That times are tough cannot be argued. Virtually the entire world is in a state of economic upheaval, and even industries that were previously considered recession proof like many entertainment industries, including video gaming are feeling more than a pinch. Consumer simply aren’t spending a lot of money these days, largely because they don’t have a lot of money to spend.
And yet there are companies out there that believe that there is still space for more consoles in the market. One such company is NVidia, who introduced their Shield gaming device to the world just over a year ago. Many people asked whether there was a gap in the market for such a device, but NVidia weren’t naïve enough to believe that they would crush any of the big names out there with their new device. In truth, the Shield did everything but take on the console giants, purely because it was aimed at a slightly different gaming market the PC market.
The original Shield is a portable device, with a 5 inch 720p multi-touch folding screen attached to a controller very reminiscent of the Xbox controller style. The system features an Nvidia Tegra quad core mobile CPU with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of on-board storage, and is fully capable of playing any of the 100-plus games that have been optimised for it. These titles include the likes of Max Payne 3, Call of Duty: Ghost, Crysis 3, Borderlands 2 and many more.
Observant types may note that most of those games wouldn’t fit on the limited storage of the Shield. But using a streaming system via NVidia GameStream, the user can not only access games online, but can remotely access games already installed on their PC.
In addition, the device is Android powered, enabling the user to make use of Android games and apps, and even watch moves. Yet around the time of launch, the NVidia Shield took some flak from critics, citing (among other reasons) a lack of compelling games and a high price point. Critics did not feel that the device would be able to compete in a handheld market already dominated by Sony and Nintendo, and quite frankly not doing as well as everyone had hoped.
All of this, of course, is relatively old news. And, in recent months, it seems that the Shield, along with other “indie” consoles, including the Ouya and GameStick, are facing a massive uphill struggle against the corporate giants. So much so, in fact, that hardware production on some of these devices might be canned entirely.That, though, is not in NVidia’s immediate plans.
In fact, the company recently renamed the Shield to the Shield Portable, because there is a new device launching roughly now. The new Shield tablet is Nvidia next big swing at the market, although it will take on a broader approach. As the name suggests, this is a tablet. Although it has been designed with gaming in mind, the Android powered Shield Tablet will offer users all the versatility of an Android device, as well as a portable gaming solution.
The Shield Tablet is armed with a Tegra K1 192 core Kepler GPU and a 2.2GHz ARM Cortex A15 CPU, both supported by 2GB of RAM. It’s 8 inch full HD multi-touch screen is a big step up from that of the Shield Portable, and is flanked by powerful speakers, including a dual bass reflex port.On top of that, the Tablet comes in 2 flavours; a Wi-Fi only unit that offers 16GB of storage, and a 32GB Wi-Fi and LTE option.
In addition to the Tablet, the Shield Wireless Controller has also hit the market. It can be paired with either the Shield Portable or the Shield Tablet, and once again resembles an Xbox controller. The combination of the Tablet and Wireless controller allows the user to make use of the system in a number of ways.
Most obviously, games can be played with the controller, using the tablet screen for visuals. Console mode allows the tablet to be hooked up to an HDTV for a larger screen, and to allow multiple players to take part. Games can also, once again, be streamed from a PC. And all of this can stream to the Twitch online game streaming service.
On paper, the combination of the Shield Tablet and Wireless Controller make a lot of sense to PC gamers who want to have their games available anywhere and everywhere. With more and more titles being added to the Shield stable, there is a lot of entertainment to be had. But there are some flies in the ointment for this device, which may be the result of stubbornness rather than sensibility.
The first is that its starting price point is US$299. That’s comparable to an arguably more powerful console from one of the big corporations. While those may not be portable, they may provide the user with a better experience.
Secondly, the Tablet isn’t a complete solution. It requires a capable PC, for example, for streaming, and has the added cost of a Wireless Controller for it to truly shine.Thirdly, there will potentially be additional data costs involved, upping the cost of using the device even more and we haven’t even started talking games yet.
None of these elements are deterring NVidia, though. They have forged ahead with this device, which for the right person can make a lot of sense. But there are numerous obstacles along the way, not only related to cost. PC gamers, for example, might not take well to the controller idea, being more accustomed to a mouse and keyboard configuration.
All of this is, of course, something of a moot point here in South Africa there are no local distributors of the Shield devices here. Those that would want to get hold of one would have to import.
Still, the Shield idea is not fundamentally flawed; this may all be a case of poor timing on Nvidia’s part. Then again, it might not – just looking at sales figures for consoles from the large corporations shows that the market is perhaps healthier than many surmise. Either way, the fate of the Shield is not sealed, and it’s performance will provide an interesting set of indicators to not only the health of the worldwide gaming market, but also as to how consumers prefer to consume their games. The multifunctional device may yet surprise even its staunchest critics.