Nvidia’s GameStream had one job, the one in its name: stream games from the Nvidia graphics card inside your PC to the Nvidia Shield hooked up to your TV (or, back in the day, a Shield tablet). It did this job fairly well, making setup simple and optimizing games with some custom stream-smoothing. Now Nvidia is removing GameStream from Shield devices—but an even better DIY game-streaming solution is already available. Let’s take a look at it and talk to the developers about why and how they made it.
Nvidia is done with local streaming
Nvidia says a Shield update arriving this month will make it so “the GameStream feature will no longer be available in app.” If you try to skip the Shield update, GameStream will still stop working at some point (and possibly be removed from the GeForce Experience app in Windows). In the meantime, trying to dodge that update means not using GeForce Now, one of Nvidia’s recommended replacements, on your Shield and missing out on all the other update fixes and features that arrive with system updates.
If you’re a Shield owner, like I am, this stinks. Shield devices have merits of their own, receiving the longest and most consistent stream of updates of any Android/Google TV device ever released. They’re still perfectly functional as stream boxes (and even more appealing if Google lands an NFL package). But a big benefit of having both a Shield and a GeForce graphics card will soon be shunted.
The company’s suggested replacement for local streaming, Steam Link, is a reasonably simple option—if all the games you want to play are on Steam, if it performs well enough, and if there’s a client for your system. I’ve found setting resolutions and controller options to be a bit fiddly on Steam Link, and its network reliability to be (relatively, subjectively) less robust than the newer alternatives. Nvidia itself admits that with optimal settings, Steam Link is still 10 ms in latency behind its own streaming codecs.
The other Nvidia suggestion is GeForce Now. While it’s pretty impressive at its higher tiers, it also provides only a limited slice of your games library. It requires a great broadband connection and a monthly subscription, and it serves far fewer clients than Moonlight (including, notably, Apple TV).
The better streaming client: Moonlight
While GameStream was meant to push Nvidia gear, it also sparked the creation of the wonderful Moonlight software. This free, open-source app has given people access to the output of their GeForce cards from all kinds of screens since 2018. It’s how I played Marvel’s Midnight Suns on an iPad on my couch and Elden Ring on a Windows laptop at my in-laws’ place, streaming from my own home.
With Moonlight, you can beam a game from an Nvidia card inside a Windows PC to a Windows/Mac/Linux computer, Chrome OS, iOS and Android and Amazon FireOS devices, a Raspberry Pi 4, and, if you’re willing to tinker, homebrew apps on the PlayStation Vita, Wii U, LG’s WebOS, and other single-board computers. It also works with a Steam Deck, as Moonlight installs fairly easily as a Linux app on that system. As noted, this device doesn’t even have to be on your home network if you’ve set up your game-streaming PC and network as such.
All that effort could have been sunk when Nvidia nixes GameStream as a service. Luckily, Moonlight also works seamlessly with a different, more flexible server: Sunshine.