Is Nvidia’s Shield Tablet the Ultimate Gaming Device?

Nvidia (NASDAQ: NVDA  ) has just introduced the Shield tablet, a high-powered Android device that the company calls the "ultimate tablet for gamers."

The tablet is equipped with an Nvidia Tegra K1 processor, an 8-inch full HD display, front-facing speakers, support for microSD cards up to 128GB, and optional LTE connectivity. It comes in 16GB ($299) and 32GB ($399) versions and is currently available for preorder. An optional $60 wireless controller, which has a built-in microphone (for chat and voice search) and a touchpad, improves the gaming experience for controller-compatible games. A $40 tablet cover can also be used as a kickstand.

Nvidia's Shield handheld (L) and tablet/controller (R). Source: Nvidia.

The Swiss Army knife of gaming
The Shield tablet is compatible with all Android games on Google Play, as well as 400 Shield-optimized games available through Nvidia's Shield Hub -- 11 of those games are optimized for the Shield's Tegra K1 processor.

Gamers can stream games from a desktop or notebook to the tablet using Nvidia's GameStream and GRID technologies. Gameplay videos can also be streamed to Twitch with the Shield's ShadowPlay video capture tool. The Shield also has a "console mode," which allows tablet games to be played on big-screen TVs in native 1080p HD.

Simply put, the Nvidia Shield tablet is the "Swiss Army knife" of gaming. But will anyone actually buy this high-powered device, which straddles the two saturated markets of tablets and consoles?

Is the Shield tablet superior to other tablets?
It will be tough for Nvidia to carve out a niche in the tablet market. Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) iPad has a dominant 76% market share among U.S. consumers, making it the top platform for game developers. Nvidia's Shield tablet costs the same as a comparably powered iPad Mini.

While the iPad Mini doesn't offer as many bells and whistles as the Shield out of the box, customers can easily add similar features.

Sony's (NYSE: SNE  ) DualShock 4 controller, along with other wireless controllers, can be paired to iPads. PC-to-iPad game streaming solutions like OnLive, Gaikai, and iSwifter have existed for years. Valve could soon make entire Steam libraries playable on iPads and Android tablets via Steam In-Home Streaming. Twitch recently started adding live streaming for iOS games. iPads can even be converted into "consoles" by simply connecting the tablet to the TV and playing games with a wireless controller.

Infinity Blade III for the iPad. Source: iTunes.

While those solutions are not as elegant as Nvidia's setup, it becomes painfully clear that Nvidia's buzzwords -- GameStream, GRID, and ShadowPlay -- are really just fancy ways to repackage existing technologies.

Is the Shield tablet superior to other consoles?
The Shield also faces a steep uphill battle in becoming an alternative home or handheld console. The home console market is controlled by Sony's PS4, Nintendo's (NASDAQOTH: NTDOY  ) Wii U, and Microsoft's Xbox One. The handheld market is dominated by Nintendo's 3DS, with Sony's PS Vita trailing in a distant second.

Hopeful competitors tried to carve out a niche in those markets with Android-based home consoles like the Ouya and Mad Catz MOJO. Neither console ever became popular. Last year, Nvidia launched its Shield handheld, its predecessor to the Shield tablet. Nvidia has never released official sales figures for the Shield handheld, but a price cut from $299 to $199 in March speaks volumes about demand.

Mad Catz's MOJO Android console. Source: Mad Catz.

The key problem is that customers place PC/console games and mobile ones in separate categories regardless of graphics. PC and console games are full-featured titles that people are willing to pay $50 for. Mobile games are short casual titles that are free, cost a few dollars, or profit from constant microtransactions.

Nvidia, Ouya, and Mad Catz are trying to convince gamers that the two ecosystems belong together. Unfortunately, PC and console gamers still consider Android games to be "casual," thanks to games like Candy Crush Saga and Angry Birds. Meanwhile, trying to convince casual mobile gamers to stream triple-A games to their tablets will only appeal to a small sliver of gamers who love Skyrim and Candy Crush equally.

By comparison, Valve's Steam Machines strategy -- which puts PC games on TVs -- is a sounder plan because it completely targets hardcore gamers rather than casual ones.

The Foolish takeaway
Like the Shield handheld, the Shield tablet probably won't gain much of a following beyond a niche group of hardcore gamers. The Shield tablet is a beefy beast, but it doesn't really bring anything new to the table that can't already be done on an iPad or Android tablet. Meanwhile, Valve could deal the killing blow to Nvidia's cloud streaming efforts by expanding Steam In-Home Streaming to all tablets.

The Shield family won't matter much to Nvidia, since its core business consists of graphics cards and mobile processors -- which have been doing fine on their own. Last quarter, Nvidia's GAAP-adjusted revenue rose 16% year-over-year while its earnings per share soared 85%.

I believe that Nvidia will only produce a limited number of Shield tablets, since it knows that demand is fairly limited. However, the Shield tablet can still serve as a technical showcase of the Tegra K1's graphical processing prowess, which could convince more tablet makers to adopt the mobile processor.

