Nvidia Shield, PlayStation Vita and the Future of Handheld Gaming

It’s been a year since the PlayStation Vita’s release, give or take a few weeks. Those of us who bought into Sony’s smart little lump of tech right at the start of its life have endured a mixed year. Some great gaming experiences, at both extremes of the hardcore/casual spectrum, have not translated to system sales as much as Sony will have hoped.

Speaking as a customer, it’s difficult to shake a persistent feeling that the console isn’t quite being pushed to its full potential. Throughout a year when the Nintendo 3DS has convincingly outperformed Sony’s machine, it has seemed like – on some level – a repeat of the PSP vs DS era when Sony’s device had all of the potential and very little of the long-term, widespread success.

[drop]Of course, the PSP is hardly a sales flop but it never felt to me that it lived up to its full potential as a console that could do everything I wanted – from short-burst mobile-style gaming to more fleshed out, full console experiences. I thought the Vita would finally achieve that goal and, in a limited way, it has begun to.

Games on the Vita like Gravity Rush, Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation have shown that there’s plenty of potential for large-scale experiences that are genuinely top quality, even if we haven’t quite reached it yet.

PlayStation Mobile has shown that smaller, cheaper app-style games can be incredibly compelling on this hardware but the platform seems to lack a coherent marketing message from Sony itself and with the wild (and cheap) proliferation of smartphones, PlayStation Mobile isn’t enough to sell an expensive system by itself – it needs the heavy hitters (and a significant price cut, please). If Vita owners aren’t already concerned by the lack of a proper Q4 blockbuster to sell systems and a roadmap of top quality releases for the next year, perhaps they should be.

If sales of the Vita don’t pick up significantly, and soon, third party publishers will not be so keen to spend the millions it takes to bring a large-scale game to market and that cycle will perpetuate itself. Sony will continue to invest for a few years but without the enthusiastic support of publishers like Activision, EA and Ubisoft, the Vita will never be all that it could.

This morning, Nvidia announced Project Shield – a gaming system that, on paper, might just have what it takes to blow the doors off the handheld market completely.

Shield will run the latest version of Android, without any of the bloatware that many mobile manufacturers seem intent to layer on that operating system – so it’ll run fast. This means that it will have access to the Google Play store and the hundreds of thousands of apps and games that are available there. The five inch multitouch display means that anything your Android phone can run should be fully functional on the Shield. PlayStation Mobile simply can’t match that catalogue of bite-size, mobile games.

The Shield will also have access to Nvidia’s own Tegra Zone store, which showcases the games designed to make use of its powerful mobile processors. In here, you’ll be able to find an array of games which offer an experience much closer to that of a full console and some of them are already visually very impressive running on the Tegra 3 that’s in Asus’ Google Nexus 7, as well as plenty of other Android devices.

[drop2]Shield is packing Nvidia’s own Tegra 4 processor, which is powerful enough to push 4K (that’s four times 1080p) through its HDMI port, to a television. The Tegra 4 will, according to Nvidia, be capable of providing console quality visuals in a mobile form factor and it will also be appearing in a range of other Android devices later this year.

It remains to be seen whether Nvidia will have the same pull with big publishers as Sony does – and it certainly hasn’t got the ability to provide a first party line up that can come anywhere close to Sony’s. But the chip-maker’s close relationship with PC developers is surely going to stand them in good stead for ensuring compatible releases at the more complex end of the scale.

Native software isn’t the only area that Nvidia’s exceptional knowledge of the PC development scene might be a boon. The Shield will be capable of streaming from your Kepler-equipped (GTX650 and above) PC, right to the device’s screen, via WiFi. The Shield will allow those of us with the right graphics cards in our gaming PCs to play games from our Steam libraries on a handheld. Nvidia has also said that they intend to add wireless relay to a (presumably Smart) TV too, so you could stream a game to the Shield from your PC and have it display on your TV, without wires.

So it’s a powerful handheld with a lot of potential. We’ve seen that before, of course. Whether the Shield will deliver on its initial promise will be a matter for history to decide but one thing is for sure: it’s going to have a part – big or small – in shaping the future of handheld gaming. When it’s released this spring (in the US and Canada, at least) it will offer an alternative to the Vita that is capable of as much and more, if it gets the right support. And if it fails to get the right kind of support through official channels, its open architecture might be enough to ensure it lives on through unofficial means.

Shield is, in my opinion, an ugly mess of product design that shows off everything that’s outdated and bizarrely immature about a lot of PC hardware design. It’s only missing a chromed, oversized screw and some blue LEDs. But a high resolution screen and plenty of input/output ports (including a Micro SD card slot and USB) make its dated, angular appearance forgivable. What it means for the handheld market, and what it might encourage other players in that market to do, makes for an incredibly exciting year ahead.


  1. This is going to fail massively simply because of that terrible design. The Vita and 3ds look like consoles, whereas this looks like one of those old ‘attach a screen to your PS2’ devices from a few years back. Perhaps Nvidia should’ve partnered with Sony for the Vita itself!

    • Surely they tested PSP/Vita form factors, which also would have worked much better on the touchscreen side of things too.

      But they still decided on this. Seems odd to me.

    • Agreed. There’s very little I’ve read about it that leads me to believe it’ll be anything but still-born.

