How Project SHIELD Got Built

It’s 9 o’clock at night. Aaron Gilroy has been working 14-hour days nonstop for months. The tireless program manager’s latest task: hauling a dozen greasy bags of Kentucky Fried Chicken to a building in a scruffy light-industrial neighborhood in Silicon Valley.

Step through an unmarked door and drop off your smartphone with a security guard. You’ll find the people who will devour all that chicken — a team of engineers clad in blue lab coats huddled over work benches and peering through magnifying lamps. They’re piecing together some of the first few examples of a device known as Project SHIELD.

Their work — and the work of the hundreds of other NVIDIANs who have toiled away for months on the project in secret — is about to pay off. Andrew Bell, NVIDIA’s vice president of hardware engineering picks up one of the compact silver-and-black gizmos, flips up its screen and places his fingers on the portable gaming device’s thumb sticks.

“It just says ‘Play with me,’” he says as the metallic tang of freshly-soldered circuit boards hangs in the air.

Ten days later NVIDIA CEO Jen-Hsun Huang walked onto a stage in Las Vegas on the eve of the Consumer Electronics Show and hit an audience of gamers, journalists and industry insiders with a sucker punch. Some were skeptical. Others not-so-much: one man shouted “take my money,” mid-way through Jen-Hsun’s introduction of Project SHIELD.

And just like Andrew Bell, everyone wanted to pick one up and start playing.

Andrew Bell taking SHIELD for a spin
Factory fresh: NVIDIA’s Andrew Bell takes SHIELD for a spin.

Speed of Light

The story behind Project SHIELD is a tale of an idea as much as it is of a product. Jen-Hsun — NVIDIA’s intense, motorcycle-jacket clad leader calls that idea ‘speed of light’ (or ‘speedolight’ as he says it). The notion isn’t to hit impossible deadlines fueled by adrenaline and fried chicken grease. It’s to understand the limits of what can be done and work within only those basic constraints.

“We couldn’t prove that it couldn’t be done,” says NVIDIA Senior Vice President of Content and Strategy Tony Tamasi, who has quietly led NVIDIA’s interactions with game developers for more than a decade. “So we decided it could be.”

That’s because it turns out NVIDIA had everything it needed to build a new kind of gaming device all along. Rather than engineering a one-of-a-kind console CPU and a GPU, NVIDIA engineers slid their next-generation mobile chip – and its powerful graphics capabilities – into the device.

And rather than building special software — and cultivating a walled-garden of proprietary gaming content — NVIDIA opened its device up. SHIELD runs on the same Android software now powering millions of Tegra devices. Plus it can stream games from the tens of millions of PCs built with NVIDIA’s GPUs.

By Gamers, For Gamers

Maybe that’s why the more NVIDIANs rushed the more things fell into place. In less than a year, SHIELD has grown from an idea dreamed up by Jen-Hsun, Tony, and a handful of others into a conspiracy involving hundreds of gaming fanatics across every department at NVIDIA. “We’ve been talking on and off about building something for more than five years, maybe 10,” says Tony.

Project SHIELD began with an effort to strip gaming down to its most essential component: a great controller. “We wrote all the core software to hook Android games to controllers,” Tony says. “Then we thought ‘Why don’t we just build a device with a great controller built in?”

The first prototype, assembled in early 2012, was little more than a game controller fastened to a smartphone with wood. From that crude beginning, NVIDIA’s team of industrial designers sculpted a device that could fit in a user’s hands. No outsourcing required: NVIDIA has a team of veterans who have already shaped the look of a number of products built around NVIDIA’s processors, such as the drool-worthy GeForce GTX 690.

SHIELD parts
Some assembly required: parts were flown in from as far away as Taiwan and Austria.

NVIDIA could also tap into the talents of software designers who knew their way around everything from PC driver software to the Android operating system intimately. Tao Xie and Michelle Tomasko helped lead a team of engineers that aimed to pour software into a device that could deliver a great Android gaming experience, stream games from a PC to SHIELD and connect it all to SHIELD’s built-in 5-inch display or big screen TVs.

