Nvidia Shield - Is It Worth Buying?
The Nvidia Shield, previously code-named as Project Shield, is a largely misunderstood device that has been the subject of much controversy in the gaming world despite reviews being largely positive. Is it supposed to be a gaming handheld, game streaming device, home-based gaming console, multimedia powerhouse or just another Android machine sprinkled with extra fluff?
Nvidia themselves might not be even sure which market segment their handheld console is targeting. Is it really worth it as a gaming device? The Nvidia Shield is really worth buying (especially with the price cut to $199.99) if you are aware what you are getting into.
If there is only one reason why the Nvidia Shield is worth buying, it has to be the physical controls it has. The luxurious, XBox-esque gamepad is huge, comfortable and lets you game on for countless of hours. Many gamers who try to play certain games like shooters, platformers or games via emulation can understand the frustration of a touch screen. The good old controller is still better for a lot of reasons. That explains why there are countless of detachable controllers made for Android and iOS devices in the market, such as the MOGA series.
The Gamepad Mapper was introduced in an update which allows the gamepad to work for ANY Android game, even if do not have native support for physical controls.
Emulation & Classic Gaming
Most people who are interested in the Shield are fond of classic gaming via emulation. This is one of the main reasons why they even bought or consider buying a Nvidia Shield. The good news is, the Shield is really an excellent device for emulation. With a powerful Tegra-based processor and Android OS, emulation fits like a tee on it.
Here are some examples of good emulators for the Shield (this Nvidia Shield emulator list is pretty long, credits to EvaUnit02 from NeoGAF) which can be found on the Play Store:
All-in-1: RetroArch (free, however it's not the best)
2600.emu: Atari 2600 VCS
Beebdroid: BBC Micro
C64.emu: Commodore 64
DosBox Turbo: MS-DOS
DraStic: Nintendo DS
ePSXe: Sony PlayStation (FPse is also a great alternative but costs $)
GBA.emu: Gameboy Advance
GBC.emu: Gameboy and Gameboy Color
KEGS: Atari IIgs
Marvin: ZX Spectrum
MD.emu: Sega Mark III, Master System, Genesis, 32X, Sega CD
Mupen64 Plus AE: Nintendo 64
NEO.emu: Neo Geo/AVS
NGP.emu: Neo Geo Pocket, Neo Geo Pocket Color
PCE.emu: Turbo Grafx-16, Turbo Grafx-CD
PPSSPP: Sony PSP (compatibility issues with certain games but works really well in general)
ScummVM: SCUMM (to play classic adventure games such as the LucasArts and Sierra ones)
Snes9x EX+: SNES
SToid: Atari ST
UAE4Droid: Commodore Amiga
WonderDroid: Wonderswan, Wonderswan Color.
Nvidia GRID & Cloud Gaming
The Nvidia GRID is something in line with a thin client concept when the bulk of the processing power relies on the server side. Unlike the conventional game streaming, games are streamed right from the extremely powerful cloud gaming servers, so you are free from the restrictions of your own PC. This means you do not have to worry about hardware specifications nor confined to your home. Just a good WiFi connection (Nvidia recommends a connection of at least 10 Mbps) and you are ready to play, anywhere.
At the time of writing, Nvidia Grid for the Nvidia Shield is in Beta, so you may experience some bugs and issues. Despite Nvidia stating that the GRID Beta is limited to Northern California only, it actually works for other regions/countries as long as you have a fast enough connection. Additionally, the cloud gaming servers are located in the United States, so streaming performance from other countries may not be as desirable. Some games available right now (and it continues to grow):
Alan Wake: American Nightmare
Dead Island (new)
Gas Guzzlers: Extreme
Red Faction: Armageddon
Saints Row: The Third (new)
Street Fighter X Tekken
Super Street Fighter 4 Arcade Edition
The Witcher 2
The video below demonstrates Red Faction: Armageddon streamed off the Nvidia's cloud servers to the Nvidia Shield. It's pretty incredible.
Originally, Nvidia Shield only allowed PC game streaming from within a local network. This means you are not able to stream your favorite PC games outside your house, such as in your friend's house or in the office with an external network.
However, with a software update in April 2014, GameStream allows you to stream your PC games beyond your local network! The Nvidia Shield is now capable of waking your PC from sleep mode and/or unlocking it. Realistically, you can tether using your 4G smartphone and play anywhere! Of course, you will need a strong enough WiFi signal .. perhaps the congested WiFi at your local Starbucks is not good enough.
Nvidia's Strong & Ongoing Support
When most owners mobile smartphones are still waiting for their latest Android update, Nvidia provided Shield owners with the latest iteration of the OS, Android 4.4.2, more commonly known as KitKat. This was just one of the many updates by Nvidia as they continue to improve streaming, grid gaming, updating the Android OS, bug fixes, support for notebook graphics, enhancing the UI and introducing new features. This is something worthy of mention and what developers should do.
What is Wrong with the Shield?
Casual gamers would not bother with the Nvidia Shield as they would rather game on their mobile phones. They do not need the physical controls, the extra bulk nor the hassle of an additional electronic device. At 600g, nearly the weight of an 10' iPad or equivalent tablet, the clamshell behemoth is not something gamers can fit easily into their pockets or carry around often.
PC gamers who want to stream games onto the device might eventually go back to their large LCD desktop screens after the novelty wears off. Setting up a game streaming has many requirements which may even deter the most hardcore gamer. You need a strong WiFi signal, a suitable Nvidia Geforce video card (even narrowing the target market further) and be on the same network. This is the part where the irony sets in - it is supposed to be a handheld but unfortunately you can only stay at home to enjoy game streaming.
Consumers who want a multimedia and entertainment device would rather settle for a tablet PC or even a smart phone, many which have larger screens and hardware specifications than the Nvidia Shield.
It is important to note that the Shield is not for everyone, it is a niche device for a niche audience. But this does not take away the fact that it is still an excellent device if you truly can appreciate what it does and who it is meant for.