Week in Tech: Nvidia’s Gaming Tablet, No More Moore

By Jeremy Laird on July 24th, 2014 at 9:00 pm.

Nvidia has wheeled out its second effort at the obviously-not-actually-a-PC-but-does-interesting-things-with-PCs Shield gaming device. And this time it’s a tablet. Which is what it should have been in the first place. But doesn’t actually mean it’s automatically good idea. Still, it’s hard to imagine Shield the Second doing much worse than Shield the First, which ended up being given away in boxes of Cheerios (ish) and even then only escaped landfills on account of being handed out by the sackful to shameless media types addicted to freebies. Meanwhile, there’s more confirmation that Moore’s Law is really no, er, more, some interesting screens get priced up, another interesting screen turns out to be an epic dud…it was ever thus.

So, the Nvidia Shield Tablet. First a quick specs tour. We’re talking 8-inches, 1,920 by 1,200 pixels (16:10, yay!) and Nvidia Tegra K1 chips. The latter sports 192 cores. Count ‘em!

Actually, that’s really 192 shaders which sounds good until you consider that a GeForce GTX 780 Ti packs 2,880 of the little buggers and the starting point for decent Nvidia PC gaming card for a PC (the 750 Ti) kicks things off with 640 so-called cores.

Oh, and Tegra K1 is Kepler and thus not the much more efficient new Maxwell graphical gubbins, which would suit a mobile device like this conspicuously well.

Anyway the point is that Tegra Shield has decent graphics grunt for an Android device, but it’s hardly off the map.

Get a load of my magnesium thermal shield…

Then there’s a stylus, stezza speakers plus bass ports and a 5MP forward facing camera (Twitch ahoy etc). The whole shebang is 9.2mm thick, weighs 390g and runs Android 4.4.2. Those dimensions makes it slightly thinner and quite a bit lighter than the current standard iPad. That of course is a 10-inch tablet. The iPad Mini is closer in screen proportions and both thinner at 7.5mm and lighter at 331g. But Shield Tegra is by no means a porker on paper.

A few other technical details include DRM compliance extras that allow high bandwidth Netflix streaming (apparently uncommon on an Android device) and 5 GHz 2×2 WiFi for game streaming goodness.

For me, however, what’s most important is the possibility that this new Shield might cut it simply as a tablet. I don’t have a tablet, currently. I’m really waiting for tablet convertibles to hit a sweet spot for price, portability and performance.

But a tablet that promises exceptional gaming chops along with some fancy features to enhance your PC gaming larks? It’s an interesting proposition, at the very least, and contrasts with the first Shield that may have worked tolerably as a portably gaming console but was crap as a generalist touch-screen tablet.

Streamy stuff plus general tablet prowess could combine to make Shield the Second viable

Anyway, beyond the pure hardware specs, highlights include GameStream support for streaming games from your Nvidia-powered PC, Cloud Streaming from, er, the cloud, Twitch with hardware video acceleration via ShadowPlay and console mode that allows you to hook up Shield Tablet and use it like, yes, a games console.

Caveats include wireless game streaming limited to 720p (ethernet gives full 1080p. Pricing is $299 (£229) with the wireless controller (that mimicks the form of Shield 1) yours for $59.

On the subject of Twitch, it’s said to be fully integrated including live broadcast of Android gameplay with picture-in-picture stream from the front-mounted webcam. This also works with GameStream mode, thus you can stream your PC games to the Shield at the same time as streaming them to Twitch and all with a claimed neglible hit on performance. Hmmmm.

Another kick-stand contraption? Yep. But the new Shield is genuinely intriguing

As a pure gaming device in its own right, you have to be realistic about Shield Tablet. Compared with even a low-end gaming PC, the hardware is feeble. Then there’s the relative dearth of pukka gaming titles for Android.

However, mix in the in-home game streaming and general-purpose tablet functionality and maybe it’s a goer. Personally, I doubt it will fly off shelves but then I haven’t tried it yet as I was on hols when Nvidia had its first hands-on event. Time for me to spool up the email client and fire it in the direction of Nvidia, methinks.

In other news, Intel has apparently admitted that its next family of CPUs, known as Broadwell, is delayed by six months. In fact, going by Intel’s own tick-tock technological deathmarch, Broadwell’s 14nm transistors (down from today’s 22nm efforts) will be about a year late when it becomes widely available early next year.

Gordon Freeman in the flesh. Oh, hang on…

No real news here, perhaps, but it does contribute to a broader picture of slowing chip production tech development that we’ve touched on a few times. TSMC, the Taiwanese outfit that makes graphics chips for Nvidia and AMD, has been dead in the water at 28nm for what seem like a aeon, forcing Nvidia to stick on that node for several of its new Maxwell-gen chips.

Admittedly, a bit like oil production the demise of the relentless progress of Moore’s Law and thus computer chip complexity and power has been incorrectly mooted many a time before. But it certainly feels near to end-of-line for silicon chips as we know them. A new engineering paradigm may come along and a few are indeed in the offing, but in the short to medium term it may be software efficiencies that keep the wheels of progress turning – think AMD’s Mantle API and a broader effort to reduce overheads, that kind of thing.

