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Who - and what - is Nvidia's Shield for? Exclusive
Who - and what - is Nvidia's Shield for?
July 19, 2013 | By Christian Nutt

Nvidia plans to enter the game device space with its Shield, an Android-powered portable game device that also streams PC games from Nvidia-powered PCs over local wifi networks.

It's an interesting but unusual device, and at $299, it's not trivially cheap, either. To get a bead on who exactly the company believes will be attracted to the platform and why it was put together in the first place, Gamasutra spoke to Mithun Chandrasekhar, technical marketing manager at Nvidia.

Who do you see as the people who will be buying the Shield platform?

Mithun Chandrasekhar: Android gamers and PC gamers. With Shield, we're trying to hit both the birds with one stone, so to speak.

We feel that the path that PC gaming has been taking all this while, Android is following very closely. Developers can come and develop whatever games they want. There are no licensing issues. There are not a bunch of things that can impede their creativity, like on a bunch of other platforms.

So we've already been the pioneers of PC gaming with the GeForce thing for decades now. So we thought, "How can we use that expertise and try and exploit the Android platform?" So it's a culmination of two open platforms: Android and PC.

The way the PC game streaming works, as I understand it, is that you have to have an Nvidia card in your PC, and then it is local. It's not over the internet.

MC: right. So the way it works is that you need to have a GTX 600 or above class GPU-based PC in your home, and you need to have a wifi setup. In theory, as long as you have wifi range, it should work perfectly fine.

To double back to your question as to why it's not over the internet, it's purely latency. In theory, there's nothing stopping us from doing that. I mean, it's bits. It just depends on whether it's on a local network or over the internet, or 4G or 3G. But ultimately, let's take, for example, Borderlands 2. Any first person shooter. You have a latency element to it, so for now we're focusing on wifi.

But potentially, if network speeds improve...

MC: Sure. Why not? But that's the reason. We aren't announcing anything. Again, in theory, it should work.

What is the attraction of having that capability? For PC gamers, why would they want to?

MC: I was talking to a gentleman right now, and they were asking, "Why PC gaming, why not console gaming?" It's always been a compromise. If you want the absolute best, cutting-edge in graphics and all this stuff, you have to go to PC gaming. You don't have a choice. It's the best, right?

But then, a lot of people would like to kick back on their couch with a controller in their hand and take all of that with them. And there wasn't really a solution for that. You had to go console. You had to go to the Dark Side, so to speak.

But then with Shield, you can have the cake and eat it too. Because you have all of the PC goodness on your couch, in your bed, in your kitchen, wherever you want, as long as you have wifi range. It lets you take all of the PC goodness with you. Which is pretty amazing -- nobody has ever done that before this effectively.

This is coming out soon. Retailers are already committed to it. Has there been good response?

MC: We've got really good response. The preorders are up. It will be available at Newegg, Micro Center, GameStop, online at our store, Canada Computers. And for now it's North America, but given the response that we have got, we will be announcing plans. We should be announcing plans for other markets, too.

Who do you see yourself competing with? Obviously this is a much different proposition than an Ouya, but it's sort of in the same space as a PlayStation Vita. Where do you see it?

MC: We actually think that we have a niche, we have a unique market of our own. Because, as I said, a lot of people have been promising Android gaming, but almost every day when I open up a bunch of news, "Oh, so-and-so forth has announced so-and-so Android gaming device," or whatever.

So that's been going on for awhile. No one's taken it seriously as a platform. No one is committed to Android as a gaming platform. So that's where we felt we had -- like we pioneered gaming on the PC, we thought we could do this.

To answer your question, it's not competing with anyone, but it's competing with everyone, kind of a thing.

Because you can't really make a one-to-one comparison to the Vita. Think about it. A lot of people have been asking us, oh, the Vita is just $249, you're $349, boo-hoo. [Ed. Note: this interview was originally conducted shortly before the Shield's price drop to $299.] Buy the Vita and three games. Buy the Shield, and three games. See who comes out on top. It's a no-brainer. And that difference just keeps growing as you keep buying more games, and gamers tend to do that. So, I think it's just such a unique product that it's in a space of its own. It has the potential to disrupt a lot of other competing platforms.

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Gryff David
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I don't fully understand the game streaming. Are you supposed to play normal PC games with this thing? I don't see the appeal of playing a PC game with what looks like a console controller. I like playing PC games because I get to play with a mouse and keyboard, which is awesome. Maybe I misunderstood, maybe you're supposed to play the Android games by streaming them over PC, which then renders the streaming pretty much redundant? This seems to me like nVidia is trying to cash in on the mobile gaming market. I see the appeal of playing PC games lying on your couch or whatever, but the next gen consoles are supposed to mean that you get PC level graphics on a console for a mere $100 more than this device.

Christian Nutt
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It streams PC games from PCs which are equipped with the requisite Nvidia video card. Locally.

