Date: December 30, 2016
Author(s): Jamie Fletcher
GPUs have come a long way over the years, and NVIDIA is pushing boundaries for what to expect from our investment. GPUs are for more than just rendering games; they’re also for offering full immersion and sharing our experiences with others. We’re taking a look at GeForce Experience, a comprehensive tool that lets you utilize your GPU to capture, share, optimize, and sometimes, even win!
This article is sponsored by NVIDIA.
Graphics cards to most people, are just a means to play games. Get the newest and most powerful card in your budget and be done with it. While gaming is certainly front and center, there are a wealth of other features your graphics card is capable of, and NVIDIA is doing a lot of behind-the-scenes work to bring the most out of your graphical investment.
If you bought an NVIDIA GPU in the last couple years, you may have noticed that the driver installs an extra service running in the background; GeForce Experience (GFE). This little app goes beyond being a marketing platform for NVIDIA by offering up genuine help and extended features for your GPU that you may have never known about.
GFE becomes a central node to help you manage your games, optimize settings, find help about game settings, streamline the driver update process, and even help you become the next big Internet sensation by streaming those epic wins (or failures) to millions of people around the globe.
In this article, we’ll provide you with an overview of the many different features that make up GFE, either through making your games run better, or setting up social sharing of those late night gaming sessions.
One of the big features of GFE is the ability for the suite to adjust game settings based upon your system specifications and performance. Each game it recognizes will have a performance profile that can be enabled that tunes the game settings for optimal enjoyment, targeting 60 FPS where possible (or thereabouts) for silky smooth gameplay.
If you are new to the world of PC gaming, all the different image quality settings can be a bit daunting to figure out. Do you drop shadow quality or disable ambient occlusion, decrease textures, turn off tessellation; how can you maintain a good level of visual quality while getting frame rates up to acceptable levels? What do all these settings even do in the first place?
One of the big pluses of Optimization is the explanation of different features and graphical effects. Don’t know what SSAO does? Just hover over the tool-tip and it’ll show you, complete with an in-game screenshot.
Depth of Field, Temporal Anti-aliasing, Screen Space Reflections, Subsurface Scattering; they’re all listed for each game that supports them. The only thing it won’t tell you is how much of a performance impact each option has, but this largely depends on the game and the implementation of the effect, so it’s beyond NVIDIA’s control.
GFE has its own library of profiles and recommendations that will take the guess-work out of tweaking these game settings. Low-end systems can be tuned with a single click, so if all the options confuse you, there is no need to get flustered over the impenetrable language that surrounds technology and gaming in general. If you are more up to speed with PC gaming and its settings, you don’t have to go completely by GFE either, as you can use those settings as a starting point and tune the game to your tastes.
Even on higher end systems, there is some benefit to the optimized settings, since the profile targets 60 FPS where possible. If you are not too concerned with image quality, you can change the balance to more performance, letting you aim for 120-144 FPS in highly competitive games such as Overwatch or CS: GO – where every millisecond counts.
For newly installed games, you can just enable the profile and all the graphics settings will be maxed out, without you having to worry about anything. It’ll even enable Dynamic Super Resolution if available (rendering at a much higher resolution, like 4K, then down-sampling to 1080p).
While GFE will not detect every game out there, it is fairly smart, as it’ll pick up on extended libraries from multiple vendors. For example, GOG Galaxy installed games will be detected by default, Steam’s additional libraries (e.g. games installed on a different hard drive), UPlay and Origin are also supported. GFE will even look in other places such as X:\Games. This does mean that if you keep a backup of installed games, GFE may list those copies of the game (in my case, it showed a duplicate install of Borderlands Pre-Sequel I have on an iSCSI partition).
Even we at Techgage use these Optimizations due to their simplicity, as some games still don’t quite max everything out when hitting ‘ultra’ in-game. It also helps us figure out our ‘best playable’ settings with our GPU reviews.
One thing you’ll consistently hear from every tech related or PC gaming website is the importance of keeping drivers up to date. This is most critical when it comes to graphics cards. As new games are released, new drivers also come that help increase performance, changing the way the game engine renders scenes, making things much more efficient.
NVIDIA releases driver updates on a fairly frequent basis, even multiple times a month as new games are released. The process is a lot more streamlined now than in the past. For a long time, driver updates were not only manual, but there were no notifications either. It was up to you to remember to install them.
Fortunately this was something fixed a while ago, and GFE carries on with these update notifications and helps simplify the update process – just click express install and walk away. Best of all, you won’t even need to reboot your system or go through the sometimes painful clean install process.
Overall, driver updates are now a painless process, and the full integration with GeForce Experience means you won’t have to remember to check every month either.
Sometimes, all you want to do is shoot people in the face for an hour from the comfort of your sofa, but you don’t want to distract your loved one’s season finale on TV. You have a beefy PC in the other room at the ready, and a tablet, what do you do?
