nvidia shield

What is the Nvidia Shield and Why Should You Care?

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Gaming has come a long way in just the past couple of years. Gamers can have glasses-free 3D gaming in their pockets with the 3DS, Ouya is putting indie development and streaming at the forefront, the Vita pushes handheld hardware technology to new heights, the Wii U is trying to revolutionize the living room once again, Steam is releasing a box and now this: Nvidia, who are most well-known for their GPUs, are releasing an actual device known as the Nvidia Shield.

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I have no idea where the name came from, because it clearly is just a controller with an odd screen attached to the top of it (which will hopefully be detachable, you’ll understand why soon enough.) So, this brings us to the topic at hand: what is it and why should you care? I’m glad you asked, because I thought the same things at first.

Essentially, Nvidia have just seemingly developed a controller with a screen on it…but it gets a bit more complicated than that. This little device runs Android and can be used to run pretty much anything you could download from the Google Play Store. The screen measures at 5″ and is capable of HD display with 720p coming in at 294dpi along with touch support. The device is also equipped with a new Tegra 4 chip which measures up as “a 72 core GeForce GPU and the first quad-core application of ARM’s most advanced CPU core, the Cortex A-15” according to a report from Games Industry International.

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All of this sounds great, being able to watch Netflix and play Angry Birds with this fancy thing in your hands, but what else can it do? This is where things get a bit more interesting. The back of the controller also comes with an HDMI port, MicroSD slot, USB port and a headphone jack allowing it to communicate with lots of other devices.

However, the most compelling feature is the interaction with Steam. The device will be able to stream from your PC directly onto the controller’s screen, or to your TV along with full Steam Big Picture mode support. While not all games have controller support, this basically means an untethered way of experiencing all of your PC games on Steam directly to your TV. Streaming technology is far from perfect, but they demonstrated this feature using games like Assassin’s Creed III and Need for Speed: Most Wanted at CES 2013. You can also connect it via HDMI, which would, theoretically, reduce performance issues. It’s also worth noting that in order to stream the PC to the device, it specifically requires that your PC be outfitted with a GeForce GTX 650 GPU or higher, which is fairly high-end. For example, mine only has a GTX 460, but I’m able to play pretty much any game on the market now on very high settings.

shield back

Rather than look like a limited “handheld” device, it is essentially a full-size and fully-featured controller that looks like a cross between the 360 and PS3. Although, looking at the controller layout, I’m not a fan of the fact that the analog sticks seem to be depressed into the controller’s face and don’t really stick out very much at all. The reason I hope the screen is detachable is because if I am streaming my content to the TV or transferring via HDMI while I sit down on the couch to play Assassin’s Creed III, I don’t think I would want a big bulky screen at the end of the controller. It would not only make it supremely uncomfortable, but it would just flat out be annoying. Clearly, this would be something they considered in the very earliest stages of product development, but it still concerns me at this time.

As of yet the device does not have a price point or a release date, which are the two most important things for a new product, but word is circulating that points towards Q2 2013. How this will impact and/or interact with the Steam Box, or the console and handheld market for that matter, is yet to be seen, but if you’re a gamer, this is something worth keeping your eye on. Comparisons are surely being drawn between this and the Nokia N-Gage and various other failures, but if done correctly, this could very well be a game changer.

Let us know your thoughts in the comments and check out the full demonstration up top!

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David Jagneaux Senior Editor
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