I have so many mixed feelings about the NVIDIA SHIELD. Most do.
It was such an intriguing product – at least in theory – at first.
Some of its specifications are drool-worthy. Specifically, the Tegra 4. In my short time with the device, the Tegra 4 was a monster chip. Clocked at 1.9GHz, the quad-core Cortex A15 CPU, paired with the 72-core GeForce GPU, blew through the most graphically intense games found on Android without a problem – hot knife through butter. It also has 2GB RAM, 16GB of fixed storage, a microSD card slot, massive 28.8Wh battery, a 5-inch 720p LCD, and some massive inbuilt speakers. It comes with some basic features, such as Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi b/g/n, 3-axis gyro and accelerometer, and mini-HDMI out.
On paper, its specs weren’t entirely cutting-edge. Not to mention, it’s heavy and bulky. It weights a massive 579g and it’s 57mm thick – two factors which don’t exactly help its portability in the least. But you can’t overlook the fact that the SHIELD is effectively an ergonomic gaming controller with a display attached and the guts of a supercharged smartphone crammed inside.
Simply put, if you wanted to take Android gaming to the next level, the NVIDIA SHIELD was most definitely the device for you, so long as you could stomach the price.
And that’s exactly why the SHIELD, by its very own nature, was a flawed product from the start. Android gaming. It’s a pretty theoretical, but it’s not there yet. Case in point: OUYA.
I explained back in August that Android-powered gaming systems, handheld or consoles, suffer from fragmented system support, individual content stores, and, frankly, an underdeveloped game catalog. Underdeveloped doesn’t quite do the mobile gaming system complete justice, though. There are thousands upon thousands of games to choose from – of which only 300 or so are officially supported on devices like the NVIDIA SHIELD. But what I truly mean by “underdeveloped” is not the number of games available, but rather the depth of those games.
I also explained this in December. Despite a few older console ports, such as legacy Grand Theft Auto titles, Crazy Taxi, and other such nostalgic games, most mobile games don’t hold a candle to their console counterparts. Take the Call of Duty franchise. It’s unbelievably popular on dedicated consoles; the stories are relatively (and comparatively) in-depth. If you look at Call of Duty: Strike Team on mobile, the game simply isn’t of the same caliber.
That’s fine. It’s expected. This isn’t NVIDIA’s fault. It’s the relative newness of mobile gaming. That said, it’s the main reason the SHIELD never took off quite like NVIDIA would have hoped. But there was also another major factor in the stale market performance of the SHIELD: price.
Here we are eight months after its launch and it’s suffered two price cuts, not including the pre-launch price drop. Originally announced at $349, it actually launched at $299. But many felt $300 was still too high for a mobile gaming device, even if you could stream PC games to the handheld through GameStream (so long as your PC rig meets the requirements). Now the SHIELD can be had for just $199, through the end of April.
Alongside the price drop announcement, however, NVIDIA also announced remote streaming, so you can now stream from anywhere, provided you have the proper equipment. Also, the SHIELD will be receiving its KitKat update, as well as an official port of the original Portal game.
Suffice it to say, the SHIELD has been given the second wind it so desperately needed. This new, lowered (albeit temporary) price is much more tolerable and easy to justify, especially if you want to play something like Skyrim on the go (or from bed, for that matter).
I, for one, have had one sitting in my cart all day on NVIDIA’s online store. I wanted one at launch, but never would have ponied up the $300. I really enjoyed my short time with it, and I’ve been torn over the idea of buying one ever since.
Even the new pricing isn’t perfect, though. Our own Stephen Schenck told me, “I can’t do it. Not at $200. $150 – maybe. Below $150? No contest, sign me up.”
And even at $100 off, I’m still having a hard time pulling the trigger, for a few different reasons. One, I don’t have a PC, so I sadly can’t use the awesome GameStream function. Also, it’s still just a mobile gaming handheld, so it doesn’t have serious AAA titles, only games like Dead Trigger, Asphalt, or Modern Combat 4, which are hardly worth buying a dedicated device for. And, of course, $200 for a dedicated gaming device is hard to justify when my Moto X or Nexus 7, paired with a MOGA Pro gamepad, can do the job just fine.
However, the point is, NVIDIA is on to something with the SHIELD. It turned heads and it’s made many take mobile gaming – a little – more seriously. There may not be any AAA titles for mobile yet, but Android is the natural progression of mobile gaming.
