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Graphics shocker: Nvidia virtualizes Kepler GPUs

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In conjunction with the VGX features embedded in all Kepler GPUs, Nvidia announced that it is working with online gaming companies to create a cloud platform for online gaming akin to that which OnLive has created with its own proprietary video compression and rendering chip.

This cloudy gaming platform, called the GeForce Grid, is not something that Nvidia plans to build and operate itself, but is rather a variant of Kepler GPUs and VGX virtualization, plus other gaming software code, that will allow a single Kepler GPU to handle up to eight game streams and beam them out over the internet to PC clients while doing all of the rendering for the game on back-end servers where the game is running.

The amount of power consumed per stream will be about half of what you could do using Fermi GPUs, according to Huang.

Another dollop of secret sauce in the GeForce Grid is fast streaming, which captures and encodes a game frame in a single pass and does concurrent rendering, reducing server latency to as low as 10 milliseconds per frame. This reduction can more than make up for the increased network latency of having your console in your hand –­ be it an iPad, a smartphone, or a PC –­ where you are playing a game tens or hundreds of miles away from the server on which the game is actually running and being rendered.

Online gaming company Gaikai, an OnLive competitor, worked with Nvidia to demonstrate Hawken running streamed from its data center 10 miles away from the San Jose convention center, on an LG Cinema 3D Smart TV with a wireless USB gamepad. To our eyes, it looked like it was running on a local console, with no lags or jitter.

Game input latencies for local consoles and remote virtual consoles (click to enlarge)

As you can see from the chart above, Nvidia and its online gaming partners think they have the latency issue licked when the GeForce Grid software is running on data centers that are not too far from players.

Interestingly, the speed of light is an issue: it takes 100 milliseconds or so to circle the globe under the best of circumstances, and several times more than that going through networks. But the idea is very simple: "What's good for gamers is good for Nvidia," as Huang put it. And Bill Dally, chief scientist at Nvidia, put it even better: "A cloud allows a kilowatt gaming experience on a 20-watt handheld device."

With cloud gaming, you don't have to buy a console – and you don't even have to buy a game to play on it. In fact, Gaikai is distributing games through retailing giant's Walmart.com. You can just go there and click on a game, pay for the right to play it, and off you go. No downloading for 36 hours, no console to buy. All you need is internet access that is fast enough to stream HD video – basically, if you can watch Netflix, you can play games online with GeForce Grid.

"We are not currently planning on hosting the servers ourselves," said Huang. "But if it makes sense, we are not against it."

The plan is for gaming companies and telcos to build their own GeForce Grids and come up with the pricing and billing, and the desire is to get a Netflix-style price of around $10 per month for access to a fat catalog of games. The game makers get out of manufacturing media and packaging, and the gamers get instant access to games on the cloud.

The trick is to make it ubiquitous – and, of course, more profitable. ®

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