NVIDIA SHIELD Review - Tegra 4, Android Gaming and PC Game Streaming
The Android Gaming and Miracast Experience
Android gaming is an interesting beast. Much like the iOS store, the Google Play store has dozens if not hundreds of great mobile-based games that are incredibly difficult to find in a marketplace full of crap. Any curation is often done by the community and word of the mouth, but NVIDIA is taking another approach with TegraZone.
By hitting the big NVIDIA logo on your SHIELD you’ll be taken to an NVIDIA specific menu that lists your “SHIELD Games” that already installed as well as access to the “SHIELD Store” that will have games listed for sale (and for free in some cases) that NVIDIA has vetted. This vetting process makes sure that controller support is integrated, and that graphically the game is at least modestly impressive. As of this writing there are 42 different games listed in the SHIELD store ranging from free to $7.99.
Even though I have been an Android user for years, I must admit that my gaming experience on the platform was previously quite limited. As an avid PC gamer I just had a problem with touch screen controllers for nearly every genre of game that I found. With NVIDIA SHIELD, those problems are mostly rectified (as long as the game integrates controller support).
Games like Sonic 4 Episode II translate perfectly to the controller, and I found the experience to be incredibly fun. Real Boxing was not a game that I have much experience with, but the visual quality of the game on SHIELD was impressive to see on the 720p screen. I also played AVP: Evolution (beat-em-up) and Dead Trigger (FPS zombie killing) and had a lot of hours of entertaining with them as well. Re-entering the world of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was also an enjoyable trip down memory lane.
NVIDIA recommended I check out ShadowGun: Dead Zone with SHIELD and there I found an online multiplayer third-person shooter that was free to play with upgrades, perk trees and in-depth design. The idea of a multi-player shooter on an Android device could not have been less appealing to me before SHIELD but with it the game was easy to play and fun.
Another option for gaming with Android is in the world of emulation. Legality discussions aside, the ability to download an SNES, N64 and PS1 emulator from the Play store and then load up some ROMs to play Mario 64, Final Fantasy III or the original Tomb Raider really puts SHIELD in a unique market. There were definitely a couple of hiccups with mapping the controller to the programs, but once those were worked out the gaming capability of the platform were evident.
NVIDIA knows that for SHIELD to be successful, Android gaming needs to be successful and they have been working closely with developers to integrated better graphics technology in their games as well as to integrate proper controller support. I can’t say that every title I have installed from the TegraZone has been met with positive feedback, but the fact that NVIDIA is pushing developers in this direction is great for mobile gaming as a whole.
The Miracast Screen Sharing Experience
Miracast is a WiFi Direct-based technology which creates a wireless display for laptops, PC, tablets and phones. SHIELD integrates Miracast support, and I ordered an Actiontec ScreenBeam device to connect to a TV in our office. There are some TVs on the market that already support Miracast with an external device, but they are few and far between.
Setup of Miracast with SHIELD is a simple pairing process with a code that needs to be input much like a Bluetooth security code. Once it’s paired, you can enable and disable the wireless connection using the big, glowy NVIDIA logo button. When enabled, the entire display of SHIELD is simply mirrored to the TV and all audio is output through the TV as well. You can use this to show video, audio, web sites or any Android application on a big screen.
The problem with Miracast is pretty obvious though if you watch the video above. The input latency seen while gaming simply makes the experience unbearable – even some pretty low precision Android games felt like they were moving through maple syrup while trying to playing them while looking at the TV.
To NVIDIA’s credit, they do point out this flaw with Miracast in the documentation and claim they are working with company to improve latency in the future.