Nvidia’s Updates, Price Cuts and 780 Ti Release Date
Nvidia hosted a press-conference in Montreal a few weeks ago, in which they mentioned Ocober 28th as the release date of some new software features for the Shield and GeForce graphics cards. So the day has come and Nvidia has released the promised updates, while also making some further announcements.
The latest GeForce Experience 1.7 update has finally added ShadowPlay Beta – a recording feature using h.264 hardware encoder in Kepler GPUs to record compressed gameplay videos with minimal performance loss. It requires the 331.43 driver or newer and a desktop GTX 650 or higher graphics card. Current release only records 1920x1080 videos at 60 FPS in fullscreen (does not work in windowed mode) games at one of 3 bitrates (15, 25 or 50 Mbps) without forcing an FPS cap in-game, although more customisation may be available later on. If you are playing at a different resolution, the video will be either upscaled or downscaled to 1080p, while trying to record the game running at an aspect ratio other than 16:9 results in a distorted video. The recorded video is split into 4 GB files on Windows 7, while Windows 8 can record gameplay of any length into a single file. This difference seems very strange, but Nvidia does not provide any details other than "OS limitations".
While having the ability to encode compressed videos requiring less HDD speed is nice by itself, the main feature of ShadowPlay is the Shadow mode, which can work continuously in the background. When Shadow mode is enabled, it continuously records up to 20 minutes (10 min on Windows 7) of gameplay to your HDD (an ability to hold it in RAM may be implemented as well) without making a file to avoid additional drive usage. If you decide that something worth saving just happened in the game, a key combination will immediately save all recorded video buffer to the file. I have already tried running Shadow mode in a few games and performance drop seemed to be less than 2 FPS in a few games I was running at over 60 FPS, so it is viable to keep it constantly on. The quality of 50 Mbps files is also very good with compression artefacts being practically imperceptible. If you do not plan to do heavy editing afterwards, 25 Mbps should also give a decent quality. Such a negligible dent on performance is really nice for gameplay streaming and Twitch support has been announced to come later on.
Other updates in GE 1.7 concern a much more limited audience, as they are related to more specific hardware configurations. Top end GeForce 600 and 700 cards with reference metal case have an LED illuminated GeForce GTX logo. There are also some SLI bridges with the illuminated Nvidia logo. GE 1.7 now allows controlling those lights by either animating them in some pattern or lighting them up depending on GPU activity, in-game sounds or SLI mode. Nothing groundbreaking, but nice for people with transparent PC cases. Another addition concerns the new frontier of PC high-end GPU performance – gaming at 4K (3840x2160) resolution. Most games with optimisation profiles are now updated with optimal settings for 4K resolutions. As those settings are aimed at 40 FPS it may serve as a starting line for those who want better performance.
Meanwhile, the Nvidia Shield handheld has just received a lot of updates. Nvidia has released an OS update to the latest Android version – 4.3 "Jelly Bean", which comes with minimal modifications from the reference version to support Shield specific functionality. Game streaming from PC is no longer in beta stage and is now known under the GameStream name. It still only supports streaming at 1280x720 resolution over Wi-Fi, while 1920x1080 will be available for streaming over the wired connection when Nvidia releases an Ethernet-to-micro-USB converter for the Shield. There is also a new Console Mode, which will output the external display via mini-HDMI port at 1080p resolution. In this mode, an external Bluetooth wireless controller is required and Android games can be played at 1080p. Using Ethernet connection should also allow streaming PC games to TV at 1080p through Shield in this mode in the future. There is also a support for apps running from microSD cards, no longer limiting every app to Shields internal 16 GB of memory.
While Valve are trying to remap a lot of keyboard games to their controller, Nvidia has started doing something similar with Android games and Shield. Shield Gamepad Mapper allows mapping different touch gestures or areas to the physical controls of the handheld. It is suited especially well for the games that simulate gamepad thumbsticks and button controls on the touchscreen. It should work extremely well for games which were ported to mobile platforms from other consoles. While some games might need more advanced mapping options to work well, it seems that Nvidia is listening to suggestions and may implement those in the future. Profiles for some games are already available for download from Nvidia themselves together with the profiles uploaded by other users.
Finally there are updates to GeForce card prices and holiday game bundles are now available until November 26th. Game bundle for GTX 770, 780 and Titan includes Batman: Arkham Origins, Splinter Cell: Blacklist, and Assassin's Creed: Black Flag as well as a $100 discount on Shield. Bundle for GTX 660, 660Ti, 670, 680 and 760 lacks Batman and only offers a $50 Shield discount. Nvidia has finally adjusted their prices in response to AMD's cheaper new cards. GTX 770 is now priced at $329 which seems justified compared to R9 280X, while GTX 780 now costs $500, ~10% below R9 290X, corresponding to their performance difference and also sending PS4 to low end. GTX Titan still remains at $1000, likely due to its unlocked FP64 performance to avoid cutting into the sales of more expensive Quadro and Tesla professional cards. GTX 780 Ti release has been scheduled to next Thursday, November 7th at a $700 price. I expect something that will beat R9 290X performance, but not enough to justify premium for "the most powerful single GPU".
All these updates are quite nice for people who already own Nvidia's products, especially the ShadowPlay functionality which can be enjoyed by a very wide audience. The amount of gaming videos on YouTube is likely to increase a lot as well as the demand for 60 FPS online video sites. Shield's updates make it a much more viable contender to other handheld consoles and other Android devices when it comes to gaming. The price adjustment of the high-end GeForce cards as well as the game bundle is good for those who plan to get a new card in coming months. It is good to have some real competition, let's just hope we won't be flooded by vendor-locked features in games.