Over the past few years, Nvidia has made a number of changes and improvements to its GeForce GPU companion software, GeForce Experience. If you own an Nvidia graphics card, GFE governs the use of a number of features, including in-game video recording, Shield streaming,Battery Boost, and game optimizations. The company is making several new changes to the application today, and announcing a major change to how it distributes driver updates that could have far-reaching implications.
First, the updates. Starting immediately, Nvidia’s GameStream technology will allow users to stream titles in 4K at 60 FPS, with support for 5.1 audio, if your hardware can handle that output level in the first place. Only high-end Maxwell cards have the updated NVENC encoding unit that’s required for 4K support, and only a handful of those cards can push 4K in 60 FPS — basically the Titan X and GTX 980 Ti. We expect Pascal GPUs to support such capabilities across more of Nvidia’s GPU stack.
You’ll need a Shield TV to receive a 4K stream from a local PC, and Nvidia recommends a wired connection for best performance. Presumably, Nvidia has moved to H.265, since both high-end Maxwell cards and Shield TV support it, but we don’t have official confirmation of that yet.
The other new feature introduced today is the ability to broadcast to YouTube Live, the streaming giant’s new service meant to compete with Twitch. GeForce Experience can manage both logins and stream to either service.
By far the biggest announcement today is a fundamental change to how Nvidia distributes its driver updates. One of the differences between Teams Red and Green is that Nvidia has often been faster off the block when it comes to Day 1 support for features like SLI. While DirectX 12 is expected to help level this difference, since it moves support for multi-GPU configurations to the developer (and allows for fewer driver-side optimizations in general), early driver support for DX11 remains important. Up until now, those game-ready drivers have been available to anyone with a GeForce card. Going forward, that’s going to change.
In the future, only GeForce owners who both install GeForce Experience and register the service by providing Nvidia with an email address will have access to Game-Ready driver downloads, which will be pushed exclusively through GFE. That doesn’t mean you won’t be able to download a driver from Nvidia.com — it just means that the drivers on the website will be updated periodically, not on a per-release basis. Nvidia has stated that it will push a new driver through its website at least once a quarter, but it hasn’t ironed out the exact timing details yet.
Nvidia was quick to reassure us that users could choose to stop providing an email address to GeForce Experience and opt-out of the program, but noted that you’ll lose access to Game-Ready drivers if you do. As a reviewer, I agree that the burden of providing the company with an email address is minimal and GeForce Experience is a well-behaved, useful utility. The only thing I dislike about it is that you have to have it installed in order to use Nvidia’s Shield controller with a PC, even if you’re connecting with a USB cable. Asinine as that is, it impacts a small number of people.
As a journalist with deep concerns over user privacy, however, I hate this trend of vacuuming up user information. When you buy a CPU or GPU, you’re paying several hundred dollars for the product and for a reasonable expectation of support. Locking driver updates behind an email address is a very small barrier, but it’s still a barrier that requires you to provide Nvidia with ostensibly personal information.
I’d feel better about the situation if Nvidia released more information on this plan and promised (without weasel words) that email addresses would not be sold, shared, or combined with information purchased from companies like Axciom to create customer histories for marketing purposes. Since no company offers promises like this, if you care about privacy, I’d recommend registering a burner email account if you eventually sign up for GFE.
I don’t want to sound like I’m accusing Nvidia of anything untoward — there’s no evidence the company is planning to do anything to compromise user privacy, and Nvidia’s business model doesn’t rely on gathering and selling data about its users. In an era where we now see companies dropping even the pretense of anonymizing user data, however, I’ve become increasingly wary of all moves that would require customers to hand over anything — particularly when the feature being locked behind such hand-overs has been historically available without them.