Gamepad mapping, console streaming, and PC streaming are among the new firmware highlights

NVIDIA Corp. (NVDA) today announced a "massive" update coming to its Android SHIELD gaming console.  In addition to new and improved features, NVIDIA will also be offering a GPU/SHIELD bundled discount that includes a $100 USD rebate on SHIELD and a collection of free "AAA" PC game titles for holiday season bundle buyers.

I. After Strong Early Sales, Android-Powered SHIELD Gets a Major Boost

The Tegra 4-powered SHIELD Android gaming console launched in July 2013 after much early hype.  Featuring a pair of analog sticks, X/Y/A/B buttons, start/home/back buttons, and L/R should triggers (buttons), the SHIELD provided the physical controls that smartphone games have struggled to replace.  The device features a flip-up 720p (1280x720 pixel) multi-touch display.

Some were skeptical of the device's potential, but in August NVIDIA reported that the console was seeing strong early sales.  Senior Director of Investor Relations Chris Evenden told Joystiq in August that sales of the SHIELD -- which was initially U.S. exclusive -- were "great", elaborating, "Everything that we shipped so far has sold out ... we're just starting to ramp production."

In fact, NVIDIA CEO Jen-Hsun Huang has plugged the SHIELD's international launch as a key difference maker that NVIDIA is hoping will revive its profits, which have sagged amidst a global slowdown in high-end smartphone sales.
NVIDIA Tegra chip
The console is powered by NVIDIA's Tegra 4 SoC.

Now NVIDIA is looking to accelerate the excitement surrounding SHIELD, launching an Android 4.3 "Jelly Bean" and firmware update.  Among the new features added by the latest Jelly Bean release include:
  • The ability to transfer *.apk and *.obb app files to the micro SD card to free up device storage
  • Actionable in-game notifications
  • Performance improvements, making interface faster/smoother
II. Console Mode, GameStream, and GamePad Mapper Expand Handheld's Potential

The update also adds a couple of unique firmware expansions that greatly improve the console's potential.

The first is so-called "Console Mode", which let's you stream video to your WiFi capable television.  The update means you no longer have to play on the small screen when you're at home -- you can play Android games using the SHIELD's physical controls in flat-screen glory.

The second is NVIDIA GameStream -- a technology that leverages NVIDIA's "ultra-low latency" game streaming technology to push game video from a WiFi-connected PC to the SHIELD console.  The SHIELD console acts as the PC's controller, and can push video yet one more hop to the TV (in Console Mode).  This isn't exactly revolutionary -- it's not that different than if you hook your PC up to a TV's HDMI jacks manually.  However, it does save you the hastle and mess of wire  hookups.

GameStream let's you control PC games with SHIELD, plus stream them to a WiFi connected television, if desired.

Conceptually this is similar to the Valve Corp.'s much hyped Steam Box, which offers similar streaming of PC games via a (non-Android) Linux console.

Last, but not least NVIDIA is looking to tackle a common problem faced by the console's early adopters -- the lack of compatibility with the device's controls inside popular Android titles.  The new "SHIELD GamePad Mapper" technology lets you assign a personalized control layout using all the SHIELD's physical buttons to any Android app.  And better yet, the handheld will pull down a default profile for many titles, that gives you a popular configuration scheme without having to fiddle with it yourself.

NVIDIA's GamePad Mapper lets you map a custom control scheme to individual Android games.

And to add a bit of frosting on its Jelly Bean cake, NVIDIA writes:

To celebrate the official release of GameStream, for a limited time NVIDIA will offer up to $100 off SHIELD plus free copies of “Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag,” “Splinter Cell: Blacklist” and “Batman: Arkham Origins” with the purchase of select GeForce GTX graphics cards.

In other words, NVIDIA is giving a nice discount to PC gamers who buy up its premium graphics cards and also are looking to buy SHIELD.  (NVIDIA might need this help, as Advanced Micro Devices Inc.'s (AMDVolcanic Islands GPUs have temporarily leapfrogged the GeForce 700 series).

Potential buyers beware that only certain faster WiFi routers are compatible with GameStream, given the speed needed to push games at a promised ~60 frames per second (fps) framerate.  NVIDIA has a full list of the routers it considers compatible here, for those interested.

Source: NVIDIA [press release]

"And boy have we patented it!" -- Steve Jobs, Macworld 2007

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