If you have a GeForce GTX 600-Series or later GPU, and an NVIDIA SHIELD device, you can stream your desktop games to it. Your PC does the legwork with all the rendering, while the SHIELD shows you the results.
This low latency wireless setup and gaming experience is streamed through the GeForce Experience app. While there is a small performance hit to frame rates, any streamed games will run pretty much as if they were native. What’s really nice about this feature is that if a game or store client (eg: Steam, Origin) requires an update, it won’t become a roadblock thanks to the fact that you’ll be able to use Windows as soon as you connect, allowing you to take over the mouse with your SHIELD device to click what needs to be clicked. Afterwards, the game will launch right up.
As an aside, you can read our review of NVIDIA’s SHIELD Android TV right here.
Your graphics card can not only render games, but with the help of GFE, it can save your playthroughs or stream them across different services, such as Twitch or YouTube. Sharing your gaming sessions has become a big part of the modern Internet with ‘Let’s Play’ videos popping up all over the place. Not only does it allow others to see what you are doing, but also interact with you in real-time, while you are playing.
However, no one will want to watch your stream if your game is running at 15 frames per second because you can’t encode the video fast enough. All modern NVIDIA GPUs now come with a dedicated video encoder on-chip. This means that your CPU isn’t taking the brunt of the encoding task, slowing your game down in the process.
The built-in encoder does have a small impact on performance, but this is no more than 3%, so we’re talking less than 1 FPS loss in most cases. The recorder is quite configurable too. It does not save raw, uncompressed video, so it won’t burn through your disk space like a few other utilities. You can set different locations to store the temp video and the final saved video too.
The compression rate is also configurable, ranging from 10 to 130 Mbps for locally stored gameplay, so if you plan on recording 4K at 60 FPS, you can do so with almost no perceptible loss in image quality. You can also limit frame rates while recording to 60 or 30 FPS (which is mainly to prevent audio sync issues with variable frame rates).
For streaming, you have a greater deal of flexibility. If your Internet connection is decidedly lacking, recording your game play first and then uploading later might be best, but if you have a moderate to great connection, then live streaming becomes an option.
GFE’s streaming options are quite impressive, as it will not only stream directly to Twitch or YouTube, but it will let you set the resolution independently of the game (downscaling while encoding). This means you can play at 1080p but stream at 720p, without affecting your own performance. You also have even tighter control over image quality, by restricting it from 1 to 18 Mbps, with resolutions including 360p, 480p, 720p and 1080p, in either 30 or 60 FPS. If that’s all a bit complicated for you, there are some presets you can use instead, but that fine control is just a click away.
Another cool feature is the Instant Replay. Playing a real tense match then miraculously pull off six 360 no-scope headshots in a row within 5 seconds? Bummed out because you weren’t recording? GeForce Experience lets you record constantly in the background on a loop with its Instant Replay feature, so that when that fateful moment arrives, you can instantly save the last few minutes of gameplay. You can set the loop time from 30 seconds to 20 minutes, with the same quality control as the live recorder. It won’t automatically upload that replay to a streaming service, but it lets you do it later.
If video isn’t your thing, screenshots are possible too, all from the same GFE menu or customized hotkeys. You have the option to upload to either Imgur or Google Photos (with hopefully more services offered down the road), or deal with them after the fact – they are saved as PNG and are located in the same folder as your outputted videos, which can be configured inside of the overlay.
GFE is a helpful tool for new users and seasoned veterans. Simplifying game settings and setup, checking system capabilities, updating drivers effortlessly, and streaming your triumphs and amusing failures to the world. You can even record your desktop if you want to do guides/presentations or show browser games off (although there is a privacy safeguard in the options to prevent this if you wish).
There are a number of system checks it can perform too, such as showing you if your system meets the requirements for Virtual Reality. Do you have enough RAM, CPU powerful enough, perhaps a better GPU is required? While NVIDIA can’t help with the costs of Head Mounted Displays such as Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, you can check if your system is up for the challenge.
If there were a couple of things I’d like to see changed in GFE, it would be a small improvement to the screenshots section, since not being able to browse them first seems odd, and the location of where they are stored is not shown or intuitive. Originally, I had thought the pictures disappeared after a reboot, but they were later found in the rather odd default ‘Video’ directory.
The other thing I would suggest changing, would be the default shortcut key to bring up the main overlay for streaming and recording, which is Alt+Z. While innocent enough, this shortcut is picked up by most Adobe products when using Ctrl+Alt+Z, which is used for repeated undo. Fortunately, NVIDIA lets you change all the shortcuts under the GFE options – it’s just confusing the first time it happens.
GeForce Experience regularly lists special offers for new hardware, as well as giving away free games and running contests every now and then. When prompted about a new driver, you might just spot a chance to score a brand new system or GPU upgrade in the process.
Going beyond a simple driver package, GFE is a helpful tool that extends the use of your graphics card. You don’t need a high-end GPU either to take advantage of it, even notebooks and laptops with NVIDIA GPUs can take advantage of the streaming and recording. Check it out and you might find it more useful than you realize!
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