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NVIDIA SHIELD Review; Android & More

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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When it was announced NVIDIA’s SHIELD became one of the most talked-about gaming devices around since it was as unexpected as it was mysterious.

At the time, NVIDIA’s Jens Hsun Huang showed a handheld Android-based, Tegra 4-powered handheld console with a flip-up screen that promised to be a one-stop shop for numerous technologies that had been announced previously. TegraZone, GeForce Experience and GeForce GRID were all thrown into the melting pot of SHIELD with a healthy dose of PC-to-device streaming.


With all of these individual yet disconnected items being combined into one product, there were some challenges which eventually led to SHIELD’s delay last month. However, the device is now launching, though some of its prominent features are still in beta.

At its heart, SHIELD can act as a compact communication hub for Android, the PC and streaming high definition (and Ultra HD) content from either the internet or through a wireless network. The latter task is accomplished by the incorporation of Steam’s Big Picture mode alongside GeForce Experience on the host PC. This facilitates point-to-point video optimizations and rendering.

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The Android part of the equation is accomplished in a straightforward manner: by using Google’s 4.2 Jelly Bean operating system. With it, the entire Google Play library opens up, from games to apps to potential custom hacks. Since NVIDIA is using Jelly Bean’s default configuration without a custom wrapper, SHIELD’s OS is easily updatable via Over the Air software packages, much like Google’s Nexus devices.

TegraZone is the glue that binds all of these disparate functions together. It acts as a jump-off point for every one of the NVIDIA-centric features like Steam and facilitates finding of SHIELD-supported Android gaming titles in the Google Play Store.

NVIIDA’s cloud gaming service named GRID aims to pre-render games online and stream them to any device, potentially removing the PC’s place in the this ecosystem. However, its place in SHIELD’s world is a bit less defined as the other technologies since it will only be integrated once ISPs decide to start using NVIDIA’s backbone for their upcoming cloud gaming services. No dates for this have been set but we’re likely looking at years rather than months. Until then, NVIDIA has no plans to host a GRID-like service themselves due to the massive investment in infrastructure such a goal would require.


SHIELD’s hardware specifications are what you’d expect from a high end Android tablet but with a few twists that are tailor-made to ensure maximum portability and optimal ergonomics.

The true heart of this device is the Tegra 4 SoC which boasts 72 graphics cores alongside a more typical quad core ARM Cortex A15 processor. In this iteration it boasts a clock speed of 2.1GHz and the NVIDIA i500 LTE modem from the Tegra 4i has been discarded in favor of a standard WiFi chipset. There’s also a GPS module and Bluetooth 3.0 which can be used to play multiplayer games with another SHIELD.

On the storage front, NVIDIA has kept things relatively minimal with just 16GB of onboard space for games and other apps but this can be easily expanded through the use of SHIELD’s onboard mini SD card slot. That slot will support SD cards up to 256GB although there’s currently no way to utilize that extra space for games or applications. NVIDIA should be rolling out a software update to fix this in the coming months.

The one item which may raise some eyebrows is the 5” IPS screen. While it has a relatively good 720P resolution, a diagonal size of just 5” is quite small even by the standards of some superphones, let alone tablets. It may one-up the PS Vita’s meager 5” OLED unit in pixel density, color reproduction and resolution but many gamers will want a bit more real estate.


The cost of SHIELD has been anything but a closely guarded secret. At first it was pegged at $349, thus competing directly against Apple’s iPad Mini 16GB and Google’s very capable Nexus 7 3G 32GB. Since then, NVIDIA has optimized their cost structure and is now offering SHIELD at $299, though Google has upped the ante with a new Nexus 7.

With many fully capable portable gaming devices on the market, not to mention the ability of smartphones to act as multi function devices, many have been wondering NVIDIA’s reasoning behind SHIELD. Even the Nexus 7 can be set up with a PS3 controller and allows for gaming across a reasonably large screen area. But, even though the SHIELD is bulky and quite expensive, it is the first device that can offer a truly all-inclusive gaming environment, bringing several dissimilar platforms under one roof. Will be enough to convince gamers to invest in a relatively new concept? That remains to be seen.

