Nvidia Shield Portable: Emulate the Past and Stream the Future

I love old games, and I am not alone. It used to be very difficult and expensive to replay old classics from the arcade era, as well as the 8-bit and 16-bit days. With the ramp in horsepower and storage of late, and the rampant availability of game ROMS, it’s now fairly easy to play them. While I am a firm believer in purchasing video games, I also believe I should have the freedom to play titles I own without having to hook up an obsolete system. In addition to loving games I played as a youngster, I also want to play the latest and greatest – particularity games with high graphical yield. I travel frequently, and taking my gaming laptop on the plane, along with my other necessary gear, is not convenient. Enter the Nvidia Shield Portable: a Tegra GPU-based device running Android KitKat. The design is unique: a controller with a built in HD screen that flips up from the center of the device. Envision a Nintendo DS embedded onto an XBOX controller. Or you can check out the images on this post. It’s powerful and portable with the ability to emulate many of the old classics, as well as act as a streaming device from your PC or from Nvidia’s game servers. Best of all: both options are easy to setup. As a lover of new games, but someone who can’t dedicate enough time to sample the cream of the crop, Nvidia’s streaming service is attractive and full of potential. The only risk to your performance is the high demand for bandwidth.

 

Game Streaming

shield-front-open-bloodswordShield owners have 2 options: stream from their PC using an Nvidia GTX video card, or use the new Nvidia GRID streaming platform which is promoted as “Netflix for gamers.” It works similarly to OnLive and Playstation Now. The requirements to run the service may be challenging for some:

  • 10 Mbps download speed
  • 60 ms or less ping time to the Grid server
  • Nvidia GameStream ready 5 GHz Wi-Fi router

If you meet these requirements, you’ll be extremely satisfied with the service. It runs well under these required conditions, and the library is already quite strong:

  • Darksiders 1 and 2
  • Batman: Arkham Asylum and City
  • Borderlands 1 and 2
  • Brutal Legend
  • Dead Island
  • Lego Batman 2
  • Lego Marvel Super Heroes
  • Saints Row: The Third
  • The Witcher 2
  • many more…

Nvidia recently announced a new initiative for GRID, wherein every Tuesday at noon PST a new game will be added to the service. Recently, Red Faction: Armageddon was added. The GRID service is free to Shield owners until June 2015. At that point this service will likely become subscription based – pricing is unannounced at this time. Between December 2014 and June 2015, there are 26 Tuesdays. Meaning the current list of 22 available games will more than double. Portable gaming options have always been about smaller, more digestible versions of console games. Rarely have we seen sizable titles for portable consumption. There are exceptions on both 3DS and Vita, but certainly not on iOS or Android. And when compared to the above roster, you’re considering a whole new way to game on the go. Again, provided you meet the stringent requirements.

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Emulation

shield-controller-viewAndroid is a welcoming OS that breeds creativity in the apps that it supports. By searching Google Play you’ll find dozens of emulators written by not only “a guy in his garage” but also established development teams. Consequently, you’ll find several usable emulators for nearly every console. To keep you from testing all of them yourself, there is a solid community forum on the Nvidia Geforce website. I’ve personally tested many and they work fairly well. A huge benefit to the Shield Portable is the physical buttons on the controller. The emulators are designed for mobile phones, so you’ll have to map the keys or download from a library of mappings that the community have made; which you can do directly from the emulator you’re running. The process is simple, you just hold down on the start button on the Shield Portable and that menu will pop up as an overlay.

With the Shield Portable it’s not just about gaming on the go. With a few tools you can screen-share with any HDMI-supported TV. And, with a wireless game controller you can also play from the couch with no cables. It’s fantastic.

 

What you need:

  • Shield Portable unit
  • Mini HDMI cable (or a Chromecast or Amazon Fire TV)
  • Optional: USB game controller

Games for newer consoles, like the Dreamcast, are pretty large compared to NES titles. Fortunately, the Shield Portable supports microSD storage so you can throw all of those 500MB-2GB games onto it and not worry about taking up the space on your Shield itself. I’ve loaded every NES and SNES game onto the card during testing and it made for several epic flights.

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Design

The Shield Portable is large and in charge. The device weighs in at 1.275 lbs and sports a 5-inch 720p multi-touch display. The display is gorgeous and compliments the otherwise bulky feel of the device. The first several games I played on the Shield Portable I had also played on a Samsung Note 4. While the Note 4 has a sharper display, the Shield Portable is more suitable for gaming; particularly longer play sessions of 30-45 minutes, and even up to several hours. The battery supports that as well – particularly while the lid is closed, thanks to a recent update. So, the controller feels good to hold, the system runs well, the battery is strong and the support is solid. The only weak point is the screen. It’s bright and sharp at 720p, but it’s only 5″. Increasing the size would have made the device itself uncomfortably larger. But, it would be nice to have more screen real estate.

 

shield-front-closed-thumb

 

Specifications

ProcessorNVIDIA® Tegra® 4 quad-core mobile processor with 2 GB RAM
Display5-inch 1280×720 (294 PPI) multi-touch retinal- quality display
AudioIntegrated stereo speakers with built-in microphone
Storage16 GB Flash memory
Custom Armor ColorSilver
Wireless802.11n 2×2 MIMO 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi
Bluetooth 4.0
GPS
ConnectivityMini-HDMI output
Micro-USB 2.0
MicroSD storage slot
3.5mm stereo headphone jack with microphone support
Motion Sensors3-axis gyro
3-axis accelerometer
Input controlsDual analog joysticks
D-pad
Left/right analog triggers
Left/right bumpers
A/B/X/Y buttons
Volume control
Android Home and Back buttons
Start button
NVIDIA power/multi-function button
Battery28.8 Watt hours
Weight & Size579 grams
158mm (w) x 135mm (D) x 57mm (H)
Operating SystemAndroid KitKat 4.4.2 OS

 

Conclusion

The Shield Portable is revolutionary, but you won’t find it in the hands of many people. It’s built with the hardcore in mind and will likely not see a revised and updated release. Nvidia have shifted their attention to the crowded tablet market, where they’ve done well. I feel the that design doesn’t speak to the inner nerd in me who wants to play old games one minute and then shift to Skyrim. Bottom line: this is a fantastic piece of hardware. It feels well made and has a strong support model by both Nvidia and the broader community of users.

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