Nvidia Shield Tablet could be Android games console we actually want and here's why
Nvidia is open and honest about why it never brought the Nvidia Shield Android gaming device to the UK or, indeed, anywhere else outside of the US and Canada; it just wasn't good enough. Or, at least, by the time it became good enough something else was planned to supersede it.
It was the company's first foray into manufacturing its own hardware and as such was an opportunity for Nvidia to learn more about such factors as the supply chain and distribution. It gained a lot of consumer product experience in the process and now feels ready to further its reach beyond its homeland borders.
But not with the Shield. That device, it has been decided, will not get an international release, whether you want one or not. Instead, Nvidia has something else up its sleeve, a sequel if you like, that it believes offers a far better gaming experience. It is ready to unleash the Shield Tablet.
The market is ready for speciality devices, Nvidia told Pocket-lint during a London briefing and demo event, and specifically a gaming tablet. And that's the primary focus of the Nvidia Shield Tablet. While it is a fully-functioning, highly specified Android device, it is aimed squarely at the games-playing community and therefore has features and technologies inside and attached that will sate the appetite of that audience.
The tablet itself has an 8-inch Full HD (1920 x 1200) screen that, from our play with the device, is sharp, vibrant and IPS LCD rather than OLED, which some people prefer. It is driven by the Nvidia Tegra K1 processor with a 192-core Kepler GPU and that is capable of some amazing mobile gaming experiences, especially in the graphical field. In benchmark tests, claimed Nvidia during the launch event, it is rated as two to four times faster than the iPad Air or Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4 tablets when it comes to many of the factors needed for gaming.
For example, on the industry standard 3DMark test, it rates twice as highly as the Tab Pro (higher still than the iPad Air), and on the GFXBench 3.0 test, it is almost three times faster than its closest rivals.
While the screen itself is Full HD, the tablet is also capable of outputting and playing 4K video to a compatible TV or display. Plus, it comes with front and rear cameras that both use 5-megapixel sensors.
There's a passive stylus included - the Nvidia DirectStylus 2, which can be used for drawing and with a new handwriting mode - and there will be Wi-Fi-only and Wi-Fi and LTE (4G) versions available. The Wi-Fi model will have 16GB of on-board storage, the LTE model will have 32GB. Both also come with a microSD card slot that's capable of expansion by up to a further 128GB.
In power terms, because that's a concern with any game-centric tablet, we've been told the Shield Tablet will last from two to fours hours before needing a recharge, depending on how graphics heavy the games are. For watching video, it should last up to 10 hours.
And that's important as, while the Shield is clearly aimed at the gaming fraternity, it is also only one of three tablets authorised for 1080p streaming through Netflix. Nvidia has not shirked on its media duties either, it seems.
That's also an interesting statistic when it comes to streaming PC games to the tablet and, if connected, subsequently to a TV.
While there are over 200 Android games available that utilise a game controller and will therefore work naturally on the Shield - and then another 200 that can be controlled through the screen or the right thumbstick of the controller in mouse mode - you can also play over 120 PC games through Nvidia GameStream, both at home and outside, through Wi-Fi and 4G. And one of those is Titanfall, oh yes.
GameStream already exists and can be used with the current Shield device, but this will be the first time it will work in the UK too. If your PC is capable (it requires an Nvida Geforce graphics card) you can send gameplay footage to the tablet from the PC and control commands in reverse, playing the game in realtime with your computer effectively doing the hard work. It's much like a localised OnLive or PlayStation Now service.
If playing over Wi-Fi or 4G, you will see 720p images, but hook the tablet up to wired Ethernet and you can get 1080p streamed graphics. Then plug your Shield Tablet into a TV through the micro HDMI port - which is capable of outputting up to 4K video - and you have a fully fledged games console, running some of the latest PC games out there.
Even when out and about, you'll be able to play games others can only dream about. And that's a solid proposition in itself, let alone the potential quality of games optimised for the Tegra K1 processor.
On launch, Nvidia is bundling the Shield Tablet version of Trine 2 with the device and we think it's no exaggeration to say that from what we've seen it looks every bit as good as the PC and PS4 version. The company has also worked closely with Valve to create Shield versions of Half-Life 2 and Portal, and while they both look good on the Shield portable, they look stunning on Shield Tablet. There are other titles too that will be optimised, including Anomaly 2 and War Thunder, that will be available on other platforms but ramp up the graphical prowess on the new tablet.
Then, when you add compatibility for Steam Big Picture and OnLive, you are talking a hugely varied selection of games available through the one device, which is why we're happy to say that this is the first Android games console - both portable and when plugged into a TV - that could deliver on every promise. And then some.
It even has Twitch streaming, if that's your sort of thing. And it uses the front-facing camera to add your reactions to streamed gameplay should you desire. It really is designed to sate hardcore gamers needs.
That includes the custom gamepad too. While most Android devices that claim to be gamer-friendly adopt Bluetooth controllers, Nvidia realised that specific wireless technology wasn't going to offer latency low enough for proper games. So it has designed a controller that uses Wi-Fi Direct instead, a tech that allows for low latency connectivity, around the 10ms mark.
The Nvidia Shield wireless controller - which only works on the new tablet or the previous Shield portable - costs extra as one doesn't come in the box with the tablet. However, it's worth the additional expense, we believe, as it's built more like an Xbox One controller than the traditional Android accessories available on the market.
For a start, not only is it robust and ergonomically right, it has a headphone port for multiplayer or noise-respectful gaming. It also comes with a built-in microphone that can be used to talk to other gamers or control the tablet through voice commands. Plus, as the right thumbstick is sometimes needed by certain games and can't therefore double as a mouse in those instances, Nvidia has included a touch panel at the bottom of the front of the controller. It has thought of everything it seems.
You can also have four of them connected to the same device for multiplayer gaming.
As we've previously alluded to, we've seen games running on the device already and even had a brief play ourselves, of a build of Half-Life 2 and the PC version of Grid 2 running through Gamestream and we're impressed by what we've seen so far. The tablet is also superthin and light and while we'll hold fire on any more enthusiasm until it arrives in the Pocket-lint test labs for a full review, the portents are looking very good indeed.
Of course, we've barely touched on the fact that it's an Android 4.4 KitKat tablet, with all the apps and services the platform offers. Nor that it is only one of a few tablets to offer Netflix HD - a truly high definition version of the streaming service for tablets - but again, those will be revealed in due course. As will other features as we get to test them more thoroughly.
The Nvidia Shield Tablet will be released in the US and Canada in the next couple of weeks, UK and Europe around mid-August, and other regions in the autumn.
It will retail for $299 for the Wi-Fi-only model, $399 for the LTE (4G) version and the wireless controller is an additional $59. A Shield Tablet cover, which doubles as a desktop stand, will be $39. The only UK price we have had confirmed to date is £229 for the 16GB Wi-Fi-only model.