In this review we will be shying away from giving you a boatload of benchmarks for two reasons: by this point we all know how well the Tegra 4 performs and what its shortcomings are. SHIELD is about an experience rather than an endless litany of charts. We’ll be focusing on how successful NVIDIA has been in keeping their promises of a clean, seamless experience.
 
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SKYMTL

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A Closer Look at SHIELD

A Closer Look at SHIELD



The SHIELD is anything but an elegant-looking gaming device and it certainly doesn’t look like the sleek tablets we’re all used to seeing. NVIDIA has designed it in a clamshell format so the screen portion is protected under a shield-like exterior and the aluminum, piano black and green color scheme looks relatively sleek.

If some personalization is in order, the default silver plate or “tag” can be removed and replaced with a custom black or carbon fiber one at a cost of $20 each.

If you were hoping for easy portability, forget about it. At 579 grams SHIELD is slightly lighter than an iPad 3 but with a thickness of 57mm, you won’t be carting this thing around in your jeans pocket. It’s larger than a Nintendo DS and PS Vita combined.


Luckily, NVIDIA will be releasing a carrying case that includes a handy charging port and wrist strap. At $40, it certainly isn’t cheap but we’d recommend buying one since the SHIELD’s piano black areas do tend to scratch quite easily.


Opening the SHIELD up reveals a pretty standard Xbox-esque gaming controller layout with a directional pad and four primary action buttons. NVIDIA has also included a pair of analog sticks which have been slightly recessed so the screen assembly can remain flush when the whole affair is closed up.


Even though SHIELD’s OS can be controlled through its multi-point touchscreen, the typical Android controls have been added in the form of physical Home, Back, Volume and Play Media (which also subs in for Escape when streaming a PC game) buttons. These surround an NVIDIA or SHIELD button that does everything from turning the device off (hold for 3 seconds) to bringing up the TegraZone application. It glows in a distracting bright green color but the LED can be disabled in the device settings.

Those grilles you see on either side of the SHIELD are speakers with a bass reflex design. They’re certainly miles better than any other mobile-oriented system I’ve come across but during my time with SHIELD, I preferred using headphones.


Moving around back, there is a pair of strategically placed trigger buttons alongside two secondary bumper buttons that can be mapped for various in-game functions in certain titles.

SHIELD’s primary connectors are located here too with a 3.5mm headphone / microphone jack, a mini HDMI connector (with 8-channel PCM support audio), a micro USB connector and a microSD slot. Due to limitations in the Android OS, you’ll to format any SD card with a capacity of 32GB or more on a PC or MAC so it can support the NTFS file system.

Unfortunately, NVIDIA doesn’t include a mini HDMI to HDMI adaptor which is a bummer if you want to use SHIELD as a streaming hub for a TV. Wireless HDTV streaming can be done via Miracast instead but support for that standard isn’t widespread. We’re also hoping to see Chromecast support but NVIDIA hasn’t made any announcement regarding that.


Throughout my time with the SHIELD, people’s opinions about its construction varied wildly. Some, who were used to the metal / aluminum and glass combination used in current generation iPads and iPhones thought it felt cheap and brittle. Others found it well-built and very sturdy, particularly after long term use.

NVIDIA couldn’t have done a better job choosing materials for a handheld gaming device. The soft-touch material ensures a firm grip can be maintained and sweaty palms become a non-issue, unlike with PS3 and XBOX controllers. Unfortunately, the same supple finish which makes handling a dream come true tends to pick up dust like Swiffer.

I’d like to believe NVIDIA built SHIELD with gamers’ needs in mind which necessitated the use of certain soft-touch materials and plastic to keep weight down. Granted, these choices don’t feel particularly high end and the looks are a bit toy-like but after mistakenly dropping it a few times, I can attest to its durability.


From an ergonomics perspective, SHIELD is nearly perfect which is actually quite surprising since it looks large and cumbersome at first glance. The contoured surfaces flow perfectly together, making it a joy to hold for anyone, even children with smaller hands. With that being said, it is slightly heavy for long term use and I constantly found myself resting it on my lap or on a table after 30 minutes or so of gaming.


