Nvidia takes fight to Sony, Nintendo with Android handheld console
Will the green Shield get stamped?
CES 2013 Nvidia’s Project Shield seems positively daft at first thought. Who in their right mind would launch a new handheld gaming device today? If Sony and Nintendo can’t win over the millions of folk who play games on phones and tablets with their dedicated gaming handhelds - and very strong gaming brands - how the heck can a manufacturer of graphics chips?
However, Shield has a neat trick up its sleeve that suggests Nvidia may not have lost the plot entirely.
It’s easy to look at the clamshell Shield - it looks like a tiny laptop comprised of a screen clipped onto an Xbox controller - and draw immediate and not very flattering comparisons with the PlayStation Vita and the Nintendo 3DS. It’s big, angular and, compared to a smartphone or 7-inch tablet, a bit clunky.
Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang, while showing off the gadget at a pre-CES 2013 announcement event, admitted that the design isn’t final and could yet change, but as it stands Shield looks like the kind of handheld someone might have come up with 10 or 15 years ago.
That said, the specs aren’t retro. There’s a quad-core Tegra 4 chip incorporating a “custom 72-core GeForce GPU” and quad-core ARM Cortex-A15 CPU; enough battery power for “five to ten hours” of gameplay; Wi-Fi; Android Jelly Bean; MicroSD storage; a 5-inch 294ppi 1280 x 720 display; a “bass reflex, tuned port audio system with twice the low-frequency output of high-end laptops”; and HDMI output.
It’s essentially a modern tablet spec wrapped in a new casing.
Still, it’s hard to imagine gamers playing with it on their way into work on the Tube, even if they can play “any game on Google Play” and others that Nvidia will make available on its TegraZone site.
But it’s in the home where Shield may win friends and influence people. There’s the HDMI output, which, we assume, means you can play games on your TV, thus combining console and controller into one, though only wireless HDMI will give the player true freedom from a long cable stretching out to his or her telly.
More importantly, Shield will be able to access a networked PC’s Steam library, taking control of the computer to running titles on the big box while it acts as a remote display and controller over an “ultra-low latency” wireless link. That’s handy, perhaps, if you want a quick play session and you don’t want to sit in front of your monitor.
But there’s the problem: any gamer keen enough to want Steam compatibility - of sorts - is surely going to be far happier firing up their computer and playing in front of a decent sized screen, whether it’s a monitor or a connected TV with Steam in Big Picture mode?
Valve has its own hardware in the pipeline, and then there’s the Ouya Android console too, though neither will be able to let you play games on the move, at least so far as we know today.
Huang said Shield could go on sale in as short a time as a few months hence, but the device demonstrated is still just a prototype. Of course Nvidia isn’t saying anything about how much the thing will cost - or how many it expects to sell. ®
A reason would be nice.
I actually really like the design. By emulating a standard controller they've basically got spot-on ergonomic design, which the PSP had a problem with, and Nintendo never bothered with (seriously, the ergonomics on the DS range are hideous). And the battery life does sound superior to its peers.
The library of games is the real problem; the vast majority of the games on the Play store are pretty shit. Some indie ports have made it to Android, such as the Introversion stuff, but that's still not enough, especially when the Vita lets you play Uncharted.
Re: Well when you've been dumped by everyone else...
nvidia dumped by everyone? really? since when?
Didnt realise that tegra3/4 were out of date and no one was using them anymore.
Re: Android and Linux
I think it's more cheap, ubiquitous computing being the driver here, not so much the OS (hell, I'm as Linux-mad as anyone, just ask around). The power to hold a decent specced tablet, phone or computer in your hand and run it off batteries in a lightweight, cool, silent device that costs less than a full price game in some cases (you can get Android tablets for £50 if you look around) - that's pretty new in computing but you're already accustomed to it.
I don't think it's all Linux, I think it's a combination of factors - good Linux support from a large multinational (Android - Google), good hardware standardisation (OpenGL, ARM, etc.), cheap LCD screens, large batteries, good battery life, ubiquity of wifi and bluetooth etc.
