Shield (1)

Big update helps Nvidia's Shield handheld play nicer with Android and PC games

Android gamers who dropped $300 on the Nvidia Shield should find it a lot more useful after the latest software update.

In addition to updating the handheld gaming system to Android 4.3, Nvidia has also added controller mapping for touch-based games and improvements to Shield's PC game streaming.

The new "Shield Gamepad Mapper" adds controller support to Android games that haven't been designed for thumbsticks and buttons. The mapper basically uses button presses to simulate screen taps and swipes. Nvidia is providing button mapping profiles by default for popular games like NBA Jam and Temple Run, but users can also create their own profiles for any game.

Nvidia is also polishing and expanding the Shield's PC game streaming feature, as promised earlier this month. This feature lets users who have a desktop gaming rig and an Nvidia GTX 650 or higher graphics card stream their PC games to the Shield over a local Wi-Fi network.

The feature is now out of beta and dubbed "GameStream." It supports more than 50 games at up to 60 frames per second. A new "Console Mode" allows users to connect Shield to the television via HDMI and control the action remotely with a separate Bluetooth game controller.

Nvidia's 2013 Holiday Gaming Bundle pairs free games and Shield discounts with new GeForce graphics card purchases. (Click to enlarge.)

Shield is still an expensive proposition, especially if you don't already have a compatible graphics card for GameStream. But Nvidia's trying to take the sting out with some bundle deals . Buying an Nvidia GTX 780, 770 or Titan graphics card gets you $100 off the Shield, plus free copies of Splinter Cell: Blacklist, Batman: Arkham Origins and Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag. Step down to a GTX 660, 670, 680 or 760 card, and you get $50 off the Shield plus Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag and Splinter Cell: Blacklist.

A quick perusal of Microcenter's website shows that you can get the Shield, compatible graphics card and two games for as little as $430. Other supporting retailers are listed on Nvidia's website.

Although Shield is definitely a niche product, it may be worth considering if you already own a gaming PC. The whole setup costs about the same as a dedicated game console, and while streaming might not be as seamless, it does allow you to access your existing PC game collection from anywhere in the house. The bundle deals and added features just made Shield even more tempting unless you're a mouse-and-keyboard diehard.

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