Is Nvidia’s Project Shield dead in the water?
Posted on January 30, 2013 by Michael Martin Leaño
Before January 7, 2013, the handheld console gaming landscape had two players: Nintendo with its 3DS and Sony with the PlayStation Vita. There was strong competition coming from tablets, but that’s how things mainly worked—at least until Nvidia introduced its Project Shield, another handheld gaming device that looks similar to the Xbox 360 controller, but comes with a screen that flips open and a bunch of other new-fangled bells and whistles.
Among these features is Nvidia’s new quad core Tegra 4 processor, HDMI output, Android operating system, multitasking, a custom 72-core graphics processing unit, 720p multitouch display, Wi-Fi connectivity, an audio jack, and microSD and micro USB ports, among others. In other words, everything but the kitchen sink.
Giant PC games library
As you may have guessed, Project Shield is primarily an Android handheld gaming device, but it’s also capable of streaming Steam games from your PC via Wi-Fi. That means you don’t need to buy separate games for it—Project Shield can run what you already have, including Hawken, Borderlands 2, Need for Speed: Most Wanted, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, and the rest of Steam’s games library. The caveat here is that your PC should have at least an Nvidia GeForce GTX 600 video card and is connected to Wi-Fi. What’s more, the game you want to play has to support a controller.
It’s like having OnLive right in your living room, but you don’t have to pay a monthly fee.
Since Project Shield uses an unmodified version of Android Jelly Bean, you can also run and download apps and games from Google Play and TegraZone. You’re looking at over 700,000 apps, including games.
Battery life is unconfirmed but right now, sources say Project Shield can last from 10 to 20 hours, depending on the usage. The secret to its battery life is that the processing is actually performed by the computer that the handheld is streaming from.
Problems with the concept
While the idea of a new handheld that runs PC and Android games is certainly exciting, there are a few problems with the concept. For starters, to play PC games on Project Shield, you first need to run it on your computer, which means you can only do this in your home. You can lug around a gaming laptop to play outside, but doing so defeats the purpose of handheld gaming.
Next: you can use Project Shield to play PC games on your couch, but you can also do that with a wireless Xbox 360 controller, with the benefit of a larger display (i.e. your HDTV). Sure, you can also play in your bedroom and other parts of your house, but if that’s the only legitimate benefit to getting the handheld, then it’s dead in the water.
It doesn’t end there: Project Shield would appeal only to core PC gamers who have at least a GeForce GTX 600 series video card in their computers. While the price of these medium- to high-end video cards can be a concern (they cost at least $100), the bigger problem is that other core PC gamers use competing brands like AMD’s Radeon. This means Project Shield’s games streaming wouldn’t work on such PCs. It’s unlikely that core PC gamers would switch brands just to play a handheld.
Furthermore, it’s not like Android has a burgeoning video games scene. There are no critically acclaimed AAA games for the platform (except maybe for a few ports of old console games). The overwhelming majority are casual games, which do not merit the purchase of a cutting-edge handheld gaming system since they work just fine in regular smartphones.
Techland thinks Project Shield would succeed even if it doesn’t sell well because it will “spur interest” in Android gaming, which will stimulate sales of devices with Nvidia chips inside. But if Project Shield sells only a few thousand units, how exactly will Android gaming generate any buzz? And based on the handheld’s obstacles outlined here, failure is really likely.