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Nvidia Shield: Hands-On With A Tegra 4-Based Handheld

Nvidia Shield: Hands-On With A Tegra 4-Based Handheld
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Our first stop at this year's CES was Nvidia's suite in the Palms, where company representatives showed off pre-production versions of its Shield handheld. Chris Angelini weighs in with some of the specifics, plus his impressions of Nvidia's effort.

We were still in Southern California when Nvidia introduced its Project Shield. But that didn't stop Don and I from following the webcast and posting our initial thoughts online in CES 2013: Nvidia Announces Project Shield And Tegra 4. The next day, the Tom’s Hardware team landed in Las Vegas, ready for the show (more specifically, everyone else landed; I drove).

My first stop was Nvidia, where I got to go hands-on with a pre-production version of the Shield. The company was emphatic that what you saw during Jen-Hsun’s introduction was an early version of the hardware; it isn’t expected to ship until the second quarter of this year, and will be among the first devices with Tegra 4 inside.

Gaming On Android

I’ll preface this with what I told Nvidia: I don’t spend a lot of time gaming on mobile devices. I think I might have a free version of Angry Birds installed on my iPhone, and it’d take something really compelling to make me want to buy a game on one of my Windows 8 or Android tablets.

With that said, the build of Hawken the company had running on its Shield looked surprisingly detailed. I figured I could get pretty good at the game using the handheld’s joysticks. It’s a shame that the UDK-based title's free-to-play model is already being derided for goading you into buying upgrades with real-world currency just to stay competitive. We’ll have to see if Meteor’s model carries over from Windows into Android.

Nvidia is quick to point out a few other upcoming titles with planned optimizations for Tegra 4: Blood Sword: Sword of Ruin, Real Boxing, and Dead Trigger 2. My only beef with the optimizations developers are making (first mentioned in Nvidia's Tegra 3 Optimizations: THD Android Games, Tested), is that they’re restricted under Android via device detection. But when you play a cross-platform title under iOS or Windows, that detection doesn’t always happen. In some games, you see the same effects on SoCs from Apple, Qualcomm, and Intel.

Will the first wave of Tegra 4-optimized titles run smoothly on A6/A6X, Snapdragon S4, and Atom Z2760? Or will Tegra 4’s more powerful graphics subsystem enable games that can only be enjoyed at their highest settings on Nvidia’s Shield? More so now than on the prior generation of hardware, Shield stands to enjoy a notable advantage in Android-based games right out of the gate.

The Wizard Behind The Curtain

Much of what Shield can do beyond gaming natively in Android is owed to Nvidia’s other technologies. For example, the device is able to access your library of PC games through Valve’s Steam platform and present them neatly on-screen. Actually firing them up and playing them, however, requires a desktop PC with at least a GeForce GTX 650 or a notebook with a GeForce GTX 660M.

Nvidia’s requirements also list a Core i5 or equivalent CPU (AMD processors included). Quick Sync does not play a role in this relationship. Rather, the GPU renders the game locally on the PC. Its fixed-function NVEnc logic turns the output into an H.264-encoded video, which is then sent to the Shield over a suitably-fast wireless network.

The company says an 802.11a/g/n router should be enough. That makes sense—you shouldn’t ever need 54 Mb/s of throughput for a compressed video stream. But peak performance isn’t the issue. I’m more interested in how high of a data rate the network needs to sustain, at minimum, to achieve smooth playback. Dips in the wireless valley matter most.

The Shield does its part with a dual-band 802.11n radio from Broadcom, two transmit antennas, and two receive antennas. If you’re able to match the handset up to a MIMO-equipped router, dual spacial streams should give you higher throughput at any given distance, improving the likelihood you’ll have a fluid experience.

At launch, Nvidia says it will support streaming PC games from your PC to the Shield. You will be able to connect an HDMI cable to your TV and mirror the output there. In the future, the company hopes to stream directly from your PC to the TV, using Shield as a controller. What won’t happen, it sounds like, is a wireless link between the PC and Shield, and a wireless link between the Shield and TV, which would introduce too much latency.

