Nvidia’s audacious attempt to make life easier for PC gamers

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LAS VEGAS— Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang talked here in Vegas about his company’s cloud-based system for helping gamers tweak their PCs for the best graphics possible.

The GeForce Experience, as it’s called, sounds a little like one of those crazy bungee jumping affairs you find when on vacation, but it’s really a stab at making life less confusing for PC gamers trying to navigate the complexities of PC game settings.

Since PC gaming is the fastest growing segment of the largest entertainment medium today, ensuring a smooth game experience is in the best interest of gamers and Nvidia, the largest purveyor of discrete graphics chips in the world.

Game setup is hard

Playing a PC game out of the box often yields a low resolution, muddy mess. A few games attempt to set optimized resolution, but game developers often can’t account for the vast range of performance differences that exist in today’s PCs. Add in gamers who might be playing on years-old hardware, and it’s impossible for a single game company to intelligently adjust settings for all possible system configurations. The configuration screens in games are often a messy collection of acronyms and technical jargon, which prevents many users from intelligently adjusting their own settings.

Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang speaking at CES.

CEO Huang set the stage, noting how PC gaming is different from console gaming. A high-end gaming PC might offer 15 times the performance of an Xbox 360 console, while a low-end PC might eke out barely half the performance of the same console. PC games include the ability to alter game settings to get better quality graphics or tweak the games performance, but its too complicated for most gamers. PC game settings are a blessing and a curse, Huang noted.

Nvidia has access to a wide array of data on PC gaming platforms, going back to the early days of the GeForce GTX graphics engines. We went out and tried to understand every single PC configuration in the world and every single game setting in the world, Huang said. Given the companys history of working with both game developers and end users, the company is uniquely positioned to understand all the vagaries of different PC systems.

Nvidia spent years collecting and analyzing a vast amount of performance data on PC games. They studied the impact of various in-game graphics settings on performance. This included data collected over multiple generations and price points of GeForce-based graphics cards, as well as a broad range of PC CPUs.

Automated game settings from the cloud

The GeForce Experience is a cloud service integrated into upcoming GeForce Drivers. Nvidia developed algorithms to automatically set game performance based on the configuration data the company collected over the years. GFE analyzes a computers settings, including graphics, CPU and memory, and automatically injects the settings into the users games. So users don’t need to navigate complex graphics settings to make changes to game settings. Nvidia tested a vast array of settings on thousands of PC configurations to make sure they actually delivered an optimal gaming performance.

Huang showed footage of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 running without the GeForce settings, then enabled GeForce Experience with a single click and showed the improvement. The differences were very noticeable: Frame rate remained smooth, while graphics detail and overall resolution improved.

Gaming graphics before "GeForce Experience" settings applied.

The screenshot before GFE is applied is blurry, with objects not well defined. When the GeForce Experience is applied, the image looks crisper, with higher detail on the object and crisper edges and outlines.

Gaming graphics after "GeForce Experience" settings applied.

Bottom line: PCs as game consoles

The GeForce Experience is currently in closed beta, with no formal release date announced. Jen-Hsun Huang said that the primary goal of the GeForce Experience is console simplicity with PC performance.

That’s an admirable, insanely ambitious goal, but Nvidia’s never lacked for ambition. If the GeForce Experience can come close to its stated goal of making PC game settings as easy as console games, then PC gamers everywhere will be much, much happier. The one exception to this will be users who are running AMD Radeon graphics chips. The GeForce Experience will be built into Nvidia drivers, and will work only on systems running Nvidia-based graphics cards.

And in the end that’s the real bottom line: more Nvidia GPUs in more PCs.

For more blogs, stories, photos, and video from the nation's largest consumer electronics show, check out complete coverage of CES 2013 from PCWorld and TechHive.

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