Yes, It Can Play Crysis

And because SHIELD isn’t a gaming console, it can do things a gaming console can’t. Because it runs Android, it takes advantage of the thousands of games that have been built for Android. It can also run the Android games that have been specially-tuned for Tegra featured in NVIDIA’s TegraZone mobile gaming app – which has been downloaded by more than 6 million gamers. “The challenge in the past – with the old model consoles – is software; but thanks to Android we didn’t have to come at it trying to build a walled-garden ecosystem,” Tony says.

Perhaps the killer app, though, is SHIELD’s ability to tap into another open ecosystem: the thriving PC gaming market. Streaming games from PCs equipped with NVIDIA GeForce GTX 650 or better GPUs puts cutting-edge games on SHIELD on day one. As NVIDIA’s smart, funny marketing VP Ujesh Desai put it, when cynical gamers ask the eternal question – ‘but can it play Crysis’ – NVIDIA will have a simple answer ‘yes it does.’

That openness does more than provide a gaming library tens of thousands of titles deep. It also gives SHIELD the flexibility to tap into innovative new services built for the PC ecosystem, such as the “Big Picture” mode software developer Valve has created for its Steam software distribution service. “Big Picture,” let’s gamers put the games they’ve purchased through Steam on the TV in their living room.

Developers who had been lobbying Tamasi for years to launch a game console were impressed. “You guys have balls,” one told Tony.

What the NVIDIANs working on the project didn’t have was time. In September, Jen-Hsun decided to build the device in time for the introduction of NVIDIA’s next-generation mobile processor, code-named Wayne – and now known as Tegra 4 — at CES.

The ‘Kung Fu’ Shift

It would be up to a team led by Andrew Bell — a respected senior engineer with a black sense of humor — to put together a working unit. Throughout the fall his team grew fast. By December, engineers from Texas and China were being flown in for short, intense sprints.

Aaron Gilroy served as Bell’s air-traffic controller as parts were hand-delivered from manufacturing partners in Austria, Taiwan and China. When a key engineer quit, Craig Crawford was flown in from the Oregon office to lead the assembly of the early prototypes. The unflappable mechanical engineer has been living in a Silicon Valley hotel ever since.

On December 18, the first two prototypes to include every element of the device were brought to Jen-Hsun. There were flaws. Some were painful. Others were funny. When Jen-Hsun slid from one app to another as a room full of engineers watched, the device’s speakers let out an exaggerated ‘swish.’ Jen-Hsun laughed, dubbing it the “Kung Fu shift.”

“We need to make this perfect,” he said. The shift to full production would take place in stages. A small run of units would be put together so people inside NVIDIA could continue to pound on the design, break it and improve it.

And the project would be revealed at CES, now just 19 days away – a doable, but tough, deadline. Andrew flashed a wicked grin at his fellow NVIDIANs: “Come join me in the ‘I’m screwed cart,’ – it’s fun!”

Final sprint

Documenting production process for SHIELD
Preparing for mass production: Every step in the assembly process is documented.

Over the holiday break, NVIDIA’s engineers took over a small piece of floor space at a Silicon Valley contract manufacturer to assemble the units that would be shown off at CES.

At one table, circuit boards bearing NVIDIA’s soon to be unveiled mobile processor — Tegra 4 — were tested and soldered together. A few steps away Craig – the mechanical engineer who oversaw the assembly of the first prototypes – would turn over displays with practiced hands, searching for defects.

Nearby, Anshul Jain and a knot of other NVIDIA software engineers stand ready. Still more software engineers are on call (and Bell isn’t shy about calling them). It’s Anshul’s job to collect all the feedback on the software powering the device to make sure it’s ready to demo at CES, linking NVIDIA’s software and hardware efforts in real-time. The good-natured Anshul– like the others – has been working non-stop, resting only for the holiday.

What did he do for Christmas? “Slept,” he quips.

At another bench, an NVIDIA engineer snapped batteries, a display and a circuit board into the housing of the device, taking careful notes as he went. His instructions will be used to assemble tens of thousands of more units once final production begins. This is where another piece falls into place: NVIDIA has a team of ‘quick-turn’ manufacturing specialists, led by tall, laconic Navy veteran Brant Carter, who specialize in turning prototypes into products that can be built in large numbers.

