10
Jan
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Like a lot of you, I watched NVIDIA's press conference with my jaw firmly on the floor when Project Shield was unveiled. It's a true Android gaming portable, built from the ground up to make a great gaming experience - not a phone or a tablet that also plays games, with varying degrees of efficiency, like Sony's now outdated Xperia Play or Archos' Gamepad. And it's made by NVIDIA, the company with the most to gain by expanding the platform's gaming horizons. The potential embodied by Shield is amazing... but there are also some reasons to to curb your enthusiasm. Let's step back and take a look at Project Shield, not only as an awesome piece of hardware, but as a competitor trying to carve its own niche into several markets at once.

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Pro: Hardware Made For Gaming First

The aforementioned Xperia Play and Archos Gamepad both make sacrifices to their individual form factors. The Xperia Play needed to be a reasonable size, and had to hide its controls away to be even remotely useful as a smartphone. The Gamepad has to conform to the slate factor of 7-inch tablets; even the controls lack a full-sized grip, like the ones found on console controllers. Both the Xperia Play and the Gamepad need to be affordable, to avoid deterring consumers who need a phone or tablet more than they need another portable game machine... even if that's what they want.

Project Shield has no compromises: it's centered around gaming and only gaming to an almost ridiculous level, a prospect that could only appeal to a company like NVIDIA. The hardware is the latest and greatest Tegra that NVIDIA can provide, the speakers and batteries are relatively enormous, and aesthetics take a backseat to the physical controls and chunky ergonomics that true gamers crave. It resembles nothing so much as the bastard child of the Xbox 360 controller and the Nintendo DS. That's a pretty good pedigree for serious gamers.

Con: NVIDIA forgot the "Portable" Part Of Portable Gaming

Of course, no compromises means that you're going to leave someone unhappy, and in this case, that someone might turn out to be the majority of mobile gamers. The Nintendo DS/DSi/3DS and, to a smaller extent, the PlayStation Portable family have a lot of appeal because they're so portable. The low z-axis of both devices allow them to slip easily into a pocket. That's something that Shield, despite its power and flexibility, simply isn't designed to do - it's larger and heavier than the original Xbox controller. There's no real way that it couldn't be, since it's got a powerful mobile machine stuffed into the same basic shape.

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While that's not a huge concern for the dedicated gamer who will gladly carry a satchel bag for the purpose of portable entertainment, it does limit the use case for Shield. A portable that you're less likely to carry with you will spend more time on your desk or nightstand, and thus, less time performing the action it's intended for. 10-inch tablets already have this issue, and they're designed to slip easily into a bag or purse. Keep in mind, the vast majority of potential users will be carrying both a smartphone and the bulky Shield.

Pro: Real, Unencumbered Android With Play Store Access

NVIDIA knows that serious Android enthusiasts (which is likely to include anyone reading the article) want pure Android, with access to the Google Play Store, devoid of manufacturer skins and carrier garbage. And based on what we've seen thus far, Shield seems to deliver on that line. Aside from NVIDIA's necessarily proprietary remote access software, it's 100% Jelly Bean, and you can start to download apps, games, and videos directly from the Play Store the moment you turn it on. The appeal of this system is something that seems to have escaped other bit players in the Android gaming space, like OUYA and PowerA's Moga.

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Likewise, once you're connected to a gaming PC, you've got complete and seamless control of games and the desktop, with some frankly brilliant integration to Steam's Big Picture Mode. This is a market that even Valve didn't think of, but the tech-savvy gamers who are likely to have a $1000+ gaming PC will eat it up. Just imagine: you won't have to stop looting the Borderlands landscape for anything... including what's known in MMO circles as a "bio-break."

Con: Limited Non-Gamer Appeal

I can name a dozen handheld systems from the last decade that tried to mesh mobile computing with gaming: Nokia's N-Gage, the Palm-powered Tapwave Zodiac, Game.com, and to some degree even Sony's Xperia Play. All of them have a common failing, and it's that they're trying to appease both gamers and standard users. While Shield swings the pendulum all the way towards gamers, that means that it completely abandons the pursuit of other consumers, who would rather go for a standard tablet. Historically, this is an all-or-nothing proposal - these kind of no-compromise devices either soar like the Game Boy or flop like the Game Gear. Also, access to Shield's most alluring secondary feature, streaming games from the PC, will require an NVIDIA card. That's great for those who already have them, but someone who's already spent $500 on a screaming ATI card will be hard-pressed to switch for an ancillary device.

