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Opinion: Nvidia Shield is a confused mishmash of current trends Exclusive
Opinion: Nvidia Shield is a confused mishmash of current trends
January 7, 2013 | By Mike Rose




Rather than take on one single avenue, Nvidia has decided to go all in and attempt to satisfy both the Android and PC console game trends in one go. It's not going to work, argues Gamasutra UK editor Mike Rose.

Graphics processing company Nvidia surprised the video game industry today, entering both the Android and PC home console markets in one fell swoop with the Nvidia Shield handheld console.

You don't need to be a veteran video games industry analyst to know that two of the biggest trends of this year will be Android home consoles, and dedicated PCs for the living room. But rather than eye up one single avenue, Nvidia has decided to go all in and attempt to satisfy both trends in one go.

The Shield controller is a Tegra-4 powered Android device with a 5-inch 720p flip up, flip down touchscreen that can play any game available on the Google Play store (though of course not everything will be compatible with the game pad). Not only that, but it also has PC game streaming capabilities, such that it can pull games from your PC's Steam library and fire them either onto its own screen, or onto your TV.

One of the issues with attempting to tick multiple boxes, rather than focusing on a single market, is that you can end up with a device that does each thing sort of well, but not great. Look at Microsoft's Surface, for example -- it's a good tablet, and it's a good laptop, but it's not particularly a great anything.

There'll be a similar story for the Shield, I fear, as it'll come away as a decent Android game device, a nice way to stream PC games to your TV, but not really a winning combination overall. Its attempt at bringing together both sides of the coin has also left it looking rather ugly to boot.

It is an Android?

Let's look at its Android capabilities first. Nvidia says that the Shield will be the most powerful Android device available to date, thanks to its Tegra-4 chipset.

That's great and all, but the power of the device means nothing if people don't want to own it in the first place -- and you really have to question what sort of person will want to grab a Shield for its Android games.

Think about it this way: you probably already own a mobile device capable of playing touch-screen games, whether it's an iPhone, an Android or otherwise. Picking up the Shield would mean lugging around two different devices that both essentially do the same thing, with the caveat being that one of them has physical buttons.

nvidia shield 1.jpgI owned an Xperia Play previously -- the Sony Ericsson smartphone that doubles up as a handheld game device, with a full controller hidden under the screen and shoulder buttons to match. To begin with it was great, allowing me to play games like Dead Space and Minecraft on the move with better precision than a touch-screen could afford such titles.

But fairly rapidly, I stopped using it and went back to my touchscreen-only Android device. That's because once you've played the handful on Xperia Play-dedicated titles, the vast majority of the Android game market is best played on a touchscreen, and the Xperia Play wasn't so great for touchscreen games.

There's no doubt in my mind that my thoughts were universally shared by other smartphone users, as the Xperia Play died out pretty quickly, and can now be regularly found for silly prices (it's still worth picking one up if you enjoy playing emulated games).

The Nvidia Shield shares a similar concept with the Xperia Play, while ripping out the smartphone capabilities in order to call itself a dedicated game console. Hence, as I did with Sony Ericsson's offering, I find myself wondering why I would choose to play a touchscreen-based game on a Shield when my Android phone can do it better.

If I knew I was going to be travelling for several hours, and the plan was to fill that time playing Android games -- the majority of which have been built with the touchscreen in mind -- I'd be crazy to grab both my phone and my Shield, when just my phone would do.

Of course, there's the argument that it could simply be used as a home console, like the Ouya and the GameStick. But there's an issue here too: the Shield is clearly going to be a bit pricey, given that it has a top-of-the-range processor built in, and a retina-like screen attached to it (not to mention that it can stream PC games too).

So if I really wanted a home console that can play Android games, wouldn't I rather pick up the much more affordable competitor models? The Ouya and GameStick are also vetting the games which work on their devices in a bid to provide the best experiences possible, whereas Nvidia has simply said "all the games!" without giving it much thought.

