GTC 2013: Nvidia's Project Shield Revisited (Hands-On)

During GTC 2013 in San Jose, I took a stroll into the exhibit area to check out some of the gadgets and services on-site. Naturally Nvidia had the biggest booth, stretched out along the back wall to showcase products ranging from displays for automobiles to a sexy desktop packed with three Titan-based Asus cards.

Fortunately, several units of Nvidia's upcoming Project Shield were available for a hands-on, a gaming gadget I didn't have a chance to test drive in January during CES 2013. It's essentially a 5-inch Android-based tablet mounted on a game pad, thus creating a much-needed solution in the Android gaming arena.

Based on that description, I was actually surprised at how light the gadget felt in my hands. I can see sitting on the couch for hours playing Tegra 3/4 games or streaming PC-based titles from a Kepler-based rig while my wife hogs the TV. It also didn't feel like the device would topple out of my grip given that a touchscreen was mounted on the back – it was highly balanced.

As previously reported, Project Shield will be available in 2Q13. It sports a quad-core Tegra 4 SoC, a 5-inch capacitive multi-touch screen, and Google's full-blown Android "Jelly Bean" OS. There are also two built-in speakers, Wireless-N connectivity, HDMI output, a microUSB port, a microSD card slot, 32 GB of internal storage and 2 GB of RAM. That said, it might as well be a 5-inch tablet mounted on an Xbox-like gamepad.

I asked the rep if the next-generation Project Shield – and you know there will be one – may come packed with MHL support. This tech adds a power pipeline to the audio and video lanes crammed in HDMI cabling, thus when connected to a compatible HDTV, the device would recharge in the process (rather than use a separate power adapter). But the rep said that by then the next model will likely push video wirelessly directly to an HDTV, thus nuking a cable connection altogether.

Unlike OUYA, which I briefly glimpsed on Tuesday, Project Shield will not be a closed ecosystem. It's Google Play all the way, but games enhanced for the Tegra 3/4 SoCs and Project Shield will be highlighted via Tegra Zone. This means games you've already purchased will be playable on the device – that's not the case with OUYA despite its "open source" promise.

So how much will Project Shield cost? The Nvidia rep said the company is still trying to determine a competitive price, but then asked what I would pay for it. I scoffed at the question: I don't want to pay for anything to be honest. Still, how much will this device be worth? Again, it's a 5-inch tablet hinged on a gamepad.

So let's examine this for a moment. Google's Tegra 3-based 7-inch Nexus 7 tablet with 16 GB of storage retails for $199, and the 32 GB for $249. The Android-based MOGA gamepad costs around $49. Take those three factors into consideration, and you could argue that Project Shield would cost around $250. That seems a little steep, and if you don't have a Kepler GPU in your desktop, then Project Shield becomes a very expensive Android handheld console.

So no, $250 wouldn't be ideal, but that may be the resulting price nevertheless. Archos currently offers a gaming tablet of its own sporting gamepad controls mounted on each side and a 7-inch capacitive touch screen for $169. It only packs a dual-core SoC clocked at 1.6 GHz and 1 GB of RAM whereas the Project Shield unit nukes the competition with a quad-core chip capable of 1.9 GHz and twice the RAM.

To expand its audience, Nvidia may want to consider offering a model using the Tegra 4i chip. It may support a lower resolution and lower RAM amount, but it packs built-in 4G LTE connectivity. This would seemingly allow wireless carriers to subsidize the gadget with a two-year contract, thus making it affordable to consumers on budgets while providing wireless gaming on-the-go in the process.

So then perhaps the pricing for both would be somewhat equal: one model that sacrifices 4G LTE connectivity for performance, and one that sacrifices performance for 4G LTE. There's definitely a market for both scenarios even if wireless carriers are not involved. Then again, Sony is having a tough time pushing 3G units of its PlayStation Vita, and Sony is well-established worldwide.

This is all speculation of course. The bottom line is that Project Shield is a well-refined Android gaming product backed by Nvidia's brand, but what this means in retail numbers will be interesting to see.

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  • antilycus
    This is a risky move for NVidia. In theory its cool but so was theory
  • antilycus
    i personally have ZERO desire for this and i love me some nvda products
  • esrever
    shield is going cost like $399 or more I don't know how you are getting $250 from.
  • whiteodian
    $250 does sound reasonable. It could also be a discount price when buying with a subsidy through Verizon or someone. $399, no way.
  • killabanks
    $250 is reasonable but keep in mind nvidia sells gpus for $1000 so unreasonable is possible
  • ZakX11
    let hope this doesnt fail like the Ngage
  • loops
    At home, it allows you to game on the couch. And? I can do that with a HTPC/PC...just add a gamepad.

    You can play Android games tho. And? I got a cell phone that can as well.

    So when would you buy something like this? When I can use it to turn on my PC, play my PC games, and do so when I am out of the house. How much would you pay for that? 400 bukcs tops...after that price point I start thinking about a LAN gaming rig.

    Do you talk to yourself much? yes.
  • blazorthon
    hastenUnfortunately the performance of Nvidia's competitor is what is judging the price of their cards. So if you want cheaper Nvidia cards look at the market bud.
    Other than Titan, AMD has a single GPU card competing with Nvidia at almost all price points (all if we exclude the GTX 650 Ti and even then, the Radeon 7790 is coming up to compete with that) and in almost all of them, AMD wins in average gaming performance for the money, oftentimes having better performance at a lower price rather than just a lower price or just better performance.
  • killabanks
    hastenUnfortunately the performance of Nvidia's competitor is what is judging the price of their cards. So if you want cheaper Nvidia cards look at the market then when AMD had the crown and was selling cheaper that was the same? no imo nvidia is greedy my last 3 gpus have been AMD and plan to keep that tradition
  • Vladimir83
    To blazothon/killabanks:

    Lets talk who is greedy and who"s not

    And not make a mistake,am not a team green fanboy.More so every GPU since 2002 Ive had was ATI.
    Than AMD kick in,and the dirty game begin.Lets take 7950,the card that sells for about 450-480$ even in light of nvidia new kepler?!They make a huuuge amount off money in light of kepler unaviability,and even when 670 shows up they continue to sells their card with minor bios tweaking(the same OC that everyone can make by self) for over 400$!?
    Thanks god I was not in a hurry and take gtx670 when it launch.But many people where not so lucky,paying 150$ more then 7950 was actually worth!

    thats my 2cent,