user interface, and that’s only the beginning.
Valve sees Big Picture coming to the TV in three ways. “The way we think of it is sort of ‘good, better or best’,” Valve’s Gabe Newell told The Verge at this year’s CES. “‘Good’ such as these very low-cost streaming solutions that you’re going to see using Miracast [the Wi-Fi peer-to-peer screencasting standard] or Grid. I think we’re talking about in-home solutions where you have low latency.”
Valve is understood to be working with Nvidia on a system where PCs in the home connect with the TV through Wi-Fi or Ethernet and, in Newell’s words, “you’ll pick up a controller and Big Picture will come on. It will be integrated into all the TVs after a certain point.”
If “best” means the kind of dedicated, enthusiast systems that manufacturers sell to PC gamers today, then Newell’s “better” refers to Valve’s Steam Box initiative.
Steam Box will be both a standardised gaming solution built by a range of hardware manufacturers, and a specific unit that Valve will sell itself. It will have a dedicated CPU and GPU and, controversially, will run Ubuntu rather than Windows.