Nvidia's Project Shield enables personal cloud gaming. Also runs Android games.

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Source: Nvidia

I wanted to talk a bit about Nvidia's Project Shield handheld gaming console. I know I'm a little late to this party (it was announced at Nvidia's 8 PM PT press conference Sunday night; unfortunately I live on the East Coast and didn't hear about it in time for my post yesterday morning) but it's such an interesting project that I can't just skip it.

So first let's get everyone caught up. Project Shield is basically a small Android tablet attached to a game controller via a clamshell hinge. The screen is 5" with 1280x720 resolution (294 ppi). Inside is Nvidia's new Tegra 4 SOC, which means it should be six times more powerful than a Tegra 3 device. The plan is for it to be running 'stock' Android Jelly Bean, with Nvidia's TegraZone pre-installed.

[Watch out, Ouya! There's a Gamestick on your six! and Nvidia planning portable gaming device]

The controller side looks like a cross between an Xbox 360 controller (the overall shape and size) and a Playstation 3 controller (positioning of the analog sticks), plus the addition of speakers plus USB, SD card and HDMI ports.

Taken by itself, Project Shield is yet another attempt to marry Android gaming and physical controls at what is expected to be a fairly high price (given the Tegra 4 inside and the high quality screen).

What makes it more interesting to me is that, assuming you have the right gear, you can stream PC games to it. In order to do this your gaming PC has to have an Nvidia Kepler-based graphics card and you have to have purchased the game you want to play via Steam. Assuming you meet these conditions you can stream your games from your PC to the Shield device. Ideally the game will support controllers but it sounds like there will be some kind of button-mapping app to let you try to play keyboard and mouse titles. These days more and more action-based Steam titles are supporting game controllers and Steam has been pushing this idea via its Big Picture mode, which also can be accessed on the Shield.

OK so now you've got the PC in your home office running Assassin's Creed III and you're kicked back on the couch in the living room playing the game on your Shield. The screen is lovely but a little small. Solution? Connect an HDMI cable between the Shield and the TV and now you're playing ACIII with PC-quality graphics and performance, on your living room TV.

The snag in the system is that HDMI cable but Nvidia plans to offer some kind of HDMI streaming solution eventually. For launch though, expect that cable snaking out of the back of your Shield. That is, in my opinion, one of the major flaws of the system for launch.

Anyway so I thought all of that was pretty neat, but I seem to be out on the lunatic fringe on this one. I can't convince any of my friends that this is anything but a gimmick and the gaming press seems fairly down on the idea, too. Edge reached out to game developers to get their opinions and reports a nice balanced slice of feedback. Meanwhile over at Gamasutra, Mike Rose calls shield "a confused mishmash of current trends" and most of the commenters seem to agree. Over on The Verge Vlad Savov titled his post Nvidia's Project Shield: five years in the making, five years too late? Ouch!

However Engadget got some hands-on time with the Project Shield prototype and author Ben Gilbert captured some video. He seems impressed with the technology so I'm going to end on an upbeat note:

My biggest concern is the cost. I can easily seeing Project Shield being $299 at launch and that's just too much. Once the Tegra 4 ages a bit and prices start to drop, the system may become more feasible (and by then an affordable wireless HDMI solution may be available as well).

I already have a gaming PC hooked up to my living room TV but it's kind of a pain in the neck syncing game saves and logging in and out of Steam as I moved between office PC and living room PC. Playing the same copy of a game, with the same save files, the same mods and the same settings, from the office PC, from a handheld device out on the balcony on a warm summer night, or from the comfort of the couch on a 55" TV, sounds pretty appealing to me. The fact that it also runs Android games is just kind of a bonus to me, but I'm sure the Ouya and Gamestick people aren't thrilled about Project Shield.

Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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