As we mentioned, Shield's Console Mode lets you connect a third-party Bluetooth wireless gamepad, shut off the device's integrated 5" screen, and output a 1920x1080 resolution to a big-screen television.
Based on the company's presentations, Nvidia's emphasis is on the benefits this offers to gamers streaming PC games from another room (a feature that is now branded GameStream). Unfortunately, that combination of features can't be achieved yet; streaming at 1080p from a PC to the Shield requires an Ethernet adapter that isn't available yet. Until we can get our hands on that adapter and the next Shield software update, PC-to-Shield streaming is limited to 720p, just as it was in our Shield launch story from last July, Nvidia Shield Review: Tegra 4 Powered Gaming.
Personally, I have very little interest in GameStream, if only because I'd never pick a gamepad and 5" screen over a mouse, keyboard, and full-sized monitor if I was in Wi-Fi range of my PC. If I want to game on my TV, I'll use my HTPC. On the other hand, we toted a Shield along to an event we recently ran, and attendees happily picked it up and streamed PC games from the pub we were in. It seems like the utility of GameStream is largely personal preference.
I am more interested in Console Mode, though. It offers something almost completely overlooked in Nvidia's briefing: you can play Android games at 1080p on a television instead of the Shield's 5" screen. Not only is it extremely gratifying to play Android-based games at 1920x1080 on a TV, but it's also unexpectedly breathtaking to see Unreal Engine 3 and other demanding graphics engines pump out true HD visuals at over 50 FPS. The experience hammers home that Tegra 4 is a capable SoC.
To better evaluate its performance, we benchmarked the Shield in Console Mode at 1080p, and compared those numbers to the results achieved on the integrated 5" display. We're also including the new Nexus 7's performance at 1920x1200 for reference.
As you can see, the Shield holds its own at 1080p, significantly outpacing the Qualcomm S4 Pro-powered Nexus 7 in every test except for one. What we're hoping is that the complexity of mobile games continues to increase, yielding a more immersive experience. Powerful hardware like Shield will play a role in enabling those more demanding graphics.
Finally, let's take power into consideration. Although Console Mode disables Shield's integrated screen, the taxing workload at 1080p is expected to shorten battery life compared to gaming on the mobile platform directly.
And there's the downside to wringing out maximum performance from a console intended for mobile gaming. The battery life we measured drops by almost half. The silver lining is that, when you're playing a game next to your television, it should be easy to keep Shield plugged into a wall outlet, too.