NVIDIA updates Shield with Android 4.3, button mapping, console mode

The $300 NVIDIA Shield gaming console gains a great deal more functionality

NVIDIA today is letting lose a major update to its Shield gaming console, one that adds a significant amount of functionality to the $300 device. Here's the lowdown:

  • Android 4.3: Shield is getting updated to Android 4.3, making it one of the first Android devices — gaming phone, tablet or otherwise — to be updated to the most current (and available) version of Android. (And some apps can now be moved to the SD card.)
  • Console mode: This has been teased publicly, and now it'll be available. You'll be able to plug your Shield into your TV and control it wirelessly using a Bluetooth gaming controller.
  • Custom control mapping: Not every app has been optimized for Shield, and not every developer will take the time to do so. So NVIDIA's giving you a way to set your own custom mappings, download mappings others have made — and share your own with your friends.
  • GameStream exits beta: The deal where your computer crunches the graphics and shoots them to your Shield — provided you have the proper NVIDIA graphics card — grows up and gets official. (Plus you can get some nice deals on games when you buy a new graphics card.)

We've been giving the update the what-for over the weekend — a few initial thoughts, after the break.

Android 4.3

From an end-user perspective, there's not too much here other than you'll be able to say you're running the most recent version of Android — at least for a few more days. Regardless, kudos to NVIDIA for getting it pushed out so quickly.

Console mode

This is very cool. Plug your Shield into your TV and via HDMI and it'll automatically kick into console mode. (Or there's an app icon for it as well.) The Shield will reboot, with all video and audio pumped into the TV, or your entertainment system if you're really doing things right. I had to tweak my TV settings a tad to get the resolution dialed in, but that's simple enough. The resolution bumps up to 1080p (the Shield display is 720), so plan accordingly and make sure you leave it plugged in.

But the real kicker is that you'll be using a Bluetooth gaming controller to actually play games. (And tool around in the Android UI as well.) To that end, NVIDIA has certified the NYKO PlayPad Pro as the first Bluetooth controller. It's $39, and a nice little controller. (I'd dare say it fits the hand better than the larger Shield.) Setup was easy enough — just pair it like any other Bluetooth controller.

The only hiccups have come with the games themselves. And for that, NVIDIA's got ...

Custom button mappings

This gets a little complicated. But figure if you're a gamer with a Shield, you're OK with customizations. Basically you fire up your favorite game, hit the customization button, then drag the actions around on the screen until things are the way you want them. It's a bit clunky, but it works.

And, more important is that you can share mappings with your friends, or download them from NVIDIA directly — with the idea that at some point there will be a pretty big database built out, so it won't matter if the game developers don't work with NVIDIA to make things work properly.

We had a few instances in which games we expected to work out of the box failed miserably — Real Boxing (opens in new tab) in particular — but mappings can save you. You just have to put a little work into it, or wait for a mapping download to be available.

The bottom line

Look, NVIDIA Shield still isn't exactly a mainstream product. It's still not cheap, at $300. But neither is a forgotten product. Console mode is actually really easy and fun. The ability to kick back and play games properly, wirelessly on the couch, is great.  

The custom button mappings are complicated, but they work. And they'll get better over time. 

And the update to Android 4.3 shows that NVIDIA's still putting work into this console. You might still have to justify spending that much money on the Shield, but now you have some more great reasons to do so.

Phil Nickinson
  • Guys, please fix the first bullet point (Android 4.3) it adds OpenGL 3.0, and lots of gaming related APIs. It's HUGE for a device like this one. :)
  • OpenGL ES 3.0 doesn't matter on SHIELD, since Tegra 4 doesn't support it. Posted via Android Central App
  • Facts FTW! Posted via Android Central App
  • I see no reason anyone would buy this when you can get a 160GB PS3 console for the same price.
  • Because the PS3 isn't mobile. Using your logic, how could you explain 3DS and PS Vita sales? Posted from my pure Google Nexus 4 using the AC app.
  • +1000 I don't see the benefits of the Shield compared to the less expensive Vita and 3DS though. Or is it more like a "proof of concept"?
  • Console Mode. It's not just for pc games. Android games will work too. Any advantage that Android has as an OS over those obviously also carries over to SHIELD. Cost is a factor, but then compare the price of games. Posted via Android Central App
  • Agreed about the advantages of Android. But, as a person who buys consoles to play games and nothing else, I don't see the point of this. For console mode, you have to connect to an external device which kills the 'portable' concept (it's still a good additional feature though). And yes, you're right, you have to add the price of the 3DS/Vita games but Android games are not good enough when you play a lot. The shield can play PC games, but then again, you have to buy those. Not trying to bash on the Shield though, just giving my opinion :D
  • I don't want a PS3,that's why. StealthDroid - Working in the Nexus Lab
  • Dang it!
    Wish I had Nyko instead of Moga Pocket.
  • I think this is the best system for emulators. It's pretty much all I use mine for. Kind of spendy for emulators only but the games all run perfectly. I like the size better than the 7 inch tablets with controls on the side which are much less mobile to me.
  • For the most part they all work and run really well too. Posted via Android Central App
  • this piece of junk is getting 4.3 before most/newer phones...?
  • +1 I know right!?
  • Junk? StealthDroid - Working in the Nexus Lab
  • I like the idea of streaming games from my PC running Steam, so even if Shield doesn't take off, I'd want a GameStream app for standard Android.
  • So with the console mode, could shield act as an android tv device?
  • Man the Shield looks like something you'd see 10 years ago, not now. It has that rather dated look.
  • It is really comfortable to hold though. I agree they could have made it look more like a smartphone or something but it would be much less comfortable then.
  • I have the sheild, gaming pc, ps3, xbox 360 and the WiiU. The sheild is a nice little niche device for pc gamers. I can now play all my fave pc games sitting on the couch next to my wife, and she no longer complains I am glued to my pc. When she goes to bed I hook it up to my 60 inch TV and play at night. I have major back problems and this helps alot so I am not slouched over a pc. This update with button mapping is going to make it that much better. Alot of people might complain about the price, but I do not regret getting it at all. I have been using my sheild more than any other console in my house, with the update it is going to be that much better. Now if GTA V would come to pc I can finally get rid of my Xbox 360.
  • " NVIDIA today is letting lose a major ... " Did you mean to say 'lose', as in 'lost', or 'loose', as is 'untight'? In any event, such words do not have the most positive connotation for an opening paragraph. Please edit your work before submitting. Posted via Android Central App
  • Nice additional features on SHIELD. But I'm quite sure I'll skip this first gen. I'll wait for SHIELD with Tegra 5 and more mature and better games. As I expected few months ago, that SHIELD won't have top notch games, and yes up till now it don't really have one. Dead Trigger 2 maybe one of a few quite good game on SHEILD, but it is still far from what I expected from SHIELD. NVidia proven not pushing game developers to develop games special for SHIELD. Making SHIELD priority for streaming is good but not great idea. Because It cost money too much to make PC games run on SHIELD. Need an Nvidia GPU, medium tier of CPU, and fast wifi device. Posted via Android Central App