Mike Isaac

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Game On: Nvidia Previews “Project Shield,” a Handheld Android Console

Nvidia_project_shieldAnd — poof! — just like that, a chipmaker dips its toe into the consumer hardware space.

Nvidia, the company responsible for much of the guts inside modern smartphones, tablets and desktop PCs, unveiled “Project Shield” at International CES in Las Vegas on Sunday evening, a prototype portable gaming system built atop the Android platform.

It’s something of a multimedia mish-mash. Imagine tossing an Xbox controller, a five5-inch 720p display, the guts of a powerful quad-core tablet and a wireless speaker box into a blender, then cranking it up to “frappe.” The result is Nvidia’s foray into creating an out-of-the-box consumer-facing product, Project Shield.

The device casts a wide net. It runs media like HD movies and music, while also running apps like Hulu, Netflix and Internet radio services. It can play PC games. It will run any Android games in the Google Play store.

In other words, it’s competing with smartphones, tablets, handheld systems like the Wii U — everyone.

Consider this: It’s hard enough for an industry player to do well in just one of these spaces. Apple and Samsung are duking it out for smartphone dominance, while Apple continues to clean up in the tablet arena. Consoles and dedicated gaming hardware is still a battlefield split among giants like Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony, yet console sales are declining in recent years, and the dominant players are beginning to experiment to fight for share.

So where does Project Shield fit in? Does Nvidia focus on marketing it toward one of these verticals, or all of them? Or is this something new entirely?

For now, at least, Nvidia can focus on one thing: Finishing it. After all, it’s still a just a prototype.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik