Nvidia’s new Android Gaming Console

on March 4, 2015

Nvidia has been steadily investing in, and expanding the capabilities of, their Shield product line combined with their Grid server system. The original product, the Shield Portable, a game controller with an attached screen, was a kind of “toe in the water” for Nvidia to enter into the consumer electronics business. The next product was the Shield Tablet, which also was a consumer electronics product, but Nvidia shared it with their partners (e.g., EVGA).

This week at GDC in San Francisco, Nvidia unveiled its latest Shield product, the Shield Console, an Android TV-like device with a game controller and an optional remote control stick (similar to the Apple TV controller, only black instead of silver).

Nvidia has also set up an Nvidia game store with over 50 games, and users will be able to sign up for a subscription (price TBD, but obviously it will be in line with Amazon and others). For an easy comparison, you could say Nvidia’s Shield console was like Amazon’s Fire TV.

However, Nvidia has been nibbling at milliseconds since they brought out the first Shield Portable, and the differentiation between Nvidia’s Shield console and all other Android TV/consoles will be response time, latency, and throughput—Nvidia’s will be faster. One of the reasons is because they control both ends of the pipe—the server and the client.

The company has been and continues to also work very closely with game developers and is re-porting lots of favorites as well as new games. These games will run at an “honest” 4K and even better at HD.

The cabinet is lovely to look at with sharp diagonal lines, and multi-reflective surfaces, and is about the size of a thin book, 8 x 5 inches, and 1 inch thick.

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 8.05.30 AM

The system, which sells for $199, comes with the Shield processor cabinet, a stand, a game controller, and a power supply. The optional TV controller is $30. The stand, by the way, has an amazingly sticky nano surface on the bottom and, once you put it on a flat surface like a table, it’s hard as hell to pull off. The cabinet slips neatly and firmly into the stand.

In the demo I had at Nvidia’s facilities in Santa Clara, the system was very responsive. I even asked where the server was, assuming it had to be in the room. I was told it was in Seattle. That was a surprise because it was so fast – there was no noticeable latency, no sound mis-sync, and it was driving a full 4K screen wirelessly (the system uses 802.11 a/c).

What do we think?

This product marks a major step for Nvidia, one it has been building toward for decades — to be a full service consumer electronics company. Nvidia has been saying for a few years, “We are not a semiconductor company.” Their Grid, Telsa, Quadro, and other products are ample proof of that. Yes, they do sell semiconductors and they also sell components (like the recently announced automotive subsystems). But they really want to be like Apple. And with the Shield console and its ecosystem, they are one step closer to doing that. The main difference between Apple and Nvidia (other than size) is Nvidia uses a common OS. Nvidia sees it as an advantage in that it can leverage all the app development work, the APIs, and the OS itself, and not have to carry the expense of doing all the work.

The new console is truly delightful, and I’m looking forward to getting one.