There was plenty of work left to do — the frenzied sprint to prepare units for CES had only just begun. But despite some cussing, the first few units were coming together. It was shortly after Gilroy had completed his late night KFC run that Bell flipped up the device’s screen and started to fiddle with it. He grinned.

“Anyone else want to play some games?” he asked.

  • Ben Stinson

    Very interesting article – tweeted on @TechNowuk:twitter – Put me first in line for a closer look at the device as if it does what you’re claiming, it could be perfect toilet and bed gaming companion 😉

  • Sergii Pylypenko

    I see typical corporate-mentality deadline screw-up.
    NVIDIA, here you’re boasting how your poor management made lifes of your engineers miserable.

  • http://twitter.com/Chairmanmeow0 Chairman Meow

    When and how much? 

  • http://twitter.com/gamercore Chris Chavez


  • http://ARMdevices.net/ Charbax

    Best thing Nvidia has done. How soon? How much? You should try to get millions sold.

  • rndtechnologies786


  • xxx xxx

    è una cagata pazzesca!!!!! 92 minuti di applausi!!!!

  • neoKushan

    The key issue is price. I seriously want one of these, but if it costs as much as a GTX 690, it ain’t going to happen.

  • Ryan Dean

    Have to say I’m seriously impressed by Nvidia’s drive to make this happen and the openness with which they’re approaching it. I watched the Shield debut at CES and the excitement was palpable. You could tell Jen-Hsun was nervous but he kept his cool and pressed on despite technical hiccups. This is the right way to do things, and I will be buying one for sure! Hopefully they will relax the hinge a little bit so the display can tilt back further. I’m most excited by the prospect of synthesizers and drum machines running on this thing so I hope they place special emphasis on the DAC ouput. Kudos to the Nvidia team that worked their collective asses off to make this happen – You guy’s killed it!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Caulfield/693996289 Brian Caulfield

    Me too 😉

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Caulfield/693996289 Brian Caulfield

    è davvero;-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Caulfield/693996289 Brian Caulfield

    The engineering team here is really amazing. Very glad I got to watch them  put this together. 

  • cybik

    take my goddamned money.

  • Ryan Dean

    Not meaning to be a pest by posting twice in the same day but I wanted to add something. Consoles in the recent past have been hampered by the Lowest Common Denominator effect. What I mean by this can best be explained by looking at the Xbox 360 launch where they mistakenly shipped a variant without a hard drive. By doing this they guaranteed that developers could not create games with texture or world-streaming because that would limit their sales audience. I don’t think anything more needs to be said about this-it’s very important to get this aspect correct!         Additionally, I think it would be wise to team up with a microSD brand and include at least a high-speed 32GB card with every “Shield”. For reference  http://vr-zone.com/articles/lexar-unveils-microsd-cards-with-90mb-sec-speeds/18840.html

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Caulfield/693996289 Brian Caulfield

    You’re not being a pest at all. Keep that feedback coming! 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Caulfield/693996289 Brian Caulfield

    Stay tuned to shield.nvidia.com 😉

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Caulfield/693996289 Brian Caulfield


  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Caulfield/693996289 Brian Caulfield

    Sweeter words have never been spoken. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/William-Leu/83500338 William Leu

    “Yes, It Can Play Crysis” 
    Hah! Love the preemptive answer.

    I realize it’s not a high priority, but any design plans for a keyboard? Maybe a future peripheral or via Bluetooth?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ivan-DeDios/1217818170 Ivan DeDios

    Will the streaming work with my 7970? 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Caulfield/693996289 Brian Caulfield

    You can sign up for updates at shield.nvidia.com. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Caulfield/693996289 Brian Caulfield

    Just checked. Project SHIELD has Bluetooth, so you’ll be able to hook up your Bluetooth keyboard with the device. Good question!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Alexander-Gee/656448823 Alexander Gee

    I find that the be a really odd question. It’s a bit like asking if you can have a towbar on a porsche 911.

  • Sagar Rawal

    Hehe, I feel the same way!

