This article is part of our ongoing coverage of GDC 2015. You can find more of our GDC news and analysis here.
Nvidia is trying again. Last night at GDC, Nvidia announced another Tegra and Android-powered device. Enter the Nvidia Shield.
Wait, we've been here before. Maybe you remember the first Nvidia Shield, an Android-powered handheld that launched in 2013 and featured Nvidia's Tegra 4 processor. They followed that last year with the Nvidia Shield Tablet, a Tegra K1-powered tablet with an optional gaming controller attachment. Each Shield is Nvidia's latest attempt to find a consumer-friendly form factor for their newest Tegra graphics processor.
Now we have the new Nvidia Shield, an Android-powered microconsole featuring Nvidia's flagship Tegra X1 processor. Unlike the previous model, this Shield isn't portable at all. Instead, we have another Android microconsole. The Shield itself will retail for $199.99 with one Shield controller packed in. Additional controllers are going for $59.99, while the Shield Remote has no price yet.
Here's the guts of the new Shield:
- Processor: NVIDIA Tegra X1 processor, 256-core Maxwell GPU with 3GB RAM
- Storage: 16 GB
- Wireless: 802.11ac 2x2 MIMO 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1/BLE
- Interfaces: Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI 2.0, Two USB 3.0 (Type A), Micro-USB 2.0, MicroSD slot
- IR Receiver, support for four Shield controllers
The new Shield is based on the Android TV operating system, so like many other set-top boxes, it'll stream your favorite video services and play Android games. If you had a Shield Portable or Shield Tablet, your games will still work here. Unfortunately, offering Android games on your TV hasn't really taken off as a compelling reason to buy one of these devices.
Nvidia's hoping that the differentiator here will be access to games you couldn't normally get on a Android device. The company is tackling this from a number of different directions. The first is actually getting major developers to port games natively to Android and Tegra X1. Nvidia is working with Crytek to bring over CryEngine for Android and there are Android-native versions of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, Resident Evil 5, Crysis 3, and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance on the horizon. If you have an Nvidia video card in your PC, you can also stream your Steam library over to the new Shield, just like you could on the Shield Portable and Shield Tablet.
The big plan to bring premium PC games to microconsoles is Nvidia's new GRID service. Much like OnLive and PlayStation Now, Grid renders games on powerful servers and then streams the gaming output to your Nvidia Shield. Nvidia Grid is being tested for free right now, but final service will launch in June and involves subscription services: a 720p service and 1080p service. (Pricing has yet to be revealed.) Both plans offer unlimited play of any available Grid titles, including Batman: Arkham Origins, Saints Row V, Ultra Street Fighter IV, Astebreed, and Darksiders II. Nvidia will also be offering a la carte purchases of games, offering players a Steam code and streaming access on Grid.
Sounds good, but the problem remains the same. It's a question I've asked before, "Who are these devices for?" Despite manufacturers trying to make it work with The Ouya, PlayStation TV, Amazon Fire TV, and the upcoming Razer Forge TV, no one cares. There doesn't seem to be a huge groundswell of people looking for these devices. If you just want to stream, a Roku, Apple TV, or Google Nexus Player will serve you well at $99. If you're gaming on Android, your tablet or smartphone is usually good enough and the games don't look great blown up on your HDTV. If you're an enthusiast, you have a PC or have spent the extra $200 for a dedicated gaming console. The Shield line is aimed at such a small niche of consumers.
I understand why Nvidia keep putting these devices out, because they're hoping to increase the visibility in the mobile marketplace, which is increasingly dominated by Qualcomm and its Snapdragon processors. The problem is there's no compelling need here. Consumers don't need these devices and hardware manufacturers prize battery life over gaming power.
If Nvidia really wants to make the Tegra processor work, their best bet would be to talk to Nintendo or Sony and try to get the Tegra as the processor powering their next portables. (That assumes Sony's even going to try another portable.) There's at least some traction in that idea. The Shield we're being shown here is stuck with the same problem its predecessors had: it feels like the solution to a problem we've already solved with other devices. I don't need this weird mid-grade device in my life and I don't know many others who do either.