NVIDIA's Shield Tablet Tries to Bring Serious Gaming to Mobile

In 2013, NVIDIA (NASDAQ: NVDA  ) launched the Shield portable gaming console, a gamepad with a screen attached running Android and powered by the company's Tegra 4 processor. It was a niche device, and while features were added over time that broadened its appeal, it was never meant to be a mainstream success.

NVIDIA has now announced a new member of the Shield family, the Shield Tablet, with the device set to launch for $299 on July 29. With the tablet market very quickly becoming commoditized, NVIDIA is trying to carve out a section for itself, with the goal of creating an Android gaming market where the powerful graphics capabilities of its Tegra processors provide the company with a competitive advantage. The Shield Tablet won't be outselling Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) iPad anytime soon, but it could prove to be a compelling product for serious gamers.

Source: NVIDIA

What makes the Shield Tablet unique?
The Shield Tablet supports all Android games, but it also supports games built specifically for NVIDIA's Tegra. Two examples are Half Life 2 and Portal, both originally PC games from Valve that, with the help of NVIDIA, were ported over to Tegra and are available only on Shield devices. The Tegra K1 supports all of the major technologies supported by desktop graphics cards, such as OpenGL 4.4, unlike most mobile devices which support the embedded version of OpenGL, and this makes porting PC games to the Shield simpler.

Along with Android games, the Shield Tablet supports streaming PC games from a PC with a supported NVIDIA graphics card. This can be done both on the same network as the PC, or over the Internet, and while the Shield Portable also supports this function, its small screen was a limitation. The Shield Tablet can also be hooked up to a TV, allowing it to act as a game console to either play Android games or stream PC games.

Will it sell?
At $300, the Shield Tablet is certainly not the cheapest small tablet, although it is less expensive than Apple's Retina iPad Mini. Amazon's Kindle Fire HDX, which has the same screen resolution as the Shield Tablet, is $229, for example. As a general purpose tablet, the Shield Tablet is competitive, but nothing special.

The Shield Tablet is really only an attractive device for those who own a gaming PC with an NVIDIA graphics card, since the additional streaming functions depend on it. For serious gamers, the Shield Tablet could also serve as a general purpose tablet, and this is the market that NVIDIA is most likely going after. While still a niche device like the Shield Portable, the Shield Tablet has much broader appeal due to its form factor.

Apple gets serious about gaming
Apple is the one company that could throw a wrench in NVIDIA's plans to elevate Android gaming. The next version of iOS will come with Metal, Apple's graphics API for mobile devices, which promises to minimize overhead for graphics-intensive applications. Metal is now integrated into the Unreal 4 game engine, and a demo shown at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference earlier this year demonstrated the power of the API.

The benefit that Apple has is the enormous number of iOS devices out in the wild. There are more Android devices, of course, but the specs vary wildly, and developing games that work well across the entire spectrum is difficult. NVIDIA has tried to solve this problem with Tegra, but the company is in a chicken-and-egg situation. It needs millions of Tegra devices in people's hands for developers to take notice, but it needs high-quality Tegra games for the devices to sell. The PC streaming features will help, but Apple is clearly aiming to make iOS the premier mobile gaming platform.

The bottom line
NVIDIA's Shield Tablet is more appealing than the portable Shield device, but it's still really only attractive to serious PC gamers. If it sells well, it would strengthen the ecosystem around NVIDIA's graphics cards and possibly spur other companies to make Tegra-based tablets of their own. If it doesn't, NVIDIA may have to go back to the drawing board.

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Read/Post Comments (6) | Recommend This Article (4)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On July 24, 2014, at 11:29 AM, SimchaStein wrote:

    Great article. The most useful (perhaps only useful) article from Motley. Both Apple and Nvidia see the potential upside of gaming in the tablet market.

  • Report this Comment On July 24, 2014, at 11:46 AM, jwtrotter wrote:

    I tried to add a comment to a Niu article that was obviously biased with several half-truths and it would take my comment. At least this article balances that recent one a little. I'm realizing now that Fool seems to also block comments when someone points out obvious distortions in their articles.

  • Report this Comment On July 24, 2014, at 11:51 AM, Beerfloat wrote:

    "The Shield Tablet is really only an attractive device for those who own a gaming PC with an NVIDIA graphics card"

    Hmm.. it's got a highres IPS screen in a near optimal tablet size and reviews speak of solid build quality, battery life, and a close to stock Android experience (and a great track record of updates from the manufacturer). There are front side speakers, a good front camera, an SD slot and even a usable pen.

    Considering its reasonable price I'd say it is a pretty wonderful device even without the gaming aspect.

  • Report this Comment On July 24, 2014, at 2:45 PM, garvinr wrote:

    I have to agree with Beerfloat on this one. The Fire HDX is a 7" tablet so the Sheild Tablet has 30% more screen size. This in itself justifies a good portion of the price difference. Not to mention, the K1 beats the Snapdragon 800 in most early benchmarks. The shield tablet is the best 8" tablet on the market for the price - gaming or no gaming.

  • Report this Comment On July 25, 2014, at 2:56 AM, rav55 wrote:

    This is a change of direction for nVidia. Not the tablet but rather how nVidia brought it to market. They did not wait for an OEM to build it, but rather they took it to the consumer directly.

    In order for Tegra to succeed nVidia vertically integrated Shield. Tegra K1 was released and Shield is getting to the consumer by July 29. The K1 core was announced in January and pre-K1 developer kits were released by March. Time to market for K1 products is very good.

    This is a very smart move by nVidia. OEM's have too many choices so nVidia's best move was to take it to market themselves.

    I wonder if nVidia will bench Shield K1 against Apple and Samsung?

  • Report this Comment On July 25, 2014, at 9:02 PM, Dosblade wrote:

    I just watched a video of a new benchmark for the Shield K1. So I downloaded the same bench for my tab running Snap 800. Where I got 15K the K1 got 29k. I cant stream anything like the Shield can nor post me playing blah blah.

    As for Apple.. yawn. The key word there is "Predicting" and they have not always been right. Yet its Apple they make a great product. But with Steve not here they as we can see are not the same.

    Just make sure where ever you order from you can return it.

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