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CES 2013 - NVIDIA Project SHIELD Gaming Handheld with Tegra 4, Steam PC Game Support

NVIDIA may have just stolen the show at CES 2013 and the convention doesn’t even officially start until Tuesday. They not only announced the appropriately named NVIDIA Tegra 4 SoC, but they also revealed what they call Project SHIELD. On the surface, this may look like just a portable gaming console, but it is so much more than that. For example, you can play your PC Steam games on it.

But let’s start with the basics. Project SHIELD is a mobile handheld that is powered by the new Tegra 4 chip and runs on pure Google Android. It features controls that are similar to what you’d find on an Xbox 360 controller, including dual thumbsticks and shoulder buttons. There’s a flip-up display of unknown size (it looks like it’s around 5-inches like the Galaxy Note II), making this a full-fledged gaming portable like the Nintendo 3DS or PlayStation Vita.

As an Android device, it has full access to the Google Play Store, so you can still play all the regular Android games that you’ve already been playing. As an NVIDIA device, it is naturally compatible with their Tegra Zone store for Tegra-optimized Android games. These include popular titles like Dead Trigger. What’s cool is you simply hit the “shield” button in the middle (similar to the home button on PS3 or Xbox button on 360) to switch between pure Google and the gaming-centric Tegra-tized interface.

CES 2013 - NVIDIA Project SHIELD Gaming Handheld with Tegra 4, Steam PC Game Support

There is a microSD expansion slot, microUSB port and a micro-HDMI port, the last of which is capable of outputting a full 4K signal. At NVIDIA’s press conference, this was the first time that a mobile device like that was demonstrated to power a 4K display. What this means is that can have that real console experience in your living room without the conventional home console.

CES 2013 - NVIDIA Project SHIELD Gaming Handheld with Tegra 4, Steam PC Game Support

The real kicker, though, is that NVIDIA is getting all of this to also work with something else that NVIDIA also announced: GFE or the GeForce Experience. In effect, it takes you gaming to the cloud, somewhat like OnLive, except it’s being powered by your own computer with a GeForce GTX GPU under the hood. The game can then be streamed to nearly any compatible device, like SHIELD, complete with your own compatible controls. It looks better than OnLive too.

While they encountered some hiccups during the demo, they were able to get Need for Speed: Most Wanted to work over GFE with SHIELD, outputting the game’s video via HDMI to a 4K LG television. NVIDIA CEO Jen-Hsun Huang also demo’d Assassin’s Creed 3. This is, if you’ll pardon the pun, a real game changer.

CES 2013 - NVIDIA Project SHIELD Gaming Handheld with Tegra 4, Steam PC Game Support

Project SHIELD is not only a complete challenge to the various Bluetooth controllers for Android devices, but arguably also a challenge to portable consoles like the PS Vita and even home consoles like the PS3 and Xbox 360. However, NVIDIA announced neither pricing nor a launch date. It’s a working prototype, but given the Tegra 4 guts, it would have to launch well before Tegra 5 could become a reality.

I’d imagine that pricing could be a huge concern, as a similarly equipped Tegra 4 smartphone would have to cost $500+ outright and that would put the NVIDIA SHIELD far beyond the reaches of a PS Vita or 3DS. Time will tell, but this could be the future of gaming.

Stay tuned for more from CES. We’ll have more coverage all week!

Update: We hear that Project Shield has a 5-inch 720p HD display, putting it roughly on par with devices like the LG Optimus G in that regard. Battery life is expected to be in the 5-10 hour range.

More information, including official renders and specs, can be found at shield.nvidia.com.

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