It’s been a while since our NVIDIA Shield review, a Tegra 4 packing handheld gaming device running Android Jelly Bean. Today, NVIDIA is taking the lid off a big over the air update to Shield which brings the overall platform version to Android 4.3, takes PC streaming out of beta (and gives it a new name), adds a new console mode, and includes better controller support for touchscreen-only games.

The update is rolling out today to Shield owners, and we had a chance to play with the 427 MB OTA update over the weekend and get a look at what’s new and improved. First off, the update as I mentioned brings the platform to Android 4.3, and also adds a handful of other changes to the base software platform. One of the things missing in the initial release was the ability to move large game file APKs and their assets to microSD, even though Shield included a microSD card slot. The update adds the ability to move both APKs and OBB to an SD card if the application opts in. Like you’d expect, this exposes itself properly under the Apps view in Settings. I’ve been primarily using microSD for storing movies and music on Shield for when I travel, but it you’re running out of storage or want to put those microSD cards to good use, this is a welcome improvement.

Next, the home button has been tweaked around slightly, probably at Google’s request. Holding the home button launches Google Now, double tapping launches the multitasking interface. It seems as if Google wants to standardize on this pattern across whatever devices it can.

Readers will be interested to know that there don’t appear to be any improvements to OpenGL ES 2.0 performance either in this update. I ran the updated Shield through a smattering of our tests and didn’t see any notable performance deltas, which isn’t a bad thing – I still find Tegra 4 very snappy throughout. It’s just worth noting that there aren’t any surprise performance improvements that I could find.

Probably the biggest update is that the PC Streaming feature is officially out of beta and launching with this 4.3 update. With it comes a new name, GameStream. GameStream includes support for a bunch more titles, 109 at the time of this writing based on the supported games list from NVIDIA. The GameStream feature came with an updated version of the GeForce Experience (1.7.0.0) and release 331.65 GeForce drivers. I tested on both the GeForce Titan based system I use as my primary desktop, and the Falcon Northwest Tiki with GTX 760 inside.


HDMI Capture of GameStream on Shield (more in gallery)

The fundamentals are largely unchanged – you can play PC games on Shield streamed across a local network. Games are rendered at 720p on a compatible system (system requirements note GeForce 650 or higher), which are then encoded and streamed in a low-latency format to Shield, which acts like a remote control.

There’s a new feature that goes hand in hand with GameStream, called console mode. The name pretty much gives away NVIDIA’s long term aspirations for Shield as well. In this mode, Shield can be connected to a TV over HDMI and used in conjunction with a bluetooth controller to stream PC games into the living room. You could do this before to some extent, the new feature now is that Shield will prompt you upon plugging in HDMI about whether you want to use console mode, and reboot with a 1080p framebuffer.

This enables native Android games to play at 1080p along with the native Android UI. GameStream over WiFi remains limited to 720p, however a future update will enable 1080p quality streaming if you’re connected to Ethernet with a USB-OTG cable and USB ethernet adapter. Although the Android 4.3 build NVIDIA has supplied works with USB-OTG and USB ethernet adapters (I tried mine), it’s true that streaming at 1080p over that faster rate will have to wait, probably for a newer GeForce Experience release.

NVIDIA sent over a Nyko PlayPad Pro bluetooth controller to try out console mode. It’s easy enough to pair the controller to Shield and then navigate the Android UI using it, since the controls map essentially 1:1 with the native gamepad on Shield.

The bluetooth controller has minimal latency, and the Bluetooth and WiFi combo in Shield seems to time slice fast enough that control using the wireless controller while simultaneously streaming content over WiFi doesn’t cause any additional stuttering or latency. I have to say that I think this is a much more enjoyable PC game streaming scenario, although it does reduce Shield to little more than an HDMI sink and Bluetooth adapter.

Lastly there’s a new feature called gamepad mapper which maps and emulates on screen touches from the controller. This enables Shield control of games which don’t work natively with the Android gamepad input APIs. NVIDIA has built a number of profiles which map their analog sticks and buttons, and users can build their own. Launch one of these apps, and you get a notification that the mapper has started. Long pressing the start key brings up an overlay with the gamepad builder and the current mapping so you can know what buttons map to what on-screen elements or commands.

