To start Nvidia's Made to Game event late Tuesday, chief executive Jen-Hsun Huang promised an advanced television, a supercomputer, and a gaming console. As it turned out, it was all the same product: the Nvidia Shield. No, not the 2013 handheld.
“Desktops, workstations, notebooks, data centers, cloud, card—that journey has been incredible indeed, and today I want to talk about a brand new place that journey has taken us—the living room,” Huang said at a press event near the Game Developer Conference on Tuesday night.
Billed as the first 4K Android television, the $199 console is a small box that Nvidia executive Jen-Hsun Huang said was designed to look good in any direction. Inside is gigabit ethernet, an advanced Wi-Fi system, and the Tegra X1—the “mobile superchip” that Nvidia launched at CES in January. The Shield is capable of receiving 4K video at 40 bits per pixel at 60Hz when those services become available, Huang said. The console's also battery-powered, and can run 40 hours on a single charge.
The Shield also packs an HDMI 2.0 port with HDCP 2.2 compliance. With the Tegra X1 capable of decoding H.264 and more importantly H.265 streams, the Shield should be able to decode the protected 4K video streams from Netflix and Amazon although no official support has been announced from those two services.
And yes, the rumors were true: It's compatible with Nvidia's cloud-based Grid game-streaming service. More on the Shield's gaming capabilities in a bit.
The Shield will be accompanied by an optional Bluetooth receiver, complete with a one-touch button and a microphone. The svelte stick has the capability to serve as a Bluetooth receiver, so that users can plug in headphones and stream video privately. It can also serve as a volume control just by stroking its surface.
Don't feel like spending money for a fancy controller. Fear not—Nvidia's Shield will be bundled with a game controller reminiscent of the original Shield handheld.
Smart devices with applications will replace dedicated devices over time, just as smartphones have replaced dedicated cameras, Huang said. What’s really exciting are the applications that you’ve never dreamed. “These applications are simply not predictable,” Huang said, predicting the same trend would occur in the smart television.
Because the Shield is an Android TV, users can search for actors shown on the screen and pull up information about each actor being shown. The included microphone in the remote also allows the user to search for movies or music orally, using the Google Play that's tied to the Android TV service.
Games, games, and more games
But the Shield also will “do for gaming what Netflix did for videos,” Huang added. The Tegra X1, with 256 Maxwell cores and 3GB of memory, will expand the reach of gaming, he said, claiming that the console has twice as much power as the Xbox 360 found in so many homes today.
Nvidia’s Shield Store will include over 50 native games that gamers can download and play at launch, including Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, Half-Life 2 Episode 1, and more. Tim Willits of iD showed off the Doom 3 BFG Edition, which looked fantastic on the new console. It can even run Crysis 3 at 30 frames per second
The Shield will also stream games from the cloud from Nvidia's Grid, which was previously a beta app and now is an official service. Grid streams games at either 720p or 1080p at 60 frames per second, with a premium tier unlocking the higher-performance streaming service. It will serve users worldwide, Huang said.
"We could expand the reach of gaming in the way that no one in the history of mankind could," Huang said.
Nvidia already has a history in streaming games. It launched Grid in North America and Western Europe as a free beta for buyers of the Nvidia Shield handheld or Shield Tablet. Until the free preview ends on June 30, 2015, users can access GRID at no charge. Nvidia has been adding at least one new game every week (though usually two). In our inital tests, the service was smooth as silk, though Huang said games may have up to 150 milliseconds of latency, which seems a bit worrisome. (Many people start to notice lag around 30 milliseconds, for reference.)
But here's the thing: You'll also have to rent or buy at least some of the games, with many AAA games becoming available the day they launch.
Pricing and exact details for the subscription plans were not announced. There was no mention of the Shield supporting GameStream, Nvidia's solution for streaming games from a local GeForce-equipped PC games to the earlier Shield Tablet and Shield handheld. However, Matthew Widener, Nvidia's technical marketing manager for notebooks, said that GameStream is indeed supported by the Shield, but that it wasn't mentioned during the presentation for fear of overshadowing the rest of the content.
"That's the easy part," Widener said.
For 1080p gaming, you'll need a 30-Mbit downstream connection, Widener said; for 720p, about half that. Good luck trying to keep under your provider's data cap, though.
Just want to stream the games from your PC to your TV and don't care about all of the Shield's Android TV's streaming features? You might just be interested in the newly announced Steam Link set-top box, a Steam in-home streaming solution that Valve revealed hours before Nvidia's event.
Additional reporting by Hayden Dingman and Gordon Mah Ung. Updated at 11:53 PM with additional details.