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NVIDIA SHIELD Tegra 4 Android Gaming Portable
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Date: Jul 31, 2013
Section:Gadgets
Author: Marco Chiappetta
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Introduction and Specifications

NVIDIA made quite a splash at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show when they first unveiled their SHIELD portable gaming device. If you missed the original announcement, or the myriad of related posts we’ve put up about the device since then, SHIELD is a Tegra 4-based portable gaming machine that’s packing a 5-inch multi-touch screen, a console-grade game controller, and an unmolested version of Android Jelly Bean.


NVIDIA SHIELD Portable Gaming Device

In some respects NVIDIA’s SHIELD is simply a small Android tablet with a kick-ass game controller attached. But of course, NVIDIA has injected some of their own special sauce into SHIELD and is leveraging the huge install base of GeForce GTX graphics cards in many of today’s gaming PC as well, to enable some cool features on SHIELD that you won’t find anywhere else.

In addition to being able to play the myriad of games available in the Google Play store, SHIELD offers users the ability the play a number of Tegra-optimized games that look better than their mainstream counterparts, and also allows owners of GeForce GTX 650 graphics cards, or newer/more powerful GTX cards, to stream PC games to the SHIELD device and even back out to a larger monitor or TV if you wish. We'll show you what that’s all about (along with some other hands-on action) in the video below:
There’s more to NVIDIA’s SHIELD than just gaming, though. The device can do just about anything that other Android-based devices can, but it benefits from what turned out to be one of the fastest mobile processors we have tested to date, the Tegra 4. Take a look at SHIELD's full list of specifications below and we’ll give you the detailed scoop of the device on the pages ahead.

NVIDIA SHIELD
Specifications & Features

Processor

NVIDIA Tegra 4 Quad Core
Mobile Processor with 2GB RAM

Display

5 inch 1280x720 (294 ppi) Multi-Touch Retinal Quality Display

Audio

Integrated Stereo Speakers with Built-in Microphone

Storage

16GB Flash Memory

Custom Tag Color

Silver

Wireless

802.11n 2x2 Mimo Wi-Fi
Bluetooth 3.0
GPS

Connectivity

Mini-HDMI output
Micro-USB 2.0
MicroSD storage slot
3.5mm stereo headphone jack with microphone support

Motion Sensors

3 Axis Gyro
3 Axis Accelerometer

Input controls

Dual analog joysticks
D-pad
Left/right analog triggers
Left/right bumpers
A/B/X/Y buttons
Volume control
Android Home and Back buttons
Start button
NVIDIA power/multi-function button

Battery

28.8 Watt Hours

Weight & Size

579 grams
158mm (w) x 135mm (D) x 57mm (H)

Operating System

Android Jelly Bean OS

Software

Google Play
TegraZone
Sonic 4 Episode II THD
Expendable: Rearmed
Hulu Plus
TwitchTV



Gloss-Black "Tag" and Fitted Carrying Case

Before we dive in and get all up-close-and-personal with NVIDIA’s SHIELD, we want to quickly mention that NVIDIA will also be offering an array of accessories for the device. Here you can see a black replacement “tag” for SHIELD (out of the box, SHIELD comes with a silver tag) and a hard, fitted carrying case. NVIDIA will have a carbon-fiber tag available as well, and some third parties plan to release accessories for SHIELD too.

NVIDIA envisions users customizing their SHIELDs with different tags, which are quick and easy to swap out. They’re held in place with magnets and can be removed / replaced in seconds. Check out the video above to see exactly what we mean.
 

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NVIDIA SHIELD: Up Close

As we’ve mentioned, NVIDIA’s SHIELD is built around the company's homegrown Tegra 4 SoC. NVIDIA’s Tegra 4 builds upon the success of the Tegra 3 by incorporating updated quad ARM 15-based CPU cores with a custom 72-core GeForce GPU, which all told offers up to 6x the performance of Tegra 3.

Like its predecessor, Tegra 4 will also have a 4+1 CPU design, which combines 4 high-performance cores with a low-power battery saver core to prolong battery life (up to 14 hours of HD video playback on smartphones according to NVIDIA). The A15 cores used in Tegra 4, however, are up to 2.6x faster than the A9-class cores used in Tegra 3, for significantly better performance all around. The Tegra 4, which is clocked at up to 1.9GHz in SHIELD, is paired to 2GB of memory in SHIELD and 16GB of internal storage is present as well. The device also features built in 802.11n WiFi, Bluetooth 3.0, GPS, a 3-axis Gyro, and a 3-axis Accelerometer.

