Feature Article

January 08, 2013

NVIDIA's New Mobile Processor - Perhaps Now World's Fastest, but it Takes a Back Seat to NVIDIA's New Project SHIELD

The first day of the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) came and went yesterday, and it appears the loudest noises came from LG, which announced a 27 inch "table" computer, and from NVIDIA, which had two announcements. First, the company has now put in play what it claims is the world's fastest mobile processor, it's Tegra 4. For NVIDIA, this in and of itself would be the headline marquee news we would expect to hear about, and for those of us in the mobile space, it certainly is that.

Many smartphone manufacturers make a lot of noise about using Tegra processors - almost always in association with the words "We've now delivered the world's fasted mobile device." We anticipate hearing it often at next month's Mobile World Congress. Quite honestly, if NVIDIA had only delivered on the Tegra 4 we would consider the company as having done what it needed to do to stay relevant and important. And so it did.

So imagine our surprise when NVIDIA took its announcements in an entirely new direction when it also announced the entirely new Project SHIELD, a gaming portable for open platforms, designed specifically for gamers who itch to play whenever, where ever and however they want. Wirelessly of course, while also ensuring that they have full mobile device capabilities at all times as well.

More specifically, NVIDIA has developed a wireless, Android-powered game controller. The chip maker, clearly taking a cue from Microsoft and Intel (and perhaps Google, Amazon and Apple as well), has decided to take things one step further by not only supplying chipsets but also now looking to deliver actual consumer products. Microsoft of course has its Surface tablet, and Intel recently started making waves about cable TV and Intel-branded set top boxes.

Project SHIELD allows gamers to play both Android and PC games. Since Project SHIELD is a true Android mobile device, a gamer will have direct access to any and all games available on Google Play, as well as any Android-optimized titles available on NVIDIA's own TegraZone game store (which has delivered more than six million downloads to gamers).

But here is the kicker, and what actually makes it a an honest to God wireless receiver and wireless game controller - it will stream games from any PC powered by NVIDIA's GeForce GTX GPUs that access game titles on its STEAM game library from anywhere in the home. For dedicated gamers this is a potentially very big deal.

NVIDIA calls Project SHIELD a "mobile" device, but here is the official photo of the controller that NVIDIA has provided:

We would say that this image doesn't exactly portray anything that screams "mobile." In fact, it looks decidedly scary in terms of attaching the word "mobile" to it. Project SHIELD combines the newly available processing power of the new NVIDIA Tegra 4, a breakthrough game-speed Wi-Fi technology and stunning HD video and audio built directly into a console-grade controller. It can be used to play on its own integrated screen or on a big screen, and on the couch or on-the-go. For non-gamers, we're sure that's true. But this is a device that entirely targets hardcore gamers - a weirdly dedicated "element of humanity" that thrives on this sort of thing!

Jen-Hsun Huang, co-founder and chief executive officer at NVIDIA, makes this quite clear when he notes that, "Project SHIELD was created by NVIDIA engineers who love to game and imagined a new way to play. We were inspired by a vision that the rise of mobile and cloud technologies will free us from our boxes, letting us game anywhere, on any screen. We imagined a device that would do for games what the iPod and Kindle have done for music and books, letting us play in a cool new way. We hope other gamers love SHIELD as much as we do."

It's a Console-Grade Controller

If there is one thing that hard core gamers love it's the immersive surroundings they build for themselves. High end computing devices coupled to special sound systems coupled to typically three monitors that are lined up side by side to provide rich, super wide visuals is the norm. Can Project SHIELD - which from our decidedly non-super dedicated perspective appears to us to be quite ergonomic in its design, appeal to the hard core gamer who craves that ultimate control and precision? Ah, that is the $64,000 question NVIDIA needs to the answer to.

To make the new toy as attractive to gamers as possible, NVIDIA has equipped Project SHIELD with the following core and state of the art capabilities:

  • The centerpiece of Project SHIELD is NVIDIA's completely new and self-proclaimed "world's fastest mobile processor," the Tegra 4,which delivers enormous power from a custom 72-core GeForce GPU and the first quad-core application of ARM's most advanced CPU core, the Cortex-A15. These, combined with its battery-saver core and energy-saving PRISM 2 technology, deliver hours of gameplay on a single charge.
  • A fully integrated five-inch, 1280x720 HD retinal multi-touch display that delivers 294 dpi.
  • Direct Touch technology (through the Tegra 4) that delivers touch responsiveness that is a more consistent, accurate and smooth-flowing touch input experience than any standard touch device can possibly deliver.
  • Deep, rich audio is critical for a great gaming experience. And Project SHIELD provides fidelity and dynamic range never before available on a portable device, through its custom, bass reflex, tuned port audio system - with twice the low-frequency output of high-end laptops.

And hey - let's not forget that it is also an Android-based mobile device, so Project SHIELD will also deliver full access to all other Android apps - Hulu, Netflix and every other Android app out there are always on tap. With Project SHIELD's high end capabilities any user - not only gamers - can enjoy movies and music anywhere without expensive, clumsy wired or wireless speakers or external HD monitors.

Major game vendors - among them Ubisoft, Epic Games, Meteor Entertainment, MADFINGER Games, OneQ Soft, Ravn Studio AS, Recoil Games and TickTock Games Ltd. - have all delivered endorsements and will deliver immediate support for Project SHIELD. Dedicated gamers will certainly be happy to hear this.

Can NVIDIA transition itself from pure chip maker to selling consumer devices as well? It will be an enormous leap, and there is hardly any way to know at this point if it's in the cards. There are plenty of new dynamics for NVIDIA to deal with to ensure the broadest possible audience. It won't be difficult to get the gamers interested - and NVIDIA's reputation among them is second to none. But can Project SHIELD compete with, say, a Galaxy Note II or HTC's new and awesome DNA smartphone for the casual gamer or die hard movie and TV watcher? That is a whole other story.

But NVIDIA doesn't have to meet anyone's expectations here but its own. Project SHIELD was certainly a great way to start off CES this year, but if it evolves into hefty incremental revenue that will be great for the company. But as no one was anticipating it, if that revenue fails to materialize, NVIDIA will still move ahead with its core business. It should prove a win-win for the company either way.

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