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Top Comments
  • 17 Hide
    iknowhowtofixit , January 22, 2013 3:22 AM
    The fact that this exists shows just how out of touch these companies are...
  • 15 Hide
    obsama1 , January 22, 2013 3:54 AM
    lradunovic77This is end of Windows because NVIDIA and soon Steam will clearly show to the world that you don't need Windows to do gaming, but actually Linux is really good platform for it.


    Linux is great, but you have to remember two things:

    1. Devs will have to port their games to Linux, which will take a long time.
    2. I don't see how you're going to convince gamers to install Linux in place of Windows on their computers, and then download their entire game library again, due Linux/Windows incompatibilities.
  • 11 Hide
    esrever , January 22, 2013 3:33 AM
    Shield is nice but probably not worth the price in the end judging by how much nvidia is pushing it as a high end product.
Other Comments
  • 17 Hide
    iknowhowtofixit , January 22, 2013 3:22 AM
    The fact that this exists shows just how out of touch these companies are...
  • 2 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , January 22, 2013 3:27 AM
    Naughty Naughty Chris!

    Hogging the better handheld for yourself, and giving the inferior one to Don ;) 
  • 1 Hide
    jase240 , January 22, 2013 3:27 AM
    Streaming games to a tablet, its awesome! Now I wonder if it would be possible to stream on 4g?!?! That would be cool!
  • 11 Hide
    esrever , January 22, 2013 3:33 AM
    Shield is nice but probably not worth the price in the end judging by how much nvidia is pushing it as a high end product.
  • -6 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , January 22, 2013 3:40 AM
    They need to get rid of the fugly thick screen bezel.
  • 8 Hide
    wolley74 , January 22, 2013 3:44 AM
    the question is, why would i want to stream a game from my PC, where i can use a mouse / keyboard / multiple monitors if i wish, compared to playing it on a tiny screen with limited buttons? why?
  • 15 Hide
    obsama1 , January 22, 2013 3:54 AM
    lradunovic77This is end of Windows because NVIDIA and soon Steam will clearly show to the world that you don't need Windows to do gaming, but actually Linux is really good platform for it.


    Linux is great, but you have to remember two things:

    1. Devs will have to port their games to Linux, which will take a long time.
    2. I don't see how you're going to convince gamers to install Linux in place of Windows on their computers, and then download their entire game library again, due Linux/Windows incompatibilities.
  • 4 Hide
    dark_knight33 , January 22, 2013 4:02 AM
    lradunovic77This is end of Windows because NVIDIA and soon Steam will clearly show to the world that you don't need Windows to do gaming, but actually Linux is really good platform for it.


    3 words: Poor....driver....support...

    Where's Linus giving Nvidia the finger when you need him? Afaik, you still need a windows based PC to enable streaming of steam titles.

    That being said, I look forward to the day when MSFT looses it's death grip on those O/S license fees.
  • 2 Hide
    dragonsqrrl , January 22, 2013 5:02 AM
    It's an interesting concept, and it's impressive that Nvidia seems to have pulled off PC title streaming so effectively, but I feel like without the ability to stream remotely Shield will be little more than a niche product. I guess that's okay since Nvidia has openly stated that Shield's target audience is relatively small, but I can't help but feel that the experience could be so much more compelling with the ability to play your PC games from anywhere with a suitably fast internet connection, even if it's potentially at the expense of some image quality and latency. That would certainly get my attention.
  • 10 Hide
    iam2thecrowe , January 22, 2013 6:04 AM
    now Toms article "21 consoles that crashed and burned" can become 22.
  • -9 Hide
    sna , January 22, 2013 6:54 AM
    well Chris Angelini , ofc it is not for you .. you are not a teen anymore ...

    this device will beat every handheld in the market. or force Sony and Nintendo to make a new console earlier.

    Plus ... too bad Microsoft .. you delayed Xbox Portable too much untill nvida MADE the Xbox Portable.

    I guess Microsoft will try to buy out this department from Nvidia ...
  • 2 Hide
    razor512 , January 22, 2013 10:20 AM
    depending on the bandwidth needs, it should be possible to run the game streaming remotely (though you will end up with latency issues like with onlive)

    Remember, android can connect to VPN's (eg kinda like how if your cable tv provider allows you to stream their tv channels on your computer if you are on your home IP address, and setting up a VPN will allow you to use your smartphone or laptop while on th go and still watch all of your cable tv channels, you can do it with your games also
  • 3 Hide
    ojas , January 22, 2013 11:40 AM
    Quote:
    What won’t happen, it sounds like, is a wireless link between the PC and Shield, and a wireless link between the Shield and TV, which would introduce too much latency.