In my mind, as it currently stands there really is no reason to purchase a Shield with Android gaming as its primary use.

It is a PC?

So then, if the Android bit isn't really that exciting, perhaps the PC game streaming will win the day.

Nvidia says that the Shield will be able to stream games directly from your PC's Steam library to either the screen on the Shield, or to your PC. That sounds pretty great - I'd personally much rather have a dedicated device like that than lug my PC downstairs or buy an entirely separate PC for my living room.

nvidia shield 2.jpgThe company's Grid cloud-based platform sounds pretty promising too. The company says that it can reduce game server latency by up to 30 milliseconds, so you'd expect simply streaming games from your PC to your Shield and then to the TV would be a cinch compared to firing video games around the world.

The issue is that Nvidia is not alone in releasing technology that makes PC games friendlier for the living room. Valve has confirmed that it is working on its own hardware that is suitable for the living room, and the company believes that it'll have plenty of competition for other companies too.

With Valve's own "Steam Box" (as it is being dubbed) also on the horizon, it's obvious that I'm going to wait to see Valve's hand before even considering a Shield for PC game streaming. The latest chatter is that Valve is developing a Linux console, which could potentially give Nvidia the upperhand -- but given Valve's strong track record, that doesn't automatically mean I'd choose Nvidia over Valve.

Not just that, but a dedicated device from Valve is obviously going to be the best supported device when it comes to intregration with my Steam account. I highly doubt that Nvidia can outdo Valve when it comes playing games on Valve's own platform.

What is the Nvidia Shield for, then?

What it all comes down to is this: Nvidia is attempting to combine the best of both worlds, but it doesn't seem likely that they'll better the competition in either trend.

You could argue that it would be tidier to own an Nvidia Shield rather than both an Ouya and a Steam Box. That may well be the Shield's saving grace, and if Nvidia can get the hardware out to the public -- and prove the device is worthwhile -- before Valve has the time to make a move, then it could be a viable option. As of now I'm incredibly skeptical, and most likely the Shield is going to be non-news by the time the next round of consoles has been revealed.


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Comments


GameViewPoint Developer
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Oh dear.

Aaron San Filippo
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So... This will let me Stream my library of Steam games to an HD screen with a built-in controller, anywhere in my house?

Sounds pretty damn cool to me.

Scott Reiling
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Aaron, I agree, it does sound cool. But for me (and I'd imagine many others), I think: "Why would I buy a portable gaming device to stream Steam games onto my HDTV, when I can just play them on my laptop, in HD, in the same fashion?" (Or at least use an HDMI port to connect to my HDTV)

Furthermore, exactly where am I going to stream PC games onto an HD TV, on the move? Most likely not at many hotels. Not in an airport.

I agree with the article author: it sounds like a great concept at first, but upon further inspection, the concept has flaws.

Bob Johnson
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Like the streaming to the controller part from your pc is going to work very smoothly.

I imagine the whole thing to be a pain in the ass and that the games will have lag.

Tyler Shogren
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This is going to be huge for Valve. Also, an untested market/product class, despite many comments. Only one PC in my house is going to run the most intensive games, this multiplies that capability.

Adam Rebika
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I already have something that does it. It's called my laptop.

Brad Borne
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@Tyler: Sounds like the product that Nvidia SHOULD be introducing is a dumb box that connects to TVs and streams PC games over with zero lag.

Actually, I've been thinking that if a device like the Wii U GamePad is made for PCs, I'd probably buy it (and I love the GamePad), but I'm not replacing my 570 just for that.

Also, only 720p, hm? Does this not pipe though 7.1 either?

Guess there's only so much you can do without introducing a ton of lag. Also, it's going to have to be cheaper than building a cheap gaming PC (though those are all going to be made obsolete when the new consoles are released and PC gaming specs skyrocket again).

@Christian: Right, only 600 series Nvidia cards. It's probably using the same sort of quick encode tech built into the GPU, like what Apple uses for AirPlay or Nintendo uses for the Wii U.