Wrapped around the Tegra 4 is a console-grade game controller, attached to a 5”, multi-touch display with a native resolution of 1280x720 (294 dpi). And in case you were wondering, the thing is built like a tank. The SHIELD feel very solid in the hand, though at about 579 grams, it is somewhat heavy. Regardless, if you had any concerns about SHIELD’s build quality after its initial delay, don’t—it’s exudes quality.

When closed, the NVIDIA SHIELD looks much like an Xbox controller, sans buttons (they’re hidden underneath the screen, obviously). The stock silver “tag” is positioned right on the back-side of the screen and there are “NVIDIA” and “SHIELD” badges, along with an air-vent, sandwiched right in between the handgrips at the front of the device.


There’s a lot more going on around the back of the SHIELD, however. Around back you’ll find a mini-HDMI output, a micro-USB charging / sync port, a headphone + microphone jack, a microSD card slot, and a relatively big exhaust vent. The Tegra 4 in SHIELD is actively cooled (air is pulled in through the front and exhausted out the back), though it is very quiet and never got particularly warm to the touch. On either side of all of those ports are some right and left trigger and shoulder buttons as well.

Flip up the screen, and SHIELD’s D-Pad and dual-analog joysticks are visible, along with some X/Y/A/B function buttons. Right about in the center of the device are five more buttons (volume, start, back, home, and NVIDIA). On either side of the buttons, you can also see SHIELD’s stereo speakers. The speakers are mounted in waveguides, with tuned ports and offer exceptionally good sound quality in our opinion, especially considering how small they are. We should also note, that just above center-mounted buttons, there is also a tiny microphone port.
 

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Gaming Experience, Streaming

NVIDIA’s SHIELD is all about gaming, so we obviously spent quite a bit of time playing games on the device, both from the Google Play store on streamed from a PC. But the ability to play games isn’t the whole story. The overall experience is important as well and we think SHIELD delivered.


Some NVIDIA SHIELD Hands-On Action

Thanks to its TEGRA 4 SoC and unmolested version of Android, the SHIELD offers a very fluid, smooth Android experience. And the build quality and feel of SHIELD is top notch. It’s unfortunate NVIDIA ran into an issue so close to launch that delayed its release until today, but even so, it’s obvious the company didn't skimp with SHIELD. It’s very solid and feels good in the hand. 


NVIDIA SHIELD Real Boxing Game Demo

As a hardcore boxing fan (one of the last I presume), I was excited to play Real Boxing on the SHIELD and can report that the game looks as good in the real-world as it did in all of the demos you may have seen up to this point. Animation is smooth and the graphics looks great. There is a bit of a learning curve to get the hang of the controls, which rely mostly on the two analog sticks and left and right shoulder buttons, but once you do, defending and throwing combinations works very well.

I’ve fought quite a few rounds in Real Boxing and the only complaint I have so far is that the game is a little too easy in the very beginning. If you take the time to practice and master the controls using the built in tutorial, expect a string of first round knockouts.
 


Blood Sword Running On SHIELD

Blood Sword: Sword of Ruin also looks really good. It’s a Diablo-like, hack-and-slasher, that’s got some wild, outlandish-looking bosses. The graphics are very good and the this type of game is perfectly suited to the use of analog sticks for controls, but like most hack-and-slash games, it can get a somewhat repetitive. The constant and “uggs and rawrs” from the main character can be a bit grating too, but that’s just my quick, initial impression. I’m more of an action gamer that doesn’t like to think about things (I like to get in, kill some stuff, and get out), but if Blood Sword: Sword of Ruin is your type of thing, you’ll probably enjoy the heck out of it. From the time I spent playing it, the game does seem polished.
 


Racing AR Drone 2.0s on SHIELD

NVIDIA also set us up with an AR Drone, to experience a non-gaming, Tegra optimized application for SHIELD. And yeah, the thing is as fun to play with as it looks in the video above. I’m not a great pilot just yet, and I’d still like to tweak the flight parameters before drawing any final conclusions, but the AR Drone is definitely a riot. And I’m not just talking about the flying that’s fun, it’s getting a different perspective on things in the vicinity. The AR Drone streams video from its on-board HD camera to the SHIELD as you fly. Just launching the thing high into the air and peering into trees or over the houses in the neighborhood is really cool. Not to mention the possibilities if you’ve got some hot neighbors you’d like to “check in” on. Wink, Wink. :)

Streaming PC games to SHIELD also worked very well, though streaming will still be in beta at launch.  As of now, There are only a handful of games that are officially supported (the list is available here), but users can try non-supported games as well. Keep in mind though that games designed to work well with a controller (like driving or sports games) are best suited to the device. With that said, our limited experience with streaming PC games to SHIELD (we just got the software a couple of days ago) was good.

