Hardware Reviews
Nvidia Shield Review: A Solid Niche Offering

Devin Connors | 14 Feb 2014 12:00
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Speaking of PC games, the other component of TegraZone is PC Streaming, which allows you to stream games from your Nvidia GeForce GPU-equipped gaming PC to the Shield over a wireless network. Along with detecting whatever games are installed on the connected PC, the Shield can also access Steam via Big Picture Mode. So if you want to play something from your ever-growing library of Steam titles, it's only a few button presses away. The setup for PC streaming is simple enough, as is getting games to cooperate. Some (CS:GO) were touch and go, while other (Team Fortress 2, Doom 3 BFG) worked right off the bat, or after enabling the controller/game pad in-game.

Despite the effort put in by Nvidia, the PC Streaming is more a novelty for me than anything else. It works, and usually works without any major headaches, but it's hard to justify. You need to be on the same network as your gaming PC (so not across the Internet), and you're playing titles on a five-inch display, instead of the 20-something-inch LCD you're used to using.

As far as console/PC-quality gaming is concerned, I'm more bullish on Nvidia Grid than the PC Streaming. Grid is like OnLive and Gaikai -- streaming games to a local machine from servers somewhere else in the country. It's a breeze to set up, it doesn't require a PC connection like PC Streaming, and the tech is pretty solid, even for a beta release. Latency wasn't an issue when playing single-player Super Street Fighter IV, although that might change if you play an online opponent. Grid's biggest issue at the moment is its lack of games -- only a dozen or so are currently available, but hopefully that changes in the near future.


So with PC Streaming a cute novelty, and the Grid beta not yet fully ripe, what's the best gaming experience on the Shield?


Throw any sort of Nintendo emulator on the Shield (and there are many in the Google Play Store; I've been using Nesoid, SuperGNES, and SuperN64), tack on a few choice ROMs, and you're set for the foreseeable future. There's the legal gray area, sure, but that probably never stopped you from playing Super Mario 64 on your PC, right?

The Nvidia Shield is an impressive piece of hardware, married to an Android experience you're likely already acclimated to. The Tegra 4 SoC is powerful enough to handle whatever you'd expect from a mobile device, and -- assuming you like Android to begin with -- the software is just as enjoyable. But the Shield has two major hurdles that it can't help but trip over. For starters, the PC Streaming is too limited to be a "must buy" feature. If you could stream over the Internet, I might bite, but I'd rather just use my gaming PC if I'm at home. I get the keyboard and mouse, the big screens, and an experience that's tailor-made for the games I play.

The other hurdle is the price. At $250, the Shield is more expensive than the 3DS, the PS Vita, and most smartphones (if bought at the contract price). Power users with money to burn could have the Shield along with a smartphone and tablet...but that's a lot of hardware to keep around. During the purchase process, I think the Shield will often be a "Tablet or..." kind of device, which is a hard argument to make for such a unique piece of hardware.

The Bottom Line: The Shield pulls no punches with its hardware and software, which makes for fantastic gaming and media experiences. TegraZone and GRID are both top-notch, but PC Streaming, while polished, is a niche offering, as is the device itself at the $250 price point.

Recommendation: If you have $250 to spend, you would be wise to look at the Shield -- especially if your appetite for emulators is never satiated. But if you're considering it as a tablet replacement, think long and hard if you want a clamshell controller form factor instead of a slate.

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