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Nvidia Project Shield review

Nvidia Project Shield

We see if it's really possible to play PC games on a handheld

We first saw Nvidia’s Project Shield portable gaming device at CES in January, and were excited about the possibility of a proper Android gaming platform and the ability to play PC games anywhere in your home.

We’ve now had a chance to play with Project Shield, and first impressions are good. It’s a strange concept, so we’ll recap briefly on what Shield is and does.

Nvidia Project Shield

That’s a pretty standard Android 4.2 installation running on what looks like a first-gen Xbox controller

Shield looks like an (original) Xbox controller with a Tegra 4 smartphone built in. It’s designed to play Android games optimised for physical controllers rather than touch, and the Tegra Zone app filters Google Play for games that work properly with a physical controller.

Some games work very well with touchscreens, but others, like many platformers and shooters, just don’t, so having a combination of a decent controller and games optimised for physical buttons is a godsend for those who want console or PC-style games on a handheld.

Nvidia Project Shield

Hawken for Android benefits greatly from physical buttons

Project Shield’s party trick, though, is what happens if you have a desktop PC with an Nvidia graphics card installed; Project Shield will let you play PC games on the handheld device, as long as those games work with an Xbox-compatible gamepad. The games are rendered on the PC and the video sent to Project Shield’s screen, like a local version of OnLive. You can then play PC games on your sofa, in bed or in your garden shed without having to be tied to a hefty desktop PC.

It all sounds promising in theory, and we’re happy to say that the system works well in reality. We tried out Shield with Assassin’s Creed 3, and the handheld mirrored what was happening on the PC screen with no discernable drop in quality. We saw very occasional framerate stutters, but these were barely noticeable; it felt like a proper PC gaming experience. Nvidia claims Shield has a latency of 100-150ms, which is similar to an Xbox 360’s wireless controller.

Nvidia Project Shield

The controller mirrors exactly what’s on screen – it’s PC gaming in your pocket, as long as you stay on the same network as a PC with an Nvidia graphics card

The controller itself is reasonable. The thumbsticks don’t have as much travel as we’d like, so the gamepad isn’t up there with the Xbox 360’s controller, but the Shield device is still comfortable to use and hold. The prototype we used had some hard plastics, but Nvidia said that this would be replaced with softer material for production.

Project Shield will be available in Q2 this year, so you shouldn’t have to wait more than two or three months to get your hands on some portable PC gaming. Nvidia refused to be drawn on price, only saying that Shield “isn’t a subsidised model” – the company evidently expects to make money on the device itself, rather than through content deals.

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