Setting up streaming is extremely simple. As long as you've got a compatible graphics card (GTX 650 or higher), the SHIELD and PC are connected to the same network, and the GeForce Experience software is installed on the PC, streaming can be enabled in just a few clicks. Simply launch GFE, go to preferences, then Streaming and enable the feature. Then on the SHIELD, tap the NVIDIA button, go to PC Games, and the SHIELD with link with the PC over the network and list the compatible games right in the menu.  To see some streaming in action, check out the video embedded on page one.

One annoyance with streaming to SHIELD is that the GFE software will change your PC's screen resolution to 1280x720 when launching a game to eliminate the need to scale anything on the SHIELD's screen, which will end-ups rearranging any icons you've got on your desktop. It's not a huge deal, but something we wanted to mention nonetheless.
 

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SoC Performance: CPU

In addition to using the NVIDIA SHIELD for portable gaming and  in a variety of everyday usage scenarios, we also conducted some formal performance testing to see how well it compared to some of the other mobile devices we have recently evaluated. Since this is the first Tegra 4-based product we've gotten our hands on, we were particularly interested to see how it performed.

CPU testing
Android CPU testing

The Tegra 4 at the hear of the NVIDIA SHIELD finished in the pole position is the light-duty Linpack benchmark, outpacing the Snapdragon 600-based devices by a few percentage points.

The NVIDIA SHIELD absolutely crushed everything else we tested in the AnTuTu benchmark. This test will probably be going away soon since it's been the subject of some questionable optimizations for Intel hardware, but we're comparing all ARM-based solutions here.

As you can see, the SHIELD dominated all in the GPU, GPU, and RAM tests. The internal storage, however, performed about on par with other devices.
 

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SoC Performance: Javascript, Browsing
Next up, we have some numbers from the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark. According to the SunSpider website:

This benchmark tests the core JavaScript language only, not the DOM or other browser APIs. It is designed to compare different versions of the same browser, and different browsers to each other. Unlike many widely available JavaScript benchmarks, this test is:

Real World - This test mostly avoids microbenchmarks, and tries to focus on the kinds of actual problems developers solve with JavaScript today, and the problems they may want to tackle in the future as the language gets faster. This includes tests to generate a tagcloud from JSON input, a 3D raytracer, cryptography tests, code decompression, and many more examples. There are a few microbenchmarkish things, but they mostly represent real performance problems that developers have encountered.

Balanced - This test is balanced between different areas of the language and different types of code. It's not all math, all string processing, or all timing simple loops. In addition to having tests in many categories, the individual tests were balanced to take similar amounts of time on currently shipping versions of popular browsers.

Statistically Sound - One of the challenges of benchmarking is knowing how much noise you have in your measurements. This benchmark runs each test multiple times and determines an error range (technically, a 95% confidence interval). In addition, in comparison mode it tells you if you have enough data to determine if the difference is statistically significant.

JavaScript testing
JavaScript Android and iPhone testing

Chalk up another dominant performance for the NVIDIA SHIELD. In the Sunspider benchmark, nothing else even came close.

Rightware Browsermark
Web Browsing Performance

The NVIDIA SHIELD also put up an impressive score in the Browsermark test, outpacing every other mobile device by a wide margin.
 

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SoC Performance: GPU

Next up we've got some tests the focus solely on graphics performance. NVIDIA has made some lofty claims about the Tegra 4's integrated 72-Core GeForce GPU, so we had to put it to the test as well...

Graphics testing
Android graphics testing

The iPad 3's A5X SoC with PowerVR SGX 543MP4 graphics put up the highest score in GLBenchmark's Fillrate test, followed closely behind by the Tegra 4-based SHIELD. In GLBenchmark's Egypt Off-Screen test, however, the Tegra 4 and its GeForce GPU decimated all comers with the highest framerate by far.

The NVIDIA SHIELD also outpaced every other mobile device we've tested in the An3DBench XL benchmark. The Emperor's New Cloths benchmark is V-Sync bound on all devices, so consider that one a tie across the board. In the Flower Power and Magic Island tests though, the SHIELD was simple in its own league.
 