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On the other hand, the market for true hard-core gamers demonstrably exists. Razer and other peripheral companies have built fortunes on it, and even now, boutique PC manufacturers cater to gamers with more money than sense. Consider Razer's Blade laptop a primary example of hardware that's aimed exclusively at gamers, with a huge price tag, and still manages to sell enough to be profitable. NVIDIA's own high-end discrete cards are a testament to gamer excess, and they know how to market it. In short, if anyone can overcome the hurdle of a purposefully limited audience, it's NVIDIA.

Pro:  Two Built-In Gaming Ecosystems

If you're going to build what is essentially a new console in this day and age, you had better be sure that you've got developer support behind it. As stated above, NVIDIA doesn't have to worry about that: with hundreds of millions of users for both the Play Store and Steam, developers don't need any extra prodding to get their games into the hands of consumers. Even NVIDIA's Tegra Zone is more of a showroom than an actual app store, and doesn't interfere with regular apps... though those with current-gen hardware that just happens to lack a Tegra processor kind of wish it would go away.

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There's a brilliance to the form factor of Shield that hasn't been discussed that much: because it's something that's never been seen before, it probably won't bother any of NVIDIA's hardware partners. It's a rare customer who will have a tough choice between Shield and the latest ASUS Transformer - assuming that the prices are roughly equitable, hardcore gamers will clearly choose Shield, where more typical consumers will go for the tablet. In the minefield that is supplier-manufacturer relations, this is a win-win for NVIDIA.

Con: Pricing And Availability Are Up In The Air

This is almost universally true for products revealed at trade shows, but there's no skirting around the fact that we don't know exactly how much Shield will cost, or exactly when it will become available. I think $399 would probably be the sweet spot for this hardware, allowing NVIDIA to keep a nice profit while not alienating cash-strapped gamers. Keep in mind that since NVIDIA won't be taking a cut from app or media sales, either directly on the device or via Steam, they can't afford a Nexus-style loss leader.

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But there's something else to consider here. Both the Xbox and the PlayStation are due for major revisions this year, a fact that any in-the-know gamer will be aware of. While NVIDIA's primary target is someone who's already invested in PC gaming, there will undoubtedly be college-age and younger consumers who will have to choose between the Xbox 720, the PlayStation 4, and Shield. As impressive as the Shield is, the undeniably limited nature of mobile gaming might be a hindrance to those who prefer consoles. It's in Shield's best interest to release before E3 this summer. NVIDIA could hedge their bets here by building some kind of system to allow console gamers the same kind of low-latency streaming on display at CES.

In a CES that offered precious little for both Android enthusiasts and hardcore gamers to be excited about, Project Shield is a green-tinted ray of sunlight. Though I'm wary of the prospects of such a targeted device, from a company that's never sold hardware directly to consumers, I can't wait to see if it can find a place in the crowded markets of both mobile and gaming. Because if it does, it will be a boon to Android gaming as a whole.

Jeremiah Rice
Jeremiah is a US-based blogger who bought a Nexus One the day it came out and never looked back. In his spare time he watches Star Trek, cooks eggs, and completely fails to write novels.
  • http://profiles.google.com/wisefire935 Joshua Wise

    Yeah... I run Crossfire with 2 high end ATI card, I've spent to much money to back track now.

  • http://twitter.com/Littlehorsie ZombieDroid

    CON: People with AMD Radeon graphics cards in their PC, are shit outta luck. That's half your potential market right there.

    • jm9843

      Solution: buy Valve's upcoming Steambox. You know you want one anyway.

      Steambox + NVIDIA Shield = killer gaming combo

      • Alex

        Why do i need a steambox if i already have a killer rig?

        • Ian Santopietro

          Why would you need shield?

          • http://twitter.com/Telanis_ Telanis

            @Ian You can't play Android games on a PC, at least not well. You can play Steam games on a PC quite easily, however.

    • Sam Hollis

      Not just NVIDIA folks who are out of luck. If you haven't upgraded to a Kepler card, you're shit out of luck as well. No difference for ATI folks and non-Kepler folks when it comes to this.

  • Matt

    i see this vanilla android to be a problem if im honest, i think they need to water down the OS and make it gaming central while still have the ability to use some big apps (facebook for example). the reason being that if this is done, the hardware will be that much more efficient which will make for a better experience since this is a gaming machine essentially

    • jm9843

      Disagree. The user simply presses the big NVIDIA button in the middle of the controller to switch between the Android launcher and the Games interface.

      It couldn't get much easier than that.

  • EH101

    Idk, $399 sounds like flop territory for me. I'd much rather save that for the new xbox (if it's any good) or the next line of graphics cards for my gaming rig. (yes I'm one of those weird guys that likes both pc and console gaming)

    Both those options will likely swallow that $399 and then some.