Sebastian Cardoso
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You have a point regarding the Android capabilities. But there's no explanation as to why you don't think it will work as a PC streamer. Is it only because Valve is on it as well? I don't think that's a compelling reason to say the device won't work.

Bob Johnson
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DOA.

No one is asking for this.

Pcgaming is k/m. And I don't think most pcgames translate well to a tiny screen.

I don't think there is much demand for an Android console either. The only reason we keep hearing about it is because it is free to manufacturers. And because a core group of gamers thinks they will be playing AAA console games with creativity for free.

Tyler King
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I'm asking for it. Not necessarily this in specific(I don't care about the android console market.), but I have a huge steam library that I would love to be able to stream to my 50" HD TV. Sure I have a laptop that I can plug and can use as well, but it is on its way out and much less powerful than my gaming pc. I would rather(If reasonably priced.) own a good device that lets me stream all that content to the TV. I don't care who makes the device, if Valve can give me a good box then more power to them, but I do want a device with this capability.

Bob Johnson
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It sounds like what you are really looking for is a longer HDMI cord or wireless HDMI.

Tyler King
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PC is on the top floor while the TV is on a middle floor. I don't feel like drilling holes and pushing wires through for that(although thats really all I do need... and its probably the cheapest... however we plan on moving the TV from time to time). Anywho I havent seen a good cheap wireless hdmi solution that would work for less than a couple hundred, also my TV doesn't have a usb port. :P

Bob Johnson
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You aren't (going) to save any money with this device and whether it streams steam games slickly and conveniently to your living room tv isn't something I would hold my breath over.

My guess is this just trying going to stream your games over wifi. I don't think that will cut it.

Evan Combs
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As what seems to happen far to often with game technology companies. They come up with an idea, and design, that sounds cool and may appeal to a specific kind of gaming audience, but has little to no mass appeal at all.

Kyle Jansen
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I think we need to keep in mind that Nvidia is primarily a hardware vendor, not a console vendor.

I think a large part of their Shield strategy is building a market with many games that require, or at least prefer, Tegra 4. If they succeed at that, they win even if Shield itself doesn't sell well, as they'll sell a lot of Tegra chips to the "successful" Android vendors.

I'm sure they'd be quite happy if *they* could be a successful console vendor as well, but I think that's just an added benefit of their plan, not the primary objective.

Ian Fisch
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If you look at it from a dedicated handheld gaming system perspective, it doesn't seem as bad.

The huge built-in library of cheap android games, and the potential wave of hardcore Android games fueled by the ouya, green throttle, and gamestick, could give it an edge over the PSP and 3ds.

Assuming they sell it for a profit (rather than get a small cut off game sales), I don't see the problem.

Bob Johnson
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No market for it is the problem.

Ian Fisch
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@Bob

I think whether there's still a market for dedicated handheld gaming devices (like the 3ds and PSP) remains to be seen.

Bob Johnson
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Yep. Nintendo is having problems justifying the 3ds to the west. This sees like an even longer longshot.

Andrew Hernandez
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Ever since the whole smartphone/tablet craze hit the scene, there has been a clear misconception in regards to this ideology that we're seeing when it comes to the success of some devices. I understand the reason behind this product, i understand the market they're going for, and I even understand the necessity behind it. However, being that this is supposed to be a portable gaming machine, the emphasis in gaming machine has to be made very clear. It's very obvious that they are going for the hardcore gaming crowd with this. Problem is, there really aren't that many hardcore games to consider when you're talking mobile gaming. While there are some games that push that boundary, overall it's nothing more than simplistic swipes and slashes to which the casual marketplace has ultimately been accustomed to.

I for one view this product as unnecessary on both fronts, because it misses the point as to why people play games on their mobile product. What's the reason to have this when you already have it on your phone along with any other functionality? Considering that much of this device will be dependent on games as opposed to just raw horsepower, i don't really see this taking off unless devs utilize the capabilities of Tegra 4.