Brian M
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For FPS I'm mouse and keyboard all the way, but for a lot of games I prefer a controller. The major appeal is being able to keep playing my PC titles while kicking it on the couch with my wife. She just like it when I'm not locking myself away on my PC sometimes.

Donald Christian
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Makes total sense as an in house remote device for a dedicated PC based console with streaming capability.

Now who in the world might be building such a console?

Merc Hoffner
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Genuinely not intending to sound snarky, but perhaps it would help a dedicated game platform if the 1st party was interested in making games for it. If Nvidea could make games for their own platform they could show leadership, show confidence, show off technology, create some exclusivity, create some kind of further subsidisation and/or revenue stream, create some noise, create some clear differentiation, understand the challenges their partners face, pioneer genres etc. You know, take advantage of all the things Sony's handling pretty poorly. Of course hey're not a game company, but if they can't be bothered to make games for it (or even cultivate real effort from friendly partners), why should anyone else dedicate resource? And if they're not interested in being a games company but a parts specialist, then what business do they have making dedicated games platforms with all the associated complexity?

It's like nobody remembers the CDi, the Pippin, the Amiga CD32, the, the Tapwave Zodiac, the Gizmondo, the NGage. And those were the failures when the manufacturers didn't even try. Factor in the Jaguar, the 3DO, the Nomad, the WonderSwan, various NeoGeos and it's a wonder anyone ever bothers. Failure is the norm when you're actually putting your chips in (pun unintended). For machines that do little else, failure is guaranteed when you're half-hearted.

Joseph Majsterski
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Game development is pretty far outside of NVidia's business model. Anyway, I think the idea is that this is not really a new platform. It's providing access to two platforms that already exist and have massive game selections. I'm interested in seeing reviews from people who actually put it through its paces and get a feel for what it provides that's different.

Jason Gage
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It's not a platform though.

It's a very specific sort of display, is all. It's like someone bundled a monitor and a controller that ran over wifi.

Well, it's not like that. It *is* that, it's just that it's all an integrated unit.

The only scenario that makes any sense with this thing is the same scenario as using the Wii U's tablet to play games without using the TV, for whatever reason. (Not in the same room, someone else is using the screen, etc)

The "platform" here is just "any PC game that runs with a controller". (And doesn't suffer too much from latency)


Re: The internet. Bandwidth can't fix latency problems. You could have a pure fibre connection that could stream a terabyte a second and it wouldn't matter in the slightest to the amount of latency you have, which is a function of distance & topology.

Jacob Pederson
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No bandwidth can't fix latency problems; however, as tech improves latency does tend to get a bit better. Ultimately the speed of light is your only limit to Latency :)

Brian M
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The platform its pushing is Android, and the hardware its pushing is Tegra more than itself. If this opens up gaming for Tegra set top boxes with android and controller support I think NVIDIA is happy. I think by using vanilla Android with Google play they are really opening up areas for them to exploit, unlike Ouya by not using Google play restrict the ecosystem.

I think this is to boost Android, PC and Tegra, countering iOS and next gen console dominance.

Merc Hoffner
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Sure, I get what you guys are saying, but if it's NOT intended as a platform, then what exactly is its purpose? A really expensive screen? A much less functional smartphone? The same odd set of limitations that prevent Vita from being more compelling in the mobile age. As a low-res, minisclue twinstick outlet for high end PC experiences, it's pretty counter to Nvidia's own high-end message, let alone that uber-core market's obsession. As a twinstick high end Android device, it's pretty counter to the convenience factor that makes Android devices popular. As an Nvidia showboat device to help push Tegra, well, no OEM is gonna make device decisions based on the popularity of this device, and quite frankly making dedicated games that really show off the tech (not available on iOS) could be exactly the thing to make Tegra a compelling choice for their OEM partners. That is of course exactly why Nvidea has historically pushed bleeding edge demos on the PC.

Has strengthening their other businesses, or android as a platform, even been Nvidia's intended message with shield? If so, it hasn't been a particularly potent campaign. We've been paying attention, and if we can't confidently discern what they're trying to say with this device (well, I can't anyway) then they have a marketing problem, and maybe a market problem.

I personally don't think Ouya is a particularly coherent proposition, and yet between curating its own software support, building out its own grass roots audience ahead of time and its low low low price, I think it's significantly more intelligible than Shield.

Kyle McBain
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They are playing up the PC market which is great. Long live the PC! This isn't a new console. You can play the same games without it than you can with it. It is just a piece of hardware that makes gaming from your couch easier. If they were to develop 1st party games it would hurt gamers in this sense because you would have to have an Nvidia Graphics card to play them and PC games would no longer be PC exclusive. They would be Nvidia eclusive and you would have to drop close to a grand if not more just to play one game with the shield.

Kyle McBain
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Okay I am dumb. You need one anyways to play with the Shield. I forgot about that. Nvidia is already making it expensive as hell. I have an Nvidia card so I'm good but I feel bad for those who need to invest in that technology.

