Nvidia's Shield to get remote streaming, price cut to $199

Since introducing its do-everything Android-based handheld gaming console last July, Nvidia has been steadily refining the Shield's software and adding new capabilities. The next step in that process is coming soon, in an over-the-air update to be delivered starting on April 2.

One of the Shield's many talents is streaming games from a PC elsewhere in your home. That capability can work surprisingly well with a fast enough local Wi-Fi network and supported games. Nvidia says the list of supported games has grown to over 100 entries, including brand-new titles like Titanfall and Dark Souls II.

In this next update, the Shield will be extending its reach beyond the local network via a beta feature known as Remote GameStream. Yep, Shield owners will be able to play games hosted (and in fact running) on their home PCs from outside, over the Internet, provided their home 'net connections are fast enough. (Nvidia recommends 5Mbps upstream and downstream for GameStream Remote to work properly.) The GameStream Remote host software, which is a part of Nvidia's GeForce Experience package, will support the wake-on-LAN feature built into most PC firmware, so a PC can be pulled out of sleep mode by a remote connection attempt in order to host a gaming session.

Hmm. I could see the utility of being able to hop back into a game of Assassin's Creed while waiting in line at the DMV.

(Remote GameStream is distinct from the GeForce GRID streaming already available, which allows Shield owners to play a library of games hosted on Nvidia's own servers.)

The coming update will allow some GeForce GTX-equipped gaming laptops to host GameStream sessions, as well. Like GameStream Remote (and half of Google's entire service portfolio), this feature will be classified as a beta release, and it will work only with mobile graphics chips based on the Kepler and Maxwell architectures. Those include GeForce GTX 800M-, 700M-, and some 600M-series mobile GPUs.

GameStream itself will gain a few refinements, too. End users will be able to add PC games that aren't officially supported to the list of games available to stream—which is good, since many of 'em work just fine. Furthermore, Shield users will finally gain control over advanced settings for game streaming, including the bitrate and frame rate target. Pairing the Shield to multiple PCs is becoming more sophisticated, too, with PIN-based authentication joining the mix.

If you've used a Shield for streaming from a PC, you probably know that its screen feels pretty cramped for most PC games. However, this little game-controller-shaped doohickey can overcome that limitation by plugging into a TV and projecting its visuals on a big screen via something Nvidia calls game console mode. In this mode, you actually connect a Bluetooth-based game controller to the Shield and let the Shield's own controls stay dormant.

It works, but since this is PC gaming we're talking about, a gamepad isn't always the ideal input solution.

The next update will address that oversight by adding support for Bluetooth-connected keyboards and mice in game console mode. This change will open up entire genres of PC games for local streaming. Nvidia points to popular titles like WoW, Diablo III, and Civ V as notable additions, although it's quick to caution that all of this wirelessness and streaming probably won't result in a fast enough setup to allow for intensely competitive play. Another caveat of note is the fact that most Bluetooth mice and keyboards aren't really tuned for use with PCs, so Shield owners will want to consult the list of supported input devices to see which ones will work.

The Shield will grow even more at home in the living room through the addition of an obscure but crucial change. This update will add support for USB splitter cables on the Shield's single USB port, specifically so a Shield connected to a USB-to-Ethernet adapter for fast streaming can simultaneously charge itself via USB power. Sounds like dark magic to me, but it's something you'd probably want in order to use game console mode extensively.

Of course, the Shield also run Android games itself on its Tegra 4 SoC, and that part of the device's split personality is getting a little attention in the update, too. As promised, Nvidia is attempting to stay current with OS updates. The coming update will bring it up to Android 4.4.2 KitKat.

The GamePad Mapper utility, which maps touch Android inputs and gestures to the Shield's game controller buttons and sticks, is getting a freshened-up UI intended to improve ease-of-use. Having used the version introduced in the last major refresh, I'd say the change is welcome, especially because quite a few Android games have no idea what to do with gamepad-style inputs otherwise.

More do every month, though. Along with the update, the TegraZone online storefront is getting a refresh in order to better present the library of over 140 Android games now available for the Shield. Among those games, soon, will be several fairly involved PC and console ports, including GTA: San Andreas, Rochard, and Mount and Blade.

Last but not least, Nvidia is looking to give the Shield a little more momentum by officially trimming its suggested price by 50 bucks, to $199.99. The firm says this price drop will take effect today and persist through the end of April, although it's hard to imagine the price tag returning to its former level for long. Regardless, at just under 200 bucks, the Shield falls dangerously into impulse-buy territory, especially for those who already have a GeForce GPU capable of streaming to it.

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