NVIDIA's Project SHIELD handheld runs full-bodied PC games

NVIDIA just declared war on Nintendo and Sony with Project SHIELD — a handheld mashup that looks like a console controller bolted to a 5-inch display. Why should you care about Project SHIELD? Oh, because it runs circles around the likes of the PS Vita and Nintendo 3DS by streaming PC games over Wi-Fi, can run Unreal Engine 4 tech and outputs to a TV at 4K resolution.

Fitting between an Xbox 360 controller and the Wii U's GamePad, Project SHIELD is the end result of mobile processors becoming as powerful and capable as PCs from just a few years ago.

Razer dreamed up the idea of running full PC games on a handheld device with the Switchblade, but it looks like NVIDIA will be the one that actually delivers it.

Spec Heaven

First things first: Project SHIELD is an absolute beast that looks great on paper. Its new Tegra 4 chip is the "world's fastest mobile processor" and it sports a quad-core ARM Cortex-A15 CPU and the ability to output 4K resolution to a compatible display. It also consumes 45 percent less power than the previous Tegra 3 processor for general computing tasks. SHIELD also has a number of handy ports: full-sized HDMI, micro USB, full-size USB, 3.5mm audio jack and microSD card slot for extra storage.

The 5-inch "retinal" touchscreen (not to be confused with Apple's Retina displays) sports a 1280x720 resolution with a 294 pixel per inch density, and NVIDIA says the battery provides five to 10 hours for gaming and up to 24 hours for HD video playback. And just like a console controller, Project SHIELD has a dual-analogs, four face buttons, a pair of shoulder buttons, a pair of triggers and a D-pad. Nothing new here; just the reassurance that it's not too spare a controller.

For now, Project SHIELD is Wi-Fi-only, which is perhaps its most limiting factor, but things could change further down the road since the Tegra 4 chip supports LTE. That said, it'd really be up to the carriers.

PC Games, Android Games And Apps Galore

If Google built its own Android-powered gaming portable, Project SHIELD is probably pretty close to what that would look like. NVIDIA says Project SHIELD will run "pure" Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, which if we're not mistaken means the company won't ruin the OS with its own custom skin. Another upside to running "pure" Android is that Project SHIELD should theoretically get the latest versions of Android much quicker because it'll be unmodified code.

Make no mistake, Project SHIELD is no slouch. It can play PC games without choking at all with little to no perceptible latency. Full PC games can be streamed from Valve's fantastic Steam platform from a Windows PC with an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 650 graphics card or higher.

Because Project SHIELD is Android-based, it also has access to thousands of apps and games in the Google Play and NVIDIA Tegrazone app stores, the latter of which will sell optimized apps for the Tegra 4 hardware.

Lastly, Project SHIELD has the support of two big names in gaming: Ubisoft and Epic Games.

So, When Does This Get Real?

NVIDIA says it hopes to release Project SHIELD by Q2 of 2013 in the U.S. and Canada, but has yet to announce pricing.

Looking at the specs and what Project SHIELD is capable of doing, we can't imagine it'll be cheap. This handheld is going to cost a pretty penny.


Posted on location at CES 2013 in Las Vegas.

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