GeForce Now vs. Stadia

GeForce Now, Nvidia's cloud streaming service, just recently released to the public with a great amount of fanfare. Gaming news sites are declaring that GeForce Now "Demolishes" Stadia, Stadia is "dead", etc. I'm not ready to call Stadia dead quite yet but let's take an honest objective technical comparison of both services.

Comparison

GeForce Now

GeForce Now has been in beta for many years, and now Nvidia is rolling it out to the masses with what is honestly a great deal. For $5 a month you get full access to the GeForce Now experience; however, if you just want to try it there's also a free tier.


GeForce Now

There are some important things to note with this chart.

  • The $5 a month price is an introductory price for "Founders". Nvidia has stated that the founders are limited, and once they reach a certain amount they won't be accepting any more. The $5 a month is guaranteed for the first 12 months, after that, we're not sure what the price will go up to.
  • While the playtime is limited it's not limited per day. It's limited per session. After the session reaches the maximum time users will need to close and reopen a new session.
  • The graphics support up to 1080P at 60FPS. The Paid Tier gives access to "better" hardware; however, you could support up to 1080P at 60FPS on the free tier.
  • GeForce Now is queue based. There are only so many systems available. Both tiers could require you to wait for a rig to play on, but the paid tier will put you at the head of the line. Last night I was attempting to play The Division 2 and was required to wait about 7 minutes for a rig (on the paid tier). Granted this was opening day so it's possible that there's a huge influx of players.
  • GeForce Now does not support iPhones/iPads and Nvidia currently has no plans to add it. I would imagine in the future they will but at the moment they have no made any statements about it. Nvidia has made statements that they plan to include WebRTC which will bring GeForce Now to Chromebooks and Linux devices through a web browser.
  • GeForce Now integrates with different PC gaming stores to deliver content to you. The way it works is you open the client, pick a game and store, and launch the game. A window will open asking you to log in to the store you chose. The game installs and you can go.

Stadia

Stadia is Google's first real attempt at gaming. Stadia promised to offer the full AAA gaming experience to everyone. In its current state Stadia is only open to early adopters willing to pay $130 for the Premier (or Founders if you were early enough) edition. I am purposely not including the $130 in the cost of Stadia as it won't be necessary when the service launches in full

Stadia

Just like with GeForce Now there are some caveats to Stadia

  • The Free Tier has not launched yet. Google has stated that it will come out sometime in 2020, but not exactly when.
  • The $10 gives you "1 to 2" games a month for free. In Stadia's first three months they gave away 2 games a month.
  • The Graphics quality is "Up to" the resolutions listed there, but ultimately it is on the developers to determine the quality and frame rate.
  • Stadia support anything with a Chrome Browser on it, but not officially. Phones and Tablets are supposed to use the Stadia app but that app is limited to Pixel devices only for right now.
  • Perhaps the largest issue people have with Stadia is the number of games. Right now the Stadia store is fairly sparse, although Google has stated that there are 120 games planned for 2020.

Ignored Variables

You may be looking at this comparison and thinking, hang on you forgot things. I'm sure there are things I did forget, but the majority of them I am purposely ignoring.

  • Stadia's communication: Stadia hasn't been the best at communicating with its userbase. In a strict comparison between Stadia and GeForce Now the communication of the PR teams isn't relevant to the bulk of the community.
  • Stadia Costs $130: Stadia Premier costs $130. Before GeForce Now launched for everyone you needed an Nvidia Shield TV which cost $149. Meaning both of these are a wash. That's why I am only comparing when they actually launch.
  • You have to rebuy your games for Stadia: You have to buy games for GeForce Now as well. GeForce Now lets you use your already existing PC library's but you still had to buy those games in the first place. It's the same as any console, you need to buy the game to play it.
  • Multiplayer Community: This is probably a big concern for a lot of people so I wanted to address it here. It's a bit preemptive to judge Stadia on the multiplayer community before it goes public. While in it's limited access state Stadia doesn't have a wide multiplayer base we're not sure how that will change when it becomes free for everyone.

How does GeForce Now Work

GeForce now is a bit of an odd "system". Here's the basic steps for it:

  1. Load the GeForce Now Launcher
  2. User the Search bar to find the game you want
  3. Launch game
  4. Sign into relivant store. Nvidia says you will only have to do this once. I've found this to be half true. Steam seems to work find, but now Uplay.
  5. Download Game
  6. Install game
  7. Launch Game


GeForce Now is essentially a virtual computer that you remote desktop into and launch the game from.

Cold Start Times

Assassin's Creed Odyssey

GeForce Now

From a cold start, it took 3 minutes even (minus 1 second for me to pause the recording for 2FA) to reach a point where the game was actually playable (First Cutscene). Something else you might notice is that I was asked for a 2FA token. I have already checked the box to remember me next time but since each time I load the game I'm playing on a different machine the checkbox doesn't work and I need to enter the 2FA token each time. I purposely paused the recording here because not everyone is going to have 2FA enabled (you really really should) and so it wouldn't have been fair to include that in the time.


I also had to redo this video twice because the first time I was prompted for my Uplay login again, despite having already logged in before. Nvidia says that you should only have to log into each service once but in my experience, I have to log in to Uplay about half the time. I'll chalk this up to a bug and give Nvidia the benefit of the doubt that they'll fix it soon.

Edit: I can confirm this is a bug with Uplay. I don't get this issue playing Steam Games.