  • neoKushan

    Since Brian is apparently answering loads of questions – does SHIELD support Miracast? If so, will it support Miracast output to a TV while streaming from a PC?

  • http://nightfox.deviantart.com Brian Duff

    I especially like how he dropped the Unreal Engine 4 reveal for the 3D controller hardware  animation.

  • http://hybnost.com/ Vikas Paul

    Insanely awesome

  • http://www.facebook.com/SpaceCreep Levi Stacko

    It’s a real shame you need a 600 series gpu to stream games, that makes my 580s sad. Guess I’ll just skip this.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sangct Sang Cao Truong

    Still wait… I need SHIELD !!! 😀

  • Ben Anderson

    I doubt it, the technology required to stream from your video card is specific to nvidia cards. Which makes sense since it’s their product. It would be interesting to see if AMD will try to come up with a similar product though.

  • Ben Wilson

    My question is, after the launch of this amazing device (which I want); Will I be able to stream PC titles with a different device, so long as it is powered by Tegra 4?
    Also, it sounds like NVIDIA will mass produce this device which is unlike their world-class GPUs. Will there be different hardware vendors offering their own SHIELD (such as ASUS MSI Gigabyte etc.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/giar3579 David Ashotyan

    Looking forward to this

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/ZQBJ2VALLIVQSTSRSBWHV6XLQM fteoOpty64

    Brilliant effort!. This will sell well as users buying discrete cards for gaming rigs can afford portable play on this device for $500-600!. Pls put msata slot below it so users can plonk in a 256GB SSD!!!. This Shield ought to blow away any tablet for more serious games in the Android space. Nice job and congrats!.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/ZQBJ2VALLIVQSTSRSBWHV6XLQM fteoOpty64

    AMD doing this ?!. You kidding ? They ain¨t got balls and potentially push MicroSoft to do this. MS is so screwed up they had plenty of chances to do Xbox portable yet nothing. So nothing is coming from that side … 
    Did somebody say Apple ?. Lol (bursting into spontaneous laughter, falling off the chair …..), they said iPad already has it ….more laughter!.  

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/ZQBJ2VALLIVQSTSRSBWHV6XLQM fteoOpty64

    Jensen being nervous ?. No way, this is a ¨ Whoop ass ¨ concept!. It uses Android as OS so it is a known quantity to most people and already has millions of developers out there!. Huge advantage. Then A15 core and its gpu having the horsepower to drive high resolution screens at gaming framerates, yet lowcost as a platform.

    Now a few variants can easily be derived from this. eg One without screens for people to user with TVs only (hdmi out). A smaller version for kids and students. Even a powered bluetooth controller for an existing tablet makes a lot of sense. This platform has LEGS! It will fly for sure.

  • Ryan Dean

    If you watch the CES announcement you will see that there were some technical hiccups which led to an awkward moment. That’s all I was referring to. 

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/ZQBJ2VALLIVQSTSRSBWHV6XLQM fteoOpty64

    ” Will there be different hardware vendors offering their own SHIELD (such as ASUS MSI Gigabyte etc.)”
    This is an interesting and important question. It depends on Nvidia’s willingness to spread this platform and I guess would be YES at a later stage as they might allow for product differentiation yet running on the same versions (different firmware of course, like Android hardware) but Tegra4 chip and TegraZone games. The PC makers already has distribution to retail which is important in many markets, and they address much the same customers having GTX cards …

  • http://www.facebook.com/michael.clerc.12 Michael Clerc

    Not more than a gimmick 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Caulfield/693996289 Brian Caulfield

    Here’s what you’ll need to stream games from your PC, according to shield.nvidia.com:

    GPU: NVIDIA® Kepler™-based GeForce GTX 650 (Desktop) or
    GTX 660M (Notebook) or higherCPU: Intel Core i5 or equivalent or higherSystem Memory: 4 GB or higherSoftware: GeForce Experience™ application and latest GeForce driversOS: Windows 7 or higherRouter: Router: 802.11a/g/n(Recommended: 802.11n Dual Band / MIMO Router)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Caulfield/693996289 Brian Caulfield

    Odd, but awesome. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Caulfield/693996289 Brian Caulfield

    Me, too. 

