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Nvidia Enters The Handheld Gaming Market With Project Shield

This year’s Consumer Electronics Show, to most people, was going to be the genesis of a new era, a new angle for the annual Las Vegas technology convention. Most say since Bill Gates retired and stopped delivering the keynote (which he had done since 2003) that it has been understood that CES will eventually transition into maybe a smaller show or a mobile-centric show, especially with Microsoft pulling out altogether last year. You may have noticed that more and more tech companies utilized the Apple strategy of simply having special, branded one-off shows that highlight their big product or announcements for the year.

Not much to look forward to in 2013.

Not according to Nvidia. In a surprise move last night, Nvidia announced Project Shield, a portable handheld gaming controller/console/streaming box. Amidst a rather humdrum affair of rehashing old news into fresh and exciting headlines (Experience from December and Grid from last May), the Santa Clara-based tech company rolled their Tegra 4 mobile processor, um, “reveal” into a surprise.

Piece by piece, this…something is cobbled together. And piece by piece, it dawns on everyone that no, it’s not a controller, and no, it’s not a joke. Nvidia has just entered the handheld gaming arena, the new “Wild West” as Polygon reviews editor Arthur Gies puts it.

It’s running on that new hotness of the Tegra 4, which itself is doing some pretty serious damage with 72 GPU cores and four A15 CPU cores; a 5-inch “retinal” (whatever the hell that means. Is that a reference to or a jab at or a trademark circumvention of Apple?) flip-up 720p touchscreen; 4K HDMI output; and all the buttons and sticks of a big boy console controller. It’s slightly larger than an Xbox 360 controller, whose influence is pretty clear, and is running Android.

Sounds neat so far, but nothing crazy, right? Well, remember Grid? Get this: if your PC is equipped with one of Nvidia’s Kepler-based graphics cards (GTX 650 or GTX 660M or higher), you’ll be able to stream à la OnLive and Gakai to Shield. So all that Steam Big Picture stuff is now in your hand. Suddenly, your entire PC gaming library is available to you anywhere.

All right, so that’s a bit of a stretch, but that’s the pitch and eventual goal. The Shield unit will supposedly end up as the set-top box for all your cloud stuff, but in your hand instead of on top of your set. Your PC, Grid, and your TV all connect through Shield, so whatever comes off one can go into the other and facilitate your cloud-infused lifestyle.

During the stage demo, we got to see Hawken and Real Boxing off the TegraZone store running at 4K and Need For Speed: Most Wanted and Assassin’s Creed III via PC streaming. Impressive? Sure. But the question is will this convince you to actually buy a handheld? Sony, a company with brand recognition and established gaming clout, is already struggling to get the Vita off life support, so Nvidia definitely has their work cut out for them. And that’s not to mention that Ouya and GameStick are also both on their way to the Android gaming side of things.

No price has been announced yet, but the Shield website says it’ll available sometime in Q2 of 2013. And unless it manages to sell cheap and compete with Ouya and GameStick, all it really seems to be doing is making the cohesive Apple gaming landscape seem like a relative paradise. I guess we’ll find out what developers and consumers think about it in Q2. See you then!

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