Does the Nvidia Shield have the Potential to be a Major Player in the Console Market?



Well that was a bit of a surprise. We may have known that we were going to see the Tegra 4 chip at CES 2013, but we had absolutely no idea that Nvidia were going to go ahead and announce the rather cumbersomely named Project Shield at the same show!

Well that was a bit of a surprise. We may have known that we were going to see the Tegra 4 chip at CES 2013, but we had absolutely no idea that Nvidia were going to go ahead and announce the rather cumbersomely named Project Shield at the same show!

I wasn't really sure what to make of the Shield initially. But as more details have begun to surface, I'm actually starting to form something that resembles an opinion on Nvidia's upcoming handheld console.

The Nvidia Shield in all its glory.

So what can the Nvidia Shield do? And more importantly, can the Shield be a major player in the console market? Let's try and find out...

What can we expect from Project Shield?

First things first, Project Shield is an Android device that runs on a basic version of Jelly Bean. This means that you'll have access to the full library of Google Play releases, which includes anything from Angry Birds and Temple Run, to Rayman's Jungle Run, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, and Hawken. 

Hawken on Shield

And I have to say that the Shield is actually a pretty good device to play all of these games on. Sure, it may look like an Xbox 360 controller with a clam-shell lid crudely stuck on top, and it may also be too bulky to slip into any of your pockets, but the build quality is great and there are numerous control inputs (including dual-analogue sticks, trigger and should buttons, a D-pad, and A/B/X/Y face-buttons).

Although these additional features may make Nvidia's Project Shield far less portable than the 3DS and the Vita, the full-sized controller gives the device a more tactile and convincing gaming experience.

Unsurprisingly, the high quality 720p, 5-inch display is integral to the Shield, and can actually act as an input method in its own right. While it may not have the same 1080p resolution that we have come to expect from 5-inch Smartphones, the screen quality is still pretty good. But don't just take my word for it, why don't you check out this footage of Borderlands 2 on the Shield...

In terms of specs, Project Shield comes equipped with a Tegra 4 processor. It also has a 72-core GPU, and the system is powerful enough to enable decent quality PC and console ports. Finally, the Shield has 32GB of internal storage, along with 2 GB or RAM. 

Tegra 4 Chip

But Project Shield has one more trick up its sleeve, as Nvidia announced that it would support GeForce Experience. This means that you can sync your device up to your Steam account and stream full, high-end PC games over a network with minimal lag.

So What about the Games?

In short, the Shield has all of the hardware that a modern handheld needs to be successful. But hardware alone doesn't sell systems, as Sony have found out with the Vita. The most important thing when it comes to shifting gaming consoles is the games, and I'm not entirely convinced that Android (at the moment) has a strong enough roster of titles to sell Shields.

Just look at the work that Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo do to offer their gamers unique and exclusive titles. I mean, games like Uncharted 3, Halo 4, and Mario Galaxy 2 are reasons in themselves to own a PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Wii respectively. And I just don't think there are enough games on Android that will make Project Shield a must own device.

So to really make this work, developers need to start making exclusive games for the Android OS with Project Shield in mind. But even if this does happen, Nvidia face stiff competition from cheaper alternatives, such as the Ouya, which has already shipped dev kits and will cost a rumoured £90, and the GameStick. 

Ouya

While you could argue that neither of these systems will offer portable Android gaming, I would suggest that my Nexus 4 does. So even without an Nvidia Shield, I can play finger-friendly games like Super Hexagon, Game Dev Story, and Tetris on my commute to and from work.

So can Project Shield be a Success?

In a word: yes (the hardware itself is good). But whether gamers believe it will offer anything unique is yet to be determined.

While I accept that developers may now be encouraged to make a game with a controller in mind, especially as Ouya and the GameStick are also on the horizon, they are likely to be faced with the daunting task of trying to open up a new market. This is, unfortunately, a real "chicken and egg" situation, as developers may be reluctant to create a game for a console with a small install base, yet gamers won't purchase a new system without any quality titles.

That said, if Nvidia could find a decent price point for Project Shield it may have a chance, as I think that a dedicated handheld Android console is a good idea. So I'm hoping for the promise of some exclusive releases.

Project Shield is penned for a Q2 release...