Spending Quality Time with the Nvidia Shield
When I went to the Nvidia press conference on Sunday night, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what the night’s topics would be. A dash of GRID cloud computing, a pinch of GeForce Experience, and if the masses were lucky? Some GTX 700 series news. What ended the presser was a complete shock to everyone outside of Nvidia, it seems, as the chipmaker unveiled Project Shield.
Shield, a mobile gaming, PC streaming, Tegra 4-packing handheld is Nvidia’s first Google Nexus-like hardware effort; a machine that represents the pinnacle of the brand while unifying all the other services and products that Nvidia has to offer. I got to spend some quality time with the Shield hardware during CES, and the controller-sized handheld has changed the way I think about PC gaming.
The hardware in the Shield is the best you can find in the mobile world right now. Tegra pairs five ARM a15 CPU cores – the same 4-plus-1 configuration used by Tegra 3 – with 72 GPU cores. Clock speed hasn’t been revealed yet, but I’d be shocked if it was below 1.5 GHz for the CPU cores. Storage on the Shield is also a mystery, but it will likely be in line with what you find in high-end smartphones — around 16 GB would be a good guess. The Shield streams games from a PC via your local network, so there’s no initial need for a gross amount of local flash storage. If more space is needed, say when you buy that Android version of Hawken later this year, a microSD slot is on board, along with HDMI, USB, audio, and power. The I/O is fantastic, and it’s great to see Nvidia forgoing any sort of proprietary storage or video standards for open ones. The Shield can be charged with any micro USB cable, can take any micro SD memory card, and plug into any modern TV or display, no sweat.
The Shield is heavier than your average gaming controller, but not by much. It follows the shape of an Xbox 360 controller to a certain degree, but its added bulk puts the Shield somewhere between it and that old, giant Xbox controller we all know and love (or hate, I suppose). It’s heavier than a 3DS or a PS Vita, but not prohibitively so. The size and shape isn’t as sleek as those more traditional consoles, either, but neither of those handhelds offer the same I/O or quality of controls, either. Some have dubbed the Shield “ugly,” but I don’t count myself among them. The design is exactly what I would expect from Nvidia: Sharper angles, that green on black tag scheme, and a minimalist approach for accents and highlights. Aside from the colors on the action buttons, it’s all black and silver.
The screen on the Shield is par for the course, as the touch response, color reproduction, etc. are all in line with what you’d expect on a high-end mobile device. I don’t have specifics on the display tech yet (Nvidia is calling it a “Retinal Display”), and a more filled-out spec sheet will hopefully be available soon.
My gaming time with the Shield was limited, unfortunately, but I did get a peek at Borderlands 2. The Shield was connected via a wired network to the gaming PC running Steam, so it’s yet to be seen how well games run over wireless. Connecting to the gaming PC was a little smoother compared to Sunday night’s demo, and the whole process, from link to game title screen, was under 30 seconds. Gameplay on the Shield is buttery smooth, assuming your network is in order, even if some of the fidelity is lost on the smaller screen. Navigating a menu optimized for larger displays on a five-inch screen might be aggravating, too, but it’s a negligible detraction.
If appropriately priced, Nvidia’s Shield handheld is a must-buy for the dyed-in-the-wool PC gamer. I love my mouse, my giant mousepad and all the other PC hardware on my desk, but bringing that gaming experience out of the office or bedroom and into the living room is something I’ve wanted for a long time. Many will look to add a second PC of sorts to their home theater to fill that void, but the Shield could be the perfect compromise. Price is the key element here, and I’d like to see the Shield at $299. If the Nexus 10, the best Android tablet available now, is $400, this needs to be in the same ballpark to be considered remotely competitive. If Nvidia hits that price point, the combination of value, performance, and flexibility will make the Shield one of the best gadgets of 2013.
Game Front was on-site at CES 2013 (January 8-11), covering all the latest gaming gadgets. Check out all of our CES 2013 news, previews and features.