When SHIELD launched, NVIDIA has promised to deliver OS updates as fast as they can, so SHIELD is now getting an Android 4.3 update today. There are a number of interesting things in 4.3, but the most important in terms of gaming has to be OpenGL ES 3.0, which makes new graphics features available to developers – unfortunately, Tegra 4 is not ES 3.0 compliant. There are quite a few, but among the practical ones, I like: the better texture compression (since memory is always a very scarce resource), shadow-mapping, multiple render targets and new HDR-friendly texture formats. This should add some serious eye-candy to games down the road.
Extended game access for the SHIELD controller
GameMapper is a really cool addition the SHIELD capabilities: it enables touch-games to be played with the device’s physical controller. Interestingly, I think that game developers will have to react to this by tweaking their games by adding a “hard” option. Just to cite one example, FPS games are often tuned to be less difficult to compensate for the fact that touch controls are slow and clunky for this particular genre. With a physical controller, it’s pretty easy to score high because you are so much more in control.
NVIDIA has already tested GameMapper with “hundreds” of Android games and built game profiles that will be automatically updated from the cloud. New ones will be added in the future, but you can also built your own custom profile and share it with your friends.
More details about GameStream / PC Game Streaming
As you may already know, NVIDIA has announced that GameStream is coming out of beta. It is SHIELD’s PC Streaming features that now runs at up to 60FPS (if you have the optimal WiFi setup). So far, 50 games have been certified by NVIDIA, but others may work as well. It is also possible to run games outside of the Steam environment, but if you do that, it is best to start the game from your PC, then take over on SHIELD. That way, you won’t have to deal with tiny user interface elements designed for large-displays.
NVIDIA confirmed to me that at the moment, games will stream in 720p resolution to be up-scaled to 1080p before being sent to the TV. A future firmware update will allow for 1080p streaming, but only through a Gigabit Ethernet USB Ethernet dongle. According to NVIDIA, this is the best way to get 1080p streaming and they don’t want to compromise the experience by allowing anything slower to work. Finally, if you plan to stream on your TV, it is important to check if it has a “gaming” mode that is low-latency. If not, the latency can go as high as 100-200ms.
We asked NVIDIA if GameStream would work on gaming laptops equipped with NVIDIA GPUs, and unfortunately, the answer is “no”. This is because NVIDIA GPUs typically need to send information through an Intel integrated GPU to allow for a seamless transition between GPU and Integrated GPU (NVIDIA Optimus). At this point, laptops are not compatible with the game streaming technology.
If you want, you it is also possible to play PC games with a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard on SHIELD. That way, you get the PC experience, but in your living room. That’s just about the best alternative to bringing your PC in the living room.
Console mode and MicroSD support
As part of this update, developers can update their games to let gamers move games to a micro-SD card. This can be a big deal since games tend to become pretty large, so the internal storage may become a tight place.
The SHIELD Console mode which lets you use SHIELD has a small game box next to your TV. This is a request that a lot of gamers wanted to see, and it looks like NVIDIA is more than happy to oblige. Now, I still wonder if a SHIELD “box” would eventually come out of this… I hope so.