It's driving a convergence. It's now possible to make something so small that it's hard to use. It's now possible to make something so powerful that nobody will notice next to something only half as powerful. It's now possible to put so much storage into a tablet that we don't need disks of any kind any more. It's now possible to connect to the Internet wirelessly as a routine operation and expect broadband speeds with low latency. All these things converge and without anyone, the project stated would be dead in the water or have to make serious compromises. But now, literally anyone can license an ARM chip (or just buy one), slap it on a board, get to a Linux prompt, have OpenGL graphics of some use, and sell it as whatever they like (anything from the Raspberry Pi to the OpenPandora to the SteamBox to a media centre PC to a tablet computer to a "Surface" heap-of-junk to a smartphone). You didn't used to be able to do that.
That said, it's certainly an interesting time but I think there's going to be a period of massive confusion about to hit. Soon, anything and everything will be running Android or Windows or something similar and we'll have a mish-mash of hardware that's all pretty similar and your smartphone does all the stuff your console can do and vice versa (except phone calls, but we have Skype now), and eventually it will all settle down. In the meantime, it's almost pointless to buy any of them - I have a tablet PC for work that I've barely touched in favour of a "proper" laptop and a smartphone. Between the two I have any combination of raw power and portability that I want. And 99.9% of the junk on the Google Play store I find unsuitable for what I want it for and the stuff I do want is worth paying for - but only a few dollars.
Sure, there's a bit of a renaissance at the moment as people discover how having a device that can "just connect" to the world can alter their lives, but once we're there, it's all just different flavours of the same thing. To be honest, I don't think most people know or care whether their phone is an iPhone, Windows Phone or Android phone beyond designer-labels and fashions. They all do pretty much the same thing (unless you're a developer, etc.) and have the same apps available for them.
And we're literally only a handful of years away from disposable-cost computers now. I bought my 4-year-old daughter a tablet - if she breaks it, she breaks it. She might not get another until her birthday/Christmas/whatever but the fact is that it's almost a throwaway gift between family (my mum and dad have one, and neither of them know the first thing about computers and just play Angry Birds on it).
Linux adds to it, but this sort of thing owes more to ARM, OpenGL, Bluetooth, Wifi, cheap LCD's and even half-decent batteries or even nVidia than Linux.
That said, a world filled with cheap Linux devices isn't something to be dismissive of. Hopefully the "PC" will die a death and then MS will find out that it doesn't have enough of any other market to make a difference and hold us captive. Hell, even MS Office is slowly sliding out of existence and most people can get by perfectly fine with Google Apps and a copy of Firefox.
For the last few years, consoles have been all about the exclusive content.
If you don't control the content, it is a race to the bottom where specs to don't really matter, if you're ending up playing the latest generic Android game.
Couple that with an eco-system where most games are either free or selling for a few dollar, it will be very hard to make the money a modern AAA game costs. (Then again, maybe I have too much faith in some companies that they won't finance one platform with sales from 'the big 3' console vendors)
Then again if they are going for the casual market, this is not the device for it. That market has been taken over by the mobile phone.
So where Valve has the content and the distribution platform (which might make it a credible platform) I don't see this device going anywhere.
Re: Well when you've been dumped by everyone else...
Well said, Jason, well said - they have revenue but it's far from future-proof.
Nvidia was left out in the cold both by MSFT and Sony, both next-gen console will come with AMD (formerly known as ATI) GPU inside, some maybe even with AMD CPU, taking pretty much all available chip money from the ginormous console market.
Nvidia has no x86 license so he cannot make integrated/Fusion (CPU+GPU) desktop chips like AMD and Intel (though Intel's GPU totally design sucks, even after sinking billions in their abandoned Larrabee project which they are trying to recoup somehow with their new x86-based compute card.)
Nvidia's Tegra design is comparable to Qualcomm's omnipresent, more powerful yet less energy-hungry Snapdragon SoC but still falls short in almost everything eg a current-gen Snapdragon S4 dual-core handily beats a current-gen quad-core Tegra 3 (and it's more than ironic that Snapdragon-family's integrated GPU, called Adreno, was built on ATI's Imageon chipset, later sold to Qualcomm... Adreno -> Radeon, got it, right? :P)
Nvidia's only flourishing business is their traditional desktop/WS market where CUDA is unbeatable - partly thanks to AMD's incompetent, lousy OpenCL support; I've talked to ISVs in the past few months and more than one openly said they will drop OpenCL thus AMD's computing support completely in 2013H1 unless AMD revamps their professional driver development and provides them proper support, in a timely fashion.
NV needs a breakout point and it's nice to see JHH is trying to do something but outside of hardcore mobile gamers this inbred console-gnome is pretty much DoA, I think.