  • Vanillacide

    Want one of these for PC game streaming, but there’s a flaw…

    This device should have the left-side analogue stick in the top-left and the direction pad in the middle — like an Xbox controller that is plugged into PC.

    Instead it’s got two analogue sticks in the middle like a Sony PlayStation Dual-Shock controller.

    Wrong layout for the audience.

    I wish Nvidia had time to redesign the layout to better match what we’re used to (unless you’re mostly a PS console gamer).

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Caulfield/693996289 Brian Caulfield

    Feedback always welcome. Thanks!

  • Rigoberto Islas


  • http://www.facebook.com/dyah.retnowati.946 Dyah Retnowati

    When shield comes out,the prize of gtx 6xx series down……very cool!!!

  • Alex_Atkin_UK

    I strongly agree with this as I always found the dual-shock really uncomfortable so seeing the SHIELD use a similar layout means that if I did get one, I would still swap between it and an Xbox 360 controller depending on my usage scenario.  It would be far more graceful to be able to just stick with SHIELD for everything.

    Most PC games these days are designed more with the Xbox 360 controller in mind, so it makes sense to stick to that layout.

    I can see why it might be tricky though as obviously a D-pad needs less clearance so sticking the analogs down at the bottom (presumably where less internal hardware lives) is easier.

  • Alex_Atkin_UK

    The software back-end for this is quite interesting too.

    For example, once this remote display tech is in the graphics driver then it would be relatively simple to have a Windows or even Linux client, so you can play graphics intensive games on your laptop streamed from a Windows PC on the LAN.

    This then leaves us only a small step away from cloud gaming from your own PC, which has always been something I am more interested in than relying on a third-party.

    Its bizarre that Microsoft hasn’t done this already, especially now they have their own walled garden store.  A WinRT tablet would have seemed much less limiting if it could have streamed games from a desktop PC.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nightgod Jason Sullivan

    I like how the computer I just ordered meets all of those specs (and then some). It’s like you guys were looking over my shoulder when I ordered!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Caulfield/693996289 Brian Caulfield


  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Caulfield/693996289 Brian Caulfield

    Hasn’t been announced yet. Stay tuned to shield.nvidia.com for the latest word. 

  • http://guideme.blogspot.com/ Mike Frett

    Hold on…The site says it can stream from Steam, OK Linux has Steam now. Then you say “Windows 7” or Higher. Hold on here, so you build a Linux based client and then block out Linux? WTF, of course I consider Linux higher than Windows anyway.

  • http://www.facebook.com/olliverdeolliveira Olliver de Oliveira

    eu querooo

  • http://www.facebook.com/fneeerd Sylwia Gałązka

    Make a 3g/4g variant and then, take my goddamned money.

  • http://lajjr.net/ Leo Jackson

    Don’t have China make them unless you want clones, clones, and more clones.

  • Chris Sarka

     Except… The 360 is only really popular in the states. In the grandeur scale of the gaming market, the PS3 is king. They have chosen the appropriate layout for the market.

  • Vanillacide

    Counting total numbers the Xbox has outsold the PS3 globally, but that is beside the point. 

    Because Project Shield is an accessory for PC gaming, and PC gaming mostly supports the Xbox 360 controller.Xbox 360 controller support is required for Games for Windows Live certification and it is the default joypad for pretty much every Windows game, and has drivers and support built into Windows. It is by far the most common controller for PC gaming.

    So besides it being the default pad for PC gamers, it’s about the layout not about manufacturer. Sony positioned the analogue pads in the middle of their joypad, not because it was designed from the ground up that way, but because analogue sticks were a bolt on to the original PlayStation controller and that was the only space they had. Contrary to that, Xbox 360 controller was designed from the ground up to be ergonomic and feel right.

    I would prefer to have an ergonomic layout, rather than one that reflected a compromise that Sony made in the past.

  • LightningBoltAction

    How do you play games that use portrait view or sideways?

  • LightningBoltAction

    Are u planning on releasing a Vita like form factor or tablet form factor with controllers on the side like Razer edge?