Stadia

From a cold start, Stadia took 1 minute and 49 seconds (minus one second for me to read the warning about a new game). This puts Stadia at about a minute faster than GeForce Now to load. Eagle-eyed viewers may notice that Stadia did have a second longer loading one of the videos than GeForce Now did (it'll become more obvious when you look at the side by side comparison).

Destiny 2

GeForce Now

From a cold Start GeForce Now comes in at 2 minutes and 45 seconds to become playable.

Destiny 2 seemed to hang for a long time when I was making this video, in fact, I thought it might have crashed

Stadia

From a cold start Stadia, clocks in at 2 minutes even to become playable.

Graphics Comparison

The only games I really own on both Stadia and PC are Destiny 2 and Assassin's Creed Odyssey. So I will be doing a side-by-side comparison of both games intro cinematic and gameplay. For both of these comparisons, I am using OBS to capture what is displayed on my 1080P screen. This will be limited to 1080P as I don't have any way to capture Stadia's 4K resolution off the Chromecast Ultra.


The specs I am using for these tests is 1000Mbps Fios, Cat 7 cabling direct to router at 10 feet, and Google Chrome 80. I furthermore set both games to Ultra resolution in GeForce Now.


Do note that video editing isn't my profession so I'm using the free version of Lightworks which limits output quality to 720P. The above videos are 1080P.

Assassin's Creed Odyssey

For this side-by-side video comparison, I went with the intro cinematic I have these offset by about a second to allow time to look between them. The comparison is extremely close in terms of detail with GeForce Now being maybe a tiny bit better than Stadia particularly when you get an up-close view of Leonidas's helmet. Again I think it's important to remember that I have AC: OD set to Ultra detail.

Destiny 2

For this comparison, I went with the opening tutorial level. You'll probably notice right away that I was significantly better on GeForce Now. That's not due to input lag or anything like that. It's simply because I did GeForce Now right after I did the Stadia test so I knew where all the enemies were going to be.

Again I have a difficult time spotting major differences in these scenes. GeForce Now does seem to be a small bit more detailed but I would hardly call it significant. I again had the resolution set to maximum.

Conclusion

Both GeForce Now and Stadia were able to deliver stellar graphics through streaming. I've played over 200 hours of games on Stadia since its soft launch and about 10 hours of gameplay on GeForce Now. I haven't noticed significant latency with either service. It's difficult to really say which of these two services is better.


Both services offer seamless ways to play AAA games in high quality with very little investment. GeForce Now has two major advantages over Stadia that, even though I purposely ignored in the comparison, can't be understated.


Since GeForce Now integrates with existing communities like Steam, Uplay, and Epic you get the advantage of using their multiplayer servers. As I mentioned before when Stadia free tier opens I don't think this will be an issue anymore, but as it stands right now Stadia is simply lacking in terms of player counts.


The second thing GeForce Now Offers over Stadia is the ability to use your existing games. I consider this less of an issue because we need to think of Stadia as a new console not as a PC streaming service. No one buys a Playstation then complains it can't play their Steam library. On the same note, no one buys a Playstation and complains that they need to buy their Steam games again. Google announced 120 games coming to Stadia is 2020, and while I think there will be a large amount of Ubisoft ports since Uplay+ is also coming to Stadia in 2020 we should see a good amount of new games too.


GeForce Now is a great service but I'm not ready to declare it a Stadia killer yet. I did find Stadia to be an overall more refined experience. Stadia was simpler to use and set up. I ran into some issues with GeForce Now and getting controllers working. Games like Assassin's Creed Odyssey on GeForce Now only partially support controller where on Stadia a controller is fully supported. GeForce Now also had issues with forcing me to sign back into accounts and redo 2FA when I wanted to play.


Stadia being a fully integrated system has several advantages over GeForce Now aswell. One of the main advantages is the instanced games. Stadia launches virtualized games not virtualized machines. With GeForce Now since you are using a VM you will have to redownload, install, and patch a game everytime you want to play it, since you will frequently be put on a different machine than the one you were just using. This overall goes relatively quickly, but it's no where near as seemless as Stadia which is click and play.


Stadia also supports more devices and higher resolutions. Google has stated that they're bringing 4K to web browsers soon where Nvidia hasn't commented on if GeForce Now will support 4K in the future. Google plans on making Stadia available to everyone through Chrome and Chromecast devices, which are much more popular than the excellent Nvidia Shield TV.


No updates are another benefit that Stadia has over GeForce Now. I wanted to play The Division 2 earlier on GeForce Now and it needed to download an update. Granted it downloaded extremely quickly thanks to the Nvidia data servers but after the update, I had to reboot the game. With Stadia you should never have to deal with updates.


Stadia is also quite a bit faster the GeForce Now. As demonstrated above Stadia loaded games about one minute faster in both tests. That might now seem like a lot but in a 3 minute cold boot, 1 minute is 33%. In load heavy games like Destiny 2, 33% could make a large difference. Granted this test was a cold boot test not a loading screen test so the difference might be less than 33% in the end.


Finally, the queueing and session timers are a big turn off for GeForce Now. When I wanted to play The Division 2 and had to restart for an update I wasn't able to immediately hop back into the game. When I went to relaunch it I was forced into a queue and had to wait about 7 minutes before I could play again. I understand that Nvidia is testing player interest and will probably be adding more servers to reach that equilibrium where they have enough servers for every player.


Let me know what you think in the comments below.