NVIDIA SHIELD Gaming Platform

NVIDIA SHIELD Review

The NVIDIA SHIELD is potentially the next evolution of mobile gaming. The SHIELD in a nutshell is a blend of mobile android devices, PC gaming, and console gaming. When the NVIDIA SHIELD first came out last year, it was carrying a price tag of $299, eventually that dropped to $249 and that remains the current price for the SHIELD. Though for right now through the end of April NVIDIA has lowered the price to $199 to celebrate the latest and greatest over the air update that we announced last week here.

NVIDIA SHIELD Tegra 4

The NVIDIA SHIELD is built by gamers for gamers, and they know gamers like power! The NVIDIA SHIELD is packing quite a bit of power and technology into a pretty compact package. At the heart of the SHIELD is an NVIDIA Tegra 4 quad core processor that is cruising along at 1.9GHz and backed by 2Gb of RAM. In addition to the 2Gb of RAM, the SHIELD also has 16Gb of storage built into it. If that initial 16Gb isn't enough storage, the SHIELD has a microSD card slot that can increase the overall storage of the unit.

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The NVIDIA SHIELD graphical user interface will look awful familiar if you've been using android devices. When you hit the image of the NVIDIA SHIELD along the tool bar, or the NVIDIA button on the controller it will bring you to the Tegra Zone. The Tegra Zone portion of the GUI is more for the gaming aspect of the SHIELD, we will look at that a little later when we get to the gaming portion of the review.

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The NVIDIA SHIELD is constantly evolving and bringing new ways to improve itself! With the new OTA update we are seeing tweaks to the Console mode, Grid, and the new Gamepad Mapper! As Time goes on I don't doubt we will see more and more improvements to the SHIELD!

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Perhaps my favorite portion of the latest OTA update is the added features to GameStream. Previously the only time GameStream was viable was on your own network. Once the update is installed and you have connected to your system through your network, you can pick up a connection and fire up a game from your gaming system whenever you want to!

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One of the new features that is being rolled out with the latest update is the ability to stream games from your NVIDIA GeForce enabled laptop! Since not everybody has a gaming desktop and rely on a gaming laptop like the CyberPowerPC Fangbook, now everybody with a GeForce PC can take advantage of Game Streaming!

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In addition to the aforementioned updates, there are several more. Potentially the most important of these is the entire Android system is being updated to the latest and greatest Android version; KitKat 4.4.2. KitKat brings with it a host of new features to immense to go into here, but you can find all of them here.

NVIDIA SHIELD Console Mode

One of the many features that's coming along with the latest OTA update is a tweak or two to the console mode. Prior to this update the SHIELD was limited to using a bluetooth game controller. While that's all fine and dandy if you're good with a controller, if you're like me and are more comfortable, or are playing a game like WOW that you'll need a keyboard for all your macros, you were pretty much SOL. With the latest update, the SHIELD can now take advantage of a bluetooth keyboard and mouse!

NVIDIA SHIELD Console Mode

I took some time out of my day, to play with the NVIDIA SHIELD in console mode on my TV. I've been on a bit of a Batman Arkham City kick again so I fired up a game and played it for a bit using the console mode, and game stream. I was certainly enjoying my time playing on a 50" screen and sitting on my couch!

NVIDIA SHIELD Specifications
Processor 
  • NVIDIA Tegra 4 quad-core mobile processor with 2 GB RAM
Display 
  • 5-inch 1280x720 (294 PPI) multi-touch retinal- quality display 
Audio 
  • Integrated stereo speakers with built-in microphone 
Storage 
  • 16 GB Flash memory 
Custom Armor Color 
  • Silver 
Wireless 
  • 802.11n 2x2 MIMO 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • GPS 
Connectivity 
  • Mini-HDMI output
  • Micro-USB 2.0
  • MicroSD storage slot
  • 3.5mm stereo headphone jack with microphone support 
Motion Sensors 
  • 3-axis gyro
  • 3-axis accelerometer 
Input controls 
  • Dual 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 
Battery 
  • 28.8 Watt hours 
Weight & Size 
  • 579 grams
  • 158mm (w) x 135mm (D) x 57mm (H) 
Operating System 
  • Android KitKat 4.4.2 OS 
Software 
  • Google Play
  • NVIDIA TegraZone
  • Sonic 4 Episode II THD
  • Expendable: Rearmed
  • Hulu Plus
  • TwitchTV 

 Now that we've gotten through the specifications and the latest features that are coming to the NVIDIA SHIELD we can move onto the next page. There we will take a look at the SHIELD, what it looks like, and what it has to offer!

