NVIDIA Untethers Gaming with Project SHIELD

Featured Stories, Hardware

In a surprise announcement at CES, NVIDIA today announced Project SHIELD, a gaming portable for open platforms. With the form factor of a full-sized game controller, a flip-out 5” 720p retinal display, and powered by the new Tegra 4 processor, SHIELD is a new device category that works with both Android and PC.

SHIELD has two faces; on one hand, it’s a full-fledged Android gaming portable, on the other it’s a wireless client to a GeForce GTX PC. In both cases it uses existing, open ecosystems with a vast selection of titles.

“Project SHIELD was created by NVIDIA engineers who love to game and imagined a new way to play,” said Jen-Hsun Huang, co-founder and CEO of NVIDIA. “We were inspired by a vision that the rise of mobile and cloud technologies will free us from our boxes, letting us game anywhere, on any screen. We imagined a device that would do for games what the iPod and Kindle have done for music and books, letting us play in a cool new way. We hope other gamers love SHIELD as much as we do.”

One of largest gaming platforms today is Android. While touchscreen controls works great for some titles, many games, especially first person titles, can be frustrating and imprecise to control. Many accessory makers have created dongles to link game controllers to Android phones and tablets. Clearly people love playing games on Android but touchscreen alone isn’t meeting gamers’ needs.

With the goal of building an ideal Android gaming device, SHIELD integrates a full-sized game controller with a high-resolution touchscreen. By leveraging the Android platform, SHIELD works with a vast catalogue of games from day one and offers both touch and physical controls.

An Android device with full controls, however, is only half the story. With the Kepler architecture, NVIDIA engineers had perfected an ultra-fast H.264 hardware encoder designed for real time streaming. HD gameplay can be captured, encoded, and streamed with very low latency. This new streaming capability is the foundation for the second face of SHIELD: a wireless handheld counterpart to a GeForce GTX PC.

Most PC gamers own a fairly sizable game library. But unlike music and video which can be streamed freely around the house, playing PC games requires sitting in front of a PC. Even if the picture could be streamed, where would it stream to and how would one interact with it? SHIELD elegantly solves both problems. With a 5” 1280x720 screen and a full sized controller, it is capable of not only displaying a PC game in its full glory, it lets you play it too. And because the rendering is done on the PC and the picture is streamed as video, you get GeForce GTX class graphics and long battery life. It’s kind of like having a GeForce GTX PC in the palm of your hand combined with the battery life of a Tegra device.

Tegra 4 Processor

Naturally, NVIDIA put its latest and greatest processor into its first gaming portable. At the heart of SHIELD is the new Tegra 4, the world’s fastest mobile processor. It is powered by a quad core ARM Cortex-A15 CPU and 72 custom GPU cores – 6x the GPU horsepower of its predecessor. Through its second-generation battery saver core and PRISM 2 Display technology, Tegra 4 provides hours of gameplay on a single charge.

Console-Grade Controller

PC gamers play to win and nothing is more frustrating than inadequate controls. SHIELD provides a full console-grade controller with 2 joysticks, a D-pad, ABXY buttons, left/right bumpers, left/right analog triggers, Start/Back/Home/Volume buttons, and a multi-function NVIDIA/Power button.

5” Retinal Display

SHIELD flips open to an integrated 5” 1280x720 HD multi-touch display. With 294 dpi and 921,600 pixels, SHIELD has the highest resolution and pixel density of any handheld gaming device. In addition, Tegra 4’s Direct Touch technology gives SHIELD touch response three times faster than other touch devices.

Ported Speaker System

Speakers on gaming handhelds have been mediocre at best. Not so with SHIELD. SHIELD’s speakers are custom designed to take advantage of the controller’s deep body. In addition to left and right speakers, two tuned ports provide exceptional bass response. The resulting sound is full and rich, a step above even many high-end laptops.

Availability and Final Words

SHIELD is expected to ship in Q2 of 2013. It will first launch in the US and Canada, with a worldwide rollout to follow. Pricing and final specs will be unveiled closer to availability. You can sign up here to be notified for the release.

SHIELD is perhaps NVIDIA’s most ambitious gaming project to date. On the one hand, it’s the most powerful and full-fledged Android gaming portable, on the other, it’s a pocket version of a GeForce GTX PC. What excites you most about SHIELD? Share your thoughts with us below.