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Hands on with NVIDIA's 'Project Shield'

We get our first look at NVIDIA's Tegra 4 processor, and the future of Android gaming 

It's hard not to get excited about NVIDIA's "Project Shield," the Android-based hand-held gaming system it unveiled this week at CES in Los Vegas. For one, it's really the biggest piece of news thus far. And for another -- it's just friggin' cool. NVIDIA has taken the traditional gaming-style controller, packed its brand-new Tegra 4 system inside of it, added a 5-inch, clamshell 720p display (NVIDIA's calling it "retinal") and added some truly astonishing gameplay. Consider:

  • It's running a relatively stock user interface. The nerds love that.
  • It runs any Android app. If it works on a phone or tablet now, it should work on Project Shield.
  • There's one-touch access to NVIDIA's "Tegra Zone," a curated section of Android applications tweaked specifically for NVIDIA's processors.
  • Steam. If you play a game on Steam, you can play it here, too.
  • PC gaming. NVIDIA's been showing off this tech for some time now, and it's really dialed in here. Your gaming rig does the heavy lifting, beaming the video to Project Shield, which also serves as the controller.

It's not without some hurdles in the way of success (what is), but, yeah. We're excited.

For all intents and purposes here, you feel like you're playing with an Xbox controller with a screen on top. It's bigger, of course, but not grossly so. NVIDIA's balanced things quite nicely, with the 36 Watt/hr batteries toward the bottom of the handles, so it's not top-heavy. The D-pad and analog sticks and buttons are all right where you'd expect them to be. NVIDIA's still dialing them in a tad, so we're not going to go too deep into them. I'm just a casual gamer, and they felt decent enough to me. 

Tucked into the center of Project Shield are a Start button, volume button, back and home buttons. In the middle is a big button with NVIDIA's logo on it. Home and back do just what you expect from Android. (Insofar as that damned back button is predictable.) Start works in the traditional gaming sense, and the volume button pops up the volume controls, when you can then work with the buttons on the controller, or by touching the display.

The large button in the center is the "Shield Button," which takes you directly to the hard-core gaming section. From there you can get apps from Tegra Zone, Steam or connect to a PC. NVIDIA's designed this perfectly, and it brings some much-needed purpose to Tegra Zone, which until now has been relegated to sort of a secondary app store on phones and tablets. The Shield Button is a great way to showcase NVIDIA's showcase.

Don't underestimate the speakers, either. They're surprisingly loud, and they have a surprising amount of bass. NVIDIA at its press event said they've got more frequency response than an HP laptop with Beats Audio, and we're inclined to agree.

Round back you've got the ports -- a microUSB for syncing and charging (NVIDIA's not yet sure how long it'll take to charge this guy up), HDMI for connecting to a television for some big-screen gaming, a 3.5mm audio jack -- and a microSD card for expandable storage, which a good many folks likely will make use of, given that the sort of games you'll be playing aren't tiny.

Gameplay is pretty damn impressive. The graphics power almost seems wasted on the 5-inch display -- you know there's some great stuff at work there, with lord knows how many polygons flying around, but you'll never be able to see all them. Still, that's not a knock against the device; we've had that same complaint about phones and tablets. When playing connected to a PC, you might be able to detect a slight amount of latency. We wouldn't call it lag, and there's a decent chance you might not even notice. It really is that impressive. 

Don't like green swirly things that kind of look like NVIDIA's logo? You can swap out the top plates.

And the best part about all this -- for as good as it is right now, it's still not finished. (I managed to throw things into a tizzy when I closed the display while we were playing connected to a PC, for instance, along with the aforementioned hardware tweaks.) NVIDIA's aiming for a second-quarter launch, and we still don't have pricing. That's the big question mark, of course, as well as how Project Shield will be sold and marketed. Or named, for that matter -- we don't know if "Shield" will stick, but we wouldn't bet on it.

But this much we do know: Our appetites -- and the appetites of serious gamers -- have been whetted.

