Nvidia to launch Android gaming handheld plus Steam integration

Nvidia is making the jump from supporting the backbones behind consoles and PC gaming into consumer hardware itself – with the launch of its own console, announced at a pre-CES event, called Project Shield.

Project Shield is a clamshell handheld with a foldable 720p retinal screen at the top and a controller clamped on to the bottom, powered by and showing off Nvidia’s Tegra 4. 

Nvidia opted for a green and black casing and the pad itself appears to have a Micro SD slot, space for an HDMI cable, USB, and a headphone jack. Questions of aesthetics aside, the device does not look particularly wieldy, bringing to mind the obese big brother of the Xbox 360’s controller. An Nvidia spokesperson has been spotted as saying the design is near-final, but that the team gave a lot of thought to ergonomics.

There are four trigger buttons, two on the back of each handle, a d-pad, two anologue sticks, built in speakers on the front of the controller, the typical four button setup on the right hand side, and another five in the centre of the device, including a start button, a volume button, a back button, and an Nvidia button. 

The main sellng point, though, looks to be integrated PC gaming. Using Kepler, the Shield has what Nvidia promises is an ultra fast H.264 encoder which can stream games with a very low latency, and the company is billing the device as “a wireless handheld counterpart to a GeForce GTX PC”.  What this means, in effect, is thanks to integration with Steam, running a game on a GeForce TX 600 equipped machine, users will be able to remotely play the game through Project Shield – as long as they are on the same network. 

With this release, Nvidia seems to be aping the Android community’s own gaming initiatives, which have largely come together organically.

There are some interesting Android based devices en route, including the much hyped open source console Ouyo. Already there are ways to run Playstation games on capable Android devices and the homebrewing community is busy indeed. Nvidia’s option seems to be a corporate-built alternative to the pre-existing Android gaming set-ups – largely emulator-based which work with PS3 controllers on a rooted device.

Nvidia, for example, says that people “love playing games on Android but touchscreen alone isn’t meeting gamers’ needs” – which is why the GameKlip, for example, is a popular peripheral for enthusiasts.

Considering the machine’s limitations with streaming, it will be intriguing to see how Project Shield works and sells – if it is more N-Gage than Nvidia, or if it will provide a genuinely useful platform for Android gaming fans.