LAS VEGAS—Perhaps taking a leaf from Apple’s book, Nvidia kept its greatest surprise at CES for the end of its Sunday news conference: an Android-based portable gaming device based on its new Tegra 4 chip.
A working prototype of the device was demonstrated by Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang (shown above) during the news conference. A launch date wasn’t announced.
The device, called “Project Shield,” resembles an oversized gaming controller with a fold-up flat-panel display on top.
It has three internal batteries that will provide between five and 10 hours of game play, a high-performance audio system, and a 5-inch display with 720P high-definition resolution.
Connected to Nvidia’s Tegrazone Android gaming site, Huang demonstrated some of the gaming features of the device. They included full-screen gaming on a television, multi-player gaming with a user on another of the portable devices, and the playing of a 4K video to a 4K TV. The 4K format is a new video format being pushed by TV makers that features four times conventional high-definition resolution.
The device can also play PC games through the Steam streaming service by taking advantage of Nvidia’s Grid, a cloud-based graphics processing system that was also announced on Sunday.
Joining the gaming fray
The device marks an expansion of Nvidia’s product portfolio, which has traditionally been centered around graphics processing chips and computer graphics cards. But it comes as companies including Microsoft and Google are trying their hand in the hardware business.
Before demonstrating the prototype, Huang showed a computer rendered video of the device, which ended to applause from some audience member.
“I’ll take your money shortly,” said Huang in response.
Huang will have to work hard to earn sales in the competitive mobile gaming market.
Nintendo and Sony are facing increasing competition for their DS and PSP devices from smartphones and tablets. Nvidia will have to compete with both those companies and the smartphone and tablet makers.
Hardware for better graphics
NVidia also said during the press conference that is it taking video games into the cloud with a new rack server optimized for computer graphics.
The server works in combination with software in a client device and holds the promise of delivering high-quality computer graphics and gaming on devices with relatively modest graphics processing ability, Huang said.
Each rack-mounted NVidia Grid contains 240 of the company’s graphics processing units and boasts a total GPU computational power of 200 teraflops, said Huang. Each node can support 24 concurrent users and the entire server has a performance equivalent to 720 Xbox 360s, said Huang.
On stage, he demonstrated a streaming video game running on both an LG flat-screen television and netbook computer. The TV was connected to a receiver box and the netbook ran software. Both the receiver and software connected via the Internet to an NVidia Grid server.
Huang said that such a service wouldn’t be possible using a conventional rack-mounted server because those were optimized for computing, not graphics.
“They have lots of CPU cores and no GPUs,” he said.
NVidia has been working for five years on the device taking on challenges that included shifting data across the internet fast enough to avoid delays in gaming. The NVidia Grid includes a new, unnamed graphics processing unit.
The company is already testing the device with partners in several countries: Agawi in the U.S., Cloudunion and Cyber Cloud in China, G-cluster in Japan, Playcast in Israel, and Ubitus in South Korea.
New Nvidia software to interest PC gamers
Huang also had something to offer PC gamers, one of its core audiences.
GeForce Experience is a software application that scans a PC’s hardware and automatically sets it to match the game being played. Typically, PC games feature a complex settings screen that allows gamers to match the game to their system and hardware.
“When you launch the game, GFE magically inserts the settings into your game so it comes up to the most beautiful and playable settings your game allows,” said Huang.
He demonstrated a before-and-after image from the Call Of Duty game. With GFE enabled, the game screen appeared to be sharper with a higher definition.
Martyn Williams produces technology news and product reviews in text and video for PC World, Macworld, and TechHive from his home outside Washington D.C.. He previously worked for IDG News Service as a correspondent in San Francisco and Tokyo and has reported on technology news from across Asia and Europe.