Nvidia unveils Project Shield handheld: Android apps, streamed Steam games, and out within six months

Nvidia Project Shield

Nvidia Project Shield

Nvidia has announced Project Shield, a dedicated gaming handheld powered by the company’s new Tegra 4 processor that CEO Jen-Hsun Huang says will “do for games what the iPod and Kindle have done for music and books.”

Shield, due for release in the second quarter of the year, plays both Android and PC games, and it’s the latter capability that’s central to the device’s appeal. Games can be streamed from a PC running Steam – providing the machine contains a high-end Nvidia graphics card, of course – and played with what the company claims is “ultra-low” latency.

It sends signals as well as receiving them, too, with Nvidia claiming Shield can push 4k video to a TV over HDMI. The system itself has a five-inch, multitouch 720p display, as well as dual analogue sticks, a d-pad, four face buttons and two sets of triggers. It runs on the Android OS and is powered by Tegra 4, which like Shield was unveiled during Nvidia’s pre-CES press conference and was billed by Huang as “the world’s fastest mobile processor”.

“Project Shield was created by Nvidia engineers who love to game and imagined a new way to play,” said Huang in a press release. “We were inspired by a vision that the rise of mobile and cloud technologies will free us from our boxes, letting us game anywhere, on any screen. We imagined a device that would do for games what the iPod and Kindle did for music and books, letting us play in a cool new way. We hope other games love Shield as much as we do.”

It’s not the most handsome of devices – no great surprise coming from a company used to making things that go inside other things – but the functionality certainly appeals. While Wii U, and a Vita-PS3 setup, can also stream games over a local network, not all games are supported. Launch line-ups don’t get much better than every Steam game to offer controller support and the hundreds of thousands of apps on Google Play.

Latency handling will be key, of course, as will price; all that power can’t come cheap, even if you make most of it yourself. It’s an odd time to enter the market, too, given 3DS and Vita’s recent struggles, and with at least one of Microsoft, Sony and Valve expected to release new home hardware this year. Still, Nvidia will get something of a head start, with Project Shield’s launch just months away. For more, see Nvidia’s website.