Opinion

Is the New Nvidia Shield Dead on Arrival?

Is the New Nvidia Shield Dead on Arrival?

Can the Nvidia Shield - an Android TV console using the Tegra X1 SoC - do what no other microconsole so far has managed, and actually succeed in the open market? It's a powerful device running on an eight-core, 64-bit capable SoC with a Maxwell-based GPU with 256 CUDA cores and HEVC/H.265 support. The Shield supports video output at a 4K resolution 60Hz via an HDMI 2.0 connection.

Nvidia claims the Shield is twice as fast as the Xbox 360, and, despite being around the size of a tablet, capable of running games such as Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, Doom 3: BFG, and Crysis 3. That's a pretty exciting proposition, but doesn't guarantee that it will be a big hit for Nvidia.

Microconsoles - ranging from Android-based ones like the Gamestick and Ouya, to Sony's PlayStation Vita TV - haven't exactly 'disrupted' the gaming market, or even been hugely successful commercially. Ouya might have gotten some early attention thanks to its launch on Kickstarter at a time when crowdfunded projects were still a curiosity, but Android gaming as a whole remains a space for casual, touch-friendly games.

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This was something that become painfully obvious when we used the first Nvidia Shield - which was designed like a game controller with a screen attached. The highlight of that device was the fact that it could stream games from your computer to the handheld device - if you had a fairly powerful gaming computer with a limited selection of compatible hardware.

As a result, we were restricted to playing Android games - the experience was handled incredibly well and even the most demanding games would play wonderfully, but there is a distinct shortage of games that make such a console worth having.

The new Shield isn't going the handheld route, and will have to be plugged into your television - that's only going to make the problem worse, unless game developers start to make content specifically for this platform. While a company with as much clout as Nvidia will undoubtedly find support from some developers and publishers, the fact remains that unless a huge number of people buy the Shield, it won't make sense for developers to target the platform.

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Most Android developers will not specifically target the Shield either - if you want to reach as many people as possible, then you're likely to target entry and mid-level smartphones, not a niche piece of hardware. You'll find many more people keen to make the next Flappy Bird over a weekend, than you'll find developers who are keen to invest a few years to make a console quality game for the Shield.

This raises the question of who the Shield is for, really. If it's meant for the casual gamer who makes up the majority of the Android audience, then it doesn't really look appealing. The Shield comes with a complex controller, and requires you to set it up and sit down in front of the television with intent to play. This is not something that will be used for the five minute Crossy Road session just before you go to sleep - it requires a more significant time investment than that.

What about the gamer who hasn't bought a Playstation 4 or an Xbox One for any reason? The kind of person who bought Knights of the Old Republic, and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, when they launched on mobile? This looks like a more realistic option.

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The relatively low cost of the Shield (the $16GB base model will cost only $199 - or approximately Rs. 12,500 - in the US) would make the console more attractive to gamers than the more expensive current generation consoles (the PlayStation 4 costs $399 - or approximately Rs. 25,500 - in the US) while still being able to play a good number of high-end games.

The catch is that the library is limited to remakes and updates of classic games ported over to Android, with very few high-end games being made specifically for the platform. You will get a lot of PC ports - even some pretty high-end games - but if you'd like to play The Witcher 3 then you're out of luck. Despite the price difference, you're ultimately better off saving up to buy the latest console, because high-end games on Android are too few, and too far between. Otherwise, you're going to be streaming games from your PC, at which point it might just be easier to hookup your TV to the big screen.

Essentially, the new Nvidia Shield doesn't fix any of the problems of its predecessor - it doesn't have the advantages of a mobile platform, or the library of a full-powered console. It's neither fish nor fowl, and suffers greatly as a result. There is a definite niche of people - this correspondent included - who will be excitedly waiting to get their hands on this device, but it isn't something that most people should buy. That's why, despite its very impressive specifications, we believe that the new Nvidia Shield will likely end the same way as its predecessor and the Ouya.

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