Nvidia unveils Android-based mobile game system ‘Project Shield’

Graphics processors manufacturer Nvidia announced at CES 2013 a mobile gaming system it’s currently calling Project Shield. The device is about the size and shape of an Xbox 360 controller with an attached 5-inch, 720p multitouch screen that can be flipped open and closed in a clamshell design. 

Nvidia says that that device is stocked with Google’s latest Android Jelly Bean operating system, providing full access to all Android apps and the Google Play store, as well as TegraZone, Nvidia’s proprietary mobile apps store.

Project Shield is powered by Nvidia’s new Tegra 4 processor which is based on ARM’s quad-core Cortex A15, and features 72 graphics processing unit (GPU) cores. It has a slot for micro-SD card expansion, a battery that provides five to ten hours of play time or 24 hours of video playback, and an HDMI port capable of pushing 4K resolution to HD displays.

One feature that sets Project Shield apart from other Android-based mobile gaming devices is its ability to wirelessly access games on your computer. Assuming you have a an Nvidia GeFroce GTX 650 (desktop) or GTX 660 (laptop) or higher GPU and meet other system requirements, you can stream games from your computer to your Project Shield over Wi-Fi.

Over the past few months we’ve seen several companies attempt to take advantage of the open Android platform with dedicated devices and accessories. Back in July Ouya broke Kickstarter funding records with an Android-based $99 gaming system for televisions (which has since inspired competition from GameStick). During PAX Prime 2012 we got a chance to get our hands on the Wikipad, an Android tablet with a gamepad attachment and access to Google Play, PlayStation Mobile and Nvidia’s TegraZone. Even accessories like the MOGA gamepad for Android and Gameloft’s Duo for iOS are trying to find ways to translate the ever growing library of mobile game into a more traditional, core gamer experience.

The advantage that Project Shield has over all of the examples above is its ability to stream computer games. It’s an interesting feature similar to Nintendo’s Wii U’s ability to stream full console games to its Wii U GamePad, only it relies on gamers’ Steam or retail PC games collection.

As with the other devices, however, Project Shield still occupies an odd space. Mobile games thrive because they are designed to be accessible, affordable, and can be played on smartphones that users are already taking with them wherever they go. In this respect, Project Shield is too big, too complicated, and though Nvidia has yet to announce a price, probably too expensive as well.

On the other end of the spectrum is the hardcore gamer, who might find the ability to stream games to a smaller screen he or she can play on his couch a novelty, but who already has a dedicated game console connected to a bigger screen or a PC desktop which also offers a bigger display and more precise control input, a necessity for many real time strategy (StarCraft 2) and first person shooter (Call of Duty, Counter-Strike) fans.

Nvidia’s says it expects to release Project Shield in the U.S. in Canada in the second quarter of this year.