Nvidia has updated its Shield Android-based mobile game console to add a host of new features, one of which is very interesting in terms of how it might affect the growing Android-based home game console market. For users, it’s a very nice update that adds a lot of worthwhile functionality, and for Nvidia, it’s reaffirmation that this is a real platform, not just a demonstration device designed to entice OEMs.
Along with the above, this update also adds the official, non-beta release of Shield’s Gamestream PC gameplay streaming service, which plugs into Steam to let users play full PC games on their device streaming at up to 60fps over a local Wi-Fi network. Plus, you can shift full app and game files from the local storage to an external micro SD card, which clears up space, and the Home button now provides access to both recently opened apps and Google Now.
One other new feature available today is ‘Gamepad Mapper,’ which aims to answer the question of what to do with games that don’t support game controllers out of the box. It gets around that by allowing users to go through and manually map touchscreen controls to the Shield’s hardware buttons, d-pad and joysticks, and in fact it does it automatically for many of the top games already available. It’s still not the perfect solution (i.e., all game makers building support for Shield right into their code), but it does make games that would otherwise be completely unplayable, playable.
The Gamestream feature now supports over 50 titles with its official launch (and others unofficially) and feels even more polished than it did the first time I used it. Barring any other considerations around the Shield, the PC streaming is a huge benefit to anyone who finds themselves glued to their PC for hours addicted to new games; being able to take that with you anywhere around the house you want to go is a huge boon.
The other big advantage here is Console Mode, which adds to the basic HDMI-out functionality to turn Shield into a full-fledged living room console. It’s designed to work with partner Nyko’s PlayPad Pro wireless Bluetooth controller specifically, but it should work with any Android Bluetooth controller. The PlayPad Pro was designed in conjunction with Nvidia, however, which makes it more likely to be fully compatible with Tegra-optimized game titles.
Now you can tap the new Console Mode icon to run it on the TV, and also the controller now wakes from sleep when connected to a TV, even if the clamshell is closed. Because of its software support and the way it just works without requiring all that much in terms of additional work on the part of developers, this makes it a very compelling alternative to Ouya. Full 1080p output is coming via an update, and best of all, you can unplug it and take it with you wherever you go, and play without a TV, too. Shield might be $200 more than the Ouya, but this new console mode makes it a much better value overall, in my opinion. It’s already my travel console of choice, and really helps those boring nights in hotels on business trips.