Nvidia Shield Review: Tegra 4-Powered Handheld Gaming

Streaming PC Games To Shield

Far more interesting to me (Chris) from a technical and practical perspective is Shield’s ability to stream PC gaming content from a machine within Wi-Fi range. In essence, what’s happening is that your PC with a GeForce GTX 650 or higher (no mobile GPUs are supported at this time) is playing a compatible Steam-based game locally at 1280x720. It’s encoding that output using the NVEnc fixed-function logic into an H.264 stream and then sending it over a fast Wi-Fi network to the handheld. Shield serves as your remote controller over the same Wi-Fi connection.

When I first saw this in action at CES 2013, I was immediately skeptical of a typical wireless connection’s ability to facilitate bi-directional communication with low enough latency to feel real-time. Surely there’d be quality of service issues throwing awkward pauses and delays into the action. Indeed, PC streaming isn’t completely flawless yet, and in the last video below you'll see where I hit a short freeze. Additionally, it's not uncommon to lose the connection as you get farther from even an approved router. But almost seven months after my first experience with the technology, I find what Nvidia’s doing darned cool.

The company’s GeForce Experience software sits in between your PC and Shield. It’s responsible for picking the right game settings for each title. Whereas image quality might get the bias on the desktop, frame rate is prioritized on Shield to minimize the impact of latency. The settings deemed most appropriate are chosen by GFE when the game launches, meaning you aren’t tasked with any configuration. GFE is also the layer through which gamepad-style input is added to titles typically controlled by keyboards and mice.

Once GFE detects the compatible titles it creates shortcuts to them that streamline the launch process. So, for example, when you fire up The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim on Shield, you never seen the little launch screen that normally pops up on a PC. As of now, these are the games Nvidia is optimizing for:

  1. Borderlands 2
  2. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
  3. Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 (MP/Zombies)
  4. Metro: Last Light
  5. Tomb Raider 2013
  6. Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2
  7. Grand Theft Auto 4
  8. F1 2012
  9. Star Trek
  10. Dead Island: Riptide
  11. Resident Evil 6
  12. Dishonored
  13. Batman: Arkham City
  14. Half-Life 2
  15. Left 4 Dead 2
  16. Devil May Cry (dmc 5)
  17. F1 Race Stars
  18. Pressure
  19. GRID 2
  20. Metro 2033
  21. DiRT 3

Currently, the PC streaming feature is in beta. I found it to be pretty stable though, for the games on Nvidia’s optimized list. GFE gave my Falcon Northwest Tiki its blessing and scanned my system for available games. After enabling Steam’s Beta participation option, I swapped over to the Shield and my titles were available under the TegraZone interface. Quick, clean, and easy.

When I started testing, I was using Netgear’s WNDR3700—a dual-band 802.11n router that should have been plenty fast. But Nvidia didn’t have it on its approved hardware list. Nevertheless, our first experiment involved one session next to the existing router and workstation, and another attempt in the living room of my house. 

Shield streaming Skyrim next to Netgear WNDR3700

With a nice, strong signal, the Netgear unit has no trouble with very low-latency playback on Shield. The experience is significantly better than my cloud-based gaming adventures, as the delay between control inputs and on-screen response is much shorter.

Of course, while all of this is going on, Shield has the PC locked up. In a multi-monitor environment, it leaves your second and third displays at their native resolutions, switching the primary screen to 1280x720. But if someone jumps on your system and tabs out of the game to check email, you’re booted out on Shield as well.

Some games make the jump from PC to Shield well. Others typify why I don’t bother with first-person shooters on consoles: my precision sucks with a joystick. Before I’ve gone back and forth 20 times to try to line you up in my crosshairs, you already put five shots through my character. This is what I ran into with BioShock. Skyrim is a lot easier to play through. GRID 2 and DiRT 3 are simply shoo-ins for joystick control.

Shield streaming Skyrim across the house from Netgear WNDR3700

Moving away from the WNDR3700 was more problematic. Occasionally I’d get into a game and have no trouble at all. More often, though, the Shield would throw up an error about a weak signal and drop me back to the previous screen. Just keep in mind that enabling this functionality requires a $300 Shield that you don’t yet have, at least a $120 graphics card, and another $150 or so in networking hardware (on top of a Windows 7- or 8-equipped PC). If you’re missing any of those other pieces, PC streaming starts to get a little pricey.

