Nvidia GeForce Now offers one of the best game streaming services available in 2023, but you’ll have to pay a premium to get the top-tier experience, and holes in the game library could cause issues for some too.
Price comparison from over 24,000 stores worldwide
While you’ve historically been locked to your local hardware when it comes to gaming, the introduction of cloud gaming services like GeForce Now had had a transformative effect on PC gaming.
By moving the processing from your computer to a remote data centre, you can now play RTX-enabled games at high frame rates on old PCs, laptops and even smartphones. Of course, there are plenty of options to choose from including Xbox Cloud Gaming, PlayStation Now and Nvidia’s GeForce Now.
The question is, is Nvidia GeForce Now a viable alternative to local PC gaming for hardcore gamers? I’ve spent a lot of time using Nvidia’s cloud game streaming service over the years, including the new RTX 4080-powered Ultimate tier, and here’s what I think.
Playing AAA games on almost anything
For those unaware of how services like GeForce Now work, the game is rendered remotely at one of Nvidia’s many data centres around the world and streamed to your display in real-time, much like streaming a video from Netflix.
That way, your device only needs to be strong enough to run the app or web browser you use to access it. That, and a fast, stable internet connection of course, with 45Mbps download speeds recommended for solid 4K gaming.
Cloud gaming makes multi-device gaming a real possibility for those without the latest and greatest tech, as you’re able to make use of any old laptops, tablets or smartphones you might have gathering dust around the home. It has dedicated apps for Windows, Mac, Android and Shield TV, along with and browser-based web app for iOS devices, making it a pretty versatile system.
In fact, I found myself playing Cyberpunk 2077 on an old 2017 Samsung smartphone at one point. (Okay the screen was too small for my liking, but it is possible!). I then switched over to an iPad Pro for a while, before reconnecting on my 50in TV via my Nvidia Shield TV for a console-esque experience.
With the combination of cloud streaming and cloud-based game save systems, I could disconnect and pick up where I left off within a few seconds – although the initial boot of games could be improved, with some requiring keyboard and mouse input to boot the game in question (I’m looking at you, Guardians of the Galaxy!).
The Nvidia GeForce Now experience
The Nvidia GeForce Now experience is undoubtedly one of the best around right now, not just in terms of low-latency performance but graphics, frame rate and detail, but much of that experience will depend on which tier of GFN you subscribe to.
The GeForce Now experience starts with the free tier, allowing you to dip your toe into the waters of cloud gaming without an upfront cost – and for a free service, it’s very good. There aren’t restrictions on the titles you can stream, with access to the same titles as paid subscribers, and you can of course stream on any supported device.
The main limitation instead comes in the form of a queuing system; you’ll have to join a queue when you want to play a title, and depending on how busy the service is, that wait time could range from a few minutes to half an hour or more. You’ll also have to disconnect from your game after just an hour of gameplay and re-join the queue, so it’s not great for long gaming sessions.
The free tier also limits the quality of the gameplay experience, with no access to raytracing or HDR image quality, and the latency isn’t quite as impressive as it is on the Ultimate tier.
Like I say, it’s a good trial tier to see how it performs, but most serious gamers will likely opt for the Priority or Ultimate tiers.
The next level up, and the one that most fans will be familiar with, is the Priority tier – also called the Founders tier for those that subscribed in the early days of the service.
The Priority tier offers a comfortable middle-ground between the free and Ultimate tiers, ticking most boxes for a solid cloud gaming experience.
There is still a queue system admittedly, but you’ll get priority access to sessions when competing with free tier subscribers, and the game session length is upped from one to six hours before you’ll have to disconnect and re-join the queue.
Crucially, there are improvements to the overall game quality on offer. Unlike the free tier, the Priority tier runs on Nvidia’s Turing architecture, which means you’ll be able to enjoy raytracing and DLSS in supported games on the service.
That translates to better on-screen visuals with more realistic lighting, and DLSS helps to boost performance in more demanding AAA titles – as amazing as the Turing tech of the RTX 20 series is, it’s not the Ada architecture of the most recent RTX 40 series.