If NVIDIA can find a better balance of specifications, portability, and price, the SHIELD 2 could be a seriously impressive device. It’s already confirmed to be shipping with a new Tegra chip. (So long, Tegra 4!) But frankly, the SoC wasn’t an issue to begin with. Strictly in terms of hardware, I’d like to see NVIDIA pack in some more impressive specs, such as a 1080p or 2K display, 3 or 4GB RAM, 64GB storage, and maybe a larger battery (why not, right?).
It’d also be a smart move on NVIDIA’s part to partner with a major game developer (or a few) to bring a major title to the SHIELD devices. I remember SOCOM being one of my favorite PSP titles. (Hint, hint.) If NVIDIA were to pull this off and keep the SHIELD 2 pricing around $250 (from the start, not after a few price cuts), I’d buy it in a heartbeat. Portal is a nice start, but old ports aren’t going to pull me in – or anyone else, for that matter. We want to see something new, something exclusive, or something relevant. That may be a lot to ask, but NVIDIA is also asking a lot of a still unproven market.
Much over $250, and it’ll be another non-starter, especially when you have devices like the Nexus 7 starting lower than that. Price point is the make or break, and NVIDIA whiffed the firs time around. Hard.
Tell me, ladies and gents. What would NVIDIA have to do to interest you in the SHIELD 2? Lower price? Better game titles? A little bit of both? Or are you the typical naysayer who thinks mobile gaming is doomed forever?
Now it looks like we have a better idea of what Nvidia plans to do with that Tegra X1 SoC it unveiled in January. At the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, the company has unveiled the living room-based Shield console, to go along with its existing Shield handheld and Shield Tablet. Calling it the world’s first Android TV console — a bit mean, considering what’s come before — Nvidia promises games and 4K movies, including 4K video capture, as well as streaming games from the cloud and from local PCs.
The small, sharply angled enclosure measures 5.1 by 8.3 by just 1 inches (HWD) and weighs 1.4 pounds. Under the hood is said Nvidia Tegra X1 SoC, with a 256-core Maxwell GPU and 3GB memory. There’s a somewhat stingy 16GB of flash storage for locally stored games, plus 802.11ac 2×2 MIMO 2.4GHz and 5GHz wireless, and Bluetooth 4.1 with BLE for use with an optional Bluetooth media remote.
Around back, the console has a Gigabit Ethernet port, an HDMI 2.0 port, two USB Type-A 3.0 ports, a micro USB 2.0 port, a sorely needed microSD memory card slot, and an IR receiver that works with Logitech Harmony.
Games on the Grid streaming service include Batman: Arkham Origins, Saints Row 4, Ultra Street Fighter IV, Metro Last Light Redux, and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, and Nvidia is promising 1080p gaming at 60fps. The console also supports Nvidia Share and GameStream for playing games via your existing PC. Nvidia is promising over 50 titles at launch between Grid and local games. You can also run regular Android apps with it on your TV, including streaming Netflix and YouTube at 4K and 60Hz, and it will spit out 7.1 and 5.1 surround sound over HDMI.
The controller that ships with the console looks a lot like the existing Shield handheld, although the design appears to be more angular and better matches the console’s styling. Whether it’s as comfortable to hold and use as the existing one remains to be seen. As before, three capacitive Android buttons sit in a V pattern in the center of the controller, and there’s also a built-in mic. The Nvidia Shield console and single controller package will cost $199 when it ships in May.
With the Shield in the summer of 2013, Nvidia essentially came from nowhere in terms of finished gaming hardware. Not two years later, the company has a fully fleshed out lineup of console, portable, and tablet-based gaming using its own accelerated graphics chipsets, along with a new streaming service for delivering games. An impressive showing no matter how you look at it.
What I find the most interesting here is the way each company is approaching the living room setup. You have dedicated gaming consoles like the Xbox One and PS4 that also let you play movies — as well as set top boxes that offer various levels of casual gaming, but are really for watching TV and movies like Roku, the Fire TV, and Apple TV. (The Apple TV barely offers casual gaming, as I’ve always found its streaming performance to be hit or miss even on 5GHz home networks, and it needs a faster CPU.) And then, straddling the line between dedicated console and media consumption device is Nvidia — first with the Shield Portable, then the Shield Tablet, and now this console.
The problem for Nvidia is the same one it already has with the other two devices: an already dated-seeming game library. The games themselves are often great; it’s just that they’re mostly ports that we’ve all seen before in other places. It’s tough to gauge whether Nvidia will be able to overcome that hurdle with the Shield console. And we’ll have to see how well it performs in real life once it’s released.