      Not sure what Nvidia was thinking! :-\

  2. Crap name for it, sounds like it belongs in a comic book or used as a soap, what’s it defending people from?.

    Looks like 1 ugly M.F…as well, but not that people buy hardware for cosmetic looks, just that in todays market, i expected something a bit less, well fugly.

    As for PSP+Vita not reaching full potential, of course they have’nt, they are in hands of Sony.

    Atari Lynx never reached it’s full potential, only to look at the homebrew and shots of w.i.p games to see what could have been.

    Talk earlier of Sony re-launching Vita, just smacks of Old Atari, when they spoke of re-launching Lynx alongside the Jaguar (and with Lynx AVP, early code of which looked fantastic).

    Vita had every chance to be something special, but yet again, Sony failed to learn and support.crying shame really.

    • PSP was successful in its own right but in the face of DS it does look like unrealised potential, same with PSMove, same with Vita and for anyone who’s played Tumble – the same with 3D on the PS3.

      If any other company released Sony’s products everyone would have one.

  3. That is one seriously ugly mother! Looks like a fat original Xbox pad with a clip on screen. Cant see me parting with any of my hard earned money for this despite its power.

  4. ..well at least it has triggers.

    • Will come in very hand with the PC games.

  5. Why buy a console for Android games if your already have an Android phone? The streaming is only any use to those who already have the capable PC which, unless you’re a PC gamer, you probably don’t have and if you do you can probably already stream or connect to your TV.

    With the Galaxy 4 due out in a few months and talk of a 5 inch screen what is this device really offering? I can’t think of anything that will justify the cost.

    • I’d be very tempted by it for the route to Android without having to use it on my phone.

      I really don’t like the OS and all the hardware I’ve ever tried using with it is well below the build quality and feel of what I’m used to with my iPhones and iPads so I don’t want it to be the system I rely on but I’d still like to have the option for the extra features like using a proper controller and for some of the games on that platform.

      I really liked my Nexus 7 until it gave up switching on last month, even though it wasn’t as well built – or as heavily used – as my iPad, it was half the price and a lovely size and shape for certain applications.

      • Same here. Would never pick Android for my phone or tablet, but as a gaming device with proper controls? Yep, I’m in.

        That power will be insane too, and it’ll be the main device for PlayStation Mobile, leaving Vita for dust.

      • Not sure why it’d be the main device for PS Mobile.

        To be honest, I’m pretty sure only a Sony device will ever get that tag, and the Vita is infinitely better designed, especially as many PS Mobile game utilise the touch screen.

        Then again, I’ve never played a PS Mobile game thanks to Sony not releasing it in Ireland yet, so what do I know?

    • Why use Android at all when you already has iOS. Are there really games you can’t get on iOS that justify it?

      • If you want to use emulators and not jailbreak your iOS device, Android is the way to go.

  6. I think the Shield looks like something that would come out of Alienware’s garage after Microsoft had a huge Xbox party. Í wouldn’t call it ugly, but it’s certainly not something that I would expect design wise in today’s times.
    As for the Vita, I’m currently only holding on to it in case Sqaure Enix decides to grace it with an exclusive Final Fantasy game or in case Sony decides to add game streaming between the PS4 and the Vita within home networks but I find less excuses every month to hold on to it while it continues to gather dust. That little extra money would be nice for my wedding or my next vacation.

  7. What’s going on with the touchscreen features? Is that thing detachable from the controller part of it? Otherwise how would you hold it to play a touchscreen game?

    • We all have to grow longer index fingers and then kind of whip them over the top of that screen and jab them into it for the touchscreen games.

      I’m in talks with a major plastics producer to develop a nose-fitted prodding-stick to enable you to kind of head butt the touchscreen without taking your fingers off the shoulder buttons. I’m going to be a millionaire.

  8. The PSP has been ridiculously successful in the east, you still see people with them everywhere! It’s definitely a shame that there were so few west-friendly, boundary pushing games for the wee beast, but the ones we did get were great. I wonder if this east/west divide is why Microsoft haven’t made a portable?

  9. People are just missing some points:

    (1st): if it has the right price, then works as a WiiU gamepad for a PC. With the plus that you can play wherever you want given you can access your PC and network keeps proper bandwidth

    (2nd): besides acting as a “smart” gamepad for a PC, it can execute native Android applications and games with the added value that you can connect it to your TV and see everything in full HD

    (3rd): as it’s Android, one can develop own games (if so inclined). Besides, with CUDA libraries and some hacks, it is possible to develop high end games in C/C++ or other language able to benefit from direct access to hardware

    (4th): as it’s basically (in terms of form factor) a XBox360 gamepad, it is comfortable to play advanced games (at least as comfortable as if using a XBox360 real gamepad).

    (5th): it is basically that Ouya thing made right…

    • With the 4th point I think you’ve forgotten about the weight of the screen, and a WiiU gamepad for PC?

      So’s an iPad 2 or Android tablet, thanks to plenty of streaming apps already available, which also account for point 2.

  10. I fail to see the appeal in this.
    Why would I buy this to play some Android games only? And yes, I know it can stream PC, but most of my PC playing friends always say that controllers are shit and nothing can beat a mouse+keyboard. Well, this Shield is exactly the opposite of that.

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