Nvidia wasn't able to get its graphics chips into either the Xbox One or the PlayStation 4, so it's doing the next best thing by trying to obviate home consoles altogether. Today the company introduces its new $299 Shield Tablet: an 8-inch Android device designed to sate all your gaming needs at once. It's powered by the souped-up Tegra K1 processor that Nvidia debuted to much fanfare in January, and already has a number of major game titles optimized to make use of its extra power. It's also compatible with a new Shield wireless controller and the same game-streaming capability as its predecessor Shield — allowing you to remotely play a game running on your PC at home. With a mini-HDMI connection outputting 1080p content to the nearest HDTV, the Shield Tablet can be a jack of all trades by either playing Android games or streaming PC titles into the living room.
"The ultimate is coming." Those words welcome visitors to Nvidia's special landing site counting down to the announcement of what has now been revealed to be the Shield Tablet. With the release of this new Android device, Nvidia is turning the Shield brand into a product family, adding in a Shield wireless controller and a Shield cover. This is also the first global product launch from the company. More accustomed to designing fast graphics chips and having hardware partners building everything around them, Nvidia says it has learned a lot about industrial design, mechanical components, and supply chain management from the original Shield and that's given it the confidence to distribute the new one worldwide.
The US and Canada still get the Shield Tablet first, with a 16GB Wi-Fi-only variant costing $299 in the States and a 32GB LTE model priced at $399. To get the maxed-out Shield Tablet suite, you'd need an extra $59 for the Wi-Fi controller, $39 for the cover, and a few extra bucks to buy the mini-HDMI cable that's sadly absent from the retail box. Europe follows from the middle of August and availability in other regions will be announced in the fall.
"For the first time ever, we are streaming to Twitch direct from a mobile device."
So what makes the Shield Tablet more compelling than any other? Its overarching focus on gaming has led to a number of firsts: this is the first tablet to stream games from PCs inside the home (equipped with a GeForce GTX 600 series GPU or above), the first to be able to stream games from the cloud via Nvidia's Grid beta program in North California, and the first to feature Twitch streaming.
While the first two may be useful to only a limited audience, the Twitch integration carries universal appeal and is growing into an increasingly desired addition to any gaming device. In practice, it works very quickly and simply. Activating your Twitch channel is one of the primary menu items on the Shield Tablet and you can also record and later upload snippets from inside a game.
Nvidia has also put together a Console Mode for when the device is plugged in to a television set, though it's a basic variation on the interface the company has on the tablet itself, and fills 40-inch screens with comically oversized app icons. The simplicity of this UI is actually helpful, but it just needs a more refined appearance.
Hulu Plus, Evernote, and Netflix apps will come preloaded on the Shield Tablet, which Nvidia notes is one of only three to support Netflix HD streaming. Moreover, the Shield Tablet is 4K-ready, though with a resolution of 1920 x 1200 on its 8-inch display and a standard TV output of 1080p, the capability to decode such content is mostly of academic importance.
So far, there are 12 games that are optimized for the Tegra K1, including the recently released Shield-exclusive ports of Portal and Half-Life 2. Both of those games look much prettier and move at a higher frame rate than on the original Shield, and Nvidia promises to keep aggressively adding to the list of games that look best on its hardware.
"In every way we could, we designed the tablet to be a great gaming tablet."
As to the hardware itself, the Shield Tablet has a very basic design that's equal parts unassuming and uninspiring. It has a soft-touch back, a pair of stereo speakers framing the display, and an integrated stylus that makes use of Nvidia's DirectStylus technology. Under the hood, Nvidia has made a few optimizations to give it what it claims to be "double the heat dissipation of a typical tablet." That's accompanied by three power settings in the device's software, including a max performance mode that's practically useless today but could help the Shield Tablet keep up with more graphically demanding games in the future. That's Nvidia's premise, anyway.
The battery is expected to last a fairly conventional 10 hours when playing back video or between three and five hours — depending on the game — when used for its primary purpose of gaming. Nvidia has invested a lot of time in making this Android tablet the ultimate portable gaming device, and much of its future will depend on how successful it is in convincing developers and gamers to embrace it as a preferred platform. "In every way we could, we designed the tablet to be a great gaming tablet," says Nvidia. The iPad already serves that purpose for many, but Nvidia's definition of gaming involves a lot more high-fidelity graphics and "console-class" gameplay and controls. The hardware is in place, now it's time to live up to the rest of the Shield Tablet promise.