Mar 31, 2014
The Nvidia Shield and what the company is doing with it is really quite intriguing as the Tegra 4 and Android gaming flagship device nears its first year of public availability. Nvidia’s continuing to promote the handheld with price cuts and now quasi-exclusive content to try and sell it. But based on the context of the device, the news, and what I’ve seen and heard straight from Nvidia, the Shield seems to be more Nvidia hammering down the nail for their efforts with internal hardware and services, by providing consumer products that showcase it.
This runs much in contrast to Intel’s efforts with Android, which they were happy to talk about at GDC 2014, but were lax to discuss in a consumer context, it seemed. Sure, there are Intel-powered phones and even the iConsole.tv that they promoted at their booth. But there’s just no flagship Intel Android device, one that screams “This is an Intel Android device!”
Nvidia has been in that lofty position before. The Tegra 3 was ubiquitous for a while in 2012, and while it felt like the Tegra 4 has been less-used, or at least more under the radar, there are still devices that use it. The most prominent, of course, is the Shield. And it may not just be a one-off device if all the continued promotion is a sign.
Nvidia decided, probably quite smartly, to save two of their big announcements for the Nvidia Shield for after GDC, what with all the announcements regarding game engines, VR headsets, and the like. First, the Shield has gotten a price cut to $199 from its current $249 price point, putting it well within the price range of other Android tablets but also the Vita and 3DS as the hardware relatively ages.
But what’s really fascinating is that Nvidia seems to be really pushing for console-quality content on the Shield â€“ or at least Android as large. This isn’t just with the announcement of Portal for the Shield, which is a rather cool game to have on mobile, being one of the best games of this millennium, and one that as many people as possible should play, even if many already have.
But Nvidia is also dipping their toes in game streaming, and their GDC booth flaunted it. They had what looked like Ultra Street Fighter 4 being played on a big screen TV and a couch, with a Shield hooked up. Various Shield units were streaming games, including one example where one of the Batman Arkham games was being streamed from a local machine with imperceptible latency, and another Shield streamed the same game from over a machine in Houston via Moscone Center’s wi-fi. There was perceptible latency, but not so much that the game was unplayable, a minor technological miracle given the situation.
Nvidia of course has announced their Grid technology for streaming games over the cloud as well, but representatives indicated to me that they want this to be more of a backend service than one that they provide themselves, even though they are doing so for the beta.
And really, it seems that their approach is just that: they want to be the man behind the curtain, but they’ll bring down the hammer on their efforts in public when necessary – and exclusivity is only a limited option. After all, The Shield is functionally not much different than an Android phone in a clip on a MOGA controller. Portal was announced for Tegra devices, not just the Shield. Even WayForward’s recent Shield-exclusive release was more “it’s optimized for Shield and Tegra 4, anything else is gravy.” The Shield controller uses the HID protocol that they helped develop.
Really, there’s no reason why Nvidia has to make hardware at all other than to be reference hardware, like with the Tegra Note. But it helps to have these devices that are out there that have actual, real-world consumer applications.
It’s a fascinating approach because Nvidia seems to want to have their cake and eat it too, while being perfectly fine to just have the cake, they’ll only eat it if they feel the need to. It’s a metaphor that doesn’t quit pan out. But their goal seems to be to elevate Android gaming by any means necessary: by providing the hardware from the internals, to the externals, to the peripherals, from software solutions to software itself. And perhaps that’s what’s necessary: it’s easy to be like Intel and talk a big game, but Nvidia is ready to talk and play the game when it comes to powerful gaming on Android.