If the AMD DirectX 12 benchmarks made you a bit afraid for Nvidia, the green team still wants you to know who's ahead. They've got two announcements coming your way, the first of which is a brand-new graphics card for the low-end: the GeForce GTX 950. We already knew this card was coming, but now it's finally here in the silicon, slotting at the end of the line behind the GTX 960, GTX 970, GTX 980, GTX 980 Ti, and GTS Titan X. The price is right at the entry-level too, with an standard retail price of $149.99 for the stock configuration.
Basically, Nvidia took its Maxwell architecture and scaled it down into the GM206 GPU. For PC gearheads, that's 768 CUDA cores, 6 SMM units, 48 texture units, 2 GB of memory standard, and an effective 6.6 GHz memory clock, coming in right behind the GTX 960. It's still Maxwell though, so that means DirectX 12 support on the low-end, HDMI 2.0 support, and Nvidia's Multi-Frame Sampled Anti-Aliasing (MFAA). The card also supports SLI mode, though I'm confused at who's running low-end cards in SLI. Power-wise, you're talking a 90W thermal design power (TDP), meaning the card should stay cool and quiet.
What's interesting isn't the card, the price, or the specs; it's where Nvidia aimed this specific model at. This card is a shield - not the portable kind of Nvidia Shield - against the current generation of home consoles. This is the card that gets put in budget systems to keep even your bottom-level PC ahead of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
"We specifically designed and created it so that you'll have a good experience on the latest games," Nvidia senior product manager Justin Walker explained in a briefing.
In real-world terms this means if you pick a recent title - Battlefield: Hardline, The Witcher III, Grand Theft Auto V - and load it up on decently-specced PC with a GTX 950, you should see 1080p framerates equal to the PS4 and Xbox One versions, but with much better image quality. (Medium settings, don't get crazy here.) That's the pitch. Cheap card, runs games better than current-gen consoles. It's the kind of card that's perfect for the oncoming wave of Steam Machines: cheap, cool, quiet, and featuring some decent performance. The GTX 950 is the new GTX 650, a comparison that Nvidia itself made.
It's not the card for enthusiasts; it's the card for enthusiasts' family members.
Along with the new card, Nvidia is going to be upgrading the GeForce Experience, its all-in-one suite for GeForce cards. For those who use it, the GeForce Experience keeps your video card drivers up to date, optimizes your graphic settings for your favorite games, and handles all of your Shadowplay recording and streaming. It's the latter features that will be getting an upgrade with an upcoming version of GE.
You can already record high quality videos of your gameplay without a noticeable hit to performance via Shadowplay. There's also GameStream, which allows you to stream to Twitch or an Nvidia Shield device. Now Nvidia is adding what it calls GameStream Co-Op, which works like Share Play on the PlayStation 4.
GameStream Co-Op has three different modes, all of which require an invite. You either send the invite via email address or send a copy the invite URL to a friend over your chat program of choice. Then they can open the personal stream on any PC with Google Chrome. (Yep, just Chrome. It works via an Nvidia-developed Chrome extension.) The first mode allows you to simply share your gameplay with a friend. They can see what you're playing. Voice chat is integrated, so you can talk about the game or your day, whatever makes you feel better.
The second mode uses mirrored controls, allowing the invited player to take control of the game, much like PS4 Share Play. The third mode allows you and your invited friend to play the game in co-op mode, assuming the title has a local cooperative option. It works with DirectX 9 or higher titles running in full-screen and Nvidia recommends 7 Mbps upstream and downstream to keep things smooth.
The new GameStream comes with a brand-new, simple overlay for all GeForce recording and streaming features. At the press of a designated hotkey you can see Instant Replay, Record, Stream, and Broadcast buttons. Each option has a few choices available when you click on it and Nvidia has added a no-frills video editor allowing you to trim your new gameplay clip before uploading it to YouTube (in 4K at 60 FPS, according to Nvidia). It doesn't seem to be as robust as Xbox One's Upload Studio, but you're on PC folks, just load up another video editor.
Like SharePlay, GameStream Co-Op is a feature you'll probably be excited for or lukewarm about. I can see a few uses for it, especially if I can just send a stream invite code to a friend to show them something snazzy in a new game. Most of my friends are lapsed gamers who don't have the time to play much anymore, so being able to share a bit of fun with them is pretty cool. Will I use GameStream Co-Op a ton? Probably not. I don't use GameStream currently, despite Shadowplay being an absolutely necessarily part of my work flow. But it's a work in progress, so I assume Nvidia will continue to improve the service.
GameStream Co-Op and the new overlay will be available in the new GeForce Experience Beta, which Nvidia expects to launch some time in September. The GeForce GTX 950 is available today if you can find it online or at retail. Launch days are always rough though, so if you're looking for one, I wish you luck.