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  • Report this Comment On July 23, 2014, at 10:34 PM, nobodyspecial2u wrote:

    You can hook the same xbox360/ps3 etc controllers to your Shield devices also. No need to buy a controller if you already have one in either case (apple or NV). However on price, the 32GB model of the retina ipad mini (same 8in size, the regular model is 1024x768, not comparable to shield tablet which is much higher 1920x1200, also the NON retina has crappy A5 cpu not A7 of retina model) is $500 compared to Shield tablet's $400. Also the GPU in K1 is far superior for gaming than apple's A7, with full OpenGL4.4/DX12 as NV's slide shows (it's full kepler with all the trimmings) which will lead to serious games and graphics on these devices. Unreal 4 demo already running as shown on K1 (No surprise, it's a kepler). Dev's know NV kepler inside out already, nothing to learn as they've been using it on the desktop for 2yrs.

    5MP/5MP front AND rear cameras on NV vs. 1.2MP/5MP for ipad. It also comes with a great Stylus and note taking tools that blow away others in the category for taking notes or even drawing.

    Any price cut in march ($50 not $100, it was selling for months at $250 already and for months with $100 off if you bought certain NV discrete cards) was likely to empty shelves for the tablet and 2nd Shield Handheld device that will come shortly to replace shield R1. That is why there are TWO sets of specs floating around with the tablet specs and a handheld set of specs. Plopping in a K1 into the shield r1 housing is simple so an upgrade is coming at some point probably a soon as they see how the tablet sells. You have to remember it only cost 10mil to develop the original Shield handheld and the specs for the 2nd device show 4GB of ram so more aimed at Vita/3ds hardcore gamers with specs like that and a slight bump in res to 1440x810 IIRC again, not too high so gaming will be FAST.

    Micro SD up to 128GB on NV tablet to add even more space for games. NO HMDI on apple, you have to buy an Lightning adapter ($44 at amazon+HDMI cable cost) for the cable way or Apple TV (another $99 for A-TV for Airplay) while with NV a it has HDMI 1.4a micro, so just a cheap cable is all that is needed to get it to any HDMI TV etc or just miracast to any capable device (such as a chromecast etc for $30, or any other miracast usb adapter again under $30 to turn any tv into a miracast device). Again apple is going to cost you MORE here for the things you're saying.

    Ouya failed because they didn't use googleplay or straight android thus limiting their games/apps. Shield devices run straight android and all that comes with that (all apps/games, on top of tegra optimized games from tegrazone). Mojo can't leave the house either (like ouya), so neither of these is direct competition for handhelds like Shield is (vs. 3ds and vita which are woefully underpowered vs. T4 or K1).

    Grid allows you to stream PC games from powerful NV gpus OUTSIDE your house. Not the same as what valve would be doing in HOME, though NV can already do that very well too, and also to your TV. What you're saying is valve may catch up to 1/2 of NV's streaming story (in the house) but that won't drive your games OUT of the house from GRID servers.

    Spoken like an apple lover, and game devs are all over android (such as Epic demo of unreal 4 on NV, NOT on Apple), not apple. With almost all devices having output to TV, you're talking Android vs. Apple, and the market is HEAVILY in favor of android (it's a world wide market, not just USA).

    No AAA on android? Who are you talking to? Trine2, Serious Sam3 BFG, Halflife 2, Portal and more coming. These are PC titles with the first two being in the last couple years. Besides any problem android has here, apple has the exact problem. Ports have been coming rapidly also (GTA3, GTA Vice City, San Andreas, Final Fantasy 3, 4, 6 games, Baldurs Gate enhanced, Bard's Tale etc). These are all FULL games. Baldurs gate is 100hrs ;) Ravensord, Modern Combat games, Order & Chaos online, etc etc. Tons of stuff. It's not angry birds today and the games are all $2-20 instead of $60 for consoles. For the price of ONE console game you can pretty much get all I listed above...LOL.

    "iPads can even be converted into "consoles""

    So can NV tablets and Shield, just cheaper to do it than apple ;) Is this an NV article or Apple Ad? You show infinity blade, but the same graphics are on Android in other games.

    https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.gameloft.a...

    Wild blood etc based on the same UNREAL engine.

    http://time.com/3020367/apple-q3-earnings/

    "the iPad is showing signs of slowing. The tablet sold 13.3 million units in the quarter, down 9 percent year-over-year and down 19 percent from the period between January and March of this year. This was the second straight quarter the iPad slipped in year-over-year sales"

    So down 20% in a quarter...Hmm...Much better deal with NV shield tablet as noted many ways above. Will it take out consoles? No I expect that to happen with a full console like box at 20nm/14nm with 125w PSU etc as android amps up even more with NV graphics (M1@20nm? based on maxwell/Denver?) and steamos gets ported to ARM for a triboot box of free OS's (linux, SteamOS, AndroidL running 64bit's all around).

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