Forget about Microsoft’s Xbox One. Never mind Sony’s PlayStation 4. The world’s best-looking video games could be coming to your tablet — not your console.
Chip maker NVIDIA (NVDA)'s Project Logan could destroy traditional console gaming as we know it. Early videos of the technology in action are impressive, to put it mildly.
Somehow, NVIDIA has managed to imbue tablets with insane graphical capabilities. As this technology is adopted, the consequences to the video game industry could be immense.
NVIDIA’s Shift into Mobile Gaming
NVIDIA has always been a play on the popularity of video games — its graphics cards are a near necessity for PC gamers.
But, perhaps in response to the gradual decline of the PC market, NVIDIA has been shifting into mobile. The company’s Tegra chips have been used in a variety of tablets — from Google’s Nexus 7 to Microsoft’s Surface RT.
Shield, NVIDIA’s own handheld console, uses the company’s latest chip, the Tegra 4. Shield is a revolutionary device, and there’s no guarantee that it will be a success. Regardless, it represents the next step in NVIDIA’s shift to mobile gaming.
Shield Is an Android-Based Handheld
Unlike other gaming handhelds (Nintendo’s 3DS, Sony’s Playstation Vita), Shield doesn't run a proprietary operating system with exclusive games. Rather, the device uses Google’s mobile operating system, Android, and lets owners download games directly from Google’s app store.
The Shield could just be an experiment — a prototype-like device intended to popularize the Tegra 4.
But it could represent something much more significant. NVIDIA has said it sees a big future for Android-based gaming, and Shield could just be the start.
Google Plans to Enter the Console Market
Shield isn't the only Android-based console to be announced in recent months. The Kickstarter megahit Ouya also runs a version of Android, and so will the upcoming Gamestick and Project MOJO.
But the Ouya isn't going to challenge the existing console landscape anytime soon. At $100, it’s a budget device, and given its humble beginnings, its technical limitations have earned it mixed reviews.
But don't write off Android consoles yet. According to The Wall Street Journal, Google itself has one in the works.
But why would Google bother? Android is already the world's dominant mobile operating system, with nearly 80% of the smartphone market, and about 60% of the tablet market.
Simply put: games matter. According to a study done by Business Insider, two-thirds of the time people are on tablets, they're playing games. On smartphones, it's a bit less: 39% of the time, but still significant.
Android continues to lag behind iOS in terms of games. In its July issue, video game-centric magazine Game Informer published a list of the greatest mobile games of 2013: of the 15 on the list, 11 were exclusive to iOS. Moreover, Electronic Arts' much anticipated Plants vs. Zombies 2 is set to be released on iOS later this year, with no Android date given.
If Google is going to close the software gap with Apple, it's going to need more, and better Android games. An Android console could accomplish that task.
Apple Could Revolutionize the Living Room
Over the last few months, Apple (AAPL) has given hints that it’s interested in gaming. When the company unveiled the iPad 3 last year, it detailed the device’s graphical capabilities, stressing its gaming prowess, and showing off video game demos.
Then there’s iOS 7. The newest revision to its mobile operating system adds support for third-party controllers, and the company has been rumored to be working on a controller of its own.
Reading between the lines, gaming industry professionals have predicted Apple’s entrance into the console market. Nat Brown, one of the co-creators of the original Xbox, blogged that Apple could destroy the existing console market with an iOS-based device. Gabe Newell, CEO of Valve, said he feared Apple more than the existing console players (Valve has its own plans to enter the console market).
Apple has been rumored to be working on a full-fledged TV for years. But that device might be just as much of a gaming console as a television set. It would probably run a version of iOS, and thus be capable of playing games.
Project Logan’s Impressive Graphics
And if Apple or Google were to utilize NVIDIA’s Project Logan technology, their consoles would be capable of generating some very impressive graphics.
NVIDIA has released two videos demoing Project Logan. Compare those videos to a gameplay demo of Activision’s next Call of Duty (a game that’s going to launch on the next generation of consoles) — they look nearly indistinguishable.
While mobile gaming has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, the category has not cannibalized the traditional console market. Mobile games lack an immersive experience, an area where traditional consoles remain unrivaled.
But as technology like Logan becomes widespread, the technological gap between consoles and tablets will disappear — meaning that mobile games and mobile-based consoles could upend the traditional video game landscape.