NVIDIA SHIELD Gaming Platform

NVIDIA SHIELD Review

When the NVIDIA SHIELD is all closed up it looks much like a game controller without the controls. The overall dimensions of the SHIELD are 5.31" x 6.22" x 2.24 inches when it's closed up like we see above. Overall I would say the SHIELD is a pretty slick looking system.

NVIDIA SHIELD Review

Opening up the NVIDIA SHIELD it reveals the controls and the 5" multi touch screen. The SHIELD's screen has a resolution of 1280x720 which certainly isn't to bad for a 5" screen.

NVIDIA SHIELD Review

Pointing out the obvious, one of the key features of the NVIDIA SHIELD is the console grade controller seen above. The controller is quite similar to the design used for the Microsoft XBOX console systems, though the D-Pad and left joystick are switched out. The XBox and SHIELD  both feature the A, X, Y,& B buttons as well as the bumpers and triggers seen below. Just above the D-Pad and buttons there is a pair of stereo speakers that sounded good to me and were plenty loud for me.

NVIDIA SHIELD Review

The underside of the NVIDIA SHIELD has four rubber feet for those few moments that you'll actually set it down. The text on the back of the SHIELD has the model # P2450, input voltage of 5 Volts 2 Amps, FCC #'s. The main focus of the text brings our eyes to the NVIDIA logo and the fact that the SHIELD is powered by the 4 core NVIDIA TEGRA processor!

NVIDIA SHIELD Review

The back edge of the NVIDIA SHIELD has pretty much what you would expect from a console grade controller, including the left and right triggers, as well as the left and right bumpers above them. The I/O panel features a mini HDMI port, micro USB port, head phone & microphone jack, and a micro SD card slot. Above all of the ports, there is some ventilation holes and we can make out some of the aluminum fins that keep the SHIELD cool during those long gaming sessions. While we can't see it in this photo, there is a fan that is tucked inside of the NVIDIA SHIELD. Throughout my time benchmarking, and gaming I never heard it running. It wasn't until I was running a game and put my ear right up to the exhaust port that I was able to hear it running, and even then it was barely audible.

NVIDIA SHIELD Review

When the NVIDIA SHIELD is fully closed, it measures only 2.25" thick.

NVIDIA SHIELD Retail Packaging

NVIDIA SHIELD Retail Packaging & Accesory Bundle

The front of the packaging for the NVIDIA SHIELD really shows off a great shot of the system open, up, up and running. 

NVIDIA SHIELD Retail Packaging & Accesory Bundle

Flipping the package over we get a nice shot of the NVIDIA SHIELD closed up.

NVIDIA SHIELD Retail Packaging & Accesory Bundle

If you happen to pick up a SHIELD at a retail location, this particular side of the retail packaging boast several of the features including the Tegra 4 at the heart, console grade controller, and Google play with more than 700,000 apps and such. In addition to the features the specifications and accessories are listed along the bottom as well.

NVIDIA SHIELD Retail Packaging & Accesory Bundle

Once the outer shell has been removed from the NVIDIA SHIELD packaging, we are presented with a significantly sturdier box. This box is a clam shell design that keeps the SHIELD securely in place.

NVIDIA SHIELD Retail Packaging & Accesory Bundle

The interior of the packaging is formed to keep the SHIELD in place and secure. This is one of the best packages I've come across in terms of design, zero chance of the SHIELD moving around in there.

NVIDIA SHIELD Retail Packaging & Accesory Bundle

The NVIDIA SHIELD doesn't have much of a bundle that comes with it. Though it really doesn't need anything other than the paper work to let us know how to use it, and a charger. The USB cable that comes with the SHIELD measures five feet long, and the charger has a rated output of 5.2 Volts and 2.1 Amps.

