NVIDIA Shield Android TV console hands-on

At GDC 2015 NVIDIA took their wraps off another Shield product, only this one is built for TV. The Shield console will fully leverage Grid, a service whereby NVIDIA will host games on their servers and beam them to your home for playing. The real MVP of the show is NVIDIA's new Tegra X1 processor, which will sling 4K video about willy nilly and handle graphics twice as well as the K1 chip found in their Shield Tablet.

Before we start waxing about how much we love the idea of the Shield console, let's get a few skeptical points out of the way first. No, they haven't announced how much the basic 720p/30 FPS or premium 1080p/60 FPS subscription tiers will cost for the Grid cloud gaming service. We know there's going to be some free content associated with each tier, but details will become clearer later. We also know that some games will be available a la carte, and will not be subject to additional fees as long as you purchase within the Grid store. NVIDIA's repeated references to Netflix and Spotify as revolutionaries in streaming media that they wish to emulate set an expectation for pricing, but that's about all we have to run with for the time being.

Secondly, there are some performance hiccups. These are early days, so the occasional stutter or subpar framerate can just as equally be an issue with an individual developer as it could be with NVIDIA's system. None of the problems I've seen at GDC have convinced me that the Grid service will suck permanently right through launch and maintenance patches, and the overwhelming majority of what I've seen has been mindblowingly impressive.

NVIDIA Shield console and controller

Finally, I'm more curious than I am worried about how internet service providers will react when if they start seeing a ton of users streaming 1080p at 60 frames per second because gamers decided that's how they'd rather play. The FCC has already shown they're on the side of consumers when it comes to stuff like preferred traffic lanes, but if NVIDIA really wants to become the Netflix of video games, these are the kinds of Netflixish hurdles they may very well face if Grid becomes a huge success.

That said, let's get to the good stuff. You can get a sense of the broad strokes of the Shield console from the original announcement and from the video above. The appeal of many of the features speak for themselves, but as a gamer, you're basically getting the best of all worlds together: the big screen and hardware controller of the console experience, the light and innovative titles available on the Android games market, and the latest killer PC games through a cloud system that does all the heavy lifting for you, or accessing your personal PC Steam library directly and shunting games to the big screen.

NVIDIA Shield console and remote

Nevermind the technology for games, this is a highly attractive device for something running Android TV. Very few (if any) Android TVs have done a great job of catching the eye, but for serious cinephiles rocking a 4K screen with limited convenient streaming options, the Shield console will really be able to open some doors. The touch-sensitive remote control accessory is perfect for everyday users, many of whom would feel odd with any kind of Xbox-style controller in their hands. The remote audio access alone will provide utility that many TV watchers don't easily get a chance to enjoy.

Between the enabling X1 chip and the high visibility NVIDIA is able to provide them, we're seeing a lot of excellent games finding their way from console to Android. Doom 3 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel are just the tip of the iceberg. Sure, NVIDIA can just host the original PC title on Grid, but having a fully realised port means good news for everyone, not just the guys with a Shield.

There's an earnest hope here that a product like the NVIDIA Shield console could offer all of the luxury of high-end PC gaming with the convenience of consoles (minus a drawer full of discs), and break into the heretofore unsuccessful cloud gaming business. That hope may wane to the tier of "overly optimistic" as the Shield console approaches launch in May for $199, but we are more than happy to watch NVIDIA try to prove the skeptics wrong.

Simon Sage
Simon has been covering mobile since before the first iPhone came out. After producing news articles, podcasts, review videos, and everything in between, he's now helping industry partners get the word about their latest products. Get in touch with him at simon@futurenet.com.