As more and more people cut cable, the battle for the home entertainment center has only become more and more intense. There are dozens of great options from the Roku, to the latest Apple TV, and even Google’s Chromecast streaming stick. However, the Chromecast isn’t Google’s only entry into this market.
Android TV has been around for a few years now, but it’s never really caught on despite offering what is, at least in my opinion, the best looking TV interface available today. Part of the reason for that has been lack of content, another part, the lack of compelling hardware. The new Nvidia Shield fixes both of those issues.
Nomad case for Pixel 3
Seriously It’s So Small
At a glance, the new Nvidia Shield TV looks just like the previous version, until you get a little closer. As I noted in our hands-on from CES, the new Shield TV is small. Really small. Considering the specs inside of this machine, it’s actually quite impressive just how tiny this device is.
Going around the Shield, you’ll find the polygon design on top with the signature Nvidia green LED, and a non-slip texture coating the bottom of the device. The Shield is designed to be lying down on a table, but you can still stand it up vertically as I did, you just lose that grip unless you buy the $20 stand.
Around the back, the standard Shield has an assortment of ports including the power port, full-size HDMI, two USB 3.0 ports, and an ethernet port capable of gigabit speeds. On the larger Shield Pro, which is the same size as 2015’s Shield TV, you’ll get the addition of a microUSB port and a microSD card slot. It would’ve been nice, though, if the Shield had included an HDMI cable in the box. Granted, all you need for most TVs is a cable capable of 4K which can be picked up for as little as a few dollars.
The actual build of the Shield isn’t all that impressive, being nothing more than a slab of matte and glossy plastic. However, it does look great sitting next to a TV, especially when it’s standing up vertically.
The hardware of the Shield, though, is probably the least important aspect. What you’ll be holding every day while using the Shield is one of two items — the Shield Controller or Shield Remote.
For the 2017 reboot, Nvidia has introduced a brand new Shield Controller which is leaps and bounds better than the company’s previous controller. Not only is this new model more ergonomic, but it’s also better looking and easier to use. Plus, it’s rechargeable via microUSB which is appreciated.
Personally, I don’t game on controllers much, but I adjusted from my usual Steam Controller to the Shield’s Controller quickly and found myself preferring the ergonomics of Nvidia’s option.
My sole complaint on this controller, though, was the placement of the navigation buttons. While I love that I can control the entire experience, including the volume, through the game controller, I didn’t at all enjoy the fact that the buttons were in my way while playing certain games, constantly causing me to pull up the homescreen while I was playing.
Included in the box with the new Shield as opposed to being a $50 add-on is the Shield Remote. There’s not a whole lot to say about it except that on this new model it supports IR input for most major TV manufacturers, has a new volume control strip on the lower half, and no longer features a rechargeable battery. Nvidia claims that the remote will last about a year on the included batteries, but I would’ve prefered a simple microUSB port for charging.
The buttons on the Shield Remote are also fairly tactile and well laid out, but the thinness of this remote is more of a curse than it is a blessing. The sharp edges of the design on this remote don’t lend the device to a very comfortable feel in the hand, and I constantly found myself moving it around to get a good grip.
Android TV & Streaming |
While the main aspect of the Shield is gaming, which yes, we’re getting to, entertainment in general is just as important. The Shield TV runs on top of Google’s Android TV platform which has remained my favorite smart TV platform since its debut. The clean interface is a pleasure to use, and everything is laid out well for easy navigation.
On the homescreen, users will find a row of recommended content including games, TV shows, movies, and more, with their apps and games directly below. Going down a bit further you’ll find various settings as well. Realistically speaking, Android TV hasn’t changed much since it’s debut a few years ago, but that’s not a bad thing — it’s a great OS, especially on Nougat which includes features like multitasking, a revamped settings menu, support for multiple accounts, and more.
However, the OS isn’t the most important thing when it comes to home entertainment, it’s the apps. This is where Android TV has always fallen a bit short, but the Shield TV helps in this area. Not only does it come with Google’s apps and giants like Netflix, Hulu, and Sling, but it also has access to hundreds of Android TV apps in the Google Play Store. The app gap for Android TV is getting smaller all the time, but there’s one big player left out, Amazon Video. Well, not anymore.
