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Nvidia Shield game console runs Android on Tegra 4

May 14, 2013 — by Eric Brown 1,584 views

Nvidia announced a new name and pricing for its quad-core Android game console, as well as the unique ability to play “Steam” games wirelessly streamed from a suitably-equipped Windows PC. The $349 “Nvidia Shield,” available for pre-ordering on May 20 and expected to ship in June, features a 1.9GHz Tegra 4 SOC with 2GB of RAM, 16GB of flash storage, gaming controls, and a 5-inch, 1280 x 720px retinal IPS display.

When Nvidia announced its Project Shield Android game console in January at CES, analysts and gamers were intrigued with the gaming potential of the company’s new Tegra 4 system-on-chip (SOC), which features four Cortex-A15 cores clocked to 1.9GHz, and a 72-core GeForce GPU (graphics processing unit). Yet they also pointed out, rightly enough, that Nvidia is bucking the trend against dedicated game consoles and toward smartphone and tablet gameplay.

Nvidia Shield game console


Now that the console has been unveiled as Nvidia Shield, the critics are already complaining about the newly identified $349 price. Indeed, the Shield is more expensive than any popular game console on the market, including the Nintendo 3DS and PS Vita.


Then again, there’s that Tegra 4 SOC to consider, along with a few other nifty tricks. The Nvidia Shield can stream Windows-based Steam platform games over WiFi, from PCs equipped with Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 600 graphics card or higher. You can also take the device outside to use it as a controller for Parrot’s Linux-based AR.Drone 2.0 quadricopter.

And in all fairness, the Shield is not exactly dedicated. Although it lacks cellular telephony, it includes Google Play and the universe of Android apps, with a special focus on Nvidia’s TegraZone approved Android game apps. With the Tegra 4, of course, it can also play 1080p HD videos.

The Shield is 579 grams and 57mm thick, perhaps making it a handful for small-handed gamers trying to master the gaming controls. These include dual analog joysticks, a D Pad, and numerous buttons, triggers, and bumpers. The official battery life is 28.8 Watt Hours, but several reports including one from Joystiq (see farther below) cited Nvidia estimates of 5 to 10 hours for gaming, or 20 hours for video playback.

Console controls, rear panel ports
(click images to enlarge)


The 5-inch retinal IPS display with 1280 x 720 pixels matches the state of the art for smartphone displays. With 2GB of DDR3 RAM, 16GB flash, micro-HDMI and mini-USB ports, and a full-range of wireless features, the Shield also seems to be every bit the modern high-end Android phone except for the phone part. The speakers are touted as offering “custom, bass reflex and tuned ports.”

The “pure” Android Jelly Bean OS is augmented with two Shield-optimized games: Sonic 4 and Expendable: Rearmed. Hulu Plus and TwitchTV are also built in. The PC game streaming feature will launch in beta form, with six optimized Steam games. It makes use of the H.264 encoder integrated in GeForce GTX graphics cards, as well as streaming software. Access to Steam Big Picture titles is also said to be available, and the streaming function and other features will be updated with free updates.

Specifications listed for the Nvidia Shield include:

  • Processor — Nvidia Tegra 4 (quad-core Cortex-A15 @ 1.9GHz with GeForce GPU)
  • RAM — 2GB DDR3
  • Flash — 16GB onboard; microSD slot for up to 64GB
  • Display — 5-inch, 1280 x 720 (294 ppi) capacitive multitouch retinal IPS
  • Wireless:
    • 802.11n 2.2 Mimo WiFi
    • Bluetooth 3.0
    • GPS
  • General I/O — mini-HDMI; micro-USB 2.0; 3.5mm headphone jack with mic
  • Gaming input:
    • Dual analog joysticks
    • D-pad
    • Left/right analog triggers and bumpers
    • A/B/X/Y buttons
    • Volume, Android home/back, start, and power buttons
  • Other features — Speakers with “custom, bass reflex, and tuned ports”
  • Pre-installed software — Google Play, TegraZone, Sonic 4 Episode II THD, Expendable: Rearmed, Hulu Plus, TwitchTV
  • Battery — 28.8 Watt-hours; reports state 5-hour (Tegra optimized) or 10-hour (general Android game) battery life, or up to 20 hours of HD video playback
  • Weight — 579 grams
  • Dimensions — 158 x 135 x 57mm
  • Operating system — Android 4.2 (“Jelly Bean”)

In recent quickie hands-on reviews of the Nvidia Shield, criticisms about the price lead the way. A May 14 Engadget hands-on review has nice things to say about the display and performance, but calls the Shield a “niche, boutique device” that will likely appeal primarily to “diehard PC” gamers. The review also criticized the deep placement of the analog sticks. A Joystiq review was more positive, attesting that Borderlands 2 played quite smoothly.

Growing list of Android game consoles

While many Android users are happy playing Android games on standard smartphones and tablets, increasingly with the help of Bluetooth-connected game controllers, a number of Android-based consoles are arriving to meet the needs of those who want portable, built-in controls.

Perhaps the biggest competitor with Nvidia will be the Kickstarter- and VC-funded Ouya console, which settles for running Android on a Tegra 3 and an HDTV, and separates the gaming computer and handheld controller. Another Kickstarter darling — PlayJam’s modestly appointed GameStick — is now available for pre-order starting at $79. It features a handheld controller and a separate plug-in stick computer that runs Android on an Amlogic 8726-MXS processor.

Two Kickstarter Android console projects: Ouya, Gamestick
(click images to enlarge)


Android tablet-based consoles, most of which place the controls on the sides, include the 7-inch Cortex-A9 Archos GamePad tablet, which is already shipping. IbenX, meanwhile, is prepping a presumably cheaper 7-inch, Cortex-A7-powered IbenX GamePad. Wikipad’s 7-inch, Tegra 3-based Wikipad 7, now selling for $249, and features Big Fish Games, PlayStation Mobile, and TegraZone support. It is set to be followed by a 10.1-inch version.

Archos GamePad, IbenX Gamepad, Wikipad
(click images to enlarge)


And some Linux consoles, too

For years, brave companies and open source projects have been launching Linux-based game consoles and PCs, with minimal success. The latest attempts include a GCW Zero open source handheld console from Game Console Worldwide, featuring a 3.5-inch screen and 1GHz Ingenic MIPS processor. In April, Dell announced it was introducing an Alienware-branded high end mini gaming PC running Ubuntu, called the Alienware X51. The compact device runs on an Intel Core i3, i5, or i7, ranging from $599 to $1,049.

Linux consoles: GCW Zero and Alienware X51
(click images to enlarge)


High-end gamers are also waiting for Valve’s Linux-based Steam Box, due later this year. An initial developer-focused Piston Console mini-PC from Xi3 is now available for pre-order, with shipments due in the fall. Based on Xi3’s quad-core AMD-based X7A Modular Computer, the system supports Steam gameplay in Big Picture Mode, letting it act as a server to mirror games from Valve’s Steam distribution service to multiple screens in the house simultaneously, including TVs. This initial version will ship with Windows, but will support Linux. However, Valve still appears intent on releasing its own branded Linux box, which is likely to be based on Xi3 hardware.

The Nvidia Shield will be available May 20 on pre-order for $349, and will be available in June from GameStop, Micro Center, Newegg, and Canada Computers, says Nvidia. More information may be found at Nvidia’s Shield product page and Nvidia blog page.

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