In a sea full of lackluster Android consoles, Nvidia's Shield shines. You might not see the Shield much in everyday life, but this Android-powered gaming portable is easily one of the nicest pieces of hardware that you probably don't own. And even better, Nvidia's still adding goodies to the handheld nearly a year after launch.
I recently caught up with the Shield team at GDC, where they demoed a slew of new features debuting with the device's April 2 system update. And the biggest addition is a doozy: Remote GameStream support.
If you haven't followed the Shield, GameStream is Nvidia's PC streaming technology. Basically, if your PC's graphics are powered by an Nvidia GeForce GTX 600- or 700-series graphics card, you can stream full-blown PC games to your Shield and play them over your local network.
Well, at least you used to be restricted to your local network.
With the new device update, you can now use the Shield to Wake-on-LAN your computer from any network and then play your games from wherever you're located—at a friend's house, at the coffee shop, or even over LTE if you have a strong enough data connection. All you need is a steady 5Mbps upstream at home and a steady 5Mbps downstream wherever you're trying to play (along with the aforementioned Nvidia GPU, of course).
I was unfortunately unable to test the new capability, but that's a pretty strong sell if you're trying to play games on the go and don't own a gaming laptop. Nvidia had me play Titanfall on a Shield at GDC and the twitch-shooter multiplayer action worked relatively well on a local network. There's bound to be more latency-induced hiccups over a remote connection, but Nvidia claims Remote GameStream is comparable to other game-streaming solutions.
Nvidia's also adding official support for numerous PC games to GameStream, ranging from Titanfall to Dark Souls II to The Stanley Parable. Non-supported games can also be streamed via Steam's Big Picture mode, as has long been the case, and a new addition lets you manually add unsupported games to GameStream from GeForce Experience. (You're going to have a bad time if you pick a title that doesn't include controller support, though.)
You'll also be able to use GameStream with laptop GPUs when the Shield update hits. (The Titanfall stream I played was run off the new Razer Blade model, which sports a GeForce GTX 870M.) The update also adds Bluetooth keyboard and mouse support, which could come in handy paired with Shield's console mode, which allows you to use the TVs to stream PC games to your TV screen.
Slight Shield tweaks
There are a few cosmetic changes coming too. After the update, the Shield will run Android 4.4.2 KitKat instead of Jelly Bean, and the TegraZone storefront is getting a heavy redesign to promote discoverability. And big update late last year made the Shield play far nicer with native Android games, remember.
To sweeten the deal, from now until the end of April you'll be able to purchase a Shield for $200 instead of the list price of $200 (or the retailer standard price of $250). I'm not going to go so far as to say the discount makes the Shield an instant-buy—especially if you're running an AMD GPU and thus can't take advantage of GameStream—but at that price, the Shield's sexy hardware is a downright bargain.