I’ve been saying nothing big ever happens at CES and man was I ever wrong this year. The show was invaded by Chinese vendors (Hisense replaced Microsoft on the CES floor, they are the GE of China, and Huawei had the most interesting smartphone line) with really cool products, 4K TVs that were even smarter, and some of the most interesting car tech (Audi’s 3D sound demonstration was arguably the best). However, the vendor that really stepped out of its box this year was NVIDIA.
NVIDIA decided to both reinvent gaming as a mobile/cloud/PC transition platform and redefine smartphone cameras with High Dynamic Range imaging.
There was little doubt that gaming as we now know it was going to die off and likely eventually be replaced in the 2020 time frame with a flexible cloud solution that could scale from mobile devices through PCs to TVs. The current gaming companies are mostly sick or dying and mobile devices and cloud services are on the rise, but I expected we were going to have to go through the whole death/rebirth cycle before anyone got gutsy enough to try something different.
Well NVIDIA effectively said “screw that” and got in its time machine an suddenly it is 2020 in 2013 because it launched that next decade solution this year and it will arrive in around five months instead of around five years. This doesn’t happen very often and the reason is it is risky, because we consumers don’t like big changes very much. It can often take years before we see a new idea and embrace it. IBM launched the first smartphone, it was called the Simon, and tablets were first launched in the early 1990s.
However, unlike these products much of the eco-system that NVIDIA’s platform needs is already in place just waiting for someone to put it together into a very different and more compelling solution. The gaming console vendors didn’t want to do it because they were both starving and unwilling to put at risk their existing platforms, and because gaming looked so unprofitable at the moment it was unlikely an outside player would step in. So NVIDIA stepped up and suddenly we have GeForce Grid and Shield.
GeForce Grid and Shield
GeForce Grid is rack mounted graphically enhanced multi-user server designed for high performance cloud gaming. It is targeted at the market that companies like OnLive pioneered and designed to lower the cost of the highly custom servers that had to be created for the existing game streaming market. In many ways that market is like the server market before Intel entered and commoditized it. This time around, NVIDIA is playing Intel and the result should lower the hardware cost associated with cloud gaming significantly, allowing the firms to not only more easily scale up, but to provide a higher performance solution for their subscribers.
The other side of this solution is Shield. A super powered hand held gaming solution that is based on the new Tegra 4 chip (most powerful ARM consumer chip ever created) and it is designed around a condole game quality controller. This system can be connected to other Shield controllers for group or team gaming, connected to a 4K Ultra High definition TV to provide an experience current game consoles can’t touch, and it can stream games from your Gaming PC or from the GeForce Grid to provide Ultra HD quality streamed gaming experiences. Eventually you’ll be able to do things you currently can’t even imagine doing on a PC or an existing handheld or console like blending augmented reality and satellite images into a virtual reality experience at 4K resolutions that appears as real to a 3rd party observer as a real war fought in actual city streets by players who are themselves mobile but coexisting with game generated characters. How about participating in the final battle in the Avengers for instance and having your friends see how long you last as an Alien buttkicker. In that instance, the Cloud service running on GeForce Grid would blend the real with the unreal showing the result to a broadcast audience watching through their TVs, PCs or tablets and the game players would see a first person shooter image through their Shield Handheld gaming systems.
Image via http://shield.nvidia.com/
You can’t do this today and I’ll bet it will take a while for folks to figure out how to do this once these systems are in place but now imaging a complex battle where two folks with Shields are Scout/Assassins, a third on their PC is doing overall battle coordination and planning, and this is one of a number of teams being coordinated by a 4th who is viewing the virtual battle off of a huge 4K TV. Even cooler would be using one of the tablet top PCs that were all over the show from folks like Lenovo, Panasonic, and 3M.
Wrapping Up: NVIDIA’s Gamble
To make this new system work people can’t see it as a console or a handheld gaming system alone. Both are too limited and too tied to the last two decades of gaming. They need to see the potential of this new approach and recognize that out of the box as an Android or streaming PC gaming platform it is superior. If folks can’t free their imaginations to see that Shield isn’t a rehashed PSP or PlayStation remix NVIDIA’s effort will fail. In short, NVIDIA needs our imaginations to win and if we want more vendors trying to do wonderful things and fewer vendors doing Apple knockoffs, we should give NVIDIA the benefit of the doubt and begin imagining the new wonderful things that will soon be possible.
This year’s CES has turned out to be one huge surprise, best show ever, and NVIDIA’s launch clearly set the early pace to amazing.
Oh, and one more thing, HDR is a technology that takes two pictures of a subject in 2/10ths of a second, one optimized for foreground and one optimized for background, to create near instantly a picture that has both elements. This is something you don’t even see in most high end cameras and it is coming to your cell phone.
President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group
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