    • http://twitter.com/misterE33 Mr E

      I like both as well. The main selling point of this thing to me is the Steam integration. The Android side of it, and access to Android games, is almost like a bonus. I wish the screen/tablet part was detachable/interchangeable though.

      • EH101

        I'd much rather someone make a real good bluetooth controller and some sort of app that would allow us to set the controller functions similar to the Archos Gamepad. Probably would require low/OS-level programming or a root app so I don't see that happening anytime soon.

        • Gav456

          Same, I'd spend cash on that, I'm happy enough to let my phone/tab do the work but would love a GOOD physical controller with tight software integration so you can map keys and remove on-screen controls.

          • Justin Swanson

            With N7, I use sixaxis and a PS3 controller. It works well but I have to use a prop for the N7 (usually my case).

            It works wonderfully. I can remap most controls via the emulator I am playing and games that have built in controller support (like Bard's Tale) work flawlessly. I haven't tried setting it up to mapping on-screen controls to the controller, but i heard it's possible.

            I almost bought a MOGA for the doc but i don't think it'll be as seamless as sixaxis/PS3 or the SHIELD.

            However if it doesn't have a good price take (and Im on the side of the fence that $399 = flop) then it will flop but the idea will get ingrained to other developers and OEMs to start producing products like this.

          • http://profiles.google.com/kevin.turabian Kevin Turabian

            Setting up touch controls is easy peasy, just take a screen shot showing them and sixaxis has a really nice setup to overlay controls over the screen shot.

            I was forced to use it for Call of Duty: Black Ops Zombies since there is no controller support built into it, but sixaxis works perfectly out of the box for shadowgun, modern combat, and the nova games.

            I pretty much bought the N7 because it had access to tegra zone for so cheap, and I love the tablet. Can't wait to see the reviews on this thing, but I have high hopes and Nvidia can coax game developers like no other company.

    • http://profiles.google.com/jonbethea Jonathan Bethea

      $350 then after a month go to $300

    • Cuvis

      I agree, 399 is too much. We saw how the 3DS and Vita struggled at 249, and that's still 150 less. Ideally, Shield would hit at 199, but, since Nvidia can't sell low and make it back on game sales, I don't know if they can pull it off.

    • kraken

      oi oi, you forget this device use Tegra 4
      I doubt you can find any device running Tegra 4 priced below $450 for the next 6 months.

      unless they want to sell this Shield on 2014 when Tegra 4 price drop, lol :D

      • Matt

        High price means low sales. Low sales means small market. Small market means no games.

        This device will basically only be good for streaming your PC games and playing android games that your phone can also play, because no one is developing for Tegra 4.

  • http://twitter.com/misterE33 Mr E

    This would be great if it leads to more high quality Android games. However, given Nvidia's penchant for getting THD exclusives out there, we probably shouldn't get our hopes up.

    • http://twitter.com/mugabuga Max Anderson

      Yup. THD is the dumbest thing on Android. They won't be building the Android gaming scene, it'll be building the Tegra 4 gaming scene.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/keriyn-theph-di-xan-limited/100000964831199 เกรียนเทพ ดี อันลิมิเตด

        And that's their Tegra integrated devices didn't sole very well so far. The most popular Android devices are from Samsung (about 85% of all Android devices ever sole) which uses its Exynos chip. I doubt the devs would want to make THD series these days. Of cause, Tegra 4 is very powerful but Exynos 5 will beat it. Android is driving purely by how fast the chip is, customers will choose the fastest one.

  • Vandré Brunazo

    The biggest PRO here is that this will drive the Android gaming ecosystem forward. There's very little incentive for devs to build games that support controllers and big screens today. If you ever tried plugging a controller to your phone, you know what I mean. It's an abysmal lack of support from existing games. You almost have to stick with emulators only.

    But with things like the OUYA, Gamestick, Shield and many others coming this year. People start thinking yea, I better build some d-pad support on my games, and make sure they look great and are playable on a TV.

    • Matt

      Unfortunately, it works the OTHER way around. Devices with dedicated gaming buttons will have to start dominating the market before developers start turning their heads towards them and providing stable support.

      I would like to be all positive and optimistic about it, but the fact is devices like Xperia Play have existed for a while now, and every time better (Tegra 3) hardware comes out, no games are developed exclusively for that hardware because the market is so small. It's going to take the rest of the Android market catching up to Tegra 4 before good games with Tegra 4 graphics start appearing, just as it's going to take a majority of the Android market moving over to devices with dedicated buttons before button support becomes the norm!!!

  • Stephen Long

    I'll stick with my single unified device plus an add-on controller like the MOGA.

  • IncCo

    This will fail miserably, just watch.

