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

PC Gaming And The Shield's Secret Weapon

Hands-On: PC Gaming

During my time with the Shield, streaming Call of Duty: Black Ops II went off without a hitch. The environment was completely controlled, though—router and clients in the same room, gaming exclusively on the 5” screen, and no television set up for output.

That was actually a fairly big deal. Graphics quality on a 5” 720p display looks good enough when there’s not much room to discern “good enough” from “wow, is that native?” But when you blow the picture up on a 55” screen at 1080p from 10 feet away…well, that’s going to be telling indeed.

Compared to my first experiences with OnLive, though, playing PC games on the Shield was a more refined experience. Again, on a 5” screen, it’s difficult to judge image quality. But the output looked good. More important, I wasn’t able to perceive the latency like I did using OnLive. And because you’re accessing your Steam library, there is no paying $50 or $60 for unlimited access to a title you can’t actually download. I hated that.

At the end of the day, the biggest issue I have with Shield’s PC gaming capability is trying to play a title like Call of Duty or Battlefield 3 using joystick controls. But like I already said, I’m not a console gamer, so that’s just me. If you’re more comfortable using a game controller, you’re probably wondering how it’s even possible to navigate through PC titles on the Shield. And the answer is Nvidia employs its GeForce Experience software to map inputs on a per-game basis to the Shield’s various buttons, pad, and joysticks.

Big Battery Capacity

Let’s say Nvidia pulls it off—the company makes it possible to play PC games on its Shield and on a television, using the Shield as a controller, without significant latency or image quality degradation. What then?

Well, for playing PC games, specifically, it’ll have a pretty big deal on its hands. The fact that it’s simply decoding a video stream means the array of Li-ion batteries adding up to 38 Wh of capacity should last a very long time. Jen-Hsun claimed 24 hours of video playback up on stage, which the math suggests is at least a huge challenge (that’d be less than 1.6 W of total platform power). I’ll happily stand corrected if Nvidia’s engineers pull off a full day of video playback. After all, they’re preliminarily estimating 1 W of power just sitting idle.

It’s notable that the company is using 18650 rechargeable Li-ion batteries—the same ones Tesla uses in the Roadster. Nvidia says that when it comes to Wh/dollar, the 18650s are always going to be the least expensive option thanks to high production volume and density. That’s why the Shield is able to offer so much capacity compared to, say, the Li-ion pouch batteries you find in tablets, which typically offer lower specific energy.

Less interesting to me is playing Android-based games. If that’s your thing though, Nvidia says to expect between five and 10 hours of gameplay, corresponding to 7.6 and 3.8 W of consumption. Games optimized for Tegra 4’s graphics resources are expected to exact higher power demands than those originally written for Tegra 2- or 3-based devices.

Chris Angelini
Chris Angelini is an Editor Emeritus at Tom's Hardware US. He edits hardware reviews and covers high-profile CPU and GPU launches.