Google Stadia vs. Nvidia GeForce Now

Google Stadia wants to revolutionize the way you 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. Is it a serious alternative? Let’s find out!

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Supported devices

Google’s Stadia is available on a variety of devices, though, how you access it differs with each device.

In Windows, MacOS, or on a Chromebook, you can access Stadia by heading to stadia.google.com in a Chromium-based browser like Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge.

On mobile, Stadia is accessible via a dedicated app for compatible Android phones. The iPhone and iPad can access Stadia through a web app for Safari, but, as of right now, there’s no App Store option.

To play on a TV, Google suggests using the Chromecast Ultra, which requires the $69 Stadia Controller. You can also tether a computer via an HDMI cable and use most any wired or Bluetooth controller, including the aforementioned Stadia Controller.

Nvidia GeForce Now, meanwhile, has a similar cast of supporting devices, although Nvidia serves up desktop software for both MacOS and Windows. If you want to play on a Chromebook, there’s a web app for that as well.

On mobile, you’ll find a Play Store app for Android and Shield devices. Nvidia bypasses the App Store’s strict regulation by providing a Safari web app for iPhones and iPads, just like Stadia.

Winner: Google Stadia. You don’t need to download software on Windows and MacOS machines, nor do you need to trick Chrome to play games within the browser like GeForce Now.

Controllers

Controller support depends on the underlying device, but generally, you can use the DualShock 4, Xbox One controller, and Xbox Adaptive Controller, as well as mouse-and-keyboard setups with both platforms.

If you want to play Stadia through the Chromecast Ultra, you must use Google’s controller. However, Google is currently experimenting with a workaround called Tandem Mode, which essentially allows a third-party controller to piggyback off a paired Stadia controller. That’s a bummer for sure — might as well throw the Chromecast Ultra aside and connect a PC to your TV.

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

Beyond the Chromecast Ultra, you can use the Stadia Controller via a wired USB connection to a PC or mobile device. For a wireless connection, the device uses Wi-Fi and a link code to pair it with a Stadia account.

For example, on PC, users power the gamepad on and click the controller icon at stadia.google.com. After that, they enter the link code presented on the screen by pressing the associated button pattern. Mobile devices have a dedicated app to make wireless pairing easier.

Meanwhile, Nvidia’s GeForce Now supports mouse-and-keyboard setups and most Bluetooth controllers on a wide variety of devices — even on Chromebooks. Controls 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, though, this would be a tie if you could play Stadia via the Chromecast Ultra using any controller.

Streaming quality

Once you’re ready to start streaming 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.

Nvidia GeForce Now’s capabilities aren’t as impressive on paper, as the service is limited to 1080p resolution (or below) and 60 fps. At this time, there is no way to play games in 4K via Nvidia GeForce Now. It 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.

In a nutshell, Stadia is like having a game console. You purchase a game and can only play it on that device, just like the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. However, there’s nothing for you to download and install — all games stream instantly from the cloud at no extra cost to you.

But like Xbox Game Pass, Google provides a Pro subscription service for $10/month that adds a list of games you can play for “free” so long as you keep the subscription active. You also get discounts on games and a boost to a 4K resolution. Any game you purchase can be shared with family, too, just like sharing Android apps on the Play Store via Family Sharing.

Currently, Google offers more than 200 games in its library, some of which are subscription exclusives. These include Cyberpunk 2077, Destiny 2, Borderlands 3, Destroy All Humans, Baldur’s Gate 3, and more. However, since you can’t play these games locally on an Xbox or PlayStation, you’re essentially building a new library, which is unfortunate if you already own these games.

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

GeForce Now takes a different approach. It’s not a “console in the cloud” with a walled garden like Stadia. Instead, Nvidia’s service links to platforms you already use, like Steam, Epic Store, or Uplay. It’s the middleman of sorts, pulling your purchased games from your libraries and streaming them from Nvidia’s servers to mostly any device you own.

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 those games on your PC. GeForce Now also supports more games, hundreds in fact, including several of the most popular games on Steam, like Warframe and Ark: Survival Evolved.

But Nvidia’s GeForce Now has suffered a rash of departures. First Activision-Blizzard, then Bethesda, then 2K Games pulled titles from the service — pulled permissions, to be more precise. Despite that, GeForce Now still supports a wide 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

This is where the dividing line really cuts deep.

Google Stadia is free to use. The only real requirement is the purchase of a game, which is streamed to devices in 1080p. Stadia currently provides two games you can play for free, however, without a purchase: Destiny 2 and Super Bomberman R Onlne, the latter of which is a Stadia exclusive. You’ll also see demos and press-to-play weekends.

The $10/month Pro subscription, meanwhile, ups the resolution to 4K and adds a “free” library of select games to your roster. The only drawback here, of course, is that you’re building yet another game library. A good rule of thumb here is to wait for sales — if you can be patient — on titles like Far Cry 5 and Immortals Fenyx Rising, which were recently knocked down to $15 and $40, respectively.

Nvidia’s GeForce Now service is free to use, too. The big roadblock with this plan, however, is that you’re thrown into an incredibly long queue, and by the time your spot is ready, you only get an hour of playtime. To get “priority access” and an “extended” session length, you’ll need to upgrade to the Founders plan, which will run you $25 every six months. Ray tracing is toggled on, too.

Google Stadia is available in the U.S. and most European countries, including France, Germany, and the U.K. Nvidia GeForce Now is available in the U.S., Europe, Korea, Japan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Taiwan.

Winner: Google Stadia. You have to buy the game, sure, but avoiding long wait times and limited streaming sessions make it the better option.

Google Stadia vs. Nvidia GeForce Now: Who wins?

So, let’s do the math. You buy Cyberpunk 2077 on Stadia for $60 and you can stream it for free — no wait times, no session limits. You buy the same game on Steam and you must wait in a long queue for a one-hour session using GeForce Now. Opting for the Founder’s plan roughly adds $5 to the cost each month, but you’re still waiting in line and facing a session length. You also don’t get the 4K boost as seen in Stadia Pro.

The winner was easier to pick at one time because Google Stadia was relatively new. Now that we’re into 2021, the platform is harder to overlook. Both services have their strengths and weaknesses, but there’s no argument that, if you bought Doom Eternal on Steam, you really don’t want to buy it again on Stadia just to stream it to a subpar machine. That’s Nvidia’s biggest strength.

We get it.

But seriously, when we launch a game on the PC or console, it’s bad enough we have to wait for the game to actually load. We want to play it now. One of the big benefits of cloud gaming is that you can do that even quicker, and you don’t have to wait a week for a Gigamax-sized patch to download and install. But waiting in line to play your purchased game and being limited in how long you can play it just isn’t cool, even if we shell out a monthly fee.

With one click, you can play a game on Google Stadia — no lines, no time limits. Even more, it supports 4K and HDR, which GeForce Now does not. That might make Stadia the better choice if you have a 4K HDR television.

The verdict? If you don’t mind building a new library, Google Stadia is a good choice. If you don’t want to purchase games again, you don’t mind standing in line and being told how long you can play, then GeForce Now may be the better bet.

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