Despite being announced at last week's Consumer Electronics Show, NVIDIA's Project SHIELD isn't the first game-console-in-a-controller to be announced this year. That honor goes to the GameStick, an indie project being funded on Kickstarter. As relative newcomers to the gaming scene, GameStick's creators face an uphill battle for acceptance, from both potential buyers and game developers.
But despite NVIDIA's established position as a gaming hardware company, it may have a struggle ahead of it, too. Here are three problems which may hinder Project SHIELD's adoption.
Unlike GameStick, which is sort of like a classic NES gamepad with a detachable memory stick that plugs into the TV, Project SHIELD is a completely self-contained console. It's thick and bulky, enormous compared to any of today's controllers, or even Nintendo's 3DS XL game console. The closest thing it compares to is an original Xbox controller, before the redesign, but with a flip-up multitouch screen that's five inches across and has 720p resolution.
You're not going to be able to just toss Project SHIELD in your pocket, like a smartphone or iPod or very small tablet. It'll be portable in roughly the same sense that an iPad or netbook is portable, in that you'll need a handbag or carrying case to put it in. This puts it in a separate size category from most of its competitors, and makes it less convenient to carry around.
Project SHIELD's Tegra 4 processor will let it play Tegra-enhanced HD Android games straight from the Google Play store, as well as stream PC games from gaming PCs running Steam and equipped with certain types of NVIDIA graphics cards. Besides that, it's a full-fledged Android device running Jelly Bean.
But at what cost? Google's $199 Nexus 7 tablet lacks a built-in game controller, doesn't have a much bigger screen, and uses a less powerful Tegra 3 processor. Dedicated game consoles like the 3DS XL and PlayStation Vita are priced in the same ballpark as the Nexus 7. NVIDIA has yet to announce how much Project SHIELD will cost, or even when it will be on store shelves.
The Tegra-enhanced HD graphics
For many, this will be a plus. There are a lot of Tegra HD (or "THD") games on the Google Play store right now which boast improved graphics over the versions that run on other graphics processors.
It complicates things for game developers, though, who have to write a separate version just for Tegra processors. Unlike normal ARM processors and Android itself, Tegra is owned solely by NVIDIA, which means there are a lot of tablets and smartphones out there which can't run those versions of these games. It also means gamers may have to repurchase certain games for Project SHIELD, in order to get the enhanced versions.
Looking towards the future
Things aren't all gloomy. So far, NVIDIA's managed to keep developer interest in the Tegra platform, and has gotten a lot of people excited about Project SHIELD. Its partnership with Valve also puts it in position to take advantage of the excitement surrounding Big Picture mode, and the upcoming gaming PCs (like Piston) designed to work with it and connect to a television.
Finally, a wireless game controller can cost upward of $50 by itself, so seen in that light Project SHIELD may not turn out to be so expensive -- assuming gamers buy Tegra HD titles and NVIDIA graphics cards to use it with.
Jared Spurbeck is an open-source software enthusiast, who uses an Android phone and an Ubuntu laptop PC. He has been writing about technology and electronics since 2008.
- Technology & Electronics
- Video Games
- NVIDIA graphics cards
- Project SHIELD