Based on how many people were gathered at Nvidia's booth to gawk at Project Shield--behind glass--it's safe to say that it's one of the most buzzed-about gadgets at CES 2013. Now that we've held the portable gaming console in our hands, we can say with confidence that it's worthy of the hype.
The Shield is much more than a game controller with a sharp and vibrant 5-inch touch screen tacked on. It's a whole new way to experience high-octane Android games, as well as the latest titles streamed from your PC. Instead of futzing with touch controls, you can enjoy a lot more precision using the Shield's two analog sticks and multitude of buttons. While casual gamers might be scared off, this gadget isn't for the Angry Birds crowd.
To be clear, the Shield is not a pocket-friendly device. This is something that gamers will throw in a bag and then whip out when they want to mow down some bad guys or bash a boxer's face in. At first we thought the analog controllers were packed too close together, but after a few seconds we had no problem moving and panning.
What makes the Shield exciting to us is its versatility. It dowloads plays demanding 3D games downloaded from the Nvidia Tegra store, and it can stream the latest titles from your PC--but only if it has a recent model Nvidia GPU. For notebooks, we're talking about a GTX 660M, which are typically north of a grand.
Streaming to a TV will be possible via Miracast technology, and Nvidia says that there should be several adapters on the market that deliver this AirPlay-like experience to multiple TV brands. Fuller integration of the technology into sets is a little ways off.
During gameplay, Borderlands 2 streamed buttery smooth from a nearby desktop, but it was over an Ethernet connection. We'll have to see how well PC-to-Shield gameplay holds up over Wi-Fi.
Overall, the Nvidia Shield is an exciting innovation not only because it demonstrates that Nvidia has serious hardware chops. Devices like this will finally spur Android game developers to give Google's platform the attention it deserves.