Nvidia's newest Shield device is a set-top box that streams games from the cloud

Shield Console and Controller
Credit: Nvidia

There's a war going on in your living room and the territory being fought over is the array of HDMI ports on your TV. Already this year we've seen announcements for Razer's Forge, the ZRRO system and just this week Steam Link. All three devices want to bring some form of gaming to your TV for less money than a traditional gaming console.

The newest entrant comes from Nvidia and it's the latest in Nvidia's Shield line. First we had the Shield Portable, then the Shield Tablet, and now we have the Shield Console, although Nvidia also simply calls it the Shield. This is a $200 set-top box (that price includes a controller) that runs Android TV on Nvidia's new Tegra X1 chip. Nvidia says its the first 4K Ultra-HD ready Android TV system which will probably matter more in a couple of years when more 4K sets are out there.

For streaming it does everything any Android TV can do, and it has voice search via a microphone in the controller or the remote (the remote is sold separately). There's only 16 GB of storage on board but it supports external USB drives or MicroSD cards up to 128 GBs.

Shield Console Nvidia

Really though, you don't spend $200 to stream video. You spend $200 to play games. Nvidia says the Shield is about twice as powerful as an Xbox 360, which seems like an obscure unit of measure at this point.

There're three ways to play games on the Shield. First, you can play games designed specifically for it. Nvidia says there'll be about 50 of these to choose from when the console launches in May. Names being dropped include Borderlands: The Pre-sequel, Doom 3: BFG Edition and Crysis 3. You can see a list of native games here.

Second, you can stream games from your Nvidia GPU-equipped gaming PC to the Shield. This is similar to Steams In-Home Streaming or what Razer's Forge is promising.

Third, and this is the real differentiator, you can stream games from Nvidia's Grid service. This is a system similar to Sony's Playstation Now or OnLive. Grid is currently in beta but should launch by May, when the Shield is also due. In my opinion Grid is the big wildcard when talking about whether or not Shield will do well. Nvidia says you'll be able to buy or rent games from Grid individually, or you can opt to pay for a subscription that gives you Netflix-esque access to a selection of older titles.

Unfortunately at this time we don't know the price of the subscription service, and the current list of games available isn't all that impressive. New titles like The Witcher 3 will be available on Grid but not, it seems, as part of the subscription; you'll have to pay for those separately.

As for the quality of the experience, Nvidia says you can stream 1080P at 60 FPS if you have a 30 Mbps Internet connection, otherwise you'll have to be content with 720P (and of course if you have something less than 5 Mbps then this product probably isn't for you).

As I mentioned, both the Shield and the Grid streaming service are supposed to launch by the end of May so we shouldn't have to wait too long to get some of our questions answered.

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