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More GPU Perf and Battery Life

We have a few more graphics-related benchmarks for you here, namely Futuremark's 3DMark Ice Storm benchmark and Basemark X. These two tests are a bit more comprehensive than the ones on the previous page...

GPU Testing (Continued)
Futuremark and BasemarkX

Please note that we've included two scores for the NVIDIA SHIELD here. All of the devices were tested with Ice Storm's standard test, but since the SHIELD outpaced everything by such a large margin, we re-ran the test in Extreme mode on the SHIELD as well.  As you can see, regardless of the settings used, NVIDIA's Tegra 4 crushes everything else.

BasemarkX tells essentially the same story as Ice Storm. Once again, the Tegra 4's 72-Core GeForce GPU is simply in a league of its own in this test.

Battery Life Tests
How Long Will She Last... 

The NVIDIA SHIELD is packing a 28.8 watt/hour battery, and though NVIDIA doesn't make any specific claims about battery life, we wanted to try and quantify it is some way. In an attempt to quantitatively measure the SHIELD's battery life in a controlled benchmark environment, we used the AnTuTu battery tester. During the test, we set the screen to 50% brightness and let the benchmark do its thing. Although this test is relatively new for us, we were able to compile results from a few phones for comparison purposes as well.


The SHIELD isn't a phone obviously, but since it's running a mobile SoC and Android, we've compared it to some smartphones and tablets anyway.  And as you can see, at least according to AnTuTu's battery test, SHIELD can operate untethered for a bit longer than any of the other devices we tested.

During real-world use, the SHIELD would easily last a whole day with light use (browsing, checking e-mail, casual gaming) and it would hold a charge while in stand-by for days on end. If you played one of the more taxing games on the device non-stop, however, you'll only get about 4 - 5 hours on charge.
 

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Our Summary and Conclusion

In case you haven’t noticed, we dig NVIDIA’s SHIELD. Everything the device was designed to do, it does well and the build quality is top notch. Playing Tegra-optimized games on SHIELD was a great experience. NVIDIA has been working closely with PC game developers for years, and their experience has obviously proven useful in working with Android game developers as well. All of the Tegra-optimized games we played “just worked”, they offered excellent graphics quality, and the controls worked flawlessly with SHIELD.

Non-Tegra optimized Android games also worked well with SHIELD, as long as the game is compatible with landscape mode. Games, like Words with Friends for example, that don’t rotate into landscape mode will still launch in portrait mode, but rotating the SHIELD onto its side is hardly ideal, obviously. With that said, because of the excellent responsiveness of the touch screen and high performance of NVIDAI's Tegra 4 SoC at the heart of SHIELD, any Android game or app that you enjoy on a smartphone or tablet is likely to run very well on SHIELD. The speed of the device and pure Android experience also make web browsing and simply navigating through the OS a pleasant experience.

Though still in beta at this time, streaming games from a PC to SHIELD is also really cool. Sports, driving, and action games (and console ports) that work well with a game controller are best suited to SHIELD, but shooters work fine too. Though personally, I found it tough to adjust to the analog sticks for shooters after decades gaming with a keyboard and mouse.

Consuming multimedia on SHIELD is great too. The 720P screen offers excellent brightness and contrast, Tegra 4 has absolutely no trouble ripping through HD video, and the custom tuned stereo speakers are some of the best we’ve heard yet, on a portable device.

At $299 though, NVIDIA’s SHIELD is probably going to be a tough sell to some folks. Portable gaming systems from Sony and Nintendo are available for less, which will make Joe Sixpack do a double take seeing SHIELD’s price tag. But that $299 goes a long way in our opinion and SHIELD, in many ways, does more. The NVIDIA SHIELD is not only a cool portable gaming device, and a powerful Android mini-tablet, but it’s a great companion to a gaming PC in our opinion too. For $299, you get one of the fastest Android tablets out there, access to a boatload of free or very affordable games, and the ability to stream games from a compatible PC. SHIELD can also easily connect to a TV though HDMI or wirelessly using a Miracast compatible receiver. Though gaming is the main focus of SHIELD, quite simply, it offers a whole lot more.

Bottom line: If you can justify the $300 price tag, we think you’ll enjoy NVIDIA’s SHIELD. We sure did. 

  • Great Performance
  • Lots of Fun
  • Pure Android
  • Good Build Quality
  • Stream Games From a PC
  • Kinda Pricey
  • Little Heavy
  • Streaming Still In Beta



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