Nvidia's Shield gaming handheld to go on sale May 20 for $349

Nvidia's Shield gaming handheld will ship by the end of June

Nvidia's Project Shield handheld gaming device, now called simply Shield, will be available for pre-order on May 20 priced at US$349, though it won't ship to customers until the end of June.

Shield takes the form of a console game controller with a 5-inch, pop-up screen that can display images at a 720p (1280 x 720 pixel) resolution. It runs on Nvidia's latest Tegra 4 chip, which has four CPU cores and 72 graphics cores to support a maximum resolution of 3200 x 2000 pixels, so games can be played at full HD on an attached TV.

Shield will be available for order through Nvidia's website and via retailers Newegg, GameStop, Micro Center and Canada Computers. The handheld was introduced at the International CES in January.

Shield runs the Android 4.1 OS, code-named Jellybean. Games will be available for download from the Google Play store and from gaming libraries like Steam and Nvidia's TegraZone. TegraZone currently lists 76 games, including "Max Payne," "Sonic 4," "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City" and "NBA 2K13."

Nvidia insists the gaming experience on Shield will be better than on smartphones. With 802.11n Wi-Fi, the handheld can also play PC games streamed from a computer with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 650 graphics processor or better.

Shield has integrated speakers and a set of controls including dual joysticks, directional buttons and bumpers. It has a mini-HDMI out port so the controller can be hooked up to a TV. Other features include 16GB of storage, 2GB of RAM, Bluetooth and GPS. There's also a microSD slot for adding more storage.

Nvidia will compete with Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft in the gaming hardware market, which will undergo some big changes this year. Sony's PlayStation 4 will ship later this year, and Microsoft is expected to announce the next Xbox gaming console on May 21. Nintendo started shipping the Wii U late last year. Sony and Nintendo also offer handheld gaming products.

While Shield will compete mainly with the handheld consoles, the gates are open for Nvidia to go after the PlayStation and Xbox, said Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy.

"If Nvidia can get some AAA titles and a good experience connecting to an HDTV, I could see a small segment of consumers choosing Shield over a new console," he said via email.

Some buyers, such as GTX PC gamers and Android gamers, will be willing to pay the $349 for the handheld, Moorhead said.

"This doesn't have to be some big blowout to the general population for this to be deemed a success, only sales to their two target audiences. The key will be for Nvidia to deliver an amazing game experience to that audience," he said.

Nvidia is traditionally known as a graphics company, and its GPUs were used by Sony in the PlayStation 3. However, Sony's PlayStation 4 will have chips from Advanced Micro Devices, which is also expected to supply chips for Microsoft's next Xbox.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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Agam Shah

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