NVIDIA also claims SHIELD boasts “console quality” controls and I can’t argue with that. The analog sticks feature just the right amount of resistance and bounce back into position with satisfying speed. Its primary buttons and left / right triggers seem to be built with high-end actuators, ensuing optimal feedback, even when you’re pressing them with wild abandon. There’s also a 3-axis gyro and accelerometer installed but I avoided using it since tipping the SHIELD around feels a bit ridiculous.


The SHIELD’s 5” 1280x720 IPS display looks absolutely luscious, boasts stunning viewing angles and a pixel density of 294dpi makes everything from images to text look sharp and well defined. Viewing angles are also on par with some of the best mobile devices around and colors were rendered with just the right amount of saturation and vibrancy.

For all the effort put into SHIELD, its screen is one of the few weak links. Within any well-lit environment, visibility is significantly reduced due to its high gloss screen coating and the backlight just can’t get bright enough to compensate for glare. In addition, the small diagonal size will be a hard sell in a tablet market with perfectly capable 7” devices. Even ½” more would have made a world of difference.


As with certain smartphones and tablets which use capacitive touch screens, under certain lighting conditions, SHIELD’s grid-like digitizer elements become visible. Normally, this isn’t an issue but it became very distracting when trying to use the SHIELD in airports and outdoors.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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SHIELD's UI: Android & TegraZone in Harmony

SHIELD's UI: Android & TegraZone in Harmony



SHIELD uses a straightforward, uncluttered version of Google’s Android 4.2.1 Jelly Bean OS, though there are some notable NVIDIA-specific additions. The user interface remains pure Android without any of the secondary wrappers tablet and smartphone manufacturers love using so interaction is basic yet blissfully simple.

The real beauty behind this solution is compatibility of apps from the Google Play store with SHIELD. Everything from Maps to Gmail works as it should, though portrait mode doesn’t work on SHIELD. For those of you wondering, screen rotation isn’t supported either so a tool like Ultimate Rotation Control is required to fit native portrait mode apps onto the screen.

NVIDIA has pre-installed a number of items as well. Alongside the typical default applications, apps for Twitch.tv, Hulu Plus (not available in Canada) and TegraZone are available on the home screen. A handy SHIELD Help user guide is conveniently front and center too.


Pressing the SHIELD button or selecting the NVIDIA Tegra logo on the Home screen will bring up this device’s version of TegraZone. Each section can be navigated by using either the touchscreen or the analog joysticks. TegraZone can be considered a general jump-off location for all of SHIELD’s unique capabilities and includes three sections: SHIELD games, SHIELD Store and PC Games.

SHIELD Games is a repository that holds shortcuts to every one of the SHIELD-optimized games currently installed on the device. Unfortunately, games that don’t fall under NVIDIA certification umbrella aren’t shown here and have to be accessed through the standard Android menu.

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Demo of TegraZone's SHIELD Games

SHIELD Games storefront represents an easy way to access a list of paid and free to play games that are optimized for Tegra and / or include native controller support. It accesses a constantly updated online database on NVIDIA’s primary TegraZone website and then brings you over to Google Play to buy, download and install the game. This conveniently limits the displayed games to ones which will make the best use of SHIELD’s interface. It sure beats searching high and low on the Google Play store for apps that support contollers…


PC Streaming is one of the primary selling points of SHIELD and it has been conveniently placed within TegraZone. Here, it acts as a simple shortcut that lists any GeForce-equipped PCs that are connected to your wireless network. It will then show you any games or applications installed in Steam provided the host PC is on. We’ll go into the details of PC Streaming a bit later.

The TegraZone area is well laid out and extremely simple to navigate with either the analog sticks or by simply touching the screen. Its addition next to the Android OS really allows SHIELD to feel like a purpose-built device rather than a glorified game controller. There are some areas which need improvement like the addition of non-certified games into the TegraZone SHIELD Games UI but when taken as a whole, SHIELD’s interface feels streamline and well executed.
 