I tried this with a few games, and initially it’s a little jarring, but the emulated profiles do work and enable more games than before to use Shield controls, which was one of the big prior limitations. Although I would still prefer for more Android games to just get their act together and use the gamepad input APIs, this does sort of bridge the gap and enable NVIDIA to make the case that Shield does support the rest of the Android game library. I suspected something like this was coming when I first saw Shield back at CES 2013.

NVIDIA has pushed out a big update to Shield, and a relatively timely Android 4.3 update to boot, although there’s 4.4 KitKat just around the corner, which I know is in the hands of most SoC vendors participating in the PDK (Platform Development Kit). Console mode makes a ton of sense, GameShield coming out of beta is a great step forward, and gamepad mapper lets Shield work in theory with the remaining Android game library. It's exactly the kind of update that Shield needed to stay fresh. 

The update comes just in time for the holiday shopping season, and NVIDIA was also quick to note that it’s giving $100 off of Shield and three games with the purchase of a GeForce GTX 770, 780, or Titan, or $50 off of Shield and two games with the purchase of a GTX 660, 660 Ti, 670, 680, or 760.

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  • Stuka87 - Monday, October 28, 2013 - link

    I am interested in how many of these nVidia has sold. Even with this added functionality they still seam so gimmicky. I honestly do not think I would use it much even if one was given to me. And I game a lot. Reply
  • hughlle - Monday, October 28, 2013 - link

    I agree with you. I can't imagine they are even walking off the shelves. Most people seem happy to use the tablet or phone they already own for mobile gaming.

    However my guess is that this was neer released as a product that would be a success, but probably more as a stepping stone for future ambitions.
    Reply
  • eanazag - Monday, October 28, 2013 - link

    This was initially released to put Tegra 4 on display. From what I remember they had no design wins at the time they demoed this. If that was all it was designed for then I would consider it a success. Reply
  • eanazag - Monday, October 28, 2013 - link

    I have a question: how many Bluetooth gamepads can be connected to it in console mode?

    I might consider getting this if the $50 off was extended to anyone in the last year who bought a GTX 660 or higher.
    Reply
  • michael2k - Monday, October 28, 2013 - link

    I think that misses the point. If this is a feature that can be enabled on any Tegra4 SoC, then every single Android 4.3 Tegra 4 device can become a microconsole (so long as it has BT and an HDMI port).

    Shield is then an exemplar, but not necessarily the end goal. If this transforms the platform into a console to compete against the XB1 and PS4, and make it something competitive with Apple's AppleTV+iOS combo (which can do something similar), then NVIDIA has a more competitive platform than it otherwise would.
    Reply
  • ezorb - Monday, October 28, 2013 - link

    I got one, and I use it a lot more than I thought I will and I use it to play android games rather then stream, which is what I thought I would use it for, I love it. Reply
  • jasonelmore - Monday, October 28, 2013 - link

    Judging from the 5 star reviews on NewEgg, everyone who has bought one, has gave it raving reviews. Reply
  • Death666Angel - Monday, October 28, 2013 - link

    "I’ve been primarily using microSD for storing movies and music on Shield for when I travel"
    You heard it here first people, Mr. Klug is using an mSD card in a portable device! Heyo! :D
    Reply
  • tviceman - Monday, October 28, 2013 - link

    If Nvidia were to release a stripped down version of shield, just the guts with no controller or screen, to use as a PC game streaming device and/or big screen android device for cheaper ($149), I'd be instantly interested in that. I think that would be a fairly easy price point to hit with no screen, smaller battery, and no controller buttons. Reply
  • wimbet - Monday, October 28, 2013 - link

    This is what Madcatz is doing with their Tegra-4 powered MOJO micro-console, but the price is still $249 ($50 cheaper than current SHIELD price). I think a Tegra 4 Android-powered console would be pretty attractive around $149-199. The OUYA was priced amazing at $99, but the lack of Google Play and performance of Tegra 3 were disappointing. Reply

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