Groove Stomp
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What you say is pretty much exactly how I feel about devices like the iPad Mini and the Nexus 7. Yet those seem to be doing pretty well.

I was skeptical of this device when I first heard about it, but then I actually thought about it for 2 minutes and realized who the target demographic is: ME. :)

Bram Stolk
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I take it there is no prototype?
The renderings do not look credible.
How can you close the cover with screen over two protruding joysticks?

And I think the author of this article makes good points, and is probably right calling it not viable.

Troy Walker
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I already get neck and eye strain from trying to play games on my phone... this doesn't look much better IMO.

Groove Stomp
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That's a really good point.

Mike Kasprzak
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I still want one, but as a collector of unusual gaming devices.

Benjamin Sipe
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How many more of these are we going to see? This is starting to get ridiculous...

Charlie Helman
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I don't normally hesitate to support new hardware like the shield, but in this case, I know about the MOGA controller.

It's a Bluetooth controller for Android devices that works wonderfully (http://www.powera.com/moga). PowerA already has deals with a smorgasbord of publishers, yet they also invest tons of effort into the indies here in Seattle.

A month ago I met a MOGA rep who was following up with folks needing test controllers and SDKs. The same night, I discovered a MOGA on display next to the consoles in a grocery store's electronics section. Point is, they're for real.

The very nature of the shield makes it obsolete for the market it was designed for.

Why would anyone purchase a shield for mobile gaming when they can purchase a cheaper controller that works just as well with every android device they own or ever decide to buy?

Because it's faster?
Sure, but so is the phone that'll come out next year.

But what about streaming PC games (even if you don't consider upcoming products like the Steam Box)?
I'll hold off and wait until it's a standard capability in next year's phones.

Groove Stomp
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The PC Streaming is exactly the differentiator to consider with this device.
Sure, it's an Android device and can play Android games. That's cool. Honestly, though, it's the WiiU-like capability of remotely playing my HD PC Games that's got me salivating.

Bob Johnson
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@ Groove

Except it is doubtful the pc streaming feature will be ready for prime time. The Wii U controller is tightly integrated with system and software and streams through a lag free wireless protocol.

That makes the experience.

This sounds like a marketing dept trying to capitalize on that concept but without the necessary underlying parts to back it up.


And not only that but I don't have many if any pc games that I play with a controller and none that would translate that well to a 5" screen either.

It is a nice fantasy but there is much more to making this fantasy become a reality than meets the eye.

Johnathon Swift
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I've been wanting someone to get into an ARM console type thing, not on stock Android though, something that would allow dedicated native code to run so there's no abstraction slowing things down.

But this isn't what I was imagining. I was thinking something along the lines of Samsung competing against the Wii U. A quad core A15 and double the power of say, the 4th gen Ipad in terms of GPU. With OpenGl 4.1 support and 2 gigs of ram it could be considered it's own next gen console, but totally portable. Something along the lines of what Carmack et. al. have been imagining, a portable replacement for the everyday console.

But the form factor is a problem I can't overcome in my mind, and neither it seems can Nvidia. Shield looks like an awkward tablet and game controller stuck together. And instead of saying "this is a console" it's a highly mixed message bag of "console controller streaming tablet thing". Communicating what your device does and is to the average consumer is paramount. The type of person that doesn't read Engadget or Slashdot or etc. regularly is the "mass market".

Michael DeFazio
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I guess I'll be in the contrarian camp and go with "it'll be a success". Perhaps it will not be a success in the "sold 5 bazillion units department", but I think NVidia is doing a smart thing in buttering it's bread on a potentially "more mobile future".

They are in the hardware business after all, and (according to some) there is a limited/ niche future on the powerful console/enthusiast PC market alone... Perhaps Tegra 4 gaming can bring the developers in with the more "open environment" of Android.