SKYMTL

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Android Games; a Minor Piece of This Puzzle

Android Games; a Minor Piece of This Puzzle


When you think about SHIELD, the first thing that pops into mind will likely be its Android gaming abilities. The name of the game here is affordability. While most Android titles lack the in-depth gameplay and graphics elements of today’s top PC and console games, they make up for their limitations with bargain basement prices. There’s even a broad selection of free games available, though few of them offer native controller support.

In order to get you started, SHIELD comes preloaded with two full games: Sonic 4 Episode II THD and Expendable: Rearmed. Neither is particularly great but Sonic 4 does tend to be an excellent time waster when sitting in an airport.


There are two ways to access Android games on SHIELD. The first -as we saw on the previous page- is through TegraZone where NVIDIA-certified applications are displayed front and center. Google Play’s broad library is also wide open to SHIELD users and this is where all app purchases are made even if TegraZone was used to find a game.


You’ll have to delve into each game’s description to confirm whether a title has controller support or not but NVIDIA is actively working with the Android development community to ensure SHIELD-certified apps are clearly indicated. An easier way around this is to use NVIDIA’s TegraZone which automatically filters out many of the unsupported apps. At this point, there are over 100 Android games which are compatible with SHIELD.


While the full Google Play gaming library is technically supported by SHIELD, playing any game that lacks native controller support (and there are a lot of them) quickly devolves into a lesson in frustration. NVIDIA’s device just isn’t made for quick and accurate touchscreen input since its screen is fixed in place, hanging off the controller’s upper edge.

Don’t expect to accurately use the tilt function either since most games that use the gyroscope also require some form of touch controls too. This leads to a large chunk of Android games being virtually off-limits to the SHIELD.

In the titles which do have controller support, SHIELD will bring your gaming experience to the next level. Handy controller layouts allow for some degree of customization and inputs through the excellent analog sticks and button interface allow for lightning quick reaction times.


Unfortunately, some titles that do incorporate a controller interface just don’t feel right. For example, Auralux is one of my all-time favorite Android games but moving units around without the touch interface feels slow and clunky. Panning left and right with the analog sticks takes far too much time when your units need to defend a planet under attack. This isn’t the only instance of lackluster support either since I found Alpha Wave and Wind-Up Knight (both SHIELD-certified games) both offered a better experience on a tablet.

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Demo of TegraZone & Android Gaming

SHIELD is simply great for shooters and racing games where its physical interface quickly pays for itself but in most strategy and puzzle titles, reaction times tend to suffer.

While games with controller support worked and worked extremely well, there aren’t enough of them just yet. Of the Play store’s top 50 games, only six of them can be played SHIELD and that’s just not enough. As it and other gamepad-totting devices become increasingly popular, the list of supporting titles will gradually expand but until that point, SHIELD’s library will remain limited.

One of the major issues facing NVIDIA’s foray into the Android gaming market is the lack of quality applications. For every single worthwhile game, there are fifty which aren’t even worth the time they take to download. Luckily NVIDIA isn’t trying to unload a one-trick pony here because if that was the case, it would be impossible to recommend SHIELD based solely on this portion of its abilities.
 

SKYMTL

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Making Portable PC Streaming a Reality

Making Portable PC Streaming a Reality


Regardless of what some naysayers would have you think, the mobile platforms from Google and Apple will continue to draw in mostly casual gamers seeking quick satisfaction. The true “gaming” crowd will remain on the PCs and consoles for the foreseeable future, while everyone else plays Candy Crush and its ilk. This is where SHIELD truly differentiates itself from other gaming platforms: it can be used to play games from your PC over a wireless connection.

The idea behind PC Streaming is a novel one since it allows several of NVIDIA’s newer technologies to work in parallel but to get it functioning, there is a set of very particular requirements. To provide a wireless signal which has enough bandwidth to ensure a relatively lag-free experience, you’ll need a dual-band (2.4 / 5GHz) 820.11 Wireless-N router. Don’t assume your ISP-provided modem / wireless combo is capable of delivering the bandwidth SHIELD requires because it probably can’t.