  • you got to touch the thing... im so jelly
  • That's what she said
  • I'd buy
  • Great video the device looks promising as long as you stay on your home WiFi that is.
  • That thing looks so uncomfortable. Its like they never put that thing in a gamers hands. There's a reason why the thumbsticks on the Vita are so far apart. In the video you can see the guy having so many control issues. A controller like that is meant to be played with your arms around your lap not in front of your face.
  • shut up and take my money!
  • You lucky duck, being able to try it out and all!
    The thing looks just fantastic.
  • I'd seriously consider buying one. My current phone doesn't have a Tegra chip in it and there are certain games I'd like to play on my device that I currently can't (Horn). The only real downside I see to the device (and this is just nitpicking on my part) is I personally prefer the reverse stick & dpad like the Xbox 360 controller, vs the current PS style layout. This is something I could see giving Ouya a run for it's money. Considering it will launch around the same time in Q2.
  • Ok at first I thought this was wack and even though its Android Not interested. After the this video I'm still not sold on it completely to want to purchase one but I find it more appealing and can see some serious gamer's with this. If your stuck to just wifi at first thats fine but you shouldn't be an issue if you can store the games on the SD card. I also think it looks to heavy to hold for a long time and when i use to play COD it was for hours. I have 2 tabs and my note 2 to play on, right now I would want a controller that i can just connect and play any game on the market out the box (no Root) +1 Kick the controller does not look comfortable and the way he is sitting will kill my back in 15 mins or less of game play.
  • I so can't wait for the price to $300 every one will freak out. Guess that's the privileged life we have we want stiff for free
  • Not an unreasonable guess. $200-$250 would be the sweet spot IMO, and put it in direct competition with current handheld consoles.
  • It's not so much a privileged life, just needs to be competitive. A Nexus 4 8GB will run you $300 and it is a phone.
  • I'm betting $499.
  • Oh don't worry. I can give you stiff for free.
  • When I first head of the annoucement I wasn't even interested, but somewhere along the lines in that video made me seriously want one. If my GeForce GT 330M is supported to stream PC games, I will seriously consider getting this rather than the Nexus 10 this year. If the price is right that is. Having a VAST Steam/PC game library in addition to my pretty decent Android game library is just ground breaking. I've tried to acomplish this with Kainy/Splashtop GamePad THD, but neither works like they should (Kainy is better though..). Maybe I'll give them another try to try waiving off the need to purchase one of these ;)
  • Ugh, no. All these standalone gaming gadgets are not the right way to do it. The only nifty feature this one has is that you can use it to play games from your primary computer, but why would you want to? Gee, I can play my games using any USB controller on my 21" monitor at better-than-1080p resolution, or I can stream it to a handheld 7" console device.... You want to know who is doing Android gaming right? Green Throttle ( See, I already have a gaming device in my pocket. If I want to play those games on a big screen with controller support, why would I want to buy a whole separate device to do it? I'm looking at you OUYA. In a couple of years your OUYA is going to be obsolete and you'll have to buy a new one if you want to keep playing the latest games. With Green Throttle's method, in a year or two when I replace my phone, I've also replaced my gaming console! THAT is doing big screen Android gaming right.
  • I think overall Nvidia, Ouya and so on are invigorating the landscape. I am quite interested in Shield though I have to see how the controller is... I'd like to play Tegra 4 Shadowgun: DZ on my screen, finally, and I am at the end of my tether with Xbox360, at least with Android gaming I ~know~ I'm getting the latest technology, rather than Xbox360 which has the technology of something you threw in the dumpster years ago. That said, I think for me the big breakthrough will be cloud gaming, by Nvidia or whoever, though Nvidia looks good. Once they have decent Australian servers by whoever the provider is (or Singapore servers is also close)... Boom! (or to quote Jen-Hsun... Bam! Bam!). I can't stand upgrading hardware. Let me pay $30 or $50 a month and I KNOW I am getting the latest DX 40000 graphix today, and DX 5 million graphix tomorrow. Sold. Australia should be getting fibre to almost every metro home within 5 years time so as long as we have decent GPU providers like Nvidia Grid and decent cloud servers with good latency, I really see cloud gaming for US, Europe and Australia being a really big thing. Whatever happens next-gen consoles will still be important but if I were Sony or Microsoft I'd be sweating bullets, if I weren't already. Sony purchased Gaikai but I don't have a good feeling about it. Sony is so fragmented now, and getting their butts handed to them on all fronts despite their best efforts.