AOC’s super wide effort looks interesting for half a bag of her maj’s finest

Finally, a few screens. AOC has priced up the super wide 34-inch (3,440 by 1,440 pixel) u3477Pqu at £499 in the UK (US pricing / availability TBC). It’s an IPS panel and that price puts it on a par with many of the new 28-inch 4K TN generation. Interesting.

Then there’s the long-overdue Asus ROG Swift PG278Q. 27-inch, 2,560 by 1,440, 140Hz, G-Sync and…TN. Going by the latest TN 28-inch 4K panels, the TN thing may not be the deal breaker it once was for a premium panel and it could all make for the ultimate gaming panel. On the other hand with a UK price of around £700 (so US buyers probably need around $1,000), it will need be TN unlike anything we’ve seen before – including even those 4K panels.

The Asus Jesus panel. There, I said it again!

Then there’s the Viewsonic VX2880ML. It’s based on the same 28-inch TN 4K panel as everything else but priced at £430 ($831), it’s the cheapest yet. I had a quick look at one yesterday and all I can say is don’t walk. Run. Run away from this monitor. It doesn’t support 60Hz as far as I can tell, it has some horrible pixel sharpening by default (and that can’t be disabled) and the chassis has all the structural integrity of a soggy Trabant after a winter-long soaking. Avoid.

, , , , , , , .

26 Comments »

  1. ScottTFrazer says:

    That is a HORRIBLE angle for streaming a view of the player. All we’ll see is nose hair. Nose hair everywhere.

  2. Kodeen says:

    I actually really like my Shield the First. It’s the best handheld for emulators. Admittedly, it was a colossal flop.

  3. cpt_freakout says:

    Holy crap that looks uncomfortable.

  4. SominiTheCommenter says:

    http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/images/14/jul/nvidiashield3.jpg
    This is one of the most ridiculous promotional images I’ve even seen. Who in their right mind you do this, really? Where’s the fine print saying this isn’t representative of the real usage?

  5. ThTa says:

    The original Shield design suddenly makes an awful lot more sense to me. This just seems to fail spectacularly as an actual portable gaming device, considering that using the controller means propping it up (the stand for which costs extra) and ideally hooking it up to some larger screen (as featured in much of Nvidia’s marketing material). Meanwhile, playing “proper” games on the touchscreen is going to vastly detract from the experience, and there just aren’t enough great Android games designed for the touchscreen that would otherwise justify this kind of hardware. The stylus isn’t particularly interesting, either, it’s just Nvidia’s weird algorithms on conventional capacitive touch layers tech again, which is great for what it is, but doesn’t hold a candle to proper active digitizers.

    I’d say that for “tablet gaming” (as well as general tablet-ing) you’re far better off with an iPad. Whereas “(proper) gaming on a tablet” leaves you with no other options but those Windows tablets with Ultrabook parts inside of them. (Some of which also have the considerable advantage of featuring decent active digitizer-based styli.)

    Android (on tablets, that is) just doesn’t have nearly the established ecosystem either of those platforms do, and nothing Nvidia has added so far has been truly compelling. (Sure, there’s a bunch of Valve titles now, but I’d say “all the PC games” or “games actually designed for tablets” are better alternatives.)

    • Niko says:

      Yeah, I don’t quite get it. Are there native Android games that support gamepad? Or was Shield designed specifically with emulators in mind?

      • ThTa says:

        There are a decent amount. Android supports all kinds of input (including mouse & keyboard and even some flightsticks) and Nvidia’s got their own storefront for games that both make full use of the hardware and support controllers. (This includes Portal, Half-Life 2, The Walking Dead and Dungeon Defenders, as well as the new Shield Tablet-exclusive Trine 2.) It’s also necessary for Nvidia’s streaming-from-your-desktop stuff.

        There are also gonna be a lot more controller-supporting games coming out now that Android TV is a thing, which pushes for more controller support.

        But most people I know who bought the original Shield (as well as myself) did buy it for emulators, yeah. Not a bad deal for 110 euros second-hand; it’s got ludicrous battery life and is one of the few devices that can do heavy PSX games without eventually succumbing to thermal throttling.

        The problem with this new device is that there’s really no way to conveniently use its controller on-the-go. That’s to say: in public transit, or for kids in the back of a car. Or even as something you can pull out and use without added set-up time.

  6. pepperfez says:

    for half a bag of her maj’s finest
    I can trade tea for a monitor?!

    • ThTa says:

      If you’re willing to take the risk, sure. But take potential loss of shipments through vandalism into account when bartering with the colonies. And if your buffer shipments do make it through, you may end up with a nice plot of land to make up the difference; just don’t count on it!

