The PC will always be my entertainment platform of choice. But there are times when mobile gaming is a lot more convenient: as I sit in the car, waiting to pick my wife up from the grocery store, any time I stand in a long line, and even when I'm sitting on the couch, trying to relax after a long day of work. I don't get serious about mobile gaming, however, unless I'm traveling by air. That's when I can really bite into content that I wouldn't have touched at home.
Understandably, then, I was excited about my first extended stint with Nvidia's Shield mobile gaming console on a flight back to Winnipeg from Montreal (remember, Chris Angelini was the one to write our Shield review back in July). I downloaded a handful of titles from the Google Play store, waited patiently for the stewardess to give me the go-ahead, and I went to town. First, I tried Ravensword 2, which is probably the closest thing that the Android platform has to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. No luck. The Shield's controls aren't supported in the title's gamepad mode. Undaunted, I fired up Galaxy on Fire 2 HD. Once again, no joy. The controller isn't recognized.
There are some really impressive games developed with native Shield support, but those weren't the ones I wanted to play on my flight. One of Android's strengths is a plethora of choice. So, it really seemed like Nvidia missed the boat as a "pure" Android-based gaming platform. I spent the rest of my flight gaming on my Google Nexus 7 tablet, smoldering over the Shield's wasted potential.
A few days later, Nvidia totally surprised me with new functionality. Included in today's over-the-air (OTA) update is a feature that instantly turned my opinion around: the Shield Gamepad Mapper, which lets you map the Shield's joystick and buttons to screen positions, virtual thumbsticks, and even gestures.
What's Included In The October 28, 2013 OTA Update?
Before we dig into the new Gamepad Mapper, let's go over all of the changes rolled into the update:
- Android 4.3 support: this is a fairly straightforward upgrade from the Android 4.2.1 operating system that shipped with Shield. If nothing else, it's nice to see that Nvidia is committed to keeping its console's environment current. As Chris mentioned in our launch coverage, this is "pure" Android, without any of the bloatware other device vendors seem to enjoy bundling.
- Shield GameStream: This is the official introduction of Shield's ability to channel output from a GeForce-equipped PC, an Nvidia Grid cloud gaming service, or the Shield itself to an external display at up to 1920x1080. It's a more formal branding of the streaming feature that was previously in beta. Bear in mind that Shield is limited to PC- or Grid-based games at 1280x720 over Wi-Fi, and 1920x1080 will only be available once the company releases an Ethernet-to-micro-USB adapter. We don't have release date for this adapter, or for the Grid-powered cloud gaming service that we expect to arrive in the future.
- Apps2SD: Previously, Shield wasn't able to properly move application data to its microSD card, effectively limiting software to the device's 16 GB of internal storage. Today's OTA update fixes that issue, and applications that support this feature can now be moved via the Android Settings -> Apps menu.
- Shield Console Mode: This is an operating mode that disables the Shield's built-in display and instead employs mini-HDMI output for use with an external display (television). It's required if you want to take advantage of 1080p support. Currently, this is accessible for Android gaming. In the future, PC game streaming will be enabled by an Ethernet adapter. Although the new mode disables Shield's integrated display, power usage is expected to increase due to the more taxing graphics workload. Console Mode is ideal for use in conjunction with a wireless Bluetooth game controller (like the Nyko Playpad Pro), allowing you to set down the HDMI-attached Shield next to your TV.
- Shield Gamepad Mapper: This is a workaround of sorts for using the Shield's hardware controls in games that don't natively support them. Holding down the Play button brings up a user interface that lets you map portions of a game's screen (or even gestures) to the Shield's buttons and analog sticks. Game profiles are auto-launched, can be saved locally, and can be shared through the cloud or sent to a friend. At least to me, this is one of the Shield's most important features.
Non-OTA Goodies: The Holiday Game Bundle and ShadowPlay
Nvidia's Holiday Game Bundle launches today, and is available two ways. Enthusiasts who buy a GeForce GTX 770 (now priced at $329), 780 (down to $500), or Titan are entitled to Batman: Arkham Origins, Splinter Cell: Blacklist, and Assassin's Creed: Black Flag, in addition to a $100 discount on an Nvidia Shield.
The lesser bundle is similar, but doesn't include Batman: Arkham Origins, and the Shield discout is halved to $50. Nvidia's second bundle is covered by the GeForce GTX 660, 660 Ti, 670, 680, and 760.
Today is also the official release of Nvidia's ShadowPlay feature, though it's still in beta. This is Nvidia's real-time game video recording feature that offloads encoding to the Kepler architecture's fixed-function NVEnc block. It's not related to the Shield update, but we're still putting it through its paces.