The Shield, which appears to be about the size of an Xbox 360 controller, is a Tegra 4-powered clamshell portable that its creators are calling a "pure Android experience." That means it can be used for productivity and entertainment apps like a regular Android phone or tablet, but it can also used to play games using a "console class controller" that's uncovered when the screen is flipped up.Alongside the introduction of the new Tegra 4 SoC architecture, Nvidia tonight unveiled Project Shield, a codenamed, self-contained, Android-based portable game console capable of connecting to a local PC to run games.
That controller features two analog sticks, four face buttons, and four shoulder buttons, as well as standard Android buttons and an Nvidia button for accessing the company's "Tegra Zone" front-end of graphically intensive Android games. The system runs off three lithium-ion rechargeable batteries, charged via USB, that the creators say will provide 5 to 10 hours of gameplay, or longer for video playback. Internal storage can be expanded through a microSD card slot as well.
The other part of the fold-out design is a 720p "retinal display," complete with a custom bass reflex audio system that the company compared favorably to "an HP laptop with Beats audio." But the demo seemed more focused on showing off the system's ability to connect via HDMI to a 4K TV display, which showed impressive, large-scale, 3D Android-native games like Real Boxing and a version of beta free-to-play FPS Hawken, which supported multiplayer competition.
While the games almost definitely weren't being output in 4K, they still looked quite impressive on the big screen, especially considering the diminutive size of the portable system pumping out those graphics. The demo menu showed a selection of seven or so Android games that make use of the Shield's controller, but it's still unclear just how many Android games will natively support the controls, or whether the system conforms to any established standards used in other non-touchscreen Android games.
The Shield's most surprising feature, though, and one that has the potential to be a killer app for heavy PC gamers, is the ability to stream games from a nearby Windows box over a local network connection. After some technical hiccups, the demo unit was shown remotely operating games like Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit and Assassin's Creed III running on a PC just offstage, and displaying those games both on the portable screen and a connected TV.
The system could even operate Steam's "Big Picture" mode through the remote connection, giving the portable access to the PC's entire library of Steam games. Nvidia claims that the latency for this remote-play mode was practically unnoticeable, but as yet we've had no way to verify that claim. The Shield will also reportedly be able to play games remotely through Nvidia's much-discussed cloud-gaming Grid system.
There's still plenty we don't know about Nvidia's first foray into fully self-contained mobile gaming systems, price and availability timing chief among them, but it seems clear that the company is no longer satisfied to simply watch other hardware makers decide how best to use their portable graphics chips.