Donald Christian
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Pretty obvious to me the Shield was developed for an Nvidia based Steam Box. During CES Gabe dropped Nvidia's name more than once also said he wanted the Steam Box to be able to stream multiple games simultaneously. Nvidia's shield makes all kind of sense as a remote in house terminal for those streaming games. It makes little to no sense in any other context.

Gabe also stressed how vital developer support would be to the success of Steam Box.

Not hard to imagine how subsequent meetings with game developers went when Gabe broached the idea of an Intel/Nvidia solution for Steam Box when every PC/Console game developer was neck deep in developing for AMD HSA APUs ... mass protest.

Hence the extreme likelihood Steam Box will have an AMD HSA APU/GPU solution, amnd as it's been recently confirmed AMD is selling the PS4 chip to Sony, not licensing it, probably semi-customized to make porting PS4 game code in particular all but painless for the developers.

Hence Nvidia being left with a limp project shield in hand and nowhere to put it. So .... do a few mods and throw it against the wall to see if anything sticks.

With the PS4, Xbox One and Steam Box all going the AMD HSA APU route, they might as well, it's not like they have anything left to lose.

Robert Green
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I don't think he really explained why android gamers would want this. Almost by definition, android gamers already have something that can play games on in the living room or on the go, so the only advantage this offers is the ability to play PC games away from their PC. Which isn't all that great a reason to spend $300 if you already have a portable gaming platform.
Similarly, if what you want is the ability to play PC games on a TV with a gamepad, I'm sure I'm not alone in already having solved that particular problem.
It's good that they're trying to make something unique here, but there's such a thing as making a product so niche that nobody actually needs it.

Kyle Redd
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If the controller and the screen are both of decent quality, I'm actually interested in this.

For one thing, any Android game that has controller support and isn't designed specifically for touch will be a great deal more fun to play on the Shield than they are on a phone or tablet. This would include basically every Android game that uses a virtual stick as part of its control scheme, which is not a small number of games.

The ability to stream games from a PC has somewhat more limited appeal, but it's still useful. There are certain PC games that, although they are fun to play on a monitor or TV, are mostly quick-session games that are best in short bursts. Games like Super Meat Boy, Dustforce, Hotline Miami, and others fit into this category. These games would be great on a device that you can flip open and start playing quickly.

Robert Green
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I agree regarding the android virtual stick games, though two things are worth noting - the game still has to be coded to support a controller, and you could achieve the same thing for $50 with something like the MOGA Pro controller. That also has the benefit that when you update your phone (i.e. that thing which made you an android gamer to begin with) in a couple of years, you're not left with a specialised gaming handheld that's now less powerful than the general purpose handheld you're taking with you everywhere.

Kyle Redd
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I guess that's true, although I'm not sure how controller support for Android games works - Do developers have to add each controller individually? If that's the case, there will likely end up being more support for the shield than the Moga or most other 3rd-party pads.

In any case, I still think the ability to stream games from the PC will have significant appeal for many, even though it'll be limited to games with full controller support. Anyone with a mid-range or better gaming PC will essentially have the most powerful mobile-ish game platform in existence in the Shield, with a substantial selection of great games available.

Assuming the screen and controller are up to scratch (and maybe once they lower the price a bit), it wouldn't surprise me to see it succeed.

Robert Green
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It's my understanding that there is a built-in 'input device' class that could be used to support a range of controllers, provided they all have some standard functionality - e.g. "this game requires two analog sticks and four action buttons".
My point was simply that just because a developer has made a game that seems like it would be better with a controller, that doesn't mean it'll have controller support, and even if it does, there are likely much cheaper ways of achieving that solution.
As for the PC side of things, I guess we have to wait and see if there's a demand for that, because there has never, to my knowledge, been a product like this. If there was/is such a demand though, they also have the problem that someone else could build a similar product that doesn't have a full android system inside, potentially for cheaper and without being limited to nvidia graphics cards.

Martin Pettersson
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I know exactly what kind of thought process gave birth to the Shield. It's "we have this technology (GPU), what can we build with it?". This is not the way to go about building a consumer product. The process should be the complete opposite: "we want to build something that does X, what technology do we need to do that?". Unfortunately, this is the way many companies that got big doing one thing very well work.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Chris Skuller
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Not to sound derisive, but if your intent is to play PC games on your couch and you already have a GTX 600 or better video card, you would probably be better served just buying a long HDMI cord and a long USB cord to hook directly into your TV. It would certainly be hundreds of dollars cheaper.

Chris Melby
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Every GPU I've bought since 2007 has had HDMI out and I know people that keep their PCs plugged into their TV.

Fabian Schneider
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My theory remains that this is a very smart feint rather than an awkward attempt to compete with other handheld devices. The idea is that buyers of video cards will now have another argument in favor of Nvidia technology. Not that everyone will use or even buy the Shield, but the feeling that they are 'missing out' on something (even if it is just the ability to use it without actually using it) has proven a VERY strong motivator in the past.
The problem is that this effect will only last until the press tears the Shield apart, so they would have to position it as "a good device for what it intends to be" in order to profit from its existence in GPU sales.