Like any device nowadays, the system you pick up at launch isn't necessarily the same one a few months later. The item's software matures, new services are added and improvements are made. Evolution has become the name of the game, and it's useful to look back and see how ambitious releases end up.
That brings us to the Nvidia Shield Portable, which was released nearly a year ago. It initially received mixed reviews, reflecting the hodgepodge of ideas behind it. The system boasts a gorgeous 5-inch touch screen melded atop a Xbox 360-looking controller. On the inside, it features a Nvidia Tegra 4 chipset that's found in laptops and tablets.
But what has raised eyebrows is what the Shield Portable can do. The system's biggest draw is its ability to stream titles from your gaming rig directly to the device. Want to play "The Wolf Among Us" on your portable? You can. The same goes for "Dark Souls 2" or "Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Blacklist." The high visual fidelity that PC gamers demand is streamed to the device with minimal input lag. Although the streaming had hiccups when I used it, a recent update seems to have fixed those issues and it runs smoothly now.
Over the past year, the collection of titles for the Shield Portable has grown, and it has become respectable. Surprisingly, players don't have to stop at Shield-approved titles. Players can check Steam and find indie gems such as "Nuclear Throne" that can play on the Shield Portable, so there is more out there (including emulators) than the list of official releases.
If that weren't enough, Nvidia has added even more value with the introduction of its Grid service. Although still in the beta stage and aimed at U.S. players in the vicinity of its Western servers, Grid performs splendidly with the 14 games available. There's little noticeable input lag and, even more impressive, some games look better on this service than on my PC. Of all its features, this is the most promising.
Because the Shield Portable runs on Android, the system also has access to that device's library, too. If you have a large mobile game collection, the device is the best way to play titles such as "Modern Combat 5: Blackout." One of the improvements since launch has been Gamepad Mapper, which allows players to customize the controller for nearly any Android title.
In addition, the device almost acts like a tablet with full support for Twitter, Facebook and other apps. It's a great device if you want to stream videos with a large battery that lasts for hours. You could almost binge a season of "House of Cards" on one charge. That kind of use fits nicely with an upgrade called Console Mode, which basically turns the system into a media hub (or microconsole) that you can plug into your television.
The Nvidia Shield Portable is intriguing product, and it could offer gamers a glimpse of the post-console future. It's a device that enjoys strong support and with the company expanding the brand with a new tablet ($299), the system and its do-everything approach will remain relevant for a while. The only thing holding it back has been the price, and even that has gotten to a more-palatable $199, making the Shield Portable an enticing value for PC and Android gamers.