  • Mike Adams

    All I have to say is.. TAKE MY MONEY!

  • http://profiles.google.com/jonbethea Jonathan Bethea

    "Because if it does, it will be a boon to Android gaming as a whole" if NOTHING else this is reason enough for Nvidia to make this.

    This hopefully should move android gaming forward, which is very exciting and making controller support standard would be great too!

    very nice.

  • Fissurez

    no one else going to mention how nvidia is just going to make all the major android games tegra exclusive/ lock down the nice graphical effects?

  • Mapplegate

    I'm looking forward to this, and would even consider switching to an NVidia based card in my PC to take full advantage of it. Even if the hardware itself fails to catch on, it will still continue to work with all android games, and get new software support.

  • hot_spare

    Not interested in any Tegra product. Always sub-par and worst among all competitors. Happened with Tegra, Tegra2, and Tegra3. Don't trust them at all.

    • http://twitter.com/mugabuga Max Anderson

      And by buying them you're encouraging their THD scheme.

    • jm9843

      Yeah, the Nexus 7 sucks! /s

    • kiwi

      I only have Tegra 2 so far. Tegra 2 good for games but suck for watching video.
      Since then I don't want to use any Tegra phone again. well.. perhaps not until Tegra 7 :)

  • Sam Hollis

    I was excited up until I read that you need a Kepler(650 or higher) card to stream games. That was the main appeal for me. No Kepler card, no Steam, no Big Picture Mode. If your graphics card is more than seven months old, you're out of luck, so you're looking at $100(minimum, for the cheapest, slowest card that could very well be a downgrade) plus the price of the Shield thing.

    • Sootie

      Oh noes I have to update my 8800GT lol.

      Interesting point though and one I wasn't aware of

      • Sam Hollis

        I just feel like this is NVIDIA trying to make a money grab with this by forcing people who want to use this device's main selling point to buy a brand new graphics card. There's no reason whatsoever why they couldn't support older hardware.

    • Jonathan Unicorn

      Maybe they are just initially releasing it supporting those Kepler cards? Maybe support for AMD will be added later.

      • Sam Hollis

        Older card support? I can buy that possibly happening.

        AMD support? No way in hell.

    • melody

      As long as this Project Shield is exclusive to nvidia hardware, then I dont see any hope on it in future. Android gaming should be open, not closed or limited to specific hardware vendor.

      I'm sure other developer see this mistake by now, and might already start better alternative of Project Shield.
      Hopefully soon we'll see another Android gaming device that can stream from any pc, to any tv, no need for steam, no special hardware needed.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001482286220 Karan Ocs

    SO here some Opinions :

    so this will run android games ,nothing in that part YET!

    i mean we don't have FIFA 13 YET and LOTS OF iOS games !

    i am not an ANDROID hater in fact i am using them since very first days!

    and here in STEAM part it will ONLY play ur games through ur HOME NETWORK and it's like playing ur games in ur bed for 400$

    and it will only work on nvidia cards and for the most of the people that use ATI cards it's kinda DEAL-BREAKER !
    u must spend like 400-500$ more + 400-500$ for this to ply ur games LIKE BOSS!

    and that's A LOT OF MONEY for this so i think THE RAZOR EDGE would be a better choice with the power INSIDE IT not on ur HOME NETWORK !

    yep those are JUST opinions !

  • dude

    I already have an Xperia Play which has slide out gamepad. If I need more gaming performance I would get a Nexus and an iControlPad2, which is more potable than this,

  • itsgonnalast

    Brilliant article. I'm wary of devices that don't include Google Play, which is one of my biggest concerns with Ouya. The thought of spending money in a small, off-brand app store that may disappear in a year isn't appealing.

    Happily Shield is pure Android and all my Play purchases will be available on day one.

  • TechGuy21

    i have a psvita,ps3 , s3 and a nexus 7, i have no interest in this thing. this maybe an awesome device for some for me as a gamer its nothing special. unless they price it around 199 or less.

  • cooldoods

    I want to like Project Shield except these come to mind: 1. Graphics performance and video displays ramp up yearly. nVidia themselves said they will produce a new SoC every year and have said there will be new consoles in future. Will people want a handheld gaming console that will be obsolete in a year? 2. Unless Project Shield can support game streaming over mobile networks, it will only be as half useful when you're out of the house. 3. Several large games persist in using up system RAM instead of using the SD card. Unless Project Shield carries something like 4GB of system RAM, the number of large games you can carry with you will be limited. 4. Wireless controllers from MOGA and MadKatz are a more compelling (i.e. cheaper) option for those who just want a controller that can gain support from developers.

