OnLive’s recent troubles might make one dubious about the future of cloud-based gaming services. Nvidia’s Phil Eisler has a more positive outlook, as one might expect from the guy running the green team’s GeForce Grid cloud gaming group. VentureBeat has a lengthy interview with Eisler that reveals some interesting nuggests about the challenges facing cloud-based gaming and how Nvidia plans to combat them.
Obviously, the speed of one’s Internet connection is a big obstacle. Eisler figures a 5Mbps pipe is required to pump out 30 frames per second at 720p resolution. To get 60 FPS at 1080p, you’d need 15-20Mbps. Then there’s the issue of latency, which Eisler says was over 250 milliseconds with first-generation cloud gaming implementations. The GeForce Grid-powered Gaikai service purportedly cuts latency down to a little over 160 ms, which most folks would still consider too laggy for traditional multiplayer games.
Some of GeForce Grid’s latency reduction comes from the GPU, which performs capture and encoding internally. This capability purportedly shaves 30 milliseconds of latency and frees up CPU cycles for other tasks. Eisler says Nvidia is working on client-side optimizations that will save an additional 20 ms, and he believes working with TV makers can cut latency even further.
Cloud gaming providers also face the challenge of scaling, which may be easier to solve. According to Eisler, Kepler-based GPUs can support up to four simultaneous users, or streams. He expects the number of streams per server to double each year, although it’s unclear whether those increases will come from new GPUs, higher chip densities in servers, or a combination of the two. The latter seems most likely, especially since Nvidia already puts dual GPUs on its GeForce Grid K520 board.
Eisler points to Sony’s acquisition of Gaikai as evidence that the future of cloud-based gaming is brighter than OnLive’s. He certainly has a point, although he also concedes that hard-core PC gamers won’t be switching to cloud-based services in the next decade. Casual gamers are less discerning, and it will be interesting to see how many of them are lured into the cloud during the interim.