NVIDIA SHIELD Android Performance

  NVIDIA SHIELD NVIDIA SHIELD Verizon Ellipsis 7 Google Nexus 7 Haier Digital2 D2-961G
Android Version 4.4.2 4.3 4.2.2 4.4.2 4.2.2
Antutu 38280 39069 13291 21034 10176
Quadrant 2.1.1  18289 18431 4822 5551 7778
SunSpider 1.0.2 519.7ms 518.2ms 1446.3ms 1004.5ms 2434.1ms
BrowserMark 2.0 2862 3229 1313 3013 1992
3DMark IceStorm Maxed out Maxed out 3184 Maxed out 2276
3DMark IceStorm Extreme  Maxed out Maxed out N/A 7730 1165
3DMark IceStorm Unlimited 16347 16407   10845  
Vellamo Metal  1222 1231 446 765 274
CF-Bench 76274 40549 12921 15009 11096
GFXBench 3.0 T-Rex Onscreen 1973(35.2FPS) 1964(35.1FPS) 265(4.7FPS) 844(15.1FPS) 479(8.6FPS)
GFXBench 3.0 T-Rex Offscreen  1272(22.7FPS) 1270(22.7FPS) 153(2.7FPS) 916(16.4FPS) 501(4.1FPS)
BaseMark X  20945 20806 963 13059 2566
Higher Scores are better in all but SunSpider, Lower is better there

It wasn't exactly a surprise that the NVIDIA SHIELD pretty well tore apart the competition. After all the SHIELD is designed to be a mobile gaming system with an NVIDIA Tegra 4 core processor and the tablets are mobile devices that you can game on. The closest competition for the SHIELD was the Google Nexus 7 and even that didn't hold a candle to the SHIELD in any of the tests. I was able to get the latest over the air update on the shield a couple days early so we tested the SHIELD with Android 4.3 and the latest version of Android Kit Kat 4.4.2. Many of the benchmarks between the two versions of Android were pretty close, however there was a certain consistency between the scores. On six of the ten benchmarks used, the SHIELD running KitKat saw a slight drop in performance. For the most part it was a difference in the realm of 1%-2%, though BrowserMark 2.0 saw a drop of ~11% while our other browser benchmark SunSpider 1.0.2 was a negligible (less than .1%) difference between the two. 3DMark IceStorm was virtually a wash between the two versions of Android as well, the SHIELD running 4.4.2 was 60 3DMarks or .37% behind the Shield running Jelly Bean (4.3). CF-Bench saw a huge increase in score over Jelly Bean. The SHIELD running Jelly Bean scored 40,549 and the updated SHIELD running 4.4.2 increased to 75987! That's an increase of 87.4% between the two Android versions!

NVIDIA SHIELD PC Gaming Experience

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One of the first things I did with the NVIDIA SHIELD when I got my hands on it, was to fire up NVIDIA's Grid Beta application. The only server that is currently available is in northern California and Chicago is a bit of a hike from there, so they gave a warning about needing a solid internet connection to experience a quality gaming experience. Once the checked my connection, the NVIDIA Grid application loaded up. Being that Grid is still in beta, there are only 14 games up and running on the server, but I'm sure more will be coming in the near future as the server base expands. The games available on the NVIDIA Grid right now include:

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I decided to give Dead Island a try, once I selected the game it began loading and after a short time I was ready to play!

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Once I was in the game I chose a character and I was good to go! I promptly learned that I am extremely out of practice with a controller! I lost track of time and played Dead Island for a couple of hours (instead of working on my Honey Do list) and never experienced any issues with stuttering or lag that I was expecting playing from a server halfway across the country.

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Connecting the NVIDIA SHIELD to a PC through GameStream is incredibly easy to do. Once you're in the Tegra Zone, scroll down to My PC Games, and then over to the box that says GameStream PCs. Once the GameStream PCs is highlighted, depress the 'A' button and it will bring up a list of GeForce enabled PC's.

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Once you click the PC that you would like to connect the shield to it will bring up a PIN for you to enter on your PC.

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This is the window that pops up on your PC waiting for you to input your PIN.

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Once the PINs have been entered it will bring up a list of the GameStream ready games on your PC. The only issue I ran into here is that the SHIELD didn't differentiate between the Game of the Year editions and the normal editions of the Batman games. I only have one of each installed and I was occasionally selecting the wrong one. From here you can pick the games that are Game Stream Ready or you can also log into your steam account and give the other games installed on the system a go and see if they will work for you.

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I tried to play Battlefield Bad Company 2, unfortunately I couldn't control the game through the SHIELD, I was able to log into steam successfully and load the game, but was ultimately unplayable.

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I was able to load up both of the Batman Games, Arkham Asylum and Arkham City and spend time playing both of them without any issues. You can see the benchmark from Batman Arkham City above completed with an average of 72 frames per second. Though that doesn't exactly show off the prowess of the SHIELD since it's my Gaming system rendering the game and streaming it to the SHIELD.

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I was also able to load up COD Black OPS II for a little zombie killing action.