That means you won’t be able to ramp most games up to the maximum graphics settings, especially if ray-tracing tech is enabled, but the stream still looks solid on most displays.
Gameplay is capped at 1080p@60fps on the Priority tier, which should suit casual gamers, but the most dedicated will want something more. It is available, but for that, you’ll have to subscribe to the newest RTX 4080-powered Ultimate tier.
The new Ultimate tier is a replacement of the RTX 3080 tier, released at the end of 2021, with RTX 4080-level power offering a truly high-end experience with a look and feel not dissimilar to local PC gaming – and that’s pretty incredible.
First up, as an Ultimate tier subscriber, you’ll get access to the most powerful server-side technology to power your gameplay experiences. Despite the RTX 4080 connection, it’s not actually using a standard RTX 4080. Instead, it’s powered by Nvidia’s new RTX 4080 Superpods that deliver the same gaming prowess as an RTX 4080 rig in the cloud.
Despite the minor differences in spec between a local and cloud-based RTX 4080, the gameplay experience is near faultless in my experience. While most cloud gaming services tend to look a little soft on the detail front, that wasn’t the case when playing through Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy in all its ray-traced goodness on the Ultimate tier with all graphic settings cranked to the max.
In fact, I managed to get the full 4K@120fps experience on my MacBook Pro in plenty of titles including Hitman 3 and Goat Simulator 3 with all RTX settings enabled and most graphics settings set to max, and there was no noticeable lag at all, even in fast-paced competitive multiplayer titles like Rainbow Six Siege.
Lewis Painter / Foundry
Framerates have had an all-around boost thanks to support for Nvidia’s latest DLSS 3 tech that allows not only for additional frames to be generated by AI on the fly, but allows the framerate to stay smooth when streaming, reducing screen tear and lag. Support for AV1 encoding also helps achieve this aim, helping to reduce the bitrate for those on lower-speed internet connections and higher resolutions and bitrates for faster connections.
The bigger addition to the Ultimate tier is Nvidia’s Reflex mode, bringing 240fps gameplay to the cloud for the first time in competitive titles like Rainbow Six: Siege, Fortnite, Rocket League and Apex Legends. You’ll need a 240Hz monitor to take full advantage of the new reflex mode, but even if you don’t, you can enjoy the reduced latency that the system offers.
Nvidia claims a sub-40ms latency when using Reflex mode in the Ultimate tier, which beats the 63ms latency of the Xbox Series X at 120Hz when playing locally. Let that sink in for a second. Nvidia’s tech is faster and more responsive than a local console. It also beats the 108ms latency of the free tier, and the 60ms of last year’s RTX 3080 tier.
Lewis Painter / Foundry
The Ultimate tier is also the only place you’ll find support for ultrawide monitors (3840 x 1600) and 4K@120Hz monitors, not just in Nvidia’s cloud gaming service but any other on the market in 2023. If you like to game on an ultrawide monitor, the GeForce Now Ultimate tier is the ideal option to make the most of that extra screen real estate.
While previous generations of Nvidia’s cloud streaming tech have been good, nothing has been quite this tantalisingly close to mirroring the local PC gaming experience, both in terms of resolution and performance and latency. It’s an eye-opening experience that truly makes me believe we’ve reached a point where cloud gaming isn’t just viable, but actively desirable.
Reflex mode is limited to the PC and Mac apps for now, but the company is looking into making it available on other platforms a little later on.
Lewis Painter / Foundry
I want to point out that I used Wi-Fi in place of a more secure Ethernet connection when streaming at 4K@120fps and I didn’t have any issues with lag, latency or disconnection issues, though I am using a Wi-Fi 6 mesh system with a Wi-Fi 6-enabled MacBook Pro to achieve impressive wireless transmission. Those still with older Wi-Fi 5 systems may want to opt for Ethernet connectivity, especially if you want to stream at higher frame rates and resolutions.
It’s also worth mentioning that the Ultimate tier offers the longest play session available at 8 hours, and you’ll get the fastest access to sessions during busy periods too, so it really does offer the best GFN experience for those that can afford it.
