NVIDIA took everyone by surprise at CES this year when they unveiled ‘Project Shield’. Shield is built around the just-unveiled Tegra 4, NVIDIA’s fourth-generation mobile chipset that combines four ARM-licensed CPU cores and 72 of NVIDIA’s custom GeForce cores. It’s promising to be something of a mobile powerhouse – but Shield is about a lot more than just that.
The system is running Android 4.2 ‘Jelly Bean’, though that may change before the device is set to ship in a few months. A five-inch multitouch display sits on top, hinged to a hybrid controller that looks like the Xbox360 and WiiU Pro controllers had a baby. Speakers are mounted on the controller, beneath the display.
NVIDIA calls the screen a ‘Retinal’ display, since that ‘L’ prevents a certain fruit company from suing the pants off of them. It runs at a resolution of 1280×720, giving an effective pixel density of just under 300ppi. At launch, it’ll come in Wi-Fi only flavors, as Tegra 4 doesn’t yet support LTE.
With the powerful Tegra 4 inside, the Shield device will be one of the most powerful mobile gaming platforms (not counting notebooks) ever created. But it’s not the Android capabilities that has the Internet a-buzz.
Back at CES 2012, NVIDIA showed off some preliminary technology that let gamers stream their games from the home PC to their Tegra tablet, letting the tablet users play high-end PC games such as Skyrim. They’ve been quiet on progess since then.
The killer feature of Project Shield, then, is a robust, mature version of this technology. It’s going to launch on Shield, though it wouldn’t surprise us to see NVIDIA push this technology onto other devices, such as Android phones and tablets, and low-end PCs and Ultrabooks. Project Shield can access your games on your PC (and it’s integrated into Steam, too!), and stream them from your home to your mobile device.
It does require an end-to-end NVIDIA ecosystem – so you’ll need a reasonably new GeForce card in your PC, and of course Tegra 4 running in your mobile device. As we understand it, NVIDIA captures a video of your rendered PC title and streams that video, compressed, through the network and to your mobile device.
If your upload is sufficiently fast and stable, you’ll be able to play these games over the Internet, too. The only downside to gaming like this is going to be that even in the best of circumstances, you’ll always have a noticeable degree or two of lag. That might cut out twitch-heavy games like multiplayer FPS titles, but just about anything else will be fair game. You want to play Dishonored on the go? Now you can.
It’s expected that Project Shield will be a disruptive product to the mobile gaming sphere, though we bet that it’s going to hurt sales of more expensive, more tech-friendly systems like the currently struggling PlayStation Vita, not the quirky, more affordable systems like the Nintendo 3DS.
Too, for how exciting Project Shield is looking, there are a few downsides. First, the system isn’t small – so you won’t be slipping this into your pocket as easy as a phone. The controls, while extremely functional, are a little unwieldy – NVIDIA had to pack in everything you’d need to play a full PC title. Finally, there’s the cost. The company is keeping mum on how much we might expect to pay for one of these devices – remember, there won’t be any sort of subsidy like the ones you find on smartphones. Expect to pay no less than $300, and very likely something closer to $400. Given that you need a reasonable gaming PC to really take advantage of everything that the Shield can do, it’s already adding up to a pretty hefty price tag.