After months of anticipation since its debut at CES 2013, the Nvidia Shield (no longer known as "Project Shield") now has an official release date and price. The portable Android-based gaming system with a built-in 5-inch screen will ship in July for a price of $299.
The device is available for preorder starting today, Tuesday, May 14, for those who signed up (by clicking "Notify Me" here) to receive Shield updates from Nvidia. The general public can preorder Shield on Monday, May 20.
Final specs, fight!
Final specs for the Shield look like about what you'd expect for an Android-based gaming system manufactured by a high-end graphics card company. The system houses a 1.9GHz Tegra 4 processor, with 2GB of RAM, and ships with an unskinned, "pure" version of Android 4.2.1. However, Nvidia says to expect frequent updates.
There's also 16GB of storage, Mini-HDMI, Micro-USB 2.0, GPS, Bluetooth 3.0, and a microSD card slot for storage expansion. 802.11n 2x2 MIMO Wi-Fi, integrated speakers, and a headphone jack round out the specifications.
I haven't had a chance to get any hands-on time with the final hardware, but apparently it's gone through a few changes since my time with it at CES. Thanks to feedback over the last few months, the back/bottom is now made of a soft-touch rubberized coating for added comfort. Also, both the triggers and D-pad have received optimization tweaks, ostensibly making them more responsive.
As announced in January, Shield will allow you to stream games from your Nvidia-based PC (using a GeForce GTX 650 at minimum) over a Wi-Fi network. The feature will launch in "beta" with about 15 to 20 PC games Nvidia is willing to sign off on as working "great" over the service. According to Nvidia, more games will be added to that list over the next few months after release.
My CES impressions
I got to try Shield at CES 2013. My impressions were as follows. Of the native Android games, both Sonic the Hedgehog and Rochard looked fine, if unimpressive from a frame rate perspective. Hawken, on the other hand, ran at what looked to be a full 60fps with fairly complex geometry and effects. It must be said, though, that the game was not populated with any other players when I tried it.
Streaming has its limits
The coolest feature of Shield is most definitely that it's capable of streaming games from your PC to the device. A really cool concept that feels part Wii U, part OnLive, but as exciting as the prospect is, there are limitations.
For one, it only streams over Wi-Fi, so the feature's actual mobility will be limited. Also, there is latency. If you're a frame counter or someone who plays games professionally, that's going to be a problem. Admittedly, that's a very small percentage of the public, however.
Also, the quality of your experience will depend on the quality of the Wi-Fi network you're connected to. During my demo, the Wi-Fi network lost connection to Shield and the connection had to be re-established, which took a few minutes. An Nvidia rep, however, did comment that this is one of the reasons the device is not yet on shelves.
Despite its impressive specs and tantalizing streaming feature, I'll be waiting until I actually get to spend some time with the final unit before passing judgment. A few months ago at GDC I got a chance to play around with Riptide GP 2 on Shield and came away less than impressed by its performance.
Still, $299 is a fairly competitive price, especially given Shield's specs. To be sure, it's a portable gaming system, so (despite its capacitive touch screen) you won't find a typical tablet experience here, especially from a design and interface navigation standpoint. Gamers will definitely want to keep a watchful eye, however, given the promising, if limited, streaming feature and the promise of Tegra 4-optimized native Android games.
Look for a full review of the Nvidia Shield in the next few weeks.