Next Generation Nintendo Switch and NVIDIA Shield TV, Tegra X1 Brothers in Arms…

Pixel pushing powerhouse NVIDIA are well known for producing powerful video cards but they have another product that has been quietly selling by the millions for the last 4 years. The Tegra X1 SOC is that piece of silicon and it is the electronic brains inside two very impressive gadgets, the Nintendo Switch and the NVIDIA Shield TV.

First announced in 2015 the X1 is a mobile gaming powerhouse built onto a single tiny silicon chip. The X1 got its first big break in 2016 when Nintendo decided to use the chip in its new transforming console the Switch, which was subsequently launched March 2017. In the 2 years since the Switch has sold over 34 million units. At the same time NVIDIA has sold millions of their Shield TV’s.

As with most console manufacturers Nintendo tends to refresh their hardware every two years and with the X1 getting a little long in the tooth speculation is rife that Nintendo are doing a major overhaul for this refresh. At the core of this refresh is a new Tegra chip to drive next generation Switch models.

One potential candidate to become the replacement for the Tegra X1 is the new NVIDIA chip code named Xavier. This chip has been under development inside NVIDIA’s labs since March 2016 and was officially released March 2019. As the latest iteration of the Tegra family Xavier should be highly compatible with the X1 but with far more grunt. Capable of 8K Ultra HD playback Xavier should be between 2 and 4 times more powerful than the X1.

With the recent release of the Xavier it makes sense that the two most popular devices that use the X1 would have rumours of upgrades swirling around them. The fact that both the Switch and Shield TV are at that point in their life were a revised model is normally produced (every 2 years) adds to the velocity of the rumour mill. Has Nintendo asked NVIDIA to pull some new silicon out of you know where? The release of the Xavier chip may not have been a coincidence.

Next Generation Nintendo Switch Speculation

The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg kicked off the latest round of speculation with articles addressing Nintendo’s possible plans. The basic premise seems solid, Nintendo are developing two new versions of the Switch, a cheaper portable only model as well as a more power next generation model. Aside from that the rest of the speculation gets a little salty.

For this refresh Nintendo won’t be releasing two new consoles and keeping the existing Switch in place, in effect creating 3 product SKU’s. The big N will replace the existing Switch with the more powerful next generation device while shrinking the next generation hardware down to produce a cheaper portable only Switch that will replace the 3DS. Expect the new Switch to come in at the same price as the current Switch ($199 USD) and the new Switch Lite will be priced around that of the 3DS ($120 – $150 USD). The fact that no new games have been announced for the 3DS in 12 months seems to back this up. It will be sad to see the 3DS go but we think Nintendo loves the idea of having only one device to develop games for.

Many developers have complained that the current Switch hardware is too slow, and the Switch has missed out on several AAA titles because of it. The new more powerful Switch hardware will fix this complaint and will allow more game developers to release Switch versions of AAA titles. The specs of the Xavier chip suggest it will be close to the base PS4 and Xbox, but still a ways behind the 4K ready PS4 Pro or Xbox One X consoles.

Having two separate models of the Switch does also raise the question of performance differences, especially if the performance gap is too great, which makes life difficult for developers. Raising questions of whether some games won’t be able to run on the Switch Lite. Here at Highpants we expect Nintendo to keep the internals of the two machines identical, Xavier System on a Chip and 8GB Ram. The recent V5.0 firmware release contains reference that suggest that a new motherboard is on the way with 8GB of RAM instead of the current 4GB. (TechRadar)

Everything else will vary in order to keep the price down on the cheaper Switch Lite model. The storage will be less, screen size will be smaller, controllers will be integrated, and it won’t have the dock interface. This would ensure developers have the same performance envelope to work with on both machines.

It is a given that the Xavier silicon is far more powerful but thanks to its smaller manufacturing process, down to 12nm from 20nm, it is also far more power efficient. Combine that with a lower power screen and the battery life of both next generation Switches should be greatly improved.

There has been some speculation that Nintendo may NOT stick with the Tegra chips for this next generation Switch. This is highly unlikely as it would put backwards compatibility at risk and increase the time to develop the new console. Also, it would take an enormous amount of work to verify the existing catalogue of games still works on the new hardware. Here at Highpants we classify this particular rumour as wild speculation and find it highly unlikely, far too salty.

There is also a lot of speculation around the potential to support native 4K resolutions, allowing the next gen Switch to upscale to 4K screens when docked. To be honest Nintendo have quite a conservative history when it comes to adopting new standards so it would not surprise us at all if they forgo native 4K support and simply concentrate on providing higher frame rates at 1080p resolutions. This is a far simpler proposition than trying to guarantee all existing games upscale properly to 4K.

The WSJ and Bloomberg reports have been the source of much of the speculation and they seem to suggest that the E3 conference in June this year could be when Nintendo announce the new Switch variations but that is highly unlikely, Nintendo have never announced products during E3.

However, Nintendo do have a history of trying to spoil Sony and Microsoft’s party so we can expect the new Switches to be released before the next PlayStation and Xbox in 2020. Potentially, all of this would point to an announcement late 2019 and new products released early 2020.

