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Nvidia's CEO talks Shield with CNET: Yes, there will be future models

The first version of the device hasn't even launched yet, but CEO Jen-Hsun Huang tells CNET that going forward, all new versions of Nvidia's Tegra mobile chip will debut in subsequent models of the gaming device.

Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang unveils Project Shield, a brand-new gaming device that leverages Android and the Tegra 4 quad-core processor.
James Martin/CNET
LAS VEGAS--Nvidia Chief Executive Jen-Hsun Huang seems almost like a kid in a candy shop when showing off his new gaming device, codenamed Project Shield.

He couldn't contain his excitement during an interview with CNET today over the product's future -- including subsequent versions of the device -- and he was downright giddy when describing the features.

"I've been dreaming about this toy for a long time, and it's a toy that only a gamer could love," Huang said in the interview with CNET here at the Consumer Electronics Show. "It's not designed to be a competitor to the iPhone, and it's not meant to be delicate or slim. It's intended to do its job. And if it does its job, which is help you game, then that is sexy."

Huang has good reason to be enthusiastic. During a gadget show with few surprises, Nvidia's announcement late Sunday turned out to be something very different, not only for the company but also for the broader industry. Project Shield marks Nvidia's first foray into providing an end device to consumers -- an area where others, like Sony, are struggling. And it also marks a new, focused push into cloud gaming.

There definitely are risks with Nvidia's strategy -- like angering traditional hardware partners by making its own devices -- but Huang believes he can revolutionize gaming by allowing people to access their games anytime, anywhere.

"We think next-generation gaming is really about portability and mobility, but it's also connected to the cloud," he said. "A device is really not that useful if it's just a device, and therefore it has to be connected to other experiences. .. We want it to connect to all your other open game platforms, which are PCs."

Just don't call Project Shield a game console (those are "proprietary closed systems," Huang says, while Shield runs Android). And don't expect Nvidia to start making its own smartphones and tablets, too. Huang said:

It doesn't make sense for any of our partners to do a gaming device. ... And I wouldn't build a smartphone or tablet because Asus [and other hardware makers] are doing a fantastic job. For me to think I could do something better is just silliness. We're not going to compete with them, and they don't see us competing with them. But because of this device, we're going to get a lot more TegraZone content, and we're going to get a lot more Android content, and that only benefits them.

Still, some companies, like Sony, likely see things a little differently. The company already offers mobile game systems, as does Nintendo. Both companies are likely to view Nvidia as a competitor, and it's unclear how other hardware partners will react.

Here's what Peter Hortensius, president of Lenovo's product group, told CNET yesterday:

I don't think it should surprise anybody that people are trying things. ... If [Nvidia] gets a lot of success and wants to move into our space, OK, we'll compete with them. But people look at being in the device business, and there's a lot more to this business than they realize. We'll see how many of them are still around doing that in a few years.

For now, what the market can expect is more versions of Shield in the future, as well as new partnerships with service providers and gaming companies, Huang said. The first model, which is Wi-Fi only, will arrive in the second quarter in the U.S. and hit the global market shortly thereafter, he said.

Huang noted that all future versions of Tegra will first debut in the company's gaming devices, and as "we improve the device and make other models, everything you invested in the first model shows up instantly."

The Nvidia Shield is currently just in prototype form. Eric Franklin/CNET

"We want to innovate quickly in a backward-compatible way," Huang added.

Project Shield is only currently the code name for the device, and Huang said he hasn't yet decided what to call it. He also said he's not sure how the company will sell the product, and he declined to provide pricing details. Nvidia definitely will sell the device online, but it hasn't yet started talking to retailers about carrying the product, he said.

Meanwhile, Nvidia also talked about Grid, the company's new server rack to run gaming services, during its press conference late Sunday. Nvidia isn't trying to become the Amazon Web Services for gaming, Huang told CNET today. Rather, it wants the various cloud providers, gaming companies, cable service providers, and others to buy its Grid hardware as a single-task, back-end system for cloud gaming. Huang noted that cable companies, for example, are interested in launching new gaming channels that they could charge customers an extra fee to access.

"We're working with all of them," Huang said. "Now they can get the Netflix of games. This is a new service that came out of nowhere for them."