The catch? The RTX 4080 Superpods are rolling out slowly, so even if you’re an Ultimate subscriber, you might only be able to access RTX 3080 servers for now. Rollout is set to take place over the first quarter of 2023, beginning today, so hopefully it won’t be too long before subscribers around the world can make use of the truly next-gen power of the Ultimate tier.
While GeForce Now offers one of the most compelling cloud-based gaming experiences available right now, there is a catch: not every game is available on the platform.
Unlike streaming services like Shadow which provide a complete PC experience allowing you to install what you like from where you like, Nvidia’s option is more limited in its offering.
Lewis Painter / Foundry
It officially supports Steam, Epic Games Store, GOG and Uplay, but not all titles on those digital storefronts are available – it seems that developers need to specifically whitelist streamable titles, and that availability shifts on a weekly basis.
That’s great, as it means new titles are added to the service every Thursday, but it also means that titles can be removed at a moment’s notice.
That’s not to say there isn’t an impressive selection of supported games. There are over 1500 available to stream at the time of writing, with Netflix-esque sections to help discover supported titles based on genre, RTX support and more, but there are notable gaps in its offering.
In fact, publishers including Rockstar, Bethesda and Activision have outright refused to feature their titles on Nvidia’s service to date, meaning you won’t be able to stream games like GTA V or Call of Duty Warzone.
It is a frustrating limitation that seemingly stems from publishers rather than Nvidia itself, and while I personally hope that the availability expands over time, the murky waters of game publishing mean it’ll probably never have every single game you’ll want to play.
When it comes to Nvidia GeForce Now, the service is split into three tiers: free, priority and ultimate.
The free tier is, unsurprisingly, completely free to use with the restrictions noted earlier. The next step up is the Priority tier, which comes in at an affordable £8.99/$9.99 per month with 6-hour gaming sessions and priority queue jump.
But, for the most dedicated gamers, the only acceptable tier is the top-end ultimate plan. Offering the best performance of any tier to get the best out of AAA titles, the longest gameplay sessions and the best resolution and refresh rate, it’s a premium experience with a price tag to match.
It’s comfortably premium at $19.99/£17.99 a month (with a free upgrade to existing RTX 3080 tier members) – although arguably much less than the cost of the equivalent 40 Series GPU.
If that seems a bit pricey for your needs, there are plenty of other game streaming services available with other perks. We outline our top picks in our best game streaming services chart.
Of all the cloud gaming services available at the moment, it’s Nvidia GeForce Now that resonates most – and it’s down to a couple of things.
First, and arguably most importantly, I don’t have to re-buy games on the platform, allowing me to enjoy games that I already own without additional cost, and games bought on the platform will be mine to own indefinitely, not just for the length of my GFN membership.
But secondly, it’s the performance on offer. When cloud gaming was first introduced, there were still latency issues that’d make playing games – particularly competitive titles – near-impossible, but Nvidia seems to have put that to bed with the new Ultimate tier in 2023. I didn’t notice any latency issues or lag during my gaming sessions, making it near-indistinguishable from a local PC gaming experience.
The ultimate tier is, unsurprisingly, the best of the three tiers, offering Nvidia’s latest RTX 4080 technology with support for DLSS 3 and Reflex mode, improved resolutions and framerates, allowing the latest AAA titles to shine in their ray-traced glory.
The only real disappointment is game availability; while several PC storefronts are supported, there are massive gaps in the service’s offering, including key titles like Call of Duty Warzone and GTA V. It could improve in future, but I doubt there will ever be a time where you can play anything on GeForce Now.
Still, if you’re on the hunt for a multi-device cloud gaming service that offers something close to a desktop gaming PC experience, you won’t find any better than Nvidia GeForce Now and, in particular, the ultimate tier.
Lewis Painter is a Senior Staff Writer at Tech Advisor. Our resident Apple expert, Lewis covers everything from iPhone to AirPods, plus a range of smartphones, tablets, laptops and gaming hardware. You'll also find him on the Tech Advisor YouTube channel.