At a press event last night in Las Vegas, Nvidia’s chief executive Jen-Hsun Huang unveiled the company’s newest product: a mobile, Android-based game console called the Nvidia Shield. The Shield is a controller and touchscreen in-one powered by the company’s Tegra 4 mobile processor, and the Shield apparently boasts a variety of functions: not only can you play Android games on the screen, but Nvidia says that the controller can be used to control games on your PC via “high-bandwidth, ultra-fast” Wi-Fi. If it all works as Nvidia says it will, once you’re done playing Jetpack Joyride, you can jump onto Steam and get going on Dishonored.
The Shield also features an HDMI port, meaning you can play games on HD televisions—just like the OUYA and GameStick consoles. The Wi-Fi connectivity also suggests that you’ll be able to stream games to Wi-Fi-enabled televisions. An article on VentureBeat about the Shield also says that the device will allow gamers to stream PC games to the TV, though exactly how this transfer will take place isn’t explained (HDMI cable? Wi-Fi? Magic?). In addition, the Shield will be able to play games from Nvidia’s Grid Gaming System, connecting to them via the cloud. The device is tentatively scheduled for a Q2 release and will be sold by Nvidia directly, though no price has been announced.
“This is the culmination of five years of work. You can enjoy it on the small display or enjoy the same game on your television. […] It allows us to enjoy any game on any device on any screen. This is untethered gaming.”
Well, not quite untethered. In neither the VentureBeat article, nor on Nvidia’s website is there any mention of mobile data capability, like 3G or 4G connectivity. That means that as mobile as it is, you’re still going to need a Wi-Fi hotspot or tethering to your mobile phone to access the web-based games that the Shield will apparently be able to play. That’s something of a small caveat, though: compared to the OUYA and the GameStick, the Shield seems like it might have a bit of an edge, being both a self-contained mobile system with a screen and (presumably) onboard storage, and the capability to play games on a TV.
Speaking of the OUYA and the GameStick, this newest entrant into the Android-games race is further proof that the landscape of the gaming industry may be changing in an interesting way. Instead of pushing the technological boundaries like Microsoft and Sony, these new companies are going in another direction, trying to deliver big gaming experiences with a mobile phone operating system.
Another important detail to keep in mind: we’re still months away from any of these devices to actually hit the market. The OUYA has proof-of-concept videos popping up all over the web, showing that the thing will actually do what it’s supposed to. The GameStick’s Kickstarter campaign isn’t anywhere close to finished, but with 24 days to go, it’s got more than double its original funding goal pledged. And the Shield doesn’t have a release date or price yet.
That means that 2013 will be an interesting year for the industry. We’ll either see the birth of a new kind of console race, one that takes place pretty independently from that of the major players like Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft…or we’ll see the death of a questionable fad, one with big promises and underwhelming delivery. Are projects like these the real future of the industry? Or will this just be a flash in the pan, a new idea that gained steam, but fails to actually make a dent?
But for now, the best question is this: how many more of these will we see before the year is up? And how many will be too many?