NVidia BFGD: Hands-on review
NVIDIA's Big Format Gaming Displays are bold, bright and beautiful and not just for gamers.
If you're a PC gamer, you're probably in the situation where you lust after a really good gaming monitor, and that's no bad thing. Well, no bad thing as long as your budget can stand it, that is.
The issue is that most really decent gaming monitors are good single-purpose devices. You play games on them, and that may well be enough up to a reasonable kind of size.
However, if you do want to super-size your gaming intentions, you're rather stuck at looking at what are actually televisions that may (if you're lucky) feature "game" modes that are typically more fine-tuned towards console gaming than PC gaming, if they're present at all. It's entirely feasible to game on a large screen TV, but it's not quite as good as doing so on a screen that's been engineered with high refresh rates and low latency. Chances are, if you're serious about your gaming monitor, you're serious about those matters too.
That's pretty much the market that NVIDIA is targeting with its announcement of BFGD monitors. At CES 2018, I had the chance to walk through some demonstrations and live hands-on time with the new BFGD displays.
Now this was in no way enough time to accurately assess their comparative capabilities, so this is very much a hands-on appraisal rather than a full review. Although if anyone at NVIDIA finds that one of the BFGD displays is just cluttering up the place, you can send one my way. I won't be too upset.
- Bigger is better: There's definitely something to gaming at scale, even if the classic vision for a PC gamer involved keyboard, mouse and a display screen that's only a half-metre or so from their faces. The simple expedient of having a 4K HDR display to view your gaming world does accentuate the action in an entirely pleasant way. I'm a pretty lousy Destiny 2 player (and this fact wasn't lost on the NVIDIA staff demonstrating it to me), but even I could appreciate the benefits of having a wider and larger display in representing the in-game world, even if I'm not very good at it.
- HDR10 adds punch: NVIDIA's demos for the impact of HDR (high dynamic range) were, it's got to be said, very much stock standard HDR difference images, so it was a little tricky to see how well the BFGD displays will handle HDR visual content on an ongoing basis. Where I was able to see more impact, oddly enough, was in the visual streaming test I was shown, with a section of an episode of The Grand Tour that I'd already seen. While I'm not quite sold that anyone needs a full screen blowup of Jeremy Clarkson's face, some of the show's admittedly already impressive car video looked truly stunning in 4K HDR.
- G-Sync is the secret sauce: Where the BFGD monitors have a distinct edge is in the inclusion of NVIDIA's G-Sync technology, which precisely manages the refresh rate of the content onscreen relative to what's being fed to it. For gamers, that means buttery smooth game visuals at up to 120Hz with no motion tearing (or at least none that I could spot) or blurring issues. However, where this gets particularly useful, is that the same tech also applies to content fed through the integrated NVIDIA Shield on each BFGD display. So if you're streaming video content at differing frame rates, G-Sync will simply match that rate. NVIDIA's example was that The Grand Tour clip, which for US audiences has issues due to the shooting format, (but in theory any video, whether it's at 23.976fps, 24fps or 25fps), should be automatically matched by the panel for superior video quality.
- It costs how much? NVIDIA was rather solidly just demonstrating the core concepts behind the BFGD idea rather than announcing its own products for sale, and as such, the actual pricing of a given BFGD monitor is all but impossible to know. NVIDIA representatives did say that they're open to the idea of smaller BFGD displays for those who might not have the space (or willing housemates) to accommodate a 65" gaming panel, presumably at lower prices. It's still fair to guess that BFGD panels won't be exactly inexpensive.
- Inbuilt GeForce NOW will be useless for most Australians: NVIDIA did demonstrate its game streaming service, GeForce NOW to me, and it's built into the BFGD concept. However, with minimum requirements of 10Mbps down (and suggested 20Mbps), it's not a feature that many Australians would be able to take advantage of thanks to our lousy broadband, even if NVIDIA were to launch it here. Speaking with NVIDIA representatives, there's no plan for that any time soon because they're all too well aware of how lousy Australian broadband generally is these days.
- Lacks tuners: There wasn't really an opportunity during the demo to pop around the back of the BFGD to check out the interfaces, but the one thing that it most solidly does lack is any kind of integrated TV tuner. That's quite deliberate, given that this is a gaming monitor first and foremost. You may be able to sidestep that issue by dint of using streaming apps instead, but if real world TV applications are also part of your game plan, you'll have to add some kind of external streaming device with an inbuilt tuner, such as the Telstra TV 2 or Foxtel Now Box to the mix.
- NVIDIA's already providing game tweaking tools for visual effects for free: It's kind of a curious thought, but given that NVIDIA also announced the Freestyle filters for its graphics cards that allow you to perform GPU-level image adjustment to games, you could actually tweak your games in an HDR "style" depending on your visual tastes. I was impressed with the Freestyle demos on show at the same time and especially the fact that NVIDIA has specifically implemented colourblind modes for gamers into the mix. However, that also means that it's opened up a whole pandora's box of visual tweaking tools that might have more appeal for some gamers without needing the explicit expense of a BFGD. Sure, you'd be faking an HDR-like experience rather than getting the real thing, but at a much lower (presumed) price.
- You could go even bigger: CES 2018 also saw Samsung debut its mammoth modular 146-inch "The Wall" TV. Sure, that's not explicitly a gaming monitor, and it too doesn't even have a price, but I'd love to put the two devices side by side for a gaming shootout. All I'd need is NVIDIA and Samsung on board and a much larger living room.
While NVIDIA used the majority of its CES 2018 keynote discussing its autonomous car ambitions, gaming is embedded deep in its bloodstream.
I mean, it's implicit in the gamer-specific joke in the acronym. In other words, NVIDIA knows the gaming market very well indeed. On the gaming side, there's an awful lot to lust after in the BFGD concept, and the results as demonstrated to me are very impressive.
Pricing and availability will obviously be key, and until NVIDIA partners HP, Asus or Acer actually release a BFGD for consumers to buy, it's hard to assess whether they're good value or not. A set of controlled demonstrations is never going to show the bad sides of a product by definition, but from what I've seen of the BFGD so far, there's a lot to get excited about.
Alex Kidman travelled to CES 2018 as a guest of Samsung.