Nvidia held a press conference at GDC on Tuesday to announce "the world's first Android TV console," the $200 Nvidia Shield. No, not that Nvidia Shield from 2013. And no, not the Nvidia Shield Tablet from 2014, either. The new Shield is a slicker looking piece of hardware, but is built for the living room instead of being conveniently portable like the last two devices to bear the same name. It's also running Nvidia's latest mobile GPU, the Tegra X1, which uses the same Maxwell GPU architecture as Nvidia's latest graphics cards.
Nvidia claims some big things for the Shield. It can play 4K content. It can play console-caliber games. That is, console games from the Xbox 360 / Playstation 3 generation, like Doom 3: BFG Edition, Crysis 3, and Borderlands: The Pre Sequel (which ran at about 20 frames per second in an on-stage demo. To be fair, it's still unfinished).
The Shield has 3GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage, and a slew of connectivity options: Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, HDMI 2.0 and USB 3.0.
The company says more than 50 games "optimized for Shield" will be available for the platform at launch in May. Remember, those are Android games, and while Nvidia's list does include the upcoming Batman: Arkham Knight, Android ports of AAA games are still fairly rare.
To pull most of the big games onto the Shield, Nvidia's expanding its long-in-beta GRID program into a publicly available subscription service. GRID is an on-demand streaming service which uses servers full of Nvidia GPUs to render games, encode the data as a video stream, and send it to your home via the Internet, so you can play a demanding game on limited hardware. Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang said the company has been working for years to shave off latency in the cloud gaming system.
GRID will have free and paid subscription models. No word on pricing. Paid subscribers will be able to stream games at 1080p, 60 fps. And subscribers will also be able to buy fully-priced new releases to stream.
If the ideas of an Android console and a cloud gaming solution sound familiar to you, despite Nvidia's "world's first" claims, that's because they should: we've seen these same ideas played out with the Ouya and OnLive, though neither had Nvidia's money or engineering prowess. We love it when Nvidia puts its full might behind developing new hardware to push gaming technology forward, but there's not much here you can't do with your PC already. There's not much here you couldn't do with a gaming PC five years ago.
The Shield system goes on sale in May for $200, with a controller included. A remote that you can talk to for Google voice controls and an aluminum stand for holding the system upright will be sold separately.