Nvidia has unveiled the next generation of its Shield gaming hardware. Starting later this month, the company will be offering a new Shield Wireless Controller and the Tegra K1-powered Shield Tablet, changing up the formula from the original Shield clamshell portable that was announced at the beginning of last year. We got a chance to check out both new products, and were able to see what Nvidia has planned for the future of mobile and PC gaming.
The Shield Tablet is equipped with an 8-inch 1,920 x 1,200 display, a 2.2Ghz quad-core A15 CPU, 2GB of RAM, and Nvidia’s impressive Tegra K1 mobile processor. The Android-powered device also comes with a built-in stylus, 5-megapixel cameras on the front and rear, and microSD card support up to 128GB. Those with 4K-ready televisions will also be able to use the tablet to deliver ultra high-definition content via a Mini HDMI port.
With its pair of front-facing stereo speakers, the tablet resembles a bigger version of the HTC One smartphone, sporting a solid and sleek design. At 9.2mm thick and weighing 390 grams, it’s also small and light enough to easily toss into a bag or purse when on the go.
The Shield Controller is similar to the game pad found with the current Shield portable, but features a smoother and generally more attractive design. Its layout features a pair of analog sticks at the bottom, a directional pad on the top left, four face buttons to the right, and a set of dual-shoulder buttons that are perpendicularly-aligned, not unlike those on the Xbox 360 controller. In the center of the controller are buttons that are used to navigate around Android and Nvidia’s software, as well as launch voice-activated commands.
Also included are a mic / headphone jack, a rechargeable battery, and connectivity via Wi-Fi direct—up to four controllers can be synced to a single tablet. The controller can be used with the original Shield portable as well, for those times that you have the handheld hooked up to your television.
The Shield controller doesn’t have the premium feel and ergonomics of the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One controllers, and its long body reminded me of the game pad that came with Sega’s Dreamcast. It’s certainly adequate and was comfortable enough for gaming, even if it may not be the best designed controller currently offered.
But Nvidia’s Shield experience is about much more than just outward-facing hardware; software plays just as big of a role. The Tegra Zone has been rebranded as the Shield Hub, providing a single destination for gaming news, Android games and media apps, a method to purchase other Shield products, and access to PC games throughGamestream and Nvidia Grid. The tablet also features gamepad mapping software, in case you want to use the new controller with titles that aren’t compatible by default.
When connected to your television or monitor via HDMI, the Shield Hub can be set to TV mode, allowing the UI to completely fill your screen and make for controller-friendly navigation. Beyond the new hub, the Shield Tablet runs a largely untouched version of Android 4.4 KitKat, complete with access to the Google Play store. The device will be updated to Android L when it is available.
We got to try out Trine 2 using the Shield Tablet and Controller—the game will come included with the tablet—and the beautifully-designed characters and textures looked and played great. We were told that the version of the game found on Shield uses the same textures and assets as the one available for PlayStation 3, which is impressive considering that it was coming from a tablet.
We also took Grid 2 for a test drive, checking out how well Nvidia’s Gamestream performs with the new Shield hardware. Controller latency didn’t appear to be a problem, and the game generally looked great. It’s important to keep in mind that we were playing in a very controlled situation, so Gamestream performance may vary depending on your wireless conditions.
To show off the power of the Tegra K1′s 192 graphics cores, Nvidia gave an Unreal Engine 4 demo running directly from the tablet—the same demonstrated during Google’s recent developers conference. The interactive demo displayed the processing power of the K1 with advanced lighting and photo-realistic textures, and frame rate appeared to keep up with the graphics quite nicely.
In addition to offering a large library of Android and compatible PC games, the Shield Tablet is also the first mobile device to be able to stream real time to Twitch. Whether playing a mobile game or utilizing game streaming, users can take advantage of the tablet’s front-facing camera and the Shield Controller’s built-in mic to share their game time with the rest of the Twitch community. We tried out Asphalt 8: Airborne using the new Twitch feature, and were able to broadcast exactly as we would if were using the service through a PC or game console.
The new Shield also comes with Nvidia’s Dabbler app. The painting and drawing software offers a number of brushes and painting techniques for use with the built-in stylus, while also utilizing the tablet’s hardware for some interesting effects. For example, when using watercolors, the tablet can be tilted to have the paint run, just as it would in real life. I don’t posses the artistic ability to have created my own masterpiece, but the app definitely felt like it has a lot of potential.
Nvidia’s new Shield Tablet will be available for an affordable $299 USD with 16GB of built-in storage and Wi-Fi connectivity. Doubling the storage and adding LTE will cost $399—the tablet is compatible with AT&T and T-Mobile in the United States. The Shield Controller will be sold for $59, and a cover for the tablet that can also be used as a kick stand is priced at $39.
All of Nvidia’s new products will launch in the United States and Canada on July 29, with Europe scheduled for August 14, followed by other regions during fall of this year. The new Shield line is available for pre-order now in the United States, Canada, and select European countries, direct from Nvidia and from Amazon.
After spending some time with the new tablet and controller, Nvidia’s vision for the future of its Shield platform became more clear. The new hardware offers a ton of options for gamers, whether playing at home with the tablet connected to their TV or enjoying PC games away from their computer using GameStream and Grid. The form factor is also a lot more practical for everyday use than the original Shield portable, and when compared to other Android tablets, the new Shield is competitively priced, regardless of if you’re going to use it for gaming or not.