When the Nvidia Shield was announced and subsequently released in 2015, it probably didn’t quite justify the initial high price-tag for a base Android TV streaming box — at least in my opinion. Despite that, the updated 2017 model proved to be a very different story thanks to a combination of exceptional hardware and updated Android TV software.
We’ve not seen Android TV take off like it probably should have, but many cable and network TV companies are now looking to adopt the system for their own contract pay-TV systems. With AT&T, TiVO and Windstream all actively prepping Android TV products that are built utilizing the platform, we are hopefully going to see Android TV mature.
Even with that said, the Nvidia Shield TV is not just a basic Android TV box. It has a few – what I would call – killer features including video game streaming (both internally and via web connection).
Now since the device is much more affordable, it becomes an easier sell. Not to mention that with Valve’s own Steam Link being discontinued, there really aren’t many ways to stream your Steam library to your TV this easily anymore.
The interface is superb and there is so much more content now thanks to growing streaming libraries. Then there is the benefit of Nvidia GeForce Now which to be completely honest, is actually pretty superb in practice — even though I really did have my doubts.
The Nvidia Shield TV is a neat and sleek streaming box with that angular gamer aesthetic. To be honest, it isn’t all too in your face like many other pieces of tech that are aimed at the gamer-end of the market. Keeping the device black with matte and glossy portions means it fits with most home entertainment centers.
It’s just so small too. The Shield TV can sit almost anywhere without taking up much space. I was shocked at just how light the entire package is, which might be a problem if you have a sagging HDMI cable plugged in round back — as I found out during set up.
Being so light meant that any cable adjustments would completely move the Shield TV, I thought that was worth noting even if there is a non-slip coating on the belly of the unit. You can remedy this with a $20 stand that changes the orientation but I personally prefer having the Shield TV laid down.
The green angled LED lights up to let you know when the Shield TV is powered on and fits the green color scheme that Nvidia is known for. Inside, naturally, nothing has changed. You’ll still find the Tegra X1 inside, alongside 3GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage — more on this later. There is a solitary HDMI port, two USB A ports and an Ethernet port round back for external connectivity.
There are some frustrations with the 2017 hardware refresh over the original 2015 model. One core issue is the removal of microSD card support, but you do have the ability to expand internal storage via USB — which means the port removal isn’t too painful in my eyes.
There are two specific models of the Nvidia Shield TV available for purchase, one that comes solely with the Shield Remote and one that includes both the remote and a gamepad.
Naturally, if you’re not going to be gaming at all, then I’d suggest you go for the basic model. Although the Shield TV does come with some free games via GeForce Now including Tomb Raider and Bioshock Remastered which play exceptionally well with the gamepad.
I am in love with the remote, as a Chromecast advocate (they are my go-to gift for relatives and friends — I’ve literally bought four in the past 3 months) the lack of physical remote is the only true downside I can see with the wireless casting system. Nvidia has completely knocked it out of the park with the Shield TV remote.
The classic Apple TV remote most definitely was the inspiration, but that isn’t in any way a negative, as the Apple TV remote was superb. The curved metal slab is oh so comfortable in the hand and the sleek black is right up my street.
When pressing the buttons you get satisfying clicky feedback, whilst the weight makes it light yet reassuringly sturdy. I found it really helpful when watching the recent Black Mirror Bandersnatch interactive movie, where you need to select from options on-screen. Overall, it’s one of the best portions of the entire package, that’s for sure.
Well, that is my opinion though. In his initial review, Ben was a little less than impressed with the Shield Remote. He lamented the slim profile, stating: “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.”
I genuinely can’t say I agree. That said, I don’t really like the volume touch strip that sits in-between the two grip areas. It’s a little bit temperamental and I often end up with the volume jumping around when I’m simply picking up the remote. I still love it though.
Now the controller is where the Nvidia Shield TV differentiates itself from the crowd of cheaper alternatives, well, that and the game streaming elements. The controller ergonomics are superb and it manages to retain the polygon aesthetics without being uncomfortable — which to me indicates good knowledge of gaming hardware — although naturally, Nvidia should have a solid grasp of the gaming market.
It does charge via micro USB, but that in no way is a problem in reality — it’s just a cable after all. I found the battery to be pretty good too, although the micro USB cable is way too short. It barely reaches a couple of feet from the Shield when plugged into the back USB ports.
In his initial review, 9to5Google’s Ben Schoon pointed out the annoyance of the navigation buttons, and whilst I think he has a point, it hasn’t really been much of a problem in my usage. I have found the small touch strip to be a little over-responsive at times, regularly increasing and decreasing volume accidentally when playing games.
Software & Ecosystem
So as you’d expect from an Android TV device, the Nvidia Shield TV comes bundling Android — specifically the Android 8.0 Oreo flavor. Admittedly we’d have liked to have seen Android Pie at this early stage of 2019, but this slightly older version of the OS doesn’t really affect the day-to-day usage of this set-top box all too much.