A Kepler-based graphics card (GTX 650 or higher) is also needed since newer NVIDIA MOBILEs incorporate a native H.264 encoder which streamlines video signal distribution between the PC and SHIELD. However, since SHEILD only requires a 720P video stream, a lower-end card should be plenty for playable framerates.

Since all of the rendering and heavy lifting is done by the PC, the Tegra is left with only some minor decoding work. As a result, battery life is absolutely phenomenal with my unit achieving about 18 hours of continual PC Streaming with the screen at full brightness.


PC Streaming all starts with NVIDIA’s GeForce Experience, a unifying force that offers cross-platform optimizations between SHIELD and GeForce-equipped PCs. In this case, GFE detects games which are present on the host computer and will optimize their settings to ensure PC Streaming’s bandwidth limitations are maintained. Currently, only 40 or so games are officially supported with dozens of others ready to be added in the coming weeks.


The best part about NVIDIA’s software wrapper is how seamlessly it incorporates itself into a system and the ease of use it brings to the table. Once a Streaming compatible setup is detected, you just need to let GFE do its thing and there will never be any gameplay intrusions, nor will additional setup be required. As you-know-who once said: it just works.


Another integral part of the streaming ecosystem is Steam and its Big Picture Mode. SHIELD’s TegraZone interacts directly with Steam in an effort to compile a list of compatible games and launch them through a standardized user interface. This information is conveyed on the initial PC Streaming screen which includes games directly certified by NVIDIA for use on SHIELD.


Since pretty much any game that supports a controller should work with SHIELD, NVIDIA allows you to browse your entire Steam library through the Big Picture Mode. Every title you have installed shows up alongside a pictogram that depicts how well each supports controller input. This is quite handy when deciding whether or not a game should be played on SHIELD.

Steam will also accept games from other services (Origin and UPlay for example) provided they are added to the client’s launch bar as non-Steam games first. This not only expands the library of potential titles but also proves that NVIDIA is dedicated to keeping SHIELD an open platform that can access a massive number of games. Just take note that while every DX9, DX10 and DX11 game is technically playable on this device, if it isn’t on NVIDIA’s quickly expanding list of optimized applications (found on nvidia.shield.com), you may experience poor performance.

Since Steam can also load secondary applications you can actually use SHIELD to remotely launch programs like PhotoShop, 3DMark and Media Player or even monitor [email protected] The possibilities are endless but without an actual mouse, functionality will be a bit limited.

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Steam gaming on SHIELD

So how does this unholy union between SHIELD, GeForce Experience, TegraZone and Steam work? Surprisingly well considering many of the primary technologies are still in their infancy. The hand-offs between the various pieces of software typically happen without any hiccups and interaction through TegraZone is both seamless and intuitive. I actually got PC Streaming working on the first try which is a miracle considering my recent run of bad hardware mojo and the number of things that could potentially go wrong.

Launching applications didn’t take any longer than usual, though you will want to ensure that the router’s 5GHz channel is reserved for SHIELD streaming services. If other devices are hogging bandwidth, you’ll experience higher amounts of input lag and potential signal degradation. This is likely why NVIDIA recommends a dual band unit so any secondary wireless functions can take place in the 2.4GHz spectrum.


The real question many will have about SHIELD’s streaming abilities is whether or not the actual gaming experience is flawless. Of course it isn’t. NVIDIA is trying to forge a new path here and some significant hurdles presented themselves throughout testing. At times the left and right audio channels were switched, excess WiFi traffic played havoc with the initial PC / SHIELD connection, in-game menu interaction needs some work and framerates tend to stutter in games that aren’t yet fully optimized through GFE. Were these show-stoppers? Absolutely not.

Input lag, everyone’s favorite whipping boy in wireless environments was, for the most part, kept to a bare minimum. You won’t be playing any competitive online multiplayer shooters since the infinitesimal amount of lag introduced by the streaming process will impact reaction times but that’s to be expected. SHIELD’s poise in this area was impressive and for casual single player gaming, I couldn’t have asked for more.

Signal range was pretty good as well. I was able to get about 25 feet away from the router with the signal passing through several walls and one floor before signal degradation and increased lag stopped gameplay in its tracks. Since we don’t all live in small shacks, nor do I want to use SHIELD right next to my PC, this allowed for just enough freedom without buying expensive signal boosters.

