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NVIDIA’s Project Shield: Yay or Nay?

/ Mar 11th, 2013 2 Comments

Yes, that's actually Borderlands 2
Yes, that's actually Borderlands 2

Yes, that’s actually Borderlands 2

At CES earlier this year, NVIDIA announced a new gaming handset, Project Shield. Sporting a 5-inch screen, the new Tegra4 chip and the ability to stream games from your PC, Project Shield definitely got my attention. So like any good journalist wannabe I did some research and tried to figure out, in my humble opinion, just what this new device is and whether at the end of the day, it’s something I would throw my miniscule college student allowance at and purchase.

First of all, let’s get something out of the way, a lot of people are calling Project Shield a console but it is not. NVIDIA’s Project Shield is an Android tablet with an integrated controller capable of streaming, in real-time, AAA Windows PC titles. Very clearly, a 3DS or Vita “this ain’t” if we’re talking about playing Skyrim, Borderlands 2 and other top-flight Steam games on a handheld.

Project Shield will sport a 5-inch 1280×720 retinal multi-touch display with 294 dpi. In plain English, this means that even on its small 5-inch screen, games will look great. The kicker here is that this 5-inch display is attached, clamshell style, to a console-style gaming controller that looks uncannily like the Xbox 360 controller and there’s even a small NVIDIA logo/button where the Xbox home button should be. Holding the Project Shield device will be akin to holding an Xbox 360 controller with a thin clamshell sort of cover over the face buttons. The device comes with the usual ports such as HDMI to connect to televisions, a 3.5mm audio jack and other standard ports. The new Tegra4 chip is supposedly six times faster than the current Tegra3 and if current Tegra3 optimized Android games are anything to go by, we can expect serious graphical horsepower when the Tegra4 comes out. Now that we’ve done a brief rundown of what Project Shield actually is in terms of hardware I can start to ask, as a gamer, do I actually want one?

In times like this, a list of Pros and Cons often help so lo and behold I shall make one!

Pros for Project Shield:

  • The battery life is reported as being 5-10 hours for gaming and nearly a full day for video watching. My retina display iPad does 10 hours of video, max. This is definitely a plus for long journeys or annoying waits in places like the dentist.
  • The quad core Tegra4 chip which will be powering Project Shield is easily one of the best mobile processor chips out there, judging by the specs and like I said, anyone who has seen the current Tegra3 optimized Android games out there know just how good Tegra games look.
  • The controller! This might be my favorite thing about the device. After all, if you distill gaming as we know it into its most basic form, you get the controller, and it has existed since the dawn of gaming and has evolved from Pong dials to having touchscreen and gyros. The fact that the controller is as big as the screen itself is comical but after having wrestled with touchscreen controls and having discovered my newly found irrational hatred of virtual d-pads, having a physical controller sounds exciting.
  • The whole PC streaming concept idea looks interesting. Supposedly, Shield will be able to stream AAA titles that you have on your PC to your Shield and allow you to play anywhere you have Wi-Fi access. At CES, the demo unit that was playing Assassin’s Creed 3 looked very promising. The thought of playing a game at home and containing it at school makes me feel happy, in a naughty kind of way.

Cons for Project Shield:

It's still a proper Android tablet

It’s still a proper Android tablet

  • The nature of games on the Android market means that The Shield will either have to emulate or not use the controller at all on Android games designed for universal Android devices. Therein is the biggest problem. Unlike the Apple App store which only has to cater to basically two kinds of devices, there are hundreds, maybe even thousands of types of Android based devices running on all sorts of hardware. I am certain the games designed for the Shield will make great use of its myriad features but the glaring truth is that the vast majority of Android games will not.
  • Another major downside is that the PC streaming feature requires your PC to be using a mid to high-end NVIDIA graphics card, the GTX 650 and above for desktop and 660M or higher for laptops. My main gaming desktop runs an ATI card so that automatically puts me and a huge number of PC gamers out of the intended market. In other words,to fully utilize Project Shield, you will have to spend some money outside of getting that device and get a new card (and everything else you may need) to run it.
  • It’s Wi-Fi only. At the moment, NVIDIA has only talked about a Wi-Fi version of the shield and while Wi-Fi is pretty easily available, you aren’t guaranteed a decent signal. This also means that if you are in a plane or on a long car ride, tough luck, because all you will have is your stock android games.
  • Price is also going to be a big factor. If it’s being marketed as a portable handheld console (which it isn’t) it needs to be priced cheaper than the PS Vita or the 3DS since it’s not a specialized gaming device. On the other hand with tablets getting cheaper every day as HP just announced a sub $200 7-inch tablet. How much can NVIDIA expect us to pay for the Shield, especially since some of us will have to buy a new graphics card?

Overall, looking at all this and knowing myself as a hardcore gamer, I don’t think I’ll pick up Project Shield. Granted, it’s an amazing piece of tech but the niche for this device is way too specific to justify buying. NVIDIA wants people to enjoy AAA gaming on-the-go, and that’s a noble thought, but think for a moment that if you are going to be playing Skyrim with the vastness of the world before you on your large TV or PC monitor, will Project Shield’s 5-inch screen give you the same cinematic experience a proper display will?

There are definitely things I’d like to see added and 3G/4G support is number one on that list. With 4G becoming more and more widespread, there’s no better time to jump on the bandwagon and make Project Shield truly mobile. I would love if NVIDIA, already having fostered close ties with the likes of Sony and Nintendo, could create an official emulation program for the Shield for PSX or classic Nintendo titles and set up a virtual console sort of thing where we would be charged App store prices for classics from days of yore. After all, the controller does open it up to fully experiencing those old gems again. Personally, I’d love to play Front Missions 3 again.

At the end of the day, it’s always exciting when there’s new tech out, especially from a great company like NVIDIA but in my humble opinion, Project Shield is more miss than hit.

Rahil Bhagat
Rahil is a Communications undergrad from Singapore. He currently resides in New York and enjoys curry, roast duck and bacon, lots of bacon.He believes that the JRPG will rise again!
Rahil Bhagat
Rahil Bhagat
Rahil Bhagat

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  • Kako^

    You’ve totally got the wrong end of the stick here dude, you can’t stream games outside of your home network.

  • Big walk

    He is right and if you don’t have a good pc. then you won’t be streaming AAA it so it would be a waste of time. The gtx 650 is the start of the high end and can’t play all games at 30 fps crisis 3 being one of them. The lowest card you can use at max setting 1920 x 1800 is the gtx 670 I have this card cost me 450. This was before the titan so it may drop in price if people are using a power card then a gtx 650 they need to upgrade anyway. If they want to play AAA if they don’t get a console.

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