NVIDIA Intros SHIELD Game Console, Makes GRID Cloud Service Official

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by Rob Williams on March 4, 2015 in Gaming, Miscellaneous

After a month of anticipation, NVIDIA announced its SHIELD at GDC. Yes – “SHIELD”. Unlike the portable and tablet to come before it, the latest SHIELD is a dedicated set-top box that acts as a media player and game console. It’s an inch thick, features Tegra X1, costs $199, and includes a controller. This is the most intriguing SHIELD yet.

There was a lot of speculation leading up to NVIDIA’s ‘Made To Game’ event, with guesses ranging from VR to smartphones. As it turns out, one of the more common guesses, “game console”, has proven to be true. It’s called the NVIDIA SHIELD, and it aims to be a lot more than a typical set-top box running Android.

That’s something that NVIDIA made evident when Jen-Hsun Huang opened up his product unveiling keynote by telling us that he had three announcements to make. Ultimately, all three of those announcements revolve around the NVIDIA SHIELD.

The SHIELD isn’t competing with devices like OUYA or Amazon Fire TV. Instead, it has game consoles in its sights. It might not be able to match a current-gen console graphics-wise, but it can win a war that involves overall capability.

Here it is, the $199 NVIDIA SHIELD:

NVIDIA SHIELD TV & Game Console

In lieu of selling the SHIELD cheaper and foregoing a controller, NVIDIA deemed it important to bundle the two together. That’s a smart move, because this isn’t just some ordinary set-top box as mentioned above. If that’s all someone wants, that’s great – there are a multitude of other solutions out there. At the core of the NVIDIA SHIELD, though, is gaming. It just happens to be able to do a lot more given its strong SoC and Android OS base.

NVIDIA SHIELD
ProcessorNVIDIA Tegra X1 w/ 256-core Maxwell GPU
Memory3GB
VideoSupports 4K playback and capture @ 60 FPS
Supports VP9, H.264, and H.265
AudioSupport for 5.1 and 7.1 at up to 24-bit / 192kHz
Wireless802.11 ac 2×2 MIMO 2.4GHz+5GHz
Bluetooth 4.1/BLE
Size130 x 210 x 25 mm
Et ceteraGigabit Ethernet, HDMI 2.0, 2x USB 3.0, micro-USB 2.0, microSD slot (≤128GB), IR receiver (compatible with Logitech’s Harmony remote)
Pricing$199 (Includes Controller)

Speaking of SoC, the SHIELD utilizes NVIDIA’s Tegra X1 processor, which was announced at CES in early January. With the device set to release in May, I believe this is the shortest amount of time it’s taken for a product to ship using the latest Tegra chip, from the time of its announcement.

NVIDIA SHIELD Laid Flat

The SHIELD can be laid flat when in use, as seen above, but for those who’d rather admire it while it’s in action, a vertical stand can be purchased. Likewise, the remote control seen below is also an optional extra. Pricing on these are not currently known, but looking into my crystal ball, I see a hazy $19.99 for the stand, and $29.99 for the remote.

NVIDIA SHIELD Remote Control

The remote is meant to interact with the general interface if content other than gaming is on the agenda. The microphone button you see is a dedicated way to speak to the SHIELD quickly, while the strip below it, nestled in between the anodized aluminum grip, is the volume control. Other than that, the remote looks like it’s quite straight-forward. Bonus: It’s rechargeable via micro USB.

To call this SHIELD a ‘game console’ is a little too simple, so another name NVIDIA gives it is ‘4K Android TV’. With the Tegra X1, 4K content can be decoded no problem, and H.265 support is on tap.

NVIDIA SHIELD - 4K Android TV

In an interface example given, the presenters loaded up Marvel’s The Avengers and paused at a particular scene. The SHIELD software then highlighted one of the actor’s faces, and showed their profile picture below. The presenter could then move over to the next actor, click on them, and then browse through a great deal of random information, including seeing a list of other films they were in.

NVIDIA SHIELD - Context Information

We’ll no doubt learn a lot more about the media capabilities of the SHIELD in the months ahead, but NVIDIA wants you to know that it’ll be the most immersive set-top experience ever.