    I was wondering the same thing. streaming key presses to the PC and the video stream to the TV would still keep it at two channels, so i think it should be fine.
    PC Shield->TV would be dumb on Nvidia's part...

    Though i mostly agree with what Chris says (that it's not meant for him, or me for that matter) i think it will make sense in winters when you don't want to come out of your warm cozy bed (my hands froze in the last 20 days) :D 
  • 2 Hide
    hixbot , January 22, 2013 12:04 PM
    I'm in the market for a portable handheld. I really like the idea of a nvidia powered handheld playing games with cutting edge graphics. but this will only natively play Android games?! Optimized or not, Android games designed for compatibility across such a wide variety of tablets and phones will not show the strengths of this device. Nvidia should have an additional gaming OS with a developers kit for building Shield exclusives and ports of AAA games from the consoles etc. Afterall, this should be close to as powerful as the current consoles, if the xbox 360 can play COD BO2 at 60fps, this should manage something playable.
    On top of that this is not portable enough to be ideal on the go.

    As for streaming PC games to it, that doesn't interest me at all. If I'm in wifi range of my PC, I'm going to play PC games on my PC.
    If I want PC games on my TV, I'll hook up my PC to my TV and play them in 1080p.

    I really wanted this to be the device for me, but it's not. As with the failure of the Vita, it lacks developer support. It's not worth buying for Android games.
  • 2 Hide
    warmon6 , January 22, 2013 12:34 PM
    sna1. this will happen , it is happening for PS3 and Nintendo .. and can easy happen for linux.. actually , I allways asked my self , given the billions smartphones in the hands of people , what was keeping them from porting all games to android ? the answer was : the lack of real Gaming controler. this BEAST will change the game hopefully. 2.no one installs Linux "in-place" of windows ... they do Multi boot ... I ve been using windows+Linux on my PC for like 10 years ...


    1. While sony (when did PS3 = the company name? last I checked, sony was the company. :lol: ) does have PS vita on android, AFAIK Nintendo pretty much said in big bold NO to putting there stuff on someone else hardware/software like android (so no Mario on your Smart phone).

    Although no matter what, as of right now, because of drivers and lack of user base, games will take a while to be supported on linux. (heck just to run simple minecraft, I have to change some file with the game itself to run on ubuntu properly).

    2. No one? Guess the time's have changed on you......

    I know plenty of people with linux ONLY on their desktop systems. Largest concentration of them in the Distributed Computing area (F@H, boinc, ect) but there are some that run linux just because they dont need windows for gaming.
  • -3 Hide
    warmon6 , January 22, 2013 12:45 PM
    hixbotIf I'm in wifi range of my PC, I'm going to play PC games on my PC.


    Well.... I see where you are going, and it is valid point when you dont have to compete to use a computer.

    Although there is one thing good about this. Say you have kids and there on the computer OR your on the computer and the game the kid wants to play is on the computer your on, this thing and allow 1 computer do 2 things at once.

    (or maybe you dont trust your kid near your expensive desktop. :lol: )
  • -5 Hide
    master9716 , January 22, 2013 1:24 PM
    mayankleoboy1Naughty Naughty Chris! Hogging the better handheld for yourself, and giving the inferior one to Don

    Totally Agree , Its a fact that this will be a failure , At first everyone will buy it like the 3ds and vita but then it will fail , Its amazing how Nvidia cant see that , No one wants to cary around a control when they have their phones
  • 2 Hide
    Bloob , January 22, 2013 4:26 PM
    lradunovic77This is end of Windows because NVIDIA and soon Steam will clearly show to the world that you don't need Windows to do gaming, but actually Linux is really good platform for it.

    Linux isn't a platform though, it's a kernel. GNU/Linux might barely be considered a platform, but that would exclude Android. I do hope the desktop market would see a similar or better competetive situation as the mobile market.
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