Google Stadia vs. Nvidia GeForce Now: The winner is clear

From platforms to games, here's how Google Stadia and Nvidia GeForce stack up

Google Stadia promises to revolutionize the way we play video games, eliminating the need to buy powerful hardware or even download games. Instead, it offers instant access the second you want to play them.

Stadia is not alone in this field, however. It has many adversaries, and one of the most formidable is Nvidia’s GeForce Now service. Nvidia’s alternative has received a lot of press, both good and bad, in recent months. Is it a serious alternative?

Supported devices

Google’s Stadia is available on a variety of devices, though how you access it differs with each device. On a PC, MacBook, or Chromebook, you can access Stadia through Google’s Chrome web browser by going to stadia.google.com.

You can only play on a television if you have a Google Chromecast Ultra. Phone support is limited to a selection of Android phones including recent Google Pixel phones, some Samsung phones, and a few Razer and Asus phones.

Nvidia GeForce Now is designed to stream your library of PC games. It’s supported on PC, Mac, Nvidia Shield devices, and most Android phones. Just download the appropriate app for you device, and you’re set.

Winner: Nvidia GeForce Now. It supports more Android phones, so it takes the win.

Controllers

It’s likely that you’ll be able to use the controller of your preference across all streaming services, but only Google Stadia currently offers an exclusive option with built-in features. Stadia also supports the DualShock 4, Xbox One controller, and Xbox Adaptive Controller, as well as mouse-and-keyboard setups.

However, Google’s Stadia support is confusing. Controllers work differently with different Stadia-compatible devices. The most glaring example is Google’s Chromecast Ultra, which only works with Google’s own Stadia controller (priced at $69). Want to use an Xbox One gamepad instead? Tough cookies. Here’s the full controller support list for Stadia devices.

Stadia controller
Stadia’s $69 controller is unremarkable. Rich Shibley/Digital Trends

Nvidia GeForce Now supports mouse-and-keyboard setups and most Bluetooth controllers on a wide variety of devices. Controllesr should work over wired or wireless connections. For the most part, you can expect any PC compatible controller to also work with GeForce Now.

Winner: Nvidia GeForce Now. It supports more controllers over a wider range of devices.

Streaming quality

Once you’re ready to start streaming your games, you’ll have to figure out how much the stream’s resolution and quality are crucial to your experience. Google Stadia says it can surpass Nvidia GeForce Now by a considerable margin, offering 4K resolution with HDR and 60 frames per second at launch.

Nvidia GeForce Now’s capabilities aren’t as impressive on paper, as the service is limited to 1080p resolution (or below) and 60 frames per second. At this time, there is no way to play games in 4K on the Nvidia GeForce Now service. GeForce Now does support RTX ray tracing, however, while Stadia does not.

Rich Shibley/Digital Trends

GeForce Now’s lack of support for resolutions beyond 1080p is a problem if you have a 1440p or 4K display. The difference in sharpness between Stadia and GeForce Now is extremely noticeable, in Stadia’s favor. Heaven help you if the GeForce Now stream buffers down to 720p while you’re on 4K. The result is somewhat akin to loading an original PlayStation 2 game on a modern HDTV.

If you do play at 1080p, however, the services are neck and neck. I spent a lot of time with these services during my month of cloud gaming. I think Stadia looks a tad better, but GeForce Now is more reliable, partly because it’s aggressive about reducing stream quality to stave off potential hiccups.

Winner: Stadia. Google’s cloud gaming service supports higher resolutions and HDR.

Game library

Google Stadia and Nvidia GeForce Now are cloud gaming services, but they handle games differently.

Stadia is a platform, digital storefront, and cloud gaming service all in one. You can only use Stadia to play games you purchased from Stadia. If you own a game on a different store, you’ll need to purchase it again to play on Stadia, and games purchased on Stadia can’t be played locally. This means you have to start your game library from scratch.

To make matters worse, Stadia’s game library is abysmal. It offers only a few dozen games and often does gain new releases found on other platforms. Game pricing is often high, as well. Games that cost $30 on console are often sold at the full $60 retail price on Stadia. It does hold sales but, so far, the deals haven’t impressed me.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey at 1080p/Ultra on GeForce Now

Nvidia’s GeForce Now is more like a virtual PC, though restrictions are in place that limit you to gaming. You log in to your existing Steam, Epic Store, Uplay, or other account to access your games. You buy games from those stores, just like you would if you played them on a local PC.

That’s a boon. It means your existing game library is compatible with GeForce Now, and if you unsubscribe from GeForce Now, you can continue playing games on your PC. GeForce Now also supports more games. Hundreds of titles are available, including several of the most popular games on Steam, like Warframe and Ark: Survival Evolved.

Nvidia’s GeForce Now has suffered a rash of departures. First Activision-Blizzard, then Bethesda, then 2K Games pulled titles from the service. Despite that, GeForce Now still supports a much wider selection of games, and still supports a number of popular PC titles.

Winner: Nvidia GeForce Now. It supports more games, and you can immediately enjoy compatible games you already own.

Pricing and availability

Nvidia GeForce Now is just $5 per month. There’s also a free tier with limited access. Free players can play up to one hour at a time, after which they’ll be booted and have to log back in. Free players are placed behind paying players in the login queue.

Currently, Google Stadia is only available if you buy the $129 Premiere Edition bundle. It comes with three months of Stadia Pro, a Chromecast Ultra, and a Stadia controller. Stadia Pro, which unlocks access to 4K and HDR, is $10 per month. A free tier restricted to 1080p will be offered sometime in 2020.

Google Stadia is available in the United States and most European countries including France, Germany, and the U.K. Nvidia GeForce Now is available in the United States and Europe.

Winner: Nvidia GeForce Now. It’s less expensive each month, and you don’t have to buy a bundle.

Google Stadia vs. Nvidia GeForce Now: Who wins?

There’s no contest here. Nvidia’s GeForce Now has this one in the bag.

GeForce Now is much less expensive. It supports more games. And you can immediately play supported games you already own without buying them again. There’s even a free tier, so you can try it out without putting money down.

Google’s Stadia has one perk. Image quality. It supports 4K and HDR, which GeForce Now does not. That might make Stadia the better choice if you have a 4K HDR television, but choosing Google’s platform means opting into many limitations.

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