Are you interested in NVIDIA's Project SHIELD?

Evan Selleck
Contributing Editor from  Arizona
| January 7, 2013

Late last night, NVIDIA made sure to start CES off with a bang. With tech enthusiasts showing up in droves to the company’s press conference late last night, NVIDIA managed to show off quite a bit that should tantalize plenty of people out there. Of course, if you’re into gaming on portable devices, then NVIDIA’s announcements will certainly strike a chord with you. They’re putting a lot of effort into the mobile gaming effort, and from what I’ve seen so far, it’s looking quite interesting.

First, let’s start with the announcement. Initially, NVIDIA followed the trend of evolution and showed off the newest Tegra processor, known forever as the Tegra 4. But, immediately after that, they started talking about what’s next for gaming, especially on the go. That started with the company’s GRID system, which is a card that’s meant to make playing games over a wireless network easier, smoother, and genuinely more refined.

The GRID Gaming System will make it possible for you to start playing a game on your PC, pause it, and then pick it up in real-time right where you left off on a portable device. NVIDIA has a portable device in mind for you, too, so that’s super thoughtful of them. It’s called SHIELD, and it’s a controller and a 5-inch touchscreen fused together for good measure.

As you can see from the image at the top of the article, NVIDIA’s Shield looks familiar to anyone who’s glanced at an Xbox 360 controller. (The joystick layout is similar to Sony’s PlayStation 3 DualShock 3 controller, but the overall layout of the new SHIELD is more reminiscent of Microsoft’s controller.) As far as features go, SHIELD packs plenty. You’ll have an HDMI port, standard audio jack, microSD card slot, and one USB port. The screen measures in at 5-inches, and its resolution is set at 1,280 x 720. NVIDIA calls it a “Retinal display,” and it is indeed a touchscreen.

Oh, and it’s running NVIIDA’s Tegra 4 processor.

NVIDIA has been making a big focus on gaming for a little while now, so it’s no surprise they are continuing that trend now. However, with Project SHIELD, I’m a bit shocked that they are making a controller with a touchscreen display. Because that’s all we’re really looking at here. With the parameters set by NVIDIA, you’ll need to be on a Wi-Fi network to make the SHIELD function beyond just playing Android-based games. In addition, they only make mention of being on your home’s Wi-Fi network. What about a public network? They are so saturated with other folks, that I honestly can’t see me being able to stream Assassin’s Creed III to the SHIELD without any lag.

Here’s the other thing. Steam’s Big Picture Mode is already available. Steam fans have been using it since the beginning of December, last year. Controllers already work for it. The keyboard and mouse works for it. I’m having trouble figuring out why someone would want to buy a controller with a 5-inch touchscreen on it, just to use Big Picture Mode (i-r-o-n-y) on that smaller display, instead of my TV. The only case I can find for that particular situation is if your house has one TV, and someone needs to use it while you’re playing a game. You can pause the game, then pick it up in real-time right where you left off on the smaller SHIELD’s display. Much like Nintendo’s Wii U and their GamePad.

Then again, you’ve got a computer monitor which is still bigger. And if you’re playing these high definition games, like Assassin’s Creed III, you want to play it on a bigger display. At least I do. I like playing games on my mobile devices, sure, especially the ones that look amazing. But I’ll always prefer to play games like Need for Speed: Most Wanted or Hawken on a sizeable TV. Or a large computer monitor, for that matter.

The SHIELD isn’t going to launch with LTE-connectivity out of the gate, and some people are marking the controller/touchscreen hybrid down for that. I don’t think that’s a bad thing in this case (and only in this case), because we don’t have unlimited data anymore. And this is straight streaming huge games, so you’d need a huge bucket of data to protect yourself from overages. LTE would certainly be better than oversaturated public Wi-Fi networks though, that’s for sure. Maybe if NVIDIA can work with the major wireless networks to provide a specific plan for unlimited LTE data, that could make the controller stand out for truly mobile experiences.

As it stands right now, NVIDIA’s Project Shield, coupled with their new GRID Gaming System, is just a new way to play video games in your living room. But don’t get me wrong, that’s not a bad thing. If NVIDIA can ship their Project SHIELD in the second quarter of this year (which it is planned to), and do so with a price tag that is not completely ridiculous (no word on pricing yet, but hopefully soon), then there’s a chance that Steam gamers will pick it up. But I think pricing is going to play a big part.

I will say that the only reason SHIELD sounds interesting to me at this point isn’t so much the hardware (meaning the controller or the touchscreen, or even the fact it’s running a stock version of Android Jelly Bean), but the execution of being able to play on one screen, pause it, and then pick it up right where you left off on another. NVIDIA’s GeForce Experience software is pretty amazing, and it’s only getting better.

I think we’re going to have to wait until we see a final pricing on Project SHIELD before we make our final judgment on the device, but so far it’s looking promising. If you love Steam, and you are rabid to get your hands on your Steam library in as many different ways as possible, I can imagine you’re chomping at the bit to see Project SHIELD in your hands sooner, rather than later. So tell me, Dear Reader. What do you make of NVIDIA’s newest effort in mobile gaming? Is it going to sweep the world off its feet? Or just be another device? Let me know!