Expect all of the core integration with Google staples like YouTube, Google Play Movies and Play Music alongside the ever ubiquitous Netflix and Spotify. In the US you also get a few more video streaming options that include Hulu and Sling. The massive core addition is the inclusion of Amazon Prime Video natively.
The ever-popular Kodi streaming app is available right out-of-the-box too and opens a world of streaming options for the adventurous cordcutter thanks to the world of add-ons, skins and more. Having been a Kodi user in the past, I have since settled for the simple life and tend to stick to Netflix, Amazon Video and YouTube, which suits me down to the ground right now. That said, I might have a play with some Kodi add-ons for live TV and sports streaming at some point in the near future.
For anyone with knowledge of the rocky relationship between Alphabet and Amazon, this is still the first and only Android TV box to have an official Amazon Video app (without sideloading and the problems that can bring). If you want a native app then this is still the way to go.
The bonus with Android TV, on the whole, is that if you don’t need to install apps thanks to the built-in Chromecast support, which yields yet more possibilities.
You can download a whole host of Android games and third-party apps which although I haven’t done too much of, I appreciate the opportunity to do so if I wish.
The problem with downloading lots of apps and games to your Nvidia Shield TV will definitely be the the requirement of adoptable storage. 16GB of internal storage is not nearly enough in 2018, especially as even Android games are now reaching upwards of 2GB. I’m personally going to pick up a USB thumb drive to boost that storage.
Gaming & Game Library
This is a double-edged sword. Whilst it is an Android TV option, you have the power to play any game from your Steam library should you have a decent enough home network connection. GameStream does rely on the power of your home or gaming PC, so it’s kind of important to have a moderately capable rig to really take advantage of couch PC gaming.
GeForce Now allows you to sign up and play a massive library of games, all of which are playable in up to 4K resolution — although I only have a 1080p TV so I couldn’t test it myself. I’m definitely due a TV upgrade but in all honesty, I don’t watch all that much in 4K unless I’m at my PC.
Inside the Nvidia Shield TV is the Tegra X1 chipset which is the very same CPU found in the Nintendo Switch. That means performance is comparable with previous generation titles. If you stream from your own gaming PC or home PC, then as I mentioned, you’ll want at least moderate specifications to achieve decent performance.
Your experience may vary, so it’s worthwhile checking your specifications against the minimum requirements to use GeForce GameStream (for ease: you’ll need at least a GeForce GTX 660 or higher GPU. CPU: Intel Core i5 or higher, or AMD FX 6-Core or higher).
I ran the benchmarking test for the most recent Tomb Raider reboot when using GeForce Now and it managed an impressive 154 minimum FPS and a 244 maximum FPS with an average 196 FPS at 1080p Ultra settings. That was all over a network too, so that made it all the more impressive — although with a 60hz TV many of those frames were just garnish to already impressive graphical performance.
I only noticed some frame drops because my Wi-Fi dropped out a little at times during normal gameplay during the first few hours of playing and testing the device, which led me to go for a wired Ethernet solution. Your experience may vary somewhat, so it may take a little trial and error with your home network to get optimum streaming performance for GeForce Now titles.
The price-tag for the Nvidia Shield TV is the most obvious downsides to the entire package. I think if you don’t know what the console-come-streaming device is capable of then it seems like an expensive package at $150 especially when similar Android TV boxes like the Xiaomi Mi Box S can be had for just $65.
Of course, the Xiaomi Mi Box S lacks many of the core gaming capabilities that make the Nvidia Shield TV a more premium Android TV box. Well, that and the native Amazon Video app that can be almost fully controlled via Google Assistant. I think that alone makes it one of the best options for anyone looking for a fully encompassing Android TV experience with all their favorite streaming services linked natively.
The gaming features, excellent remote, control pad and the great performance make it a decent console in its own right. And with the Steam Link now being discontinued, it is actually a quality alternative that includes a few decent extra features that the Steam Link can’t offer.
I get that with a PS4, Xbox One or Switch you get plenty of high-quality exclusives, but the (admittedly smaller, but growing) library available with GeForce Now does make this a great entertainment option without a pretty low monthly fee.
Once you increase the storage with an external USB thumb drive, it opens up the opportunity to turn the Shield TV into a potential console replacement or simply just a living room PC gaming-hybrid.
The biggest disappointment, in reality, is that the Nvidia Shield TV doesn’t even have an outright competitor despite being two years old at this point. Does that mean all other Android TV boxes are bad? No, they just don’t quite meet the high standards of a device made in 2017 — and that has to be considered a letdown. Let’s all hope that we see more brands jump on the Android TV platform in the coming 12 months, it could be a bumper year for the Android TV platform.
If you’re a wannabe or established cordcutter or you already have the Shield TV, it would be great to hear what you think, plus if you have any essential Android TV apps that would also be interesting to read. Get your comments down below.
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