Nvidia's Shield is complementary to gaming consoles for now, but the company hopes that wide adoption of Android gaming ultimately could make the US$349 handheld an alternative to Xbox and PlayStation.
The Android gaming handheld has a 5-inch flip-up screen and a built-in controller with a range of buttons. Shield will ship this month and is just $50 cheaper than Sony's upcoming PlayStation 4, which will become available this holiday season. The Xbox One is due to ship later this year with a $499 price tag.
With different gaming experiences, Shield for now is not intended to compete with gaming consoles, but will be an alternative to gaming on mobile phones or tablets, said Tom Petersen, director of technical marketing at Nvidia. Gamers who typically buy consoles also play games on PCs and smartphones, and Shield could appeal to that audience.
But Shield in the future could become an alternative to consoles as gaming on Android gains popularity and graphics hardware improves, Petersen said. Android is being widely adopted, there is a growing gaming developer base, and titles will be less expensive in Android stores, Petersen said.
"If Android gaming continues to get better — that's our goal and that's what we're spending a ton of money to do — the differentiation of a console becomes less and less. Sooner or later you're going to hit this inflection point," Petersen said.
Right now Android games are mainly for tablets and smartphones, and as the first dedicated Android gaming device, Shield opens the doors for developers to bring console-like graphics to titles on the OS.
"We're going to continue to refine Shield. This is our first-generation Shield. It's probably the case if we have moderate success with this then we'll continue down this path," Petersen said.
Shield has a quad-core Tegra 4 processor, which has 72 graphics cores and can handle video at a resolution of 3200 x 2000 pixels. Nvidia's on-chip graphics capabilities are among the best in the industry, with a main competitor being Imagination Technologies, whose PowerVR graphics processors are used in many mobile chips. Another competitor is Qualcomm, whose Adreno graphics is optimized more for mobile graphics and long battery life than high-end gaming.
Nvidia is selling the console directly to consumers. Smartphone and tablet gaming is growing, but handheld consoles such as Sony's PlayStation Vita have not done well. Nvidia's initial expectations from Shield are conservative, targeting specific audiences such as users of its graphics cards. But it will continue to develop the gaming hardware to improve the graphics experience, and work with developers to write games.
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