  • Finally, I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who recognizes what Green Throttle is doing... I just can't understand why they haven't generated more exposure. With the power of these new and upcoming smartphone/tablet devices there really is no need for multiple devices. Check out the new Snapdragon Processores, Krait 400 2.3GHz Quad Core that benchmarks at 75% faster than the Nexus 4 are you kidding me?!? Why pin yourself down to a mobile platform based gaming console (Ouya/Shield) that will be obsolete in months, check that, it will be obsolete before it makes it to market. With Green Throttle when you upgrade your phone you have also upgraded your mobile based gaming console, it just makes so much sense. And with the advances in mobile cpu/gpu technology, fairly soon you may no longer have to differentiate between a mobile and console/pc based gaming platform. Oh, and then you look at what Ubuntu is proposing to do with their new mobile OS, you plug your "phone" into a desktop dock and bam, it switches to a desktop OS that displays through your monitor and connects to your bluetooth mouse/kb. So now all of a sudden I have a device that acts as a smartphone, I have a gaming console, and I have a desktop computer all in one device that fits into my pocket and goes where I go. THIS is the future of these technologies.
  • I do believe it is the future, but I feel that future might be in 5 years from now. Phone CPU and GPU are getting better compared to their previous iterations, they are still way behind compared to PC CPUs and GPUs. Even though they are starting to match in term of clock speed, they are still far off from matching high end cpus in performance. Krait does 9,900 MIPS (Million instructions per second), while an i7 is around 100 000 MIPS. In 5 years, maybe mobile phones will do 100 000 MIPS, but PC CPUs might do 1 000 000 MIPS. For most purposes though, mobile phones are very close to being able to replace normal PC usage, but not high end gaming.
  • If this thing comes out with only 16gb storage im going to be literally angry with rage. Tired of these powerhouse devices coming out with crappy amounts of storage. The games that will look great on this will take a gig or two up in memory. We need all internal memory due to JB not letting apps move to sd card. At least 64gb or no less than 32gb and ill be calm.
  • Er... Because MicroSD card is $20 for 32GB ???
  • PC gaming? I have to be near my PC to be able to play PC games on this? If I'm near my PC, and want to play PC games, why wouldn't I just play them on my PC?
  • toilet gaming
  • mind blown
  • Because you can play it on a TV? :D
  • In bed gaming, unless you wall mounted a TV to your ceiling, this is great for it.
  • hope this is jst a prototype cuz that thing looks jst plain silly
  • Yeh the position of the sticks is really bad. would not be comfortable at all. They should just completely rip off the xbox controller. its a proven layout that just works for most people. The rest of it looks pretty awesome though.
  • so its a wii u... but better
  • Honestly, I was planning on buying a Wii U, but now I'm holding off to see what will come of Project Shield. Streaming my PC is almost better then streaming my Wii U to a tablet. This also has the advantage I can take it with me and play the magnitude of Android games. So basically, a PC + Shield rivals the Wii U + 3DS
  • Android... Well damn it, I don't like that OS. or the Playstation controller layout.
  • I was really hoping for some magical device where I could take my Steam games anywhere. (although before the video, I was not sure how that would work). I still really like this idea, as long as the game from the PC can be only run in the background on the PC while streaming to the device and does not require the PC also being tied up screen and speaker wise. That way I could play Steam games and someone else could use the PC for less intensive things like FaceBook or other boring things. Looking forward to seeing this progress.
  • This is a great idea, I hope it works like that. Maybe the future of PCs are central processing dispatcher throughout your home. Like you would have a pc with no screen, no keyboard and no mouse. It would stream games to your Phone, or TV, or Shield, it would stream Office to your tablet, it would stream movies to your TVs, etc. It would even stream to a wifi Monitor that could be super far away for actual PC usage.
  • I'm still trying to figure out why this is made. I feel like the market for this type of device is so small that it won't see much profit. Plus it is very ugly and not very portable.
  • Perhaps it's aimed at teens, or perhaps I'm just not as fun as I use to be...but I no longer have room in my life for a single purposed gaming device. People use their consoles to watch movies more than they use them to play games these days, and I am including in that statistic. I cannot think of any situation where I would pick this device over my PC, console, phone, or tablet. Perhaps on a flight...but I'd have to be a big traveler to justify that.
  • Looks like a fun game device with a very familiar feel