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Launching Origin & Crysis 3 on SHIELD

While SHIELD does act as a surprisingly decent PC streaming device, there are some limitations here. NVIDIA does provide a handy virtual mouse that’s controlled via the touchscreen but navigating in-game menus sometimes feels slow and clunky. You’ll also need to log into DRM (Game for Windows Live for example) and secondary services (like Rockstar’s Social Club) from the PC before starting a game. If Steam is being used to launch games from Origin, UPlay or Impulse, every secondary services will need to be loaded when Windows starts.

One of the largest hurdles facing SHIELD’s PC Streaming feature is game compatibility. As with its Android gaming side, FPS and racing games are well suited to the controller scheme but strategy games like Company of Heroes are simply unplayable without a mouse and keyboard. This means a good portion of my favorite games (Total War series, Company of Heroes, Dawn of War and Wargame) were out of bounds.

PC Streaming may only be available in its beta form but NVIDIA has developed it to a point where it feels nearly ready for final release. It performed admirably, even with non-Steam titles and the ability of many games -both new and old- to remap their controls to a gamepad opens up a world of possibilities. Through PC Streaming, SHIELD allowed me to rediscover several older games (Neverwinter Nights anyone?) that I would have otherwise overlooked and got me kicked out of bed when I played late into the night.
 

SKYMTL

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Bringing it all Together on an HDTV

Bringing it all Together on an HDTV



With its HDMI output, SHIELD’s capabilities extend all the way into your living room since it can connect itself to an HDTV or receiver. Getting it to sync up with your home entertainment system is amazingly easy and it offers up a complex, enriching audio / visual environment. When used over HDMI, SHIELD can faithfully recreate local content by outputting multi-channel audio and will upscale 1080P video content so it isn’t limited by the integrated screen’s native 720P resolution.

To accomplish this, a mini HDMI to HDMI adapter is needed or the Miracast wireless HD route can be taken if your TV supports it. Miracast dongles are available but I doubt many would be willing to pay their $60 to $100 price with Google’s Chromecast gradually rolling out new features of its own.


As a media hub being used for streaming online or local high definition content, SHIELD provides a well-equipped platform with all of capabilities one would expect from a dedicated AV hub. However, since many of today’s smart TV’s incorporate web browsers and apps for everything from Netflix to YouTube, the usefulness of this option may be limited in some instances.

Movies through Google’s Movies & TV app and high definition YouTube content were faithfully recreated without any of the audio sync issues normally encountered when outputting HD content from an Android device.


One of the more enticing features of SHIELD’s output options is its ability to play Android games on a larger screen. These certainly don’t look all that great due to their graphical limitations but this is a good alternative to using the SHIELD’s small primary screen.

There was one minor annoyance though: due to bandwidth constraints, PC Streaming is only available in 720P resolution for the time being, though an HDTV or receiver with upscaling enabled will take care of that limitation in no time. High definition audio isn't supported either so your PC games are going to be stuck in stereo, even when pushed to a receiver.

I tended to use SHIELD’s video output for playing PC games on my HDTV, effectively bypassing the HTPC I set up a few months ago. Before SHIELD, if found that regular PC gaming became a destination event all too often, with me cooped up in a computer room waiting for the system to boot. Consoles on the other hand allowed me to press a button, plunk my butt in front of a TV and get to gaming in short order. SHIELD’s Streaming feature adds the impulsivity and accessibility of consoles to the PC platform and that’s something we’ve been waiting a long time for.
 
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SKYMTL

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Conclusion

Conclusion


Going into this review, I’ll admit that my expectations for SHIELD were rather low. It looked bulky, a price of $299 seemed too high and, in their numerous presentations, NVIDIA hadn’t made a good case for its existence. Even Sam and Dmitry’s hands on time with it at Computex resulted in more questions than answers about positioning, app support and long-term viability. However, after actually using SHIELD, I’ve come to fully appreciate what NVIDIA is trying to accomplish here.

