First look at Nvidia's Project Shield (video)

In January, Nvidia surprised us by announcing Project Shield, a handheld Android gaming device that can also stream select PC games from GeForce-equipped computers via Wi-Fi. The prospect of playing full-fledged PC games from the comfort of your couch seems enticing, but without spending some decent time with the device, it's hard to tell if Project Shield represents the future of gaming or just another attempt to crack the lucrative mobile-gaming market.

The hardware itself isn't quite so attractive; at CES, the device looked a bit like someone duct-taped an Android phone to an Xbox 360 controller. However, the guts of the device certainly seem exciting. Project Shield sports Nvidia's new Tegra 4 processor and the capability to encode and stream game data with minimal delay.

Our colleagues in Boston took advantage of a recent meeting with Nvidia to get some hands-on time with the Project Shield device, and the footage they brought back looks promising. Throughout the video, we can see both Android and PC games running on Project Shield, and the 5-inch, multitouch 720p display looks pretty decent in action. The built-in controller looks remarkably similar to the Xbox 360 gamepad, with a sizable frame, four face buttons in a diamond formation, a rounded d-pad, two analog sticks, and a pair of L/R bumpers and triggers up top. There's a big button emblazoned with the Nvidia logo in the center that likely takes you to Nvidia's custom Tegrazone gaming portal, as well as a start button, a volume button, and the back and home buttons that match what we've seen on countless Android devices.

Nvidia shows off Project Shield as part of their CES 2013 stage show.

Project Shield runs on a modified version of Android's Jelly Bean OS, so you should be able to pick up the device on launch day (sometime in the second quarter of 2013) and log in with your Google account right away. Access to your email, movies, music and more on a handheld gaming device feels like a welcome anomaly, but it represents the likely future of handheld gaming.

In fact, Project Shield is most intriguing not as a handheld PC-game-streamer, but as a beefed-up Android gaming machine. Android developers are constantly creating bigger and more-ambitious games to match the technical capabilities of contemporary phones and tablets, but we're held back from enjoying those games by the limited control options a touchscreen offers. If the Project Shield device can deliver great performance at a reasonable price, it may help Android evolve into a respectable gaming platform.

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