While it's known primarily for graphics processor technology, Nvidia has also brought a handful of consumer electronics devices directly to consumers, including the Nvidia Shield handheld gaming console and the Nvidia Shield tablet. These have now been joined by a new device, also named Nvidia Shield, which is a set top microconsole built around gaming.
Nvidia calls the new Shield the "world's first Android TV console" and is pitching it as a living room device for for video, music and apps, as well as games from multiple sources. The original Shield devices also offered many of the same features, and at first glance, it's easy to think of this as a Shield portable, minus the screen.
But despite the similar base features, the new Shield offers a significant hardware update, starting with Nvidia's latest Tegra K1 processor and a current Maxwell-generation GPU.
The new console version also supports 4K video output, has both fast 802.11ac Wi-Fi and an Ethernet jack, and even has an IR receiver that works with Logitech's Harmony remote controls. For expansion, it has two USB 3.0 ports, a Micro-USB port, and a microSD card slot that supports cards up to 128GB in size, to augment the built-in 16GB of storage.
Like the PlayStation TV or other microconsoles, the Shield is primarily built around streaming and cloud-based content. For games, it can access Nvidia's Grid service, which streams realtime gameplay of dozens of PC games from a remote server farm to the device (that service is also available on other Shield hardware). Nvidia says a minimum 5Mbps connection is required for Grid, and recommends 15Mbps. For a higher-resolution version, called Grid+, it's 15Mbps/50Mbps.
In previous tests of Grid, we've found the service usable, with only minimal lag, but not as crisp and responsive as actually playing games on gaming PC. In each case, games are played with the included Shield controller, a gamepad that looks and feels close to an Xbox or PlayStation controller.
Besides Grid-based PC games, this is essentially an Android desktop hiding behind a custom interface, so it can download and run a huge library of Android games, many of which have been optimized for the Nvidia hardware platform used here. Other Android-friendly features include support for the Android TV and Google Cast platforms.
The Nvidia Shield will be available in the US in May, starting at $199; international pricing and availability was not announced. A controller is included in that base configuration, while additional controllers, a remote control for media playback and a vertical stand will all be sold separately.