Nvidia announce a thing that’s not a graphics card: The Shield lets you play Steam games on your television


Nvidia has announced a new object. You can see a picture of the object above. The object runs the Android mobile operating system, meaning it can play Android videogames using its 5-inch touchscreen and an attached Fiat Panda dashboard. The object is called The Shield, and the reason it is of interest to PC gamers is because of its ability to wirelessly and laglessly stream output from your PC’s Nvidia graphics card to its dinky 1280 x 720 screen, which is handy for playing 5-inch wide PC games when you’re sitting anywhere up to 15 metres away from your computer.

Another reason it’s of interest to PC gamers is because it is always interesting when PC manufacturers show up on stage at CES to say something other than “hey guys we done a new graphics card”.

But it’s not pretty.It looks like a firmware update to a George Foreman grill.It looks like Robocop’s lunchbox.It looks like a PDA that Batman might use, but not the cool new Batman, the George Clooney Batman with the nipples. It looks like a compactfor a lady Transformer. It looks like an electric egg that Knight Rider might hatch out of.

It looks like all of these things, a strange and awkward marriage of an iPhone-sized screen and an Xbox-shaped controller, but one of those odd, religious marriages where the couple can onlyhave sex through a hole in asheet. The designs of both screen and pad are separate anddon’t blend orcoalesce, they only meet at an abrupthinge.It’s a very ugly thing, andwhen its clamshell design issnapped shut -the only time the screen and the controller are forced into some kind of design intimacy -it’s like staring at theclosed bedroom door of a Mormon husband and wife.

Then there’s the pad itself, which is steeplyconcave to allow the screen to fit. It appears uncomfortable, probably whatlike gripping a soup bowl and jabbing your thumbs into its porcelain insides would feel like.

But maybe it’s not like that at all, I haven’t held one. I’m not at CES where the object was just announced. Sofor the sake of balance, it could actually be very comfortable to hold. It could feel great, beautiful and familiar, like running the back of your fingers tenderly along a loved one’s cheek. It could feel just like that. Except one of your loved one’scheeks (analogue sticks) is in the wrong place.

That’s the disappointingaesthetic then, but it’s what The Shield cando that should set it apart from other, similarly sizedobjects. It allowsyou to sit anywhere in your house and play your PC gameslibraryon a five inch screen while marvelling at the irony of the device’s compatibility with Steam’s ‘Big Picture Mode’. However, that ironic bubble is then pricked by The Shield’s HDMI port, which outputs at mind-smearingly large4K resolutions. That’s twice the definition of 1080p,the shiniest of the resolutions on the road to the 8K peak and one that most televisions don’t support.

I’ve no idea why The Shield supports such large resolutions, but that’s fantastic. You can never have enough pixels. And playing the triplest of AAA games on a screen small enough to swallow does sound like fun.

That HDMI option does, however, mark The Shield’s most useful utility as a viable means of playing pad-compatible PC games on your television without having to faff about with laggy wireless HDMI transmittersor extensive cabling. It definitely doesn’t feel like the greatest (or even cheapest, Nvidia are being coy about how much this object costs)solution to that problem, but it’s a solution nonetheless, assuming you’ve got a new enough Nvidia GPU. Streaming from PC to handheld requires at least aGeForce GTX 650, because of the latency-zapping magic that GPU employs.

That also means that your PC needs to be switched on and in rangein order to broadcast games to The Shield, which begins to render the thing somewhat redundant as a miniature, portable version of your desktop. Ican’t get far away enough from my PC for this handheld to be more useful than an extended USB cable and a pair of binoculars. It seemsthe PC compatibility is a cleverafterthought that’s now being touted as a serious feature of the device, which is ostensibly an Android phone turned handheld games console, with a built-in storefront powered by Google Play.

And just look at how they revealed it, as if the thing had been pieced together by an omnipotentrobotic deity. Apparently The Shield was built in a Formula One garage during The Blitz, before finallybeing revealed to the themetune of a local TV news programme.

The Shield is said to be launching in Q2 of 2013, when it willboast a roster of Android’s finest games, such as that one whose name I can’t remember, the game with a gun in it, Angry Birds, Draw Something and probably at leastone other one.