Still think the form factor could be improved, but I would seriously consider "revision2" of said device. (I mean load that puppy up with some emulators and I'd take it any day over my limited PSP or Ds)

Dave Hoskins
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It is quite neat that the screen folds down over the buttons to make a protective design.
Casual gaming is not black and white. It's just games people play, some get more into stuff that thousands of developers just don't understand. Depends on advertising as always I suppose.

GameViewPoint Developer
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I just don't understand how all these manufacturers are not seeing the wood for the trees. Everyone seems oblivious to the fact that mobile = casual. The Vita and I suspect soon the 3DS are going to be seen as very much devices for a previous generation and that phones and specifically 7" tablets are going to dominate handheld gaming.

Hardcore games work well on a big screen, they might even work on a 7" screen to some extent. It's true that board games work well on the larger tablet screens, but the main market on mobile is casual games, games that are designed for a smaller screen, and have a UI that is designed for a smaller screen. I don't think the Android to TV devices are going to work let alone going in the oposite direction.

I've grown up seeing devices like this come and go. Manufacturers go looking for a solution to a problem which doesn't exist.

Having said that I wish them the best, if only from the point of view of all the money that has been invested in this not going to waste.

Brad Borne
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"Everyone seems oblivious to the fact that mobile = casual."

Whaaat...? No, stop that.

Diego Leao
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I understand the problem this article is raising... Every product needs to combine two factors: feasible market price and worthy functionality.

If the Shield is too expensive, we might want it, but can't have it. If it is affordable, but its streaming (for example) is crappy or cumbersome, then nobody wants it regardless of price.

By adding the expensive android hardware to a probably already brilliant streaming portable, Intel might break the price barrier of entry for people interested in both Android-Console gamming and Steam streaming.

But even despite the odds, if it delivers on both these fronts, I'll buy it like there is no tomorrow! It is EXACTLY what I want. To be honest I want it almost exclusively for Steam streaming, but I'm eager to use it as a portable console, just adding to the experience. It will never become useless, Android or Steam are not going away anytime soon.

PS: I don't care what ultra-geeks say, I will never cable my PC into my TV, its just too cumbersome. And if there is ever a cheap "wireless hdmi", it solves the TV problem, but can't offer a portable PC experince the Shield screen provides. I will just buy the Shield and be done with it.

David OConnor
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I like the Shield, it looks versatile and practical. Great to have physical joystick and buttons for mobile gaming too.

The title says "confused mishmash", I say "versatile".

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Mike Kasprzak
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Reminds me of Nam...

Casimiro Barreto
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Some thoughts:

1st: Android is basically a Linux kernel + application layer that - by the use of JVM - shields hardware guts from applications thus theoretically making the device safer at the cost of performance. Also there is the interface standardization of Java and the machine abstraction of Java that allows developers to don't mind too much about hardware peculiarities.

Shield project uses Android. What does that mean in terms of games? Only that if developer is lazy he can do everything through the Java abstraction. But it does not mean that if one's a game developer he's not entitled to create specific game engine that optimizes the access to hardware resources (particularly GPU OpenGL/DirectX and CUDA).

So, albeit the device being primarily an Android gadget, it can be used as platform for AAA games.

2nd) It is an intelligent gamepad. Slightly bigger than XBox 360. Besides, it is wireless (not bluetooth) allowing computer to be far, far away from your television. This itself is really interesting. How many people would like to play in the big screen but is constrained to use their notebook just because there are no easy way to connect it to a 42inch or larger TV set???

3rd) It has it's own really large and really high definition screen. Again, how many people would like to play at bedroom, kitchen or in other places where the computer hosting the games is not "quite welcome"?

4th) Having good enough broadband (something not common outside few places like Japan and South Korea), it is possible to play games hosted in a cloud. And that's a real breakthrough: games as service. Instead of purchasing a license of something only to discover that well... it is not exactly what I was waiting for, I can purchase, at a much lower price, a license to play the game. Anyway, I agree that economic/commercial models for cloud hosted games must be devised.

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