To understand SHIELD’s potential, you’ll need to think outside of the typical “this is an Android gaming device” box. Sure, Android does pay a major role in providing a stable foundation upon which SHIELD is built but this is only a small part of its appeal. SHIELD brings TegraZone, PC Streaming, HDTV interaction, GeForce Experience and many technologies a single all-inclusive ecosystem alongside some fairly robust Android gaming chops.

Let’s not kid ourselves; if SHIELD was judged solely on its ability to interact with Android apps, few would be able to justify paying $299. Portrait mode application support is hit and miss, it lacks a front-facing camera, it certainly isn’t easily portable and the new Nexus 7 is not only less expensive but also infinitely more adaptable to an on-the-go, connected lifestyle.

I can talk all day about SHIELD’s failings as an Android tablet but it isn’t meant to be a portable note-taking, Facebook-interacting platform. This is a pure gaming device and in that respect it succeeded beyond my expectations, even from an Android perspective. The Google Play store may be predominantly populated by touch-centric titles, but SHIELD’s presence and NVIDIA’s significant financial clout should push more developers to pursue gamepad support. Meanwhile, the games that do fully utilize it are taken to a new, more immersive level that can’t be achieved through sometimes-inaccurate touch inputs.

While weight will be a concern for some, NVIDIA mitigated this by deftly balancing size and contoured surfaces to create an ergonomically perfect shape that’s adaptable to a wide variety of hand sizes. SHIELD tends to look like an ugly duckling next to the iPads and Galaxy Notes of this world but it is infinitely more comfortable to hold for long periods of time. Even battery life was excellent, ranging from 6 hours playing Android games to about 18 hours when streaming from a PC.


PC Streaming is what differentiates SHIELD from every other device and goes a long way towards justifying a $299 price. Not only is the host / receiver setup blissfully simple but the whole experience is almost effortless, allowing you to start playing PC games on SHIELD in a matter of minutes. Input lag was kept to a bare minimum in most instances which shocked the hell out of me but just don’t expect a completely hair-trigger experience.

If you don’t have them, the requirements of a Kepler-based GPU and a dual band wireless router could add some significant cost to this equation but the investment may be worthwhile for PC gamers who are looking for something different. Outputting the signal to an HDTV is as simple as plugging in an HDMI cable (provided you have a mini HDMI adapter that is) and compatibility was never an issue.

Using Steam’s Big Picture as a backbone for PC Streaming was an inspired choice by NVIDIA. They didn’t need to reinvent the wheel and it allows quick access to a massive library of games while incorporating support for non-Steam titles as well. Granted, you’ll need to ensure Windows auto-loads secondary services like Origin, RockStar Social Club and GFWL for a truly seamless experience but that’s a small price to pay for wireless PC gaming.

Are there limitations and areas that need improving? Sure, PC Streaming is still in its beta phase so some kinks still need to be ironed out. I wasn’t a fan of the ham-fisted onscreen mouse, the number of fully optimized games is limited right now and in my infinite laziness I found myself wishing for the ability to remotely turn off the PC. With that being said, NVIDIA is working on alternate means to interact with onscreen menus and I’m told their list of supported titles will expand at a rapid pace.

When taken separately, all of SHIELD’s features make for a confusing melting pot of disparate elements but NVIDIA has whipped everything into line by using an intuitive, straightforward interface. TegraZone’s hub-like approach is wildly successful by virtue of its simplicity, allowing Android games, PC Streaming and the Play store to live in perfect harmony under one roof.

If you take SHIELD to be a purely one dimensional Android-focused platform, its true value will quickly become lost in a sea of unsupported games, a restrictive form factor and a non-removable, smallish screen. However, when taken as a sum of its parts, SHIELD is something which is a cut above in its abilities, is well designed and most important of all, it feels highly polished.

This is a key proof-of-concept product meant to live within a larger, rapidly evolving ecosystem which includes Android games, PC streaming, high definition media playback and eventually NVIDIA’s GeForce GRID. SHIELD is a unique device that certainly won’t be for everyone but it gives a tantalizing glimpse into the future of portable and in-home entertainment. And that future looks very, very promising.


 
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