Alright – that’s enough Hollywood content for one day. Let’s talk gaming.

Native Gaming

Since the release of its Tegra 4-based SHIELD portable in the summer of 2013, NVIDIA has made evident its desire to bring cutting-edge games to that platform, and likewise, Android. Where the company first blew our socks off was with the announcement that Portal would be coming to its SHIELD, and not long after, we saw Half-Life 2 and its episodes come along as well. With the release of the Tegra K1-based SHIELD Tablet, we saw the gorgeous Trine 2 come to Android.

That’s all fine and good, but that was just the beginning. What NVIDIA showed off at its Made To Game event, quite simply, takes things to the next level.

NVIDIA SHIELD - Console

NVIDIA promises that when the SHIELD launches, it’ll have at least 50 native games available through its store. If you already happen to own any of these through the Google Play Store, you’ll be able to play them here as well. Anyone who owns a SHIELD portable or tablet will be familiar with this list of titles.

SHIELD Game Store

It wouldn’t be a Jen-Hsun presentation without a few surprises, and there was no exception to me made here. After inviting Gearbox’s Randy Pitchford out on the stage, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel was announced to be coming to the SHIELD.

NVIDIA SHIELD - Jen-Hsun with Randy Pitchford
Jen-Hsun with Gearbox’s Randy Pitchford

NVIDIA SHIELD - Borderlands The Pre-Sequel on GRID
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel on SHIELD

What’s going to become a common theme for PC ports like this on SHIELD is that they’ll be capped to 30 FPS. I don’t think that will come as a surprise to anyone, as most games on the larger and more expensive consoles are also capped at 30 FPS. That being the case, the performance is suitable, but as with the previous SHIELD devices, the PC version of the same games can be streamed through GameStream at 60 FPS. Well, as long as you have a GeForce-equipped PC, as GameStream doesn’t support AMD’s hardware (even though it could…).

The Pre-Sequel wasn’t the only visually impressive game shown-off; Croteam was on hand to show us what Talos Principle looks like on NVIDIA’s latest device (hint: it looked great).

NVIDIA SHIELD - Jen-Hsun with Alen Ladavac
Jen-Hsun with Croteam’s Alen Ladavac

NVIDIA SHIELD - Talos Principle on SHIELD
Talos Principle on SHIELD

Even Doom, and its BFG Edition in particular, is coming to SHIELD.

NVIDIA SHIELD - Jen-Hsun with Tim Willits
Jen-Hsun with id Software’s Tim Willits

NVIDIA SHIELD - Doom BFG Edition on SHIELD
Doom BFG Edition on SHIELD

“But can it run Crysis?” Yes it can, smartass. But not just any Crysis: It runs the latest and greatest, Crysis 3. In the demo, two SHIELDs were used to engage the presenters in some PvP action, and like the other three games, the performance was solid.

NVIDIA SHIELD - Jen-Hsun with Cevat Yerli
Jen-Hsun with Crytek’s Cevat Yerli

NVIDIA SHIELD - Crysis 3 on SHIELD
Crysis 3 on SHIELD

What about even newer games? That’s where NVIDIA’s GRID cloud gaming service comes into play.

NVIDIA GRID Becomes Officially Official

NVIDIA’s GRID service isn’t new; it was first unveiled at CES 2014, and has been beta tested since. A few months ago, the company made the service “official”, promising to launch it by June. In the meantime, the company promised free access to the games until then. At that time, NVIDIA’s commitment to the service seemed clear, but I guess it wasn’t clear enough: Now GRID is officially official.

NVIDIA SHIELD - GRID Blink of an Eye

When the SHIELD launches in May, GRID is going to become available as a basic and premium subscription service. It’s not clear what the caveats are going to be of the basic service, or what the cost of either are going to be. I don’t feel safe to even speculate on pricing; all I know is, NVIDIA hopes to make an impact on the cloud gaming market like Netflix did for movies and Spotify did for music.

NVIDIA SHIELD - GRID 2 on GRID
GRID 2 on GRID

Here’s a console-killer feature: All of the PC games available through NVIDIA GRID are going to be streamed at 1080p, 60 FPS. Considering that 30 FPS is a given for most Xbox One and PlayStation 4 games, that’s an awesome feature to have – it’s much more important than a boost from 720p to 1080p.