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The NVIDIA Tegra Zone has a ton of games that you can purchase or are free to play. I played a handful of them and wasted plenty of time enjoying myself and blowing off some steam from a long days work. Unlike playing on my older iPhone 4 there is absolutely no issues playing these games, everything is fluid and enjoyable!

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The NVIDIA Tegra Zone features a section that has the latest news that relates to the NVIDIA SHIELD.

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I downloaded a handful of games to try out and all of them were easy to play on the 5" screen and high quality controller.

Final Thoughts and Conclusion

NVIDIA SHIELD Review

The NVIDIA SHIELD is without a doubt one of the coolest mobile gaming devices out there! When you couple the NVIDIA SHIELD capabilities before the OTA update, with the added features from the latest update the SHIELD only got better. When the SHIELD first came out, I was on the fence about it. You could game on it while at your own place streaming from your computer. If you're at home, I don't see any reason to not game at your computer if it's there. Now that I can stream the games from my computer to the SHIELD while I'm out and about as long as I have a solid internet connection definitely tips the scales of epicness in favor of the SHIELD! Once I had connected the NVIDIA SHIELD to my PC through GameStream and the PIN was entered, I simply had to choose my machine and I would have access to my games regardless of the network I was on.

I'll be totally honest, the NVIDIA SHIELD took some getting used to. It's been a number of years since I've played games on a console with this type of controller, I've been a WASD gamer for the last 15 years or so. That's not to say that I haven't used a controller, but the last console that I used on a regular basis was the Playstation 2. Since then there has been very little time spent with consoles. The first few games I played on the NVIDIA SHIELD was a bit of a disaster, I just couldn't get used to the contoller, this was by far the biggest hurdle I had to overcome with the SHIELD. Once I was able to eliminate my awkwardness (most of it at least), the gaming got far better.

Stepping away from the gaming performance, the NVIDIA SHIELD was extremely dominant when it came to the overall performance of the android benchmarks. At the heart of the NVIDIA SHIELD is an impressive Tegra 4 quad core processor running at 1.9GHz. Only a handful of devices use the Tegra 4 processor, and most of those devices are more of the all in one style design and more expensive. On the flip side, the NVIDIA SHIELD isn't quite as easy to tuck away as a true tablet is, nor is it as light weighing in at 1.28 pounds (579 grams)

One of the features I enjoyed the most, and will likely continue to enjoy is the NVIDIA Grid. Right now there is only 14 games on the Grid and the only cloud server is located in California which is a bit of a hike from Chicago. Fortunately I have a pretty rock solid Internet connection here and didn't experience any stuttering or lag streaming the games I tried.

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Despite being a pretty avid WASD gamer, I wasn't ever able to do to well trying out Super Street Fighter IV Arcade edition on my machine with a keyboard and mouse. When I saw the Street Fighter was available on the grid, I had to fire it up. This is one of those games that really does need a controller like the SHIELD offers to play it. While I don't have the full specs of the Grid server, we can see that it takes advantage of an Intel Xeon E5-2670 processor, and an NVIDIA GRID K520 GPU. Surprisingly it only shows 4Gb of RAM though, though I'm betting that's all that's dedicated to my session.

Pretty much everything I tried to do with the SHIELD went off without a hitch. Though I was surprised that the SHIELD didn't come with a mini HDMI to HDMI cable. This is needed to make the Console mode work, fortunately they aren't to expensive on Amazon.com, I ordered a basic six foot cable for only $6.99. While this was a little bit of an inconvenience, it was easily overcome with a couple bucks and a couple days of waiting on the shipment.

The only other issue I ran into, and this was more because of early access to the update. I updated the drivers in my system to the latest from NVIDIA, at the time it was 335.23. While that worked fine during my testing prior to the update, it wouldn't work with the update. Once I got in touch with NVIDIA about this, they sent me over the newest drivers, 337.50. Once I installed that I was back up and streaming to the SHIELD from my rig. The moral of this story, make sure you update to the latest drivers from NVIDIA once you have the OTA update installed!

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When the NVIDIA SHIELD was initially released, it was retailing for $299 and has since dropped to the realm of $249.  For a limited time, in celebration of the latest OTA update for the SHIELD NVIDIA has lowered the price tag to only $199! At $199 the shield is hard to beat after this latest update!

LR Recommended Award

Legit Bottom Line: If you're looking for gaming on the go, the NVIDIA SHIELD is one of the coolest mobile devices I've ever used! The latest OTA (Over The Air) update lets us play your PC games from your GeForce enabled PC and any decent web connection!