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Nvidia expands its consumer product offerings

The Nvidia Shield Android tablet.
Nvidia
The Nvidia Shield Android tablet.

Graphics chip maker Nvidia is making a play for the living room.

The company announced the Nvidia Shield, an Android based set-top box, at the ongoing Game Developers Conference in San Francisco on Tuesday. It's the latest in a series of consumer product launches from the company, which began selling a tablet and handheld gaming system in recent years.

Launching this May at a price of $199, the Shield will be powered by the Tegra X1 mobile chip – a graphics processing device that Nvidia claims has twice the performance power of the Xbox 360.

"100 million people have enjoyed games on that console generation," said Jen-Hsun Huang, co-founder and CEO of Nvidia. "Several billion people should enjoy them. The question is how do we get several billion people to enjoy the 1,000-plus games that were created for this generation?"

The answer, he said, is a cloud-based streaming game service. Initially, though, the Shield store will launch with 50 titles.

In addition to its gaming elements, Shield will also act as a smart TV peripheral, letting people stream movies, music and apps from the Google Play service in 4K – primarily using voice control.

The device will come with a microphone-equipped remote control that people can use to search for content or command the Shield to run an operation. (The remote also features a headphone jack, for private listening, much like Roku's remotes do.) The Shield will also come with an included game controller.

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Huang touted the device as significantly more powerful than competitors' devices, such as the Apple TV or Google's Chromecast, though some of his introductory remarks were a bit curious for someone about to make a big bet on a new set top box.

"Smart TVs will be the way we enjoy TV in the future," he said, seemingly discussing TVs that have the intelligence built in during the manufacturing process.

To emphasize its commitment to cloud gaming, Nvidia also announced the expansion of its Grid Game-Streaming Service, letting players stream top-tier titles in 1080p at 60 frames per second. Grid is along the same lines as Sony's PlayStation Now game streaming service, which allows PlayStation 4 owners to instantly stream games in a Netflix-like all-you-can-eat model for a monthly fee.

Grid is already available to owners of the company's handheld system and tablet. The service will also feature a subscription service with two tiers. Basic will offer access to the service's collection of existing (and largely older titles). Users who pay for the premium service will have the opportunity to purchase and play newer games.

Asking users to pay a premium to pay full price for some new games is a risky move, though, that is unlikely to boost Grid's subscriber base.