Nvidia has announced its entrance into the set-top box market with Shield, a new game console and media player based on Android.
Shield features the Tegra X1 chipset announced at CES 2015 in January, which is Nvidia’s most powerful mobile processor to date, and "30-35 times more powerful than Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV", according to Nvidia.
That sort of power means Shield is capable of running graphically-intensive games at 1080p resolution, as well as, run ultra high-definition video content, such as 4K video at 60 frames per second.
Nvidia demonstrated Crysis 3 to Pocket-lint natively running on the Shield at 1080p resolution.
Developer Crytek is currently making a Shield version of the shooter, which broadly appears to hold parity with the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions, impressive.
It isn't just a games console though. On the video side, Nvidia demonstrated Shield playing 4K video at 60 frames per second from a local micro SD card slotted in the back of the console. It will also support content from streaming providers such as Netflix, while the Android platform will support apps like XBMC and Plex and will play "every video file we’ve thrown at it", according to Nvidia, including "20GB+ Blu-Ray rips" and MKV files.
The Shield also acts as a Chromecast device, allowing you to throw content to your big screen from a mobile or tablet.
The hardware itself is bigger than Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV in terms of overall footprint, but it’s relatively thin, while the angled design is unique. And it boasts a menagerie of ports on the rear, including power, HDMI out, ethernet, two USB 3.0 ports, and Micro USB slot.
The system comes with 16GB internal memory, but this can be expanded using Micro SD cards. The package includes the console, a power cable, and Nvidia’s Shield controller.
Nvidia will release a couple of accessories to go alongside the console. The remote control looks very similar to the one on the Amazon Fire TV, with a few buttons and a microphone for voice commands. The remote control will be a necessary add-on for most, though you can use the game controller if you don’t mind a less-elegant solution.
The console will stand up vertically on its own, but you can also buy a separate stand. Both accessories will be available at launch - at prices "in line with other similar accessories", according to Nvidia.
While the very mention of game streaming will probably jog memories of the much-maligned OnLive service, Nvidia is going big with its Grid service alongside the Shield.
You will now be able to buy the latest games through Grid, and then stream them to your Shield devices from the cloud. The new feature is that these purchases will also come with a Steam key for the same game, which means you can also play it at home if you have a gaming PC.
Grid is also getting a new subscription service that very closely matches Netflix’s pricing model; higher quality equals higher pricing. A basic subscription service will offer around 50 games for streaming at 720p, whereas a premium version will offer those same games for streaming at up to 1080p at 60 frames per second.
The premium service comes with pretty hefty technical requirements, with a minimum 30Mbps download speed needed. The 50 games will be rotated on a monthly basis, with games coming and going based around user popularity. The selection will be a mix of new titles, old classics, and indie games.
While many gamers will be apathetic about game streaming at best, and actively avoid it at worst, Pocket-lint was impressed with the quality of Nvidia’s offering and would even say it’s the highlight of the Nvidia presentation.
This is the first time where game streaming has offered the consistency and low latency required for titles like Street Fighter IV and Grid 2, which were the two games we tried on the service. Nvidia’s demo was obviously running on a fast internet connection, but the picture quality and performance of the games being sent over 500 miles away in Oregon was very impressive.
In all, the Nvidia Shield is a technically impressive set top box. Gaming performance is roughly equivalent to that of an Xbox 360 with games such as Crysis 3, which have been optimised for the system.
And the Grid game streaming service is the first time we’ve seen game streaming really work, although the broadband demands for 1080p performance will be beyond most people at this stage. If you have a 4K display though, Shield’s comprehensive Ultra-HD support will likely make it the set-top box of choice for you when it launches in May.
The Shield will launch in the US first, for $199 (around £130), with Europe to follow "shortly after".
Existing Shield hardware will receive a software update to include the new features, and Nvidia will reintroduce the bundle of the Shield Tablet and Controller that it put together at launch.