Before today, Nvidia made parts to put inside gadgets other people build. Today, it has its own gaming device: a Tegra 4-powered handheld system with both an integrated controller and screen. It does 4k. But what the hell is it, exactly?
Nvidia says the device, nicknamed "Project Shield," will pack a 10-hour battery life, audio quality on par with a Jambox, a console-quality controller (bumpers, triggers, analog sticks, and a d-pad), and of course it runs Android. No skin. In the back you'll find plenty of ports: HDMI, micro-USB, microSD, and audio-out.
But of course, that screen: a 5-inch, 720p display with touch capabilities too. The entire package looks to be about the size of an Xbox 360 controller, plus that screen popped out. This is a serious shot at not only Android gaming, but all mobile gaming, and even the likes of Wii U. Why? The thing isn't just an Android GameBoy—it's a mobile set top box and computer, capable of playing 4k movies to a full 4k TV via HDMI, hopping around Facebook, multitasking with your music in the background, and pretty much everything else you'd want from a modern tablet or smartphone. It just happens to look like a big green x-treme gaming controller.
The device can pull down Nvidia-optimized Android titles from the Tegrazone gaming library, and some of them even do multiplayer! Nvidia showed off two Project Shield handsets battling each other in the graphically-intensive mech grudge match Hawken, and it looked as smooth as you'd want it to. But, again, the two guys were sitting right next to each other on the same network.
But where does this thing belong in the world? It's probably not going to replace anything you already own—your gaming computer, your phone, your tablet, or your console. And yet it's massively impressive.
But it only plays Android games. Of which there aren't many that are... very good. Project Shield seems awkwardly spread across a spectrum of ability without proving that it should own any of them. It plays music! It streams some PC games to itself! You can read magazines on it! Facebook! Facebook again! But aren't you already doing all these things? Just because it can do it all doesn't mean that it should—or that it will with any grace. Or take a chunk of your dollars. It's hard to imagine people straying from the safety of Sony and Nintendo's stable of comfortable titles into the Android gaming crevasse, or dropping an Apple TV, or, hell, just checking Facebook on your damn phone.
As a computing feat, it deserves attention. A pretty stellar little appliance. But from where I'm sitting, it looks mostly like every concept known to humankind thrown into a blender.