If you’re not interested in a subscription service but might be in purchasing games out-right, NVIDIA has got that taken care of. As seen in the shot below, brand-new PC games are expected to be available, but don’t expect them to cost less than what they would on any other mainstream marketplace.

NVIDIA SHIELD - GRID New Games

This ability raises a number of questions: A) Where do the games get stored? B) If someone purchases a game here, will it be available on their PC? C) Could this be tied to services like Steam to record game time and achievements?

What we know for sure is that if a game is purchased this way, it can be streamed immediately. Jen-Hsun did use the word “download”, though, so it’s hard to say how this mechanic will work overall. Honestly, if a game is only available through the cloud, that limits the appeal of slapping down $60 for a new game. NVIDIA’s not ignorant to this fact, so I am hoping there are more surprises to be had.

That all said, what games can be expected? Resident Evil: Revelations 2, for starters:

NVIDIA SHIELD - Jen-Hsun with Michiteru Okabe
Jen-Hsun with Capcom’s Michiteru Okabe

NVIDIA SHIELD - Resident Evil Revelations 2 on GRID
Resident Evil: Revelations 2 on GRID

If stealth is your bag, then Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes should be right up your alley:

NVIDIA SHIELD - Jen-Hsun with Kenichiro Imaizumi
Jen-Hsun with Konami’s Kenichiro Imaizumi

NVIDIA SHIELD - Metal Gear Solid V Ground Zeroes on GRID
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes on GRID

Personally, the game that gets me stoked like fuel to a fire is CD Projekt’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Fortunately, that’s yet another title that will be made available through GRID.

NVIDIA SHIELD - Jen-Hsun with Damien Monhier
Jen-Hsun with CD Projekt’s Damien Monhier

NVIDIA SHIELD - The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt on GRID
The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt on GRID

Words can’t express how much I’m looking forward to this game. Well, I guess saying “I’m really excited for it.” might be enough.

Other Thoughts

Before wrapping-up his presentation, Jen-Hsun showed-off an Unreal Engine 4 demo called The Infiltrator that showcases just what’s possible with Tegra X1. There’s no video of this footage available from what I can tell, so you’ll have to put up with some simple screenshots for the time-being:

NVIDIA SHIELD - Unreal Engine 4 The Infiltrator Demo 01

NVIDIA SHIELD - Unreal Engine 4 The Infiltrator Demo 02

NVIDIA SHIELD - Unreal Engine 4 The Infiltrator Demo 03

Does NVIDIA have a winner on its hands with SHIELD? As usual, that depends on a variety of different factors. The fact that the company calls the device by the same name that the original portable went by before the tablet came out is no doubt going to confuse some, but it’s not hard to understand why the company decided to adopt the name: It’s simple.

It doesn’t seem likely that seasoned console gamers would adopt the SHIELD, at least not right away. What about the PC gamer? Well, if they didn’t play on the couch to begin with, I’m not sure how anything would change now that the SHIELD has arrived.

Much like the SHIELD portable, I think the SHIELD ‘console’ is going to be a niche product, but it has huge potential. With NVIDIA’s GRID service, games can be streamed at 1080p/60 FPS, and as it appears, some of the highest-end native games will run without much degradation from their console counterparts.

Jen-Hsun Huang Holding An NVIDIA SHIELD

While the SHIELD might not be able to compete against the graphical capabilities of the Xbox One or PlayStation 4, it comes in at 1 inch thick and 5 inches tall. Compare that to 7 inches thick and 14 inches tall for the Xbox One.

Another thing to consider in the SHIELD vs. Console battle: The SHIELD will get better as time goes on, when new models ship with updated Tegra chips; and, at the rate we’re going, it seems likely that we’ll match the visual fidelity of both of the latest consoles well before their lifespans expire.

But regardless of all that, one thing I do know is that the price is right, and given the fact that it includes NVIDIA’s ~$60 controller, and that the unit has awesome aesthetics, it could prove to be mighty tempting to many. I look forward to testing one out at launch.