Reports that Nvidia's Tegra tech is going to power Nintendo's apparently portable NX console triggered a fairly familiar reaction online yesterday. Perhaps not all that familiar to those of you under the age of 20, but veterans will surely have gotten a sense of deja vu as the "Nintendoomed" brigade unfurled its banners and took to the web in full force. The response was almost as downbeat as when the Japanese giant first revealed the Wii a decade ago; a machine that was almost entirely misunderstood prior to launch but would go on to dominate that console generation.
While we'd certainly be cautious about predicting that NX is going to represent a Wii-style turnaround for Nintendo, it's tempting to wheel out the old adage that the wily firm should never be underestimated. Given that it has chosen to partner with tech expert Nvidia, there's plenty of scope to be optimistic, especially if you've been following that particular company's forays into mobile gaming of late.
Nvidia might be famous for creating monstrous graphics cards for PCs but the company has largely been locked out of the next-gen war due to the dominance of rival AMD, whose tech powers both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Many assumed that the NX would follow suit and harness AMD silicon, but yesterday's reports - which through our own snooping we've since discovered to be pretty watertight - now point to an Nvidia Tegra chipset being at the heart of Nintendo's new hardware, which has been described as a portable system with detachable controllers than can connect to your television set when required.
Nvidia has been trying to find a way to expand its business for the past few years and has used its Shield program as a way of attracting attention and potential business. The Shield products released so far - a handheld, two tablets and a set-top box running Android TV - have all be relatively niche affairs, although by all accounts they have sold well enough to satisfy Nvidia's modest projections. However, as many speculated when the Shield handheld was first unveiled back in 2013, these devices are about placing Nvidia's tech in a shop window and touting for future deals. The strategy appears to have worked; hooking up with a company as large as Nintendo will do wonders for Nvidia's bottom line and is a vindication of the years of hard work and research the firm has undertaken of late.
It's important to point out here that despite the "mobile" connotations Tegra isn't a processor you're likely to find in a smartphone any time soon. It's still quite power-hungry despite its small size, and has understandably been deployed in devices which either have large batteries (Shield handheld, Shield tablet) or are hooked up to the mains (Shield Android TV). That will suit Nintendo's vision for NX, which appears to be a tablet-sized device. This should hopefully put aside any notions naysayers might have regarding the system's power, which will be well in advance of any mobile phone you can currently purchase. The Tegra X1 which powers the Shield Android TV is capable of some impressive graphical tricks, and titles such as Doom 3, Resident Evil 5 and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance have recently been ported to the system. While these are last-gen epics and don't all run as well as you'd expect, they're a considerable step up from what you can play on smartphones and other tablets - and they're not even a true reflection of what could potentially be possible on NX.
For one, Nintendo is understood to be seeking direct access to the chipset rather than running it through an additional OS layer, such as Google's Android. This will ensure that as much performance is drawn out as possible and will give us games that are far more impressive than what has been witnessed on the Shield Android TV so far. It is also speculated that NX will be using the next version of Tegra, the X2 - this alone would be a game-changer given the speed at which mobile processors are improving.
Just cast your mind back to the N64 and Dreamcast era, when the best portable tech could provide was the comparatively primitive Game Boy Color or Bandai WonderSwan. Today, we have mobile chipsets which are rapidly catching up with domestic consoles, and X2 could well be another step closer to gaining a level of near-parity in terms of visual spectacle. In this way, it could be argued that Nintendo is way ahead of the curve in embracing this kind of technology. It also hints at Nintendo adopting the same release pattern as Apple and Samsung - new devices every 12 or 18 months which offer a little more power but maintain support for all previous games. That guesswork on our part, but given that NX is being built on Nvidia's tech - tech which is upgraded on a regular basis and deployed in new products in an almost yearly cycle - then it's a fair assumption to make (also, the fact that Nvidia hasn't announced a Shield device for this year would add more weight to the assumption that NX is using the next-gen X2 chipset rather than the aging X1, which will be two years old in March 2017).
In so many ways, Nintendo and Nvidia's agreement is a match made in heaven. Nintendo is looking for a means to continually maintain its position as a major player in the video game arena, while Nvidia will gain a valuable foothold in a console sector.
While it's clear that the more skeptical of Nintendo's fans might take some convincing before they see the merit of this alliance, the positives are obvious. Nvidia's tech provides considerable power but is aimed at low-cost devices such as tablets and set-top boxes, a fact which will allow Nintendo to hit the kind of price point that makes NX irresistible to consumers. Even if the system only sells to existing 3DS owners, that's a potential audience of around 50 million, surely enough to please Nintendo's shareholders. Factor in the tantalising promise of Tegra X2, the outside chance that some kind of Android functionality will be included (giving the console a massive pool of games from day one) and the rediscovered appeal of local multiplayer, and it's suddenly very easy to become excited about Nintendo's mysterious new machine.
Roll on March 2017.