Back in January we saw Project Shield from nVidia making its debut at CES in Las Vegas. It was shown off as a mobile gaming device that looked like an Xbox controller with a screen conveniently attached to it for gaming on the go. There weren’t many details available at the time aside from touting Steam streaming, gaming from the Android market, and streaming games from PC’s running nVidia cards. Outside of that there wasn’t much else available, but suffice it to say that I was intrigued and looking forward to getting my hands on it.
I was able to do just that at PAX East a short while ago, where the nVidia crew gave me a hands on tour of their still-in-development foray into mobile gaming. While they were getting a unit ready for me to test drive we got down to the brass tacks of system requirements and capabilities. The Shield is packing a quad-core Tegra 4 and GeForce graphics on a 5″ 720p multitouch HD display on the visual front, with Android Jelly Bean running the unit’s software guts. A micro USB port and wi-fi run the connections for charging and streaming, and the unit is capable of playing any Android game that supports a controller, anything from nVidia’s TegraZone, and anything streamed from a PC running at last a GeForce GTX 650 video card. OK, basics gotten. Now to sit down and see what this handheld could do.
We started the session with PC streaming, the part I was most looking forward to seeing. There was a PC sitting next to me running the appropriate spec running Skyrim in HD. I picked up the Shield and started moving around with the control sticks and could see the controls being sent to the PC at the same time as they were taking effect local on the handheld unit. The graphics and textures looked great on the small screen and the control was smooth. But above everything else, the most pleasantly surprising part was that the lag between PC and Shield the two was impressively negligible. As it was explained to me, the Shield plugs in with nVidia’s GFE (GeForce Experience) and employs their Kepler hardware, which includes an H.264 encoder that helps reduce latency and lag time with low power consumption while streaming. That’s why you need at least a GTX 650 to get it going.
Next I took at look at how it ran on the Android side with some Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. The game felt good to play and the controls were very responsive. There were a few graphical glitches though, where sometimes building edges would bend or ramps went through other structures. It didn’t affect the gameplay, but it was definitely noticeable during gameplay.
Aside from that there were a few issues with navigation through the menus on the home screen getting between Android, TegraZone and PC stream, but the unit is still under development so I’m not going to hold that against them too much. What I wanted to see was a success – and that was the PC streaming.
What I really liked about the Shield was how it opens up some options for you. If you look at iOS or Android as a gaming platform you’re pretty much restricted to what’s available on the App Store and Google Play, assuming you already don’t have access to TegraZone with your Tegra-powered device. Even units like the DS are limited to some extent. The Shield’s real power is availability – on the go you can get stuff from Google Play and TegraZone, but once you get to your wireless network and your entire game library is now available to you, including what you have on Steam. On other specifics, the folks at nVidia weren’t ready to comment on specs like internal memory and gave me a Q2 release date range.
All in, I’m curious to see what the release model can do.