    • BrainOfSweden

      1. It wont be obsolote. If they continue as they've done so far, it will at least be compatible with Tegra 5 games, minus some visual goodies which might be hackable the same way Chainfire 3D did with non-Tegra devices.
      2. Game streaming over mobile networks is a nightmare. It would only be a viable option over LTE, which would ramp up the price even more. If you are talking about Wi-Fi outside your home, there is nVidia Grid, and other third party solutions that works really well, such as Splashtop.
      3. Do you even know what RAM is? It's a separate piece of hardware from storage, and it's wiped every time the device is rebooted, nothing is stored there. I would expect Shield to have the know standard 2 GB amount, which is more than enough since I have yet to here about any Android games that requires more than 1 GB.
      4. But for those who want's a console, which could be for a number of reasons, such as a much more thought through solution, saving battery on your phone (games drain a lot). For someone like me, who just bought a new, but somewhat weak, phone (SGS2), but wants the power of Shield just for the sake of games, this is one of the best solutions. My phone can still handle a lot, but there are things it won't do.

    • Matthew Fry

      No. I think the mobile device world could do with some longer lifecycles. The Xbox 360, DS, and PS3 are still great devices and they're pushing 6 years old. The problem with Android gaming as a platform is the PC-like oneupsmanship lifecycles and variety of hardware. A piece of hardware that is designed to be a gaming machine that developers can work against specifically is what allows developers to push the limits.

      If we can get to a point where Adreno, Tegra, and Mali have matured enough that certain things like memory bandwidth, shader support, etc are similar we can start benchmarking games and phones a la Windows Experience Index (what it could have been).

      Lastly, we need to get developers and consumers to push the self-imposed price limits that we've established mobile games should be priced at by really focusing on quality and performance. I'd be happy to pay 15 dollars for Chaos Rings Omega if it wasn't made of ass. 7 dollars on sale was even pushing it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1559995258 Alec Smith

    Another con you forgot..the resolution. The 5 inch 1080p devices are becoming more common, shame they chose an outdated screen.

    • Matthew Fry

      Hold up. If ~300DPI is considered retina at 1 ft away what's the point of upping a 5" to ~440? I am a self-admitted pixel density whore but I see no value in increasing the density beyond what i can perceive. All that is doing is overworking the GPU. I'm totally ok with 7"ers and 10"ers going above 720p but 5" displays should cap at 720p and focus on brightness and battery life.

      tl;dr: 720p is perfect for 5" screens, good choice NVIDIA.

  • Jonathan Unicorn

    And then if it is successful, a big company like Google or Amazon can make one of their own and outdo them on the cheap!

  • Jack

    Dead on Arrival 2... Oh, the irony...

  • Elias

    I wouldn't buy it as a dedicated mobile console, but I'd buy a Bluetooth joystick compatible with the Shield standard. If I already have a phone/tablet with tegra 4, I'd just need the joystick.

  • Simone

    Splashtop THD exists since march 2012 and this streaming capability offered with Shield is no more than an evolution of this app (born thanks to a sponsorship by nVidia and confirmed by nVidia itself). Once Shield will be released it will take around 24h to have to apk extracted and then working on all the other devices. Honestly I will still prefer using it on my nexus 7 or on the new nexus tablet if it will be Tegra equipped. Furthermore Grid will be compatible with several devices and it's simply the same feature working on 3G instead of via LAN. So no excuses to be "hardware limited".

  • gacl

    I agree with Vandre that the biggest pro is boosting the Android ecosystem.

    The biggest con is that the Android gaming ecosystem is currently fairly weak. The Vita currently has way better games than Android does. I would only buy this if Android gets serious games and not console down-ports. I also have zero interest in PC streaming.

    This can sell at a higher price because it's not a dedicated platform. This can sell as a high end Android gaming device and doesn't need mass market share by itself like the Vita or 3DS do.

  • Tamadrummer94

    Con: Potential disappointment with Tegra 4 chip (only marginally faster than A6X...)
    Con: Android gaming selection
    Con: Streaming works only with GTX graphics cards

  • Brolivia Wilde

    AMD card owners are SOL for this device. Doesn't matter that only certain nvidia cards are supported, just the idea that they didn't open it up to all cards above a certain performance level is just ridiculous in itself. As cool as this thing looks, it's going to be overpriced and only available to a 'select' crowd, which truly sucks and is going to alienate a lot of potential customers like me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Richard-Markert/100001113752823 Richard Markert

    CON: nVidia.

    Seriously, all this device is going to do is incentivise developers to gimp games' graphical abilities on non-Tegra4 devices even more. Look at Dead Trigger 2. I won't be buying it because of this nonsense.