Next Generation NVIDIA Shield TV Speculation

NVIDIA began building gadgets around its Tegra X1 in 2015, most likely as a way of generating interest in the chip. The first device was the Shield Portable, a handheld console shaped like an Xbox controller with a screen. The Shield Portable was interesting but didn’t sell well and didn’t stay on sale for long. Then there was the Shield Tablet that was the most powerful Android tablet on the market at the time, and probably the device that sold Nintendo on the Tegra chip. The Shield Tablet was taken off the market once the Switch was released. The third NVIDIA gadget to run the Tegra X1 chip was the Shield TV micro console that hit the market in May 2015, and it has been with us ever since. The hardware was refreshed in 2017 and the software has received regular updates, but it is essentially still the same device that was released 4 years ago.

Priced below Switch and the other consoles the Shield TV is a mini gaming, streaming and general entertainment powerhouse. Capable of streaming 4K HDR media, playing Android games at incredible speeds and it even streams full blown PC games via Steam using NVIDIA’s Now game cloud. This little micro console is powered by Googles Android TV operating system with over 5000 apps available and multitudes of free and cheap games.

One of the major advantages the Shield TV has over the consoles is the fact that it is not locked down as tight as the PS4 or Xbox. Allowing it to do things that are blocked on its console big brothers, retro gaming being one of these things.

In recent years the Shield TV has also become extremely popular with the retro gaming community, surpassing the Rasperry Pi as the go to gadget for this retro pastime. When you see the Shield TV emulating retro games on a big screen TV you quickly appreciate the grunt this mini console has. The list of supported consoles is extensive and includes; NES, SNES, N64, GameCube, Wii, MegaDrive, Saturn, Dreamcast, PSP, PlayStation and Mame amongst others. With the extra power of the new Xavier chip this list could be expanded to include PS2 and Xbox games. Please be sure to only emulate games that you own otherwise this might be considered piracy. When it comes to retro gaming the Shield TV absolutely slaughters the Raspberry Pi and all other cheap options, only being beaten by gaming PC’s that costs serious cash.

There are a couple of interesting rumours swirling around the next generation Shield device at the moment. The Mystique rumour has been doing the rounds and it suggests that NVIDIA is working on a new transforming laptop device with a 13.5 inch display (3000×2000 resolution), attachable keyboard and full screen mode (SlashGear).  The rumour is being driven by a piece of code found in the latest Shield software that refers to a device named Mystique. These references however often refer to devices that were in development that never made it to market. Here at Highpants we find this rumour extremely salty. NVIDIA CEO Jensen Huang has reiterated many times that they will not compete with products they are supplying the components for, and Mystique would compete with the Switch, which will never happen. This is the reason the Shield Tablet was cancelled, as it too was competing with the Switch. (XDA-Developers.com)

The other interesting rumour doing the rounds we find far more likely. Developers looking through the Shields latest source code have discovered code names for two new devices, “Stormcaster” a new game controller and “Friday” a new remote control. These two devices are Shield TV exclusive add-ons that come with the console depending on which package you buy. This suggests that the Shield TV is about to be refreshed again, something that hasn’t happened since 2017.

The current Shield TV hardware includes 3GB of RAM, 1GB of Video RAM, 16GB of Flash Storage and the Tegra X1 chip all squeezed into a box not much bigger than a PlayStation game case. With the new Xavier chip the hardware would only require a minor tweak, upping the internals to 4GB of Ram and 2GB of Video Ram would be enough to take advantage of the Xavier.

Initially NVIDIA is likely to concentrate on supporting Nintendo to launch their next generation Switches before launching their new updated Shield TV. NVIDIA has made it very clear that supporting the customers of their chips is their priority. However once Nintendo has transitioned to Xavier and it becomes NVIDIA’s mass produced mobile chip it is definitely in NVIDIA’s best interest to upgrade to the next generation Shield TV in order to ride the economics of scale.

Conclusion

The tough question is ‘do you buy now or wait for the next generation?’ Nintendo are very astute businessmen; they know that if they made their plans public now it would affect sales. Which is why Nintendo tend to keep the time span between the announcement and release of new products very tight, usually within a month or two. It also suggests that if the release of the new Switch was close Nintendo would have announced it. All of this leads us to believe that the announcement is up to 6 months away. If you’re thinking of buying a Switch or Shield TV then buy it now, unless you are willing to wait between 6 months and a year.

Here at Highpants we are certain that by this time next year the next generation Tegra gaming machines will be available. Just how much more powerful will they be? Will the Switch continue to be wildly successful? Will the Shield TV eventually emulate every console ever made? As always only time will tell but the future is bound to be full of surprises.

Reference: TechRadar-New Nintendo Switch
Reference: WSJ-Nintendo to launch Two New Switch Models
Reference: TheNextWeb: Nintendo to Launch two new Switch models this summer
Reference: Geek.com-The 3DS is Dead
Reference: SlashGear-NVIDIA SHIELD mobile console Mystique
Reference: XDA-Developers-NVIDIA is working on a desktop mode feature
Reference: TheVerge-NVIDIA may be quiety building a transforming tablet
Reference: XDA-Developers-NVIDIA is working on a Shield Controller and Shield Remote
Reference: New NVIDIA Shield being worked on
Reference: TalkAndroid-NVIDIA is probably working on a new Shield TV
Reference: ExtremeTech-No New Switch at E3
Reference: Wikipedia-Tegra