Is that a console in your pocket? - The Shield reveals new talents

IT ARRIVED AT JPR as just another tablet, but as staffers idly walk by and pick it up to play, we’re finding the Shield is more than a gaming tablet and more than a console replacement. When you combine the convenience of a tab¬let with the huge developer base of the Android, and HDMI, you get something that’s fun and functional.—Ed.

As a matter of fact, that is a console in my pocket, my back pocket, and I am also happy to see you because I have good news. Hardcore PC gamers finally have their best option for HDTV gaming.

Why? Because hardcore PC gamers do not want AAA games developed primarily for consoles or controllers. The reasons are both functional and politi¬cal. From a functionality standpoint, PC gamers know that when compared head to head, mouse and keyboard absolutely dominate the accuracy and flexibility of gamepads (even with their accompanying auto-aim algorithms). We also know that sitting one foot away from a UHD 24+ inch PC display cannot be equaled in most living rooms as far as immersion and ability to see fine details. We know that the best driving and flight sim experiences are played on the desk¬top, where one can buy the best periph-erals and sit with a proper posture. Did I mention having head-tracking enabled in a PC racing sim makes driving games on consoles feel like something you might find at a coin op arcade?

From a political standpoint, most hardcore PC gamers don’t want to have console ports or to encourage their development; PC gamers want PC optimized games. By supporting AAA-capable gaming consoles for the living room, one just encourages developers to create AAA for X86 consoles and con¬trollers first and then port to PC. Hardcore PC gamers are also not big fans of closed gardens, which all traditional consoles (and a few upcoming wannabes) represent.

POCKET FULL of console—couldn’t be happier.


Enjoy casual games

Indeed, the hardcore PC gamer wants to play the most intense AAA games and sims on their PC, sitting in a comfortable chair at their desk. Nevertheless there are times where it’s nice to just plop down on the couch, kick your feet up on the table, and play something a little more relaxed. Let’s call these types of games “casual and midcore.” These games play quite well with a game controller, and having the couch option is an attractive alternative once in a while, as a break from the elite PC gaming platform. 

Thanks to the Android operating system and its multi-billion-person user base, Nvidia (and others) have brought us the future of HDTV gaming: Android consoles. Powerful and affordable; these devices can take the shape of a set-top box, micro-console, handheld, or tablet. The common factor is they are all designed to enable gaming on HDTV. Right now the Nvidia Shield tablet is clearly the best implementation of this we have played with to date. It rocks casual and midcore games on par with an Xbox 360 or Playstation 3. The controller is awesome, and four of them can connect; it serves as a pack leader smart TV, and oh ... you can take the whole kit with you easily, to any HDTV you desire, and use it as a tablet or self-contained console along the way.

Playing on the big screen

When used at JPR’s San Francisco office, the Shield tablet does not move. It sits idly in the media cabinet, connected to the charger and HDMI cable. It is left in “console mode.” Console mode turns off the tablet display and increases the resolution and processing power for the gaming on my 50-inch HDTV. Because the device not only serves light gaming needs but almost everything else one does on Android, we wanted it instantly accessible. We configured the tablet to never sleep. Nvidia is working on this as a design feature, but we had to unlock developer mode to enable it (very easy process). The tablet screen stays off always, so the power draw is minimal when not in use. We also found another way of doing this with Daydream and a screensaver. But Shield is there, ready to go, as fast as one can press one or two buttons on the TV remote.

Once we switch that HDMI source to the Shield tablet, we have one of the most advanced and powerful smart TVs in the world, and a damn fine gaming platform that doesn’t infringe on our desktop gaming. The wireless gamepad has multiple ways to navigate Android. The D pad jumps icons, the upper trig¬gers turn pages, the right analog stick controls a mouse cursor, the left scrolls lists, and there is a small touch pad to boot. There are a back button, menu button, multiple select buttons, a home button, play button, volume buttons, and other functions. Granted, having to use an on-screen virtual keyboard for text entry is a weak point, but the controller has a voice input mic and I find myself using voice for text input quite a bit.

Now, Nvidia does have its own closed garden with the Shield where they would surely love us spending time and money. (Nvidia has launched their Grid gaming cloud, Grid online gaming service, which uses a Netflix-like model to supply PC-level games free to all buy¬ers of its Shield tablets.)

In the Nvidia Hub app there are “Shield only” games (or special editions of games optimized for Shield) and Nvidia Grid, their cloud gaming offering. However, they do not force you into the garden; they earn your business. The Shield tablet is an open platform Android device and allows gamers to play games from other distribution sources out of the box, even utilizing the gamepad. It even allows one to play PC games via local or remote streaming if the rig has a 6-series or higher GTX card. In a way this is like a traditional PC software model. I can’t stress enough how important and appreciated this is in the glorious PC gaming master race. We are smart, we like freedom, and we are influencers.

So as the Romans would say, “Noli irritare leonem” (do not irritate the lions), and for open gaming platforms that enable consumer choice, “per adura ad astra” (through adversity to the stars). Nvidia Shield is a welcome mem¬ber in the jungle, and the sky is the limit for Android gaming.