After the release of the new Nvidia Shield device, we were able to get some time to sit down and play with the console at GDC.
The basic navigation is an important key feature between systems, and a bad interface can drive away customers. Fortunately, that doesn't appear to be a problem with Nvidia's Shield console. The octo-core processor used inside of the system allows for smooth navigation and fast native application performance.
The Shield controller looked somewhat large and bulky in photos, but in person it's actually smaller than you would expect. It fit comfortably in my hands, and I was surprised by how light it was.
One reason we suspect the weight is reduced is the removal of vibration features from the control. We didn't feel any vibration, and looking at an image of the controller disassembled, we don't see any parts that would facilitate vibration. This also would help explain the extended battery life of the controller, as vibration can take a toll on a battery.
Now for the part you are really interested in: how well does it game? Performance seemed to vary between titles. We had time to try three of the games available: Shadow of Mordor, Doom 3 BFG Edition, and Portal. We didn't notice any issues with Shadow of Mordor; walking, fighting and all other controls were responsive, with no noticeable delay.
Doom 3 BFG Edition didn't fare quite as well. The movement wasn't great, there was noticeable latency. At first I thought the movement sensitivity was set too high, but turning down the sensitivity didn't solve the issue. When turning, often the screen would turn longer than the joystick was pressed. Shooting had more problems, resulting in the gun often firing too late to hit its target. The game was still playable, but some users would likely not want to play the game with this issue affecting gameplay.
Portal had different issues; there weren't any difficulties with the game play, but the loading time when starting the game took a long time. Exiting the game and restarting it still had the same issue, so it wasn't a one time event for playing the game the first time. There are a number of potential causes for this delay.
The problems with Doom 3 BFG and Portal could be as a result of the device still undergoing development, and software bugs could still exist that need to be fixed. Some games likely received more attention and have been optimized better to be ready for Nvidia's event.
Another possibility is that the problem relates to network issues. Pulling these games through the network takes a very large amount of bandwidth (50 Mbps for 1080p at 60 Hz). As a result, the network could be the cause of these delays. It is fair to further wonder if the problem was caused by the dozen or so Nvidia Shield devices being used in the same building and competing for bandwidth.
It's too hard to say what the overall performance of the Nvidia Shield will be like for end users if network difficulties affected our hands on experience. This isn't completely inside of Nvidia's control; the servers supplying the data might be capable of handling all of the work, but areas with heavily-loaded networks or slow Internet connections will likely have a hard time using the service.
For those who don't face difficulties with the network, the game performance overall seemed playable for the games we tried. The image quality was clear, the action was fast, and it should give a reasonable 1080p gaming experience. While it won't be as good as a modern high-end gaming PC because of being locked at 1080p at 60 Hz and latency issues, it should be comparable to other game consoles. Most games on home consoles do not maintain 60 FPS, which negatively impacts the gaming experience. Game consoles also do not have the latency issues, so the Shield is a competitive force against home consoles.