Games and Twitch at the heart of Nvidia's Shield Tablet

Ludwig Kietzmann
L. Kietzmann|07.22.14

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Games and Twitch at the heart of Nvidia's Shield Tablet
Nvidia believes the market is ready for a specialty tablet that can run Unreal Engine 4 with ease, play your PC games remotely and broadcast your every demise in Spelunky. Built around its Tegra K1 processor and partnered with a wireless controller, Nvidia's Shield Tablet is that specialty product. It plays native Android games, streams your large Steam library (aren't they all inevitably large?) and offers a quick route to Twitch.
The 8" Shield Tablet has a 1080p IPS LCD display, optional cover/kickstand, and a 5-megapixel camera on the front and back, all framed in a form that feels dense and compact in hand. It's an Android device with a swiftly summoned stylus, so you could direct its computational power at spreadsheets and status updates, but it's more capable than most tablets in running graphically sophisticated software. Nvidia is rolling out several games enhanced for the Shield during and after launch, including The Talos Principle, Anomaly 2, Half-Life 2, War Thunder and the packed-in freebie, Trine 2: Complete Story.

You'll need a controller to play most of those games, of course. [Update: Frozenbyte has informed me that Trine 2 has optional touch controls as well.] Though the Shield Tablet is compatible with Bluetooth pads, Nvidia has given its own controller – first seen as part of the Nvidia Shield – another shot. The separately sold controller pairs with the tablet or the original Shield, and comes with a bi-directional headphone jack to pass through voice chat and game audio.

The controller is an improvement over the original Shield, even while it lacks the years of refinement seen in the PlayStation's DualShock 4 or Microsoft's designs for Xbox. The high-quality symmetrical thumbsticks provide a good level of resistance, but feel a tad too pinched together. The shell feels bulky but comfortable, offering an effortless grip, and the candy-smooth face buttons and triggers feel reliable, if inelegant. The Shield Tablet controller can also initiate a search by listening to your voice, much like Amazon's Fire TV remote.

The controller is more interesting as part of the triangle between itself, the Shield Tablet and a television. The Shield Tablet can not only stream games from a nearby PC to its own screen (provided you have an Nvidia graphics card in the 600 series and upward), but can pair with up to four controllers and output games via HDMI to a television – even if you are streaming those games from elsewhere. And if you're not streaming that game from your PC, Nvidia also hopes you'll try its "Grid" streaming service. Currently in beta in Northern California, the Grid service will stream 16 games – including Borderlands 2 – to the Shield Tablet at launch.

And we're still not done with streaming: The Shield Tablet comes with the obligatory modern twist of instant Twitch access. Holding the back button pulls up a Twitch button, which then enables a broadcast of your game, whether it's running natively or streaming to the tablet from a PC. The Shield Tablet can also impose your charming visage onto the stream, thanks to that front-facing 5MP camera. You can play, stream and broadcast your PC game without hunching over a desk, which at least makes for a nice change of scenery for everyone involved.

(Okay, one more streaming thing: The Shield Tablet streams Netflix at 1080p.)

The Nvidia Shield Tablet will launch online and through retail in North America on July 29, starting at $299 for the 16GB Wi-Fi version (with room for Micro SD cards up to 128GB). A model that comes with 32GB of storage and LTE capability will cost $399. The controller will set you back an additional $59, with the cover and stand set at $39.

The Shield Tablet will be available in Europe on August 14, and in other to-be-announced territories in Fall 2014.
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