Amazon Video is on the Shield TV, and that’s a big deal
Nvidia has worked out a deal with Amazon to bring the company’s Instant Video service to an Android TV set top box for the first time. This opens the door to even more fantastic content, including 4K movies and TV shows like one of my personal favorites, The Grand Tour.
The Shield, of course, also features full support for 4K content via Amazon Video, Netflix, VUDU, and other apps available via the Play Store. Further, the Shield is the first Android TV box to support HDR, further future proofing the device. Amazon Video, and all of the other streaming services I used on the Shield, also worked perfectly even when pushing 4K HDR.
At this point, you can’t go wrong with most streaming boxes for a home entertainment setup, but with the addition of Amazon Video, the Shield takes one big step forward compared to other Android TV options that are available today and keeps it up there with competitors like the Roku and Apple’s own set top box.
Where the Shield really shines, though, is in gaming. Nvidia isn’t shy about how game-orientented the Shield is, and for good reason. The company’s powerful Tegra X1 chipset is more than capable of running high quality games via Android that match that of some previous generation consoles. That’s something other set top boxes can’t handle. To put the power of the Shield in perspective a bit, the Tegra X1 not only powers Google’s Pixel C tablet, but also Nintendo’s upcoming Switch console. The chipset has more than enough power to push 4K HDR video content, as well as Android games.
Nvidia does take things a step further, though, with two extra services. The first is GameStream which takes advantage of your local network and your Nvidia-powered PC, if you happen to have one. Personally, I run a Windows 10 gaming rig which is powered by a GTX 1060. With everything hooked up via Ethernet, I had no performance issues streaming games from my PC to the Shield, and things even ran smoothly over a wifi connection.
However, since not everyone has access to a gaming PC, Nvidia has an alternative. For about $8 a month, the company will open up access to its GeForce Now streaming service which essentially brings the power of the company’s epic GTX 1080 graphics card and crams it into the Shield.
GeForce Now has a library of PC games which includes popular, high quality titles like Tomb Raider, Batman: Arkham Orgins, The Witcher 3, ABZU, No Man’s Sky, and many more. Those titles are available to stream directly on the Shield and as long as you have a solid internet connection, you’ll never notice you’re streaming the game.
During my testing, I tried an assortment of games with GeForce Now which included graphic intensive options like ABZU all the way down to fairly basic games, like those from the LEGO collection. Regardless of the title, the results were smooth, fun gameplay that rarely brought any issues. I can easily say that if you’re not looking to drop hundreds on a gaming PC or console, the Shield TV is a viable replacement in just about every way. Just keep in mind you’ll be paying a monthly fee for access to GeForce Now, as well as the upfront cost of many of the games. Granted, over 70 are included with your subscription.
Final Thoughts & What’s Coming |
For now, that’s pretty much all there is to say about the Shield TV. After using the device I can say without a doubt it’s the best Android TV box money can buy, but it also might be the best set top box on the market today. Not only does it offer one of the most cost-effective gaming experiences available, but it also offers all of the major streaming services all in one clean, easy-to-use software experience that is also very affordable at just $199.
However, the fun doesn’t stop there. In the coming months, Google will be bringing Google Assistant to all Android TV devices, including the Shield. However, on the Shield, Assistant gets a boost. First of all, the game controller will act as a medium for always-listening support, essentially turning the Shield into a Google Home on the big screen. Assistant on Android TV works as you’d expect, enabling searches, home control, and the ability to search for, play, and control your media.
Further, Nvidia will be offering the “Spot” once Google Assistant integration is available. The Spot is a $50 device which plugs into your outlet and extends the reach of that always-listening support anywhere in your Home. Needless to say, we can’t wait for this to debut.
What’s more, Nvidia also has plans to turn the Shield into a hub for Samsung SmartThings in the coming months. Considering the fact that the Shield costs just $199 and does the job of devices worth hundreds more, this is not only a smart buy as a streaming box, but it’s also potentially the best smart home hub money can buy. However, that’s all to come, but you can be sure we’ll be talking about the Shield yet again once all of this is available…