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The Nvidia Shield: A Revolution in Console Gaming, or Just Another Set-Top Box?
We’ve all heard the story before; a new doohickey is announced by company “X” that is supposed to change the gaming world as we know it, and revolutionize the way in which they are played. Yet, these promises have been followed up by more than a few gadgets that have failed to live up to their hype. OnLive, Ouya, and the various Android gaming boxes and tablets are some examples of game-streaming devices that have faced the wrath of the unpredictable and relentless gaming market.
But many believe that Nvidia’s slick new “Shield” could be the real deal.
While Valve has recently gone on to announce its Steam machine, which promises to bring Steam gaming effortlessly to your TV, and various Android-based gadgets have provided a new way to enjoy your mobile games on your TV, Nvidia is boasting a sort of “be-all end-all” of streaming set-top boxes for gaming, and they are doing it at the relatively modest price point of under $200 – and it will include a controller to boot.
Alright, so it might be affordable, but just what is it about this gadget that makes it stand out above the rest of its ilk?
Well, for starters, Nvidia is making the claim that this will in fact be “the world’s first 4k Android TV console. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that this tiny machine will be able to stream cutting edge AAA titles in 4k right off the bat, consumers will at least have the comfort of knowing that the potential is there, which is currently more than Microsoft or Sony can say about their home consoles.
Aside from its most impressive feature of 4k output, this bad boy will be powered with the new mobile “superchip”, the Tegra X1, which is an octa-core processor. This will put it within striking distance of high end PCs, and it will seemingly hold its own with even the Xbox One and PS4. It will come with 3gig of ram, 16gig of storage, and come with an array of ports and outlets which will allow for more greater storage expansion via SD cards.
A pretty impressive resume, but what does this machine offer aside from its horsepower?
Perhaps its greatest attribute lies in just how multi-functional the device will be. Sure, it will be able to stream a wide variety of Android games on any monitor or TV set of your choosing, but it will also have its own library of high and low end PC games, 50 of which will be available right at launch. These will include Portal, Half Life 2, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, and even Crysis 3.
This essentially implies that this device will not only go toe to toe with Android boxes, but will be entering the battlefield with the PC, Steam Box, and to an extent, even the Xbox One and PS4. And, as fun little bonus, this gadget will come with all the bells and whistles you’d expect from your typical TV and movie streaming box; which include Hulu, Netflix, and will work with Google Chromecast to allow for video streaming from your computer.
In a nutshell, if ever there was a definitive set-top box to invest in when it comes to gaming and media, this seems to be the one. And at such a consumer-friendly price point, it is likely the Shield could put up some solid sales numbers.
But, let’s pump the brakes here. Before we start singing it too high of praises, let’s take a step back and examine it from a more critical eye.
Firstly, while Nvidia’s Shield does seem to come at an affordable cost, especially when you consider that the current generation of consoles will cost you twice that amount, and the Steam Box will run you up even more than that, it isn’t particularly cheap when you consider the additional expenses.
Although the Grid service for the already released Nvidia Shield tablet and portable is currently free, this is only guaranteed until June 2015. And all signs point to this changing, once the fancy new console version of the Shield is released, and you will have to pay for a service in order to access the majority of streaming content – which you never actually own – similar to Netflix. There will also be the added options to buy standalone games a-la-carte, but these will still probably cost you the same as the current asking price of a physical retail game. And again, the games would be in digital form only, which of course means you won’t have the luxury of making some of that money back by selling it once you’ve played it to death and moved on.
Second, while it is neat that you will be able to stream high-end PC games, there isn’t much indication as to how many will be available, and how quickly games will be cranked out. Since you will need to use Nvidia’s dedicated “Grid” service to access all PC titles, which will launch with 200 games between the Android and PC software, the signs seem to point to this service being a somewhat restricted and limiting service in terms of its offerings.
In essence, while the Nvidia Shield seems like a neat little gadget on paper, I find it unlikely that it will be anything groundbreaking, or that it will light the sales charts on fire, at least at first. The idea of having a gaming device that runs with the Netflix-style of streaming, and essentially renting all your content doesn’t hold up as well when it comes to gaming.
Many gamers prefer to be in complete control of their software, and thus, own physical copies of their games. They often like to buy their games used, at a discount, and appreciate the ability to take them to and fro to friends’ houses. These are trends that I don’t see changing any time soon. One only needs to look at the backlash Microsoft received for the first announced version of their Xbox One, which was extremely heavy on the DRM front, to get a clearer picture of this.
While it is true that digital and DRM-focused services like Steam are quite popular among PC gamers, one of the biggest reasons for this is their abundance of discounted and budget games. One major question to be posed is – just how many good deals or discounts on digital PC and Anroid titles will we see available for the Shield? This could make a large difference in just how successful and worthwhile this set-top box will be.
Perhaps after several years, once more games are churned out, and the technology has had a chance to catch up – allowing for smoother streaming and glorious 4k gaming, this device will begin to stand out from the crowd and truly make its mark on the gaming scene. However, at the moment, Nvidia’s Shield appears to be little more than a glorified streaming/cloud based gadget that relies a bit too heavily on the unpopular DRM, and it doesn’t appear to offer very much that other devices already can’t in one way or another. Though as always, time will tell.