IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Nvidia unveils surprise 'Project Shield' handheld gaming console

Nvidia Shield
NVIDIA's Project ShieldNVIDIA
NVIDIA's Project ShieldNVIDIA

Chip giant Nvidia has announced a new mobile graphics system and, to the surprise of many, a handheld gaming console to go with it. "Project Shield" resembles some other experimental handhelds, but has a couple new tricks up its sleeve.

The basic layout will be familiar to many: A console-like dual-analog controller with directional pad and buttons, mated to a 5-inch touchscreen. It's not as compact as the PlayStation Vita or Nintendo 3DS, but it makes up for that with raw horsepower.

Project Shield will pack the Tegra 4 chip, also announced Sunday at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and Nvidia claims it's six times more powerful than the Tegra 3 that drives many of today's high-end tablets and mobile phones. That gives it more than enough power to effect "console quality" graphics.

Those with a good memory for gadgets will remember that there are a number of examples of devices like this one. The ill-fated Panasonic Jungle, for instance, never made it to market, and a handful of indie gaming machines like the Dingoo and Pandora vie over a niche market. Razer's Project Fiona is another "handheld PC gaming" device that is expected to launch this year, after a crowd-stirring reveal during last year's CES.

Nvidia clearly hopes that Shield's features will set it apart from the others. It runs Android (the latest version, 4.2 a.k.a. Jelly Bean), and of course you can play the latest and greatest games and shows on the device. But there's more to it than that. It pairs up with your computer, allowing you to play games that would normally only appear on your PC's monitor.

This capability was demonstrated on stage, with the Shield device streaming "Assassin's Creed III" and "Need For Speed: Most Wanted" to the device. The player can use the built-in 720p screen or have an even higher-definition image appear on a TV by connecting an HDMI cable.

No pricing or launch date was announced (some time in mid-2013 is estimated), but it's clear from its specs that the device won't be cheap. We'll follow up with Nvidia on the CES show floor to get more information and hopefully a hands-on this week.

Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.