Thus far, it’s been a pretty good CES – we’ve seen 4K everything, the death of 3D and quite a few new smartphones. Probably the most interesting announcement of the show so far has been Nvidia’s Project Shield, a new Android-powered handheld gaming console. Project Shield is interesting because it wraps two new Nvidia technologies into a rather novel form factor – a clamshell design that pairs a 5″ 720p display mounted above an Xbox 360 style controller, complete with dual analog sticks, buttons and triggers.
The first Nvidia technology that makes Project Shield possible is the Tegra 4 architecture at the console’s heart. This architecture is rumoured to be based on a 28nm process, offering a considerable power and efficiency advantage over last year’s Tegra 3 which uitilised a 40 nm process. The chipset uses a similar 4-plus-1 design, with four high-power cores for intensive tasks and a single low-power companion core that vastly reduces battery drain for easier tasks like playing music or video. The five CPU cores are paired with 72 GPU cores that should produce excellent 3D performance, allowing for excellent looking graphics at a high frame rate. While the quad-core CPU is only expected to run at 1.9 GHz, a small increase over the 1.7 GHz utilised by the highest spec Tegra 3 processors, the performance increase should be considerable.
The incredible hardware on tap with Tegra 4 should allow for impressive Android performance. We saw some brilliant games developed in the Tegra Zone for Tegra 3 devices like the Nexus 7 and the Asus Transformer Prime, like zombie survival shooter Dead Trigger, and that’s set to continue with Tegra 4. By ensuring that game developers have a specific and powerful hardware target, we should be able to see games that eclipse anything that we’ve seen on Android before. And of course, with Android 4.2 Jelly Bean and the full Google Play marketplace on tap you won’t be limited to games either – you can watch movies, read magazines and use other apps on the 5″ touchscreen.
Interestingly, it won’t only be Android titles that can be played by Project Shield. Thanks to the titular Nvidia Shield service, you’ll also be able to stream PC games to the handheld console. The display will connect wirelessly to your gaming PC over dual band Wireless N, while the Nvidia Shield service will pass along your inputs made with the Project Shield controller. With the Project Shield, you’ll be able to enjoy a wide range of formerly PC-only videogames from the comfort of your couch. While some titles won’t be suitable for the smaller screen and controller input, most that are built for consoles as well like Call of Duty and Need for Speed should work brilliantly on Project Shield.
The powerful Tegra 4 hardware and clever Nvidia Shield software should make Project Shield a convincing games console for 2013 – although with ever more powerful sim-free smartphones and tablets, Nvidia will definitely not have an easy fight on their hands. While we don’t know precisely when Project Shield will be released and how much it will cost when it is released, it could prove to be an excellent gaming machine and I can’t wait to try one for myself.