Why Nvidia's Project Shield Is A Game-Changer For Android
Sony and Nintendo watch out - there’s a new challenger on the block. We investigate into the arrival of Nvidia's Project Shield
If you’ve been paying attention to this year’s CES, then you’ll no doubt have seen the news regarding Nvidia’s latest mobile chipset: Tegra 4.
However, this year Nvidia isn’t just showing off a chip that will power devices created by other hardware manufacturers - it’s jumping into the fray itself with Project Shield, an Android-powered gaming device which is likely to take the fight straight to the doors of Sony, Nintendo and Apple.
Project Shield is a portable games console with a flip-up 5-inch 720p touchscreen display. It has the full suite of gaming controls - including two analogue sticks, a D-pad, face buttons and shoulder triggers - and offers around 5 to 10 hours of battery life.
Beating at its heart is Tegra 4, comprised of a 72-core Nvidia GeForce GPU and a quad-core A15 CPU. It’s all powered by Android Jelly Bean, which means that the device will be able to function like a mobile phone or tablet as well as a game console.
Naturally, Project Shield will run all of the latest Android games, including those optimised to make best use of Nvidia’s Tegra chipset family, but there’s another neat twist - you’ll be able to stream games from your PC directly to the console itself - handy for those times when you don’t want to be sat in front of the monitor and would rather blow away aliens from the comfort of the couch.
Of course, we’ve seen this kind of thing before. Sony Ericsson’s much-hyped PlayStation phone the Xperia Play received a curiously muted response from the general public, and Archos’ recent GamePad has tried the same trick, but with a tablet (and, by all accounts, is a bit of a failure).
So why should anyone pay any heed to Project Shield - especially when you take into account that it’s coming from a company that has little to no knowledge of this sector of the market?
The reason is simple: although the Xperia Play was a similar device, even more so when you factor in the ability to stream PC-quality games via OnLive, Project Shield is an entirely different kettle of fish. The Xperia Play used entry-level tech and was quickly outpaced by new handsets, whereas Project Shield will be using the very best chipset around.
Sony Ericsson’s gaming phone was a bundle of compromises, whereas Nvidia’s console is a more focused affair - it’s a gaming console first and foremost, and is intended to go toe-to-toe with the likes of the Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita, both of which it outclasses from a power perspective.
It’s also worth noting that Android games are now at a stage where they look as good as - if not better than - dedicated handheld games. In fact, titles like Dead Trigger 2 wouldn’t look out of place on the Xbox 360, yet this is something you’ll be able to play on the bus to work.
Mobile gaming has always been looked down upon by ‘hardcore’ players, but those same individuals won’t be able to ignore the fact that some of the software coming to Project Shield is going to be top-notch, and what’s more they won’t have the usual complaint of not being able to use physical controls, either.
Time will tell if Nvidia has the experience and the talent to produce and market a piece of gaming hardware, and without a solid price point it’s currently hard to tell if the system will have mass-market appeal.
There’s also the small matter of technological advancement - while Nintendo and Sony’s consoles are built around a lifespan of about five years, Project Shield will most likely be overtaken by more powerful mobile hardware in less than twelve months.
The console’s reliance on Android should lesson that blow - after all, users can upgrade and retain all of their existing software - but it’s clear that Nvidia is breaking new ground here, and that often comes with a degree of uncertainty.
With the Razor Edge and Wikipad also arriving sometime in 2013, it’s clearly going to be an interesting year for mobile gaming devices. It will be fascinating to see which challengers remain standing when next Christmas rolls around, but we have a feeling that Project Shield has a better chance than most.