Nvidia’s Shield stole CES, but we aren’t sold yet

How Nvidia Shield stole the show

Last week during CES, Nvidia’s press conference was among the most talked about thanks in no small part to the unveiling of its new portable gaming device, known as Project Shield. Powered by a brawny Tegra 4 chip, the Shield can play games and media content available on the Android platform, send content to an HDTV, and even stream games from your home PC to the device.

The consensus was that Nvidia had a winner on its hands. Peopled talked about it everywhere, always popping into conversations when the dialogue inevitably leads to “what has stood out to you so far?” People dug it, and this year’s CES – which was dominated more by evolution than innovation – was better for it.

The hardware looks impressive enough, and the ability to stream PC games like those found on Steam, makes it a great device – for a very small percentage of people. Consider us not sold.

Project Shield has a lot of potential, but it’s potential that has already been realized in other devices. Access to the Android library –  not to mention the console-like controls that go with it – is great on paper, but whether or not people accept it will likely come down to the price. As more and more people accept smartphones as essential parts of their daily lives, they already have the Android gaming library at their fingertips if they want it. The console controls are nice, but not all games will accept them, and those that do can be played using inexpensive add-on controllers that connect to an ordinary phone via Bluetooth. We don’t know that for sure what the Shield will cost, but it’s a safe bet these accessories will be cheaper.

As a dedicated gaming device, the Shield sacrifices what makes Android devices worth the purchase in the first place. It isn’t a tablet or a smartphone, so there are instantly other devices out there that do most of what it can do, and far more. Even as far as a portable gaming devices goes, the Shield isn’t that flexible; Sony’s PS Vita and Nintendo’s 3DS both offer far more uses.

Nvidia Shield side

Sending content to a TV is nice, but again, it’s nothing a smartphone or tablet with the proper connections can’t already do. That leaves the most intriguing feature of the Shield: the ability to stream PC games to your device.

Playing PC games anywhere sounds nice, but the Shield’s range is limited to the strength of your home network, so you won’t be taking it far from your gaming machine. Sound familiar? The Shield is basically Nintendo’s Wii U, but for PC gamers.

The Wii U’s best feature, arguably, is the ability to play a full game on the system’s GamePad. It’s a great gimmick, but most people wouldn’t buy the system only for that ability. It might be one of the features that convinces people to adopt Nintendo’s new console, but it isn’t likely to sell too many units entirely on its own. And that is basically what the Shield does.

Playing PC games on the move through services like Steam sounds great, but your range is severely limited. The idea of taking those games on the go is enough to grab the attention of gamers, but why would you sacrifice your current setup, which may include a large monitor and good sound system, for a smaller screen and weak speakers or headphones that you can play one room over? Plus, the Wii U takes up the TV, which others in the household may want to use, making the GamePad useful to entire families. Although many PC gamers do use a standard TV, the traditional setup uses a monitor that is specifically for PC gaming. What’s the advantage of the smaller screen?

A lot of it will depend on the price. If it’s inexpensive, then the Shield could be a good peripheral for people to use once in a while. And that’s a best-case scenario.

The Shield is the type of product that garners headlines, and that’s great for gamers. With the sales reports of the gaming industry consistently painting a negative picture, it’s good that there are still companies looking to push gaming in new directions, and that there are people excited to hear about it. Yet when you boil it down, the Shield is just a decent peripheral for a very small niche of gamers who want to play PC games in their house, but not on a PC. At least  it has people talking about gaming.