It didn't take long for the first bombastic announcement of CES 2013, with Nvidia's clamshell Project Shield handheld console stealing the Sunday limelight. This morning I got to grips with this wild new Android portable, gleaning an early idea of the green team's future as a consumer hardware vendor, plus a better idea of the performance of the all-new Tegra 4 system-on-chip. Our first hands-on video, photos and impressions can be found below.
So, what to make of Nvidia's Shield? Well, it doesn't just look like an Xbox 360 controller, it very much feels like one as well. That means it has a solidly constructed body, with a nice grip in the hand, but it's also very bulky for a portable console. You'll certainly never confuse it for a Nintendo 3DS, not even the XL variety. The screen up top gives less reason for confidence, as its hinge felt loose on the three sample devices I managed to play with. On the plus side, the 5-inch panel is a high-quality, LED-backlit LCD, offering good color accuracy and viewing angles, no complaints there.
Equipping the Project Shield console with Micro HDMI and Micro USB outputs, plus a microSD card slot for extra storage, Nvidia ensures it has plenty of flexibility, while the company also assures us the software side of things is "completely open": the Shield runs Android 4.2.1 today, but you can hack it to your heart's content.
It doesn't just look like an Xbox 360 controller, it feels like one as well
Nvidia says the current iteration of the Project Shield devices is close to the finished retail product, which is anticipated in the second quarter of this year in the US and Canada (you'll be able to buy it at Nvidia.com as well). Alterations are still possible, but it seems like the consoles on show here at CES are a true representation of what will be on sale. The only thing Nvidia would disclose on the pricing front is that Project Shield will not be a loss leader for the company — suggesting a higher cost than most competing devices like standalone Android tablets, which Nvidia will then try to justify with the fact most people will already have a library of Android and Windows games.
The speed of the new Tegra 4 SoC was predictably snappy throughout the Android interface, however I didn't get a chance to personally try out gaming with the console in order to draw any real conclusions about its in-game performance. Nvidia showed off Borderlands 2 and the latest Call of Duty game being streamed from a nearby PC directly to the Shield and communications between the two machines were smooth and effortless, there was no lag.
As to the future, Nvidia isn't ruling out doing 3G or 4G variants of the Shield, should its current Wi-Fi-only variety find a market for this kind of device. There were 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage on board the demo console I got to see, however Nvidia is still working on pinning down the finer details of its spec sheets, which is why we're also not yet being informed about the final clock speed of the Tegra 4 A15 chip inside.