If you’re already rocking the latest hardware, though, then this is what you have to look forward to:

Shield streaming Skyrim across the house from Asus RT-N66U

Notably missing in the video is a beer on the coffee table as I play Skyrim on the couch. This is what PC streaming on the Shield represents, though. I’d much rather be in front of my PC with a headset on, banging away with a keyboard and mouse at 5760x1080. But sometimes my two-year-old wants me to sit on the couch with him while he’s watching PBS Kids. Or maybe an authentic Mexican food dinner means I just can’t game in front of my PC that very moment. Shoot, I can even see myself hanging out with the wife in bed while she reads on her Kindle. Streaming on the Shield redefines when and where you can play your favorite PC titles.

Games that aren’t optimized for Shield are still playable via Stream Big Picture. I managed to get World of Warcraft up and running, thinking it’d be nice to experiment with grinding trade skills from the couch. Beyond the obvious control issues in a game like WoW, there was a lot of audio distortion. “Better stick to Nvidia’s list of configured titles,” I concluded. Fortunately, I own several of the 21 games listed and haven’t touched most of them. Looks like it’s time to log a few hours from the couch…

    Your comment
  • esrever
    looks ok but not worth the price
  • Hazle
    impressive, especially PC streaming. but for $300, i'd rather pause the game to take a bathroom break. it's gonna take me a library of good android exclusives for me spend that amount of money, and PvsZ or Angry birds don't cut it.
  • beta212
    Meh, with the PS4/xbox coming out , and tons of more convenient phones I don't see a market for a tegra4 shield, personally I'm saving my money for a console. The tegra is also too expensive and gimmicky to boot.
  • dragonsqrrl
    When you look purely at the performance and specs $300 unsubsidized isn't all that bad considering the hardware you're getting for the price. The problem to me isn't so much price but the target market. How many people are willing to spend that much on a second or potentially third mobile device meant specifically for gaming and entertainment?
  • bryonhowley
    Looks nice but I can find things better to spend $300 on. In truth I can't see ever streaming my PC games to a 5" screen when I use 3 Asus 27" monitors on my desktop PC. Going from 5760x1080 to 720p does not sound like something I am ready to do. And if I want to game from my recliner I just use my Xbox 360 wireless controller and play the game on my Panasonic 50" 3D Plasma.
  • vaughn2k
    for U$180, I can get a nice Lenovo Phone. For U$ 500, a good Xbox.. not sure if I need a Shield where I could play anywhere..
  • slomo4sho
    Not sure why most of your benchmarks were just between the shield and the Nexus 7. I understand that the Nexus 7 utilizes Tegra 3 but the iPhone 5, Note 2, or some other tertiary figues should have been included to provide a better comparison between this device and other current generation products.

    This device feels like a universal Wii U game pad and there is almost zero reason to own one.
  • cats_Paw
    Considering that Oculus rift will cost somewhere around 300 dollars as well, id rather wait for that to spend my cash.
    Streaming is nice but if you are close toy our pc why not use the PC itself?
  • edwd2
    could be used to run a psp emulator, but phone can do that too.
  • shikamaru31789
    I'm just not seeing much reason to get one right now, not when I'm saving for the Xbox One and PS4. If it was at a lower price and if it supported AMD GPU's for PC streaming, I might get one. But they also need to get some developers to make some good Android exclusives, not just your typical mobile time wasters and ports of older console/PC titles, but some actuallAAA exclusives that are optimized for Tegra 4.
  • vaughn2k
    for U$180, I can get a nice Lenovo Phone. For U$ 500, a good Xbox.. not sure if I need a Shield where I could play anywhere..
  • Chetou
    When nobody wants to buy your SOC, I guess you have to make up a new product. Not very useful past the initial gimmick.
  • The Grave Digger
    "shield Competes to your Disposable income" Really??
  • iam2thecrowe
    What a pointless product. This will be a flop.
  • tadej petric
    Shield really doesnt make me want to use it instead PC.
  • blubbey
    Maybe in 3-5 years when mobile graphics really starts to come into their own. $300 for something I'd play while taking a dump isn't good value, I have a phone that can do much more afaik. If I want dedicated gaming I'd play on my PC or even buy a next-gen console for that money in a year's time.

    Side notes, isn't the Tegra 5 about the same power as a current console? That's next year too so assume in 4 years after that it should be 5x the power at least (Tegra 6 is supposedly 2x as powerful so 2.5x the power of Tegra 6 in ~3 years). That'd start to approach next gen consoles power in a handheld device. I'd probably pay $300 for that in 5 years assuming nothing else is better value.