  7. Neurotic says:

    Jeremy’s columns give me tech boners I haven’t enjoyed since the heyday of Pickstock and Villazon. Truly the best man for the hardware job in almost a decade! :)

  8. Wut The Melon says:

    On the topic of tablets, my father recently got an 8-inch one for €200 (~160 GBP). It doesn’t do gaming, but I was surprised to find out that it ran a FULL version of Windows 8.1 (so NOT RT!) + came with a full installation of Office 2013 (which is also, what, over €100 just by itself?).

    Makes me wonder, if Microsoft is apparently happy to do this at this price, 1) why did I not know that? and 2) how long until fully capable computers in tablet-form just take over from overpriced mobile/ARM thingies with limited functionality? Would be interested on hearing some of your thoughts on that, despite being a bit of a tech-nerd I seem to have missed most of these developments…

    • ThTa says:

      Microsoft’s got special pricing for tablets that are small, cheap, and run on Intel Atom or ARM chips, to better compete with both Android and iPads. Office 2013 is free, and Windows 8 comes in at reduced cost.

      edit: As for your second question: not for quite some time. Windows tablets lack the crucial aspect of actually having a wealth of programs meant to be used on tablets, so while they’re incredibly neat and feature a lot more functionality, they don’t quite meet customer demands for a modern tablet.

      Basically, both platforms are going to coexist until either Microsoft figures out how to make their tablets more usable as mobile devices, or Apple/Google figure out how to make their tablets more usable as functional PCs.

    • MistaJah says:

      Dell Venue 8 Pro is awesome. I’ll never cease to wonder how an 8-inch device can play Civ 5 or AoE2HD (works with touch!) natively. Not to mention it plays every modern title thanks to steam home streaming. You need a controller of course.

  9. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    Son of Shield looks like a pitiful weapon indeed, barely able to concuss a tribble.

    Oh, and please never use the term “stezza speakers” again, or I shall send my cat to savage you.

    • HothMonster says:

      Hopefully, for his sake, ‘Shield 3: Shield With A Vengeance’ will integrate a feline repellent into its frame.

  10. MkMax says:

    I like how it tells you what the camera is for before you go “WTF do i want a front facing camera, just make it cheaper!”, that makes ppl go all “oooh its for thatz twatch reamming ive been hearing about, im sure that will be useful *looks at the 6 devices with front facing cameras he never used while a piggybank somewhere weeps*”

    that aside, im not sure i feel confident about the nvidia tegra chipset, the way nvidia throws them under a bus every 3 months for a new version and suddenly nothing supports them anymore doesnt exactly fill me with wonder, i have another tegra tablet gathering dust already, do i need another ?, and this one is not even the latest iteration, its begging for the bus treatment already

  11. ScrubLeagueTV says:

    I don’t understand who the NVIDIA Shield is for. There’s a big hole in the Android > 7″ tablet space that all the manufacturers seem afraid of, even though a 10″ Android device could surely at least match Apple’s specs and beat it on price. Considering the Shield seems to be little more than a streaming video device with some small-screen computing power, I don’t know who buys this thing. I guess people who really want a portable games device, but are so stubborn about joining Sony and Nintendo’s console ecosystem that they will pay more for less?

  12. geldonyetich says:

    I bought the NVIDIA Shield on a sudden Android lust fueled binge, and I can attest that this is exactly what it needed. While the Tegra processor is pretty good at browsing on a tablet, having it bolted to the top of a controller makes accessing its touch controls incredibly awkward. Plus, the screen is rather small, even if the resolution was pretty good. So here’s a larger resolution screen that is detached from the gamepad? Perfect!

    I sure feel dumb buying the first shield now. I could have used that $250 spent towards this version of it, instead. GameStop wouldn’t even take a return from it inside of the first month. Last time I buy hardware from them ever.

  13. drinniol says:

    *puts on conspiracy hat* I reckon the reason that Intel is delaying their chips is lack of competition, frankly. Why go to the expense of smaller and faster when you’re so far in the lead (except for some niche cases)?

  14. roryok says:

    For me, however, what’s most important is the possibility that this new Shield might cut it simply as a tablet. I don’t have a tablet, currently. I’m really waiting for tablet convertibles to hit a sweet spot for price, portability and performance.

    Prominent PC Games journalist threatens to switch to Android, ignores swathes of Windows tablets available

    • Jeremy Laird says:

      I almost definitely wouldn’t. But objectively speaking, this new effort is certainly intriguing. And I’m losing patience with the tablet convertible market a bit. I want proper x86 performance full-HD-plus screen, reasonable solid state storage, snap-on keyboard included, all-day battery life and of course gameability all for £500 or less!

      Oh and if it can drive a 4K panel at 60Hz, too, that would be nice!

      • ThTa says:

        It does seem that this is what Broadwell’s meant to be doing (and if not that, one of its successors), especially with Intel’s increased focus on graphics performance.

        E.g. ASUS’ T300 Chi at least matches your preferred design, and Intel’s claiming such designs (featuring their new “Core M” line-up) will be in the $600-800 range. Not sure about 4K 60Hz output, but 4K at 30Hz should definitely be possible through USB 3.1 (which is part of their reference design for these kinds of devices).

Comment on this story

XHTML: Allowed code: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>