Sorry, OUYA. My apologies, MOJO. But the fact is that Android Microconsoles have proved themselves to be a useless novelty: paperweights at worst and emulation platforms at best.
Gamers have no need for them since most of us already own an Android device and the ecosystem is poorly suited for big-budget living room gaming. And yet manufacturers keep on pumping them out, desperate to corner a market that doesn't really seem to exist outside of their imaginations.
However, NVIDIA may have finally cracked it with their latest Shield hardware.
What makes the newly-announced NVIDIA Shield console different is its ability to tap into NVIDIA's subscription-based cloud streaming, 4K-ready hardware, in-home games streaming and an initiative to bring more big-label games to the Android platform.
First things first: I've got some tasty specs for you. The Shield Console is a bit of a beast.
- Processor NVIDIA® Tegra® X1 processor
- 256-core Maxwell™ GPU with 3GB RAM
- Video Features 4K Ultra-HD ready with 4K playback and capture up to 60 fps (VP9, H265, H264)
- Audio 7.1 and 5.1 surround sound pass through over HDMI
- High-resolution audio playback up to 24-bit/192 kHz over HDMI and USB
- High-resolution audio up-sample to 24-bit/192 kHz over USB
- Storage* 16 GB
- Wireless 802.11ac 2x2 MIMO 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi
- Bluetooth 4.1/BLE
- Interfaces Gigabit Ethernet
- HDMI 2.0
- Two USB 3.0 (Type A)
- Micro-USB 2.0
- MicroSD slot
It's an impressive set of specifications that allows for full 4K output at an affordable sub-$200 price point, though its poxy 16GB of onboard storage is pretty pathetic. And assuming that NVIDIA haven't flat-out lied about their numbers again.
However, you won't need much of this storage for games since the Shield will be compatible with GRID, NVIDIA's impending game streaming service that will function much like OnLive or PS Now, allowing you to stream games from beefy remote servers. Though any latency will ruin the experience, NVIDIA promises that you'll effectively have a "supercomputer" in your living room for a fraction of the price of a current-gen console. Native capture and Twitch streaming will also help to sell the device to the more extroverted among us.
According to the specs, the Shield will come fully equipped with NVIDIA GameStream, which means that you should be able to stream games from your own PCs (assuming they have NVIDIA graphics cards) should you not want to subscribe to GRID. As such, existing PC gamers might find it a more attractive option compared to wired solutions or even the newly-announced Steam Link, since the Shield comes with extra functionality as well as the Android games library.
As yes, the Android games library. A stumbling block as much as a unique selling point, Android is a uniquely weak ecosystem in terms of traditional 'home console' gaming. Rampant piracy and difficulty optimising for so many devices leads to a thriving free-to-play market, but otherwise a dearth of bigger titles that are worth playing on a big screen in the first place; often arriving months if not years after their iOS debut. Put simply: Android is nowhere near where it needs to be despite its dominant user base.
What makes the Shield unique, however, is that NVIDIA have already thought of that. They've partnered up with a number of publishers to bring plenty of top-flight PC games to Android, including graphical powerhouses like Crysis 3, free-to-play titles like War Thunder and even the glorious slice and dice action of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. There will be 50+ similar launch titles on the service.
Though, of course, few people will want to spend $199 for the privilege of playing old games.
On the one hand, Android Microconsoles are still a joke. Consoles are cheaper than ever, the PC market is more accessible than ever and Android gaming is still better suited for the touchscreen, not the television. But by trying to appeal to gamers first and foremost with a range of useful future-proofed features, perhaps the Shield stands a better chance than most.
Hell, I scoffed at the original NVIDIA Shield clamshell... before I imported one and use it regularly. Can you see yourself buying into NVIDIA's vision of the Android future?