    It's not like this is progression is unimpressive however, 5 years ago we had pitiful mobile processing power compared to today. I'm not expecting similar growth because that'd be crazy - http://cdn2.ubergizmo.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/tegra-5-kepler-graphics-curve-640x315.jpg - but still. 20x the growth from today will be possible considering Nvidia's Tegra roadmap shows Tegra 6 being ~10x performance of T4.
  • ubercake
    Great thorough review about a niche product.
  • somebodyspecial
    134065 said:
    We've been playing with Nvidia's Shield handheld for more than a month, but only recently got access to its killer feature: streaming PC game content. Does Nvidia's foray into the hardware world deserve your $300, or is this expensive toy impractical? Nvidia Shield Review: Tegra 4-Powered Handheld Gaming : Read more

    Can you guys test some movies with HDMI or miracast to TV? This was one of the features I would like to know about before pondering buying. A large part of the point of this thing for me is a portable 1080p player (or even 720p, as most of those look great on 60in or lower anyway). Also with that hdmi hooked up (or miracast) can you play your games out to TV too? I had thought I'd be able to play android games on the big screen (PC too).

    can you guys comment on this stuff? Anything out to TV is stuff your Vita/3DS can't do. I'd think this is a pretty important detail for most but unless I missed it in the review it wasn't even mentioned or tested. I was hoping for some PC to TV comments. Can this output your PC streamed games to TV or does lag etc prevent this? Or are you stuck on the 5in for both android and pc streams?
  • somebodyspecial
    For anyone caring PC mag got substantial numbers from a trio of tablets:
    GLBench offscreen is 57fps
    So I'd say it should do well in a tablet vs. S800. It destroys S600. Not bad. Those were devices from Feb, so I'm thinking a shipping tab would have to be optimized a little more than a pre-release product but I could be wrong. Hope someone tests the toshiba write soon, not to mention HP's and ASUS's T4 tablets.

    Antutu on the Shield is impressive (though 720p, glad they didn't try 1080p on this thing, 720p gives it plenty of power for what it's designed to do) but the 1920x1200 1.9ghz ref tablet isn't far behind and S800 scores I've seen from devices show about 35k on tablets. That being said I expect S800 to match or beat T4's gpu (though we still need to see actual games benched, not synthetics to truly prove this), but I think most cpu test should favor A15. The numbers out so far seem to show this.

    I don't see T4's lack of OpenGL ES3.0 as any big deal. There are no benchmarks to test it, thus no software that uses it either. In other words, NV was right to dump it to save power/soc space etc and dedicate that to what we will probably use during the devices life. I'll change my opinion maybe after a few games show up with ES3.0 in them. Until then, no point in having it yet.
  • CaptainTom
    Frankly I can play any game on my very portable $750 laptop with a 750m in more than 720p, and I already need that for school (Like most people).

    And if I want handheld gaming, I'll play Uncharted/Killzone on my vita over Angry Birds any day lol!
  • Cy-Kill
    'There's a microSD card slot on the back, but don't expect to offload apps onto the additional storage: Google nuked that "app2sd" ability a few updates back.'

    Why does Google hate microSD expansion, has anyone figured out why Google removed it, they really should bring it back to Android, and stop the hate for microSD!
  • tuanies
    351210 said:
    'There's a microSD card slot on the back, but don't expect to offload apps onto the additional storage: Google nuked that "app2sd" ability a few updates back.' Why does Google hate microSD expansion, has anyone figured out why Google removed it, they really should bring it back to Android, and stop the hate for microSD!

    I'd imagine it had something to do with most micro SD cards only being class 4 at the time. The slow speed and poor user experience probably forced them to can the feature. There are Class 10 micro SD cards nowadays but the average consumer just picks a random micro SD card and less likely to care about speed. The people working at Best Buy, Frys and mobile providers don't know any better either. So its easier to kill that feature than to have people complain about slowness when apps are installed on SD.
  • Thinking outside of the box. I just bought a Nexus 7 Gen 2, and using a bluetooth gaming pad and a wireless TV connection I could run the same games natively at 1080p without having the computer portion even in my hands. Add to that the 32GB Gen 2 is only $270 and doubles as a fully functional "PC" when using a bluetooth keyboard and/or mouse. I don't really see $300 worth of value in this device when phones and tablets can overlap the same role with a few extra pieces of kit.
  • CommentariesAnd More
    The Shield certainly is a good combination of the mobile gaming platform and PC Game streaming platform. Certainly 90% of the gamers dream to be able to sit on their couch or lie on their bed and play games. But only 1-5% would shell out 300bucks for it. Nvidia has forgotten we are in an age where gaming isn't what makes the majority buy an iPhone 5 or Galaxy S4 , etc. Nvidia's attempt to bring android gaming and PC game streaming in an handheld gaming device certainly is a revolution , but it needs a revolution for itself , to make sense and be a device not just for showing off , but be used for its sole purpose of gaming. Hopefully the next Shield will have something more better and a better price tag forcing me to buy one :)