CHIP DESIGNER Nvidia caused something of a stir at CES when it announced the Project Shield handheld games console, and with its launch nearing, the firm is letting people try its first own-brand game console, which we managed to get our hands on at this week's GDC gaming conference in San Francisco.
Nvidia's decision to build a handheld console has resulted in a unique flip-display unit that offers what many gamers will consider a real controller mated to a 5in HD 720p resolution touchscreen display. The firm powers its Project Shield with its recently announced Tegra 4 system on chip (SoC) and it runs Google's Android 4.2 mobile operating system.
Nvidia plays up the build quality of Project Shield but frankly the unit it had on show at the Games Developer Conference was nothing special. That isn't to say the firm hasn't done a solid job with it, but ultimately it is still a largely plastic affair.
While Nvidia's choice of materials for Project Shield could be improved, the device is weighted perfectly, and even with the screen flipped open it doesn't feel as is if the device will tip over the palm of your hand. The final device will also incorporate 'force feedback', though the unit we played around with lacked that key feature.
Nvidia's focus on the game controller's design has paid off and those that have spent any time at all in the last two decades playing games consoles will be almost immediately at home. One could argue that a traditional D-pad and button game controller is hardly pushing the boundaries of interaction given the vast array of sensors, but that would be to underestimate the enjoyment and nostalgia that familiarity brings.
Nvidia has stuck with a vanilla Android installation on Project Shield, however it will include its Tegrazone application, which effectively acts as a game launcher. Users will be able to use both the gamepad and the touchscreen to navigate through the Tegrazone menus and buy new games, but gaming will almost exclusively happen through the controller.
Nvidia's Project Shield had no problem running through the couple of Android games that were pre-installed on the system, however the device's party piece is to play streamed games from a full-blown PC that features a graphics card with a Kepler GPU. We tried playing Need for Speed streaming from a PC onto Project Shield and the gameplay was smooth, the graphics were as you would expect to find on a PC and most impressive of all given the 5in screen, it was immersive.
For Nvidia, Project Shield is not really about making a games console but showing off its wireless streaming technology, after all there are many Android game devices that can play games and offer broader functionality than Project Shield. However the firm has shown that it can stream high definition games through a wireless network to a device and deliver smooth frame rates and a high quality experience.
Although this reviewer wouldn't go so far as to shout "take my money", Nvidia's Project Shield does showcase what can be done on Android with a well designed controller and the ability to stream games that are rendered on high-end PC hardware. For those who already have a Kepler graphics card, Project Shield could be the ultimate accessory for gaming on the sofa. µ