Nvidia Shield TV (2017)shivaelectron
EDITOR RATING: EXCELLENT (4.0)
Streaming game options work very well. 4K and HDR media support. Includes a media remote and a controller. Hands-free Google Assistant support will be added in the future.
Relatively expensive. Streaming games requires a very fast and reliable network connection.
- BOTTOM LINE
The new Shield TV is basically the same Android TV media streamer-microconsole hybrid as the original, but with a few new tricks. More than a year of software enhancements from Nvidia don’t hurt either.
We were tepid on the original Shield TV when it was released in 2015. Nvidia’s Android-based microconsole was incredibly powerful, and the first 4K-capable media streamer we tested, but it also was almost as expensive as a dedicated game console. The current Shield TV costs just as much and has the same hardware, but Nvidia has had two years to build up its gaming features and really separate it from the competition. Even better, it now has Google Assistant with support for hands-free voice commands if you get the Shield Controller. It’s an expensive media streamer, but gamers will find its features and processing power very intriguing.
Storage and Design
While the 11GB of space left after Android and the preinstalled Nvidia apps is tight, you can add additional storage via the device’s two USB ports. If you want to play a lot of Android games with the 16GB model, this is vital. We got a 2TB Seagate Game Drive working with the Shield TV, and smaller (and less expensive) USB flash drives will work just as well.
The current Shield TV shares the angular aesthetic of the original, but in a slightly smaller and flatter 0.5-by-6.0-by-3.7-inch (HWD) package. It’s a not-quite-rectangular box with slightly uneven lines; the front and right panels are rectangles, the left and back panels are trapezoids, and the rectangular top panel is covered in triangles. The top is mostly matte black plastic with a few angular textured lines, surrounding a large glossy black triangle that sits elevated to show the glowing green power light along its edge. The back panel holds an HDMI port, two USB 3.0 ports, an Ethernet port, and a connector for the included power adapter.
While it’s designed to be used laying flat on a table, you can stand the Shield TV vertically with an optional $20 vertical stand accessory, just like with the original.
Nvidia drastically overhauled the look and feel of the wireless gamepad from the first Shield TV. The Shield Controller is much lighter at just nine ounces, with a Tron-like pattern of triangles etched into its matte black plastic body. The edges of the triangles aren’t sharp, and the controller feels comfortable and fairly smooth in the hand.
Besides the triangle-covered shell, the controller has all of the usual components: two analog sticks (arranged parallel to each other in a DualShock layout), a direction pad, four face buttons (A/B/X/Y, arranged in an Xbox layout), and two pairs of shoulder buttons. A silver panel in the middle of the gamepad holds the Nvidia logo on a button that activates the Shield’s voice search and voice control features, available thanks to the pinhole microphone just above the button. Back, Play, and Home buttons sit on the bottom edge of the gamepad, below the analog sticks. A 3.5mm headset jack sits on the underside of the controller, facing down toward the user. A micro USB port on the top lets you charge the built-in battery or use the controller wired.
The microphone on the controller is possibly the most important hardware change. It’s designed to pick up voices when sitting on a table in front of you, enabling completely hands-free voice control with Google Assistant, like a Google Home speaker. All other new features on the Shield TV have been added to the original Shield TV with firmware and software updates, but for hands-free voice control you’ll need to purchase the updated Shield Controller for $60.
The original Shield TV offered the Shield Remote as a $50 accesory, but the new Shield TV includes an updated Remote right in the box. Considering the system bears the same price as the previous version, that’s a pretty significant boon to its viability as a media streamer.
The 5.6-inch remote is slightly larger than the original, but is otherwise identical in design. It features a four-way direction pad near the top, Back and Home buttons below it, and a large Voice Search button below them. A pinhole microphone sits near the top, though unlike the gamepad’s mic it isn’t designed for hands-free use; you need to hold it near your mouth when you speak.
The Shield TV runs nearly stock Android TV on Android 7.0 Nougat. The multiple Shield apps from the previous Shield TV have been integrated into a single Nvidia Games app that tracks your games across all three of Nvidia’s Shield gaming categories (described below). Besides the Nvidia app, the interface is arranged in a standard Android TV layout, with apps and games listed in their own rows of large tiles. All games you play on the Shield TV will populate in the Games row, including if they’re streamed locally over GameStream or over the Internet on GeForce Now, with the Nvidia Games app always sitting on the left side of the list.
In terms of hardware, the current Shield TV is identical to the original one, with the same NvidiaTegra X1 APU. Android TV prevents us from performing our standard Android benchmarks on the Shield TV as if it were a smartphone or tablet, but we ran implementations of 3DMark and GFXBench GL to pin down some numbers. The Shield TV scored 3,643 in the Sling Shot Extreme test in 3DMark, outpacing every other mobile device available, including the iPad Pro(3,526). The app even explicitly called the Shield TV “one of the most powerful devices available” based on the results of the test.
The Shield TV also blew all other Android devices out of the water in GFX OpenGL, rendering 1,570 frames in the most intensive Car Chase benchmark. However, the iPad Pro beat out the Shield TV in the most challenging Manhattan benchmark, rendering 2,075 frames to the Shield’s 1,574.
Android and Local Gaming
Nvidia built the Shield TV around three gaming pillars: Android games with the Shield TV’s own Tegra X1, local PC games with GameStream, and streaming Internet games with GeForce Now.
For native Android games, the Shield TV is still one of the most powerful devices out there. We played the Android version of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, and the action was consistently smooth. I could perform parries that required precise timing, and gameplay appeared to stay close to 30 frames per second under most conditions. It isn’t as visually impressive as the PC version of Revengeance, which has higher-resolution textures and can push a much higher number of flying enemy chunks in Blade Mode, but it’s still a remarkable game to see on Android.
Besides local Android games, you can stream PC games from your computer over your home network thanks to NvidiaGamestream. You need a solid gaming PC with an Nvidia GeForce graphics card. I streamed Metal Gear Rising Revengeance and Mirror’s Edge to the Shield TV over our test lab’s 5GHz Wi-Fi network with the Shield TV connected via Ethernet. Both games were fast and responsive, despite a few performance hiccups on the PC’s end. Seeing Revengeance streamed from a PC also confirmed that the Android version makes a few graphical compromises.
Finally, you can play streaming games over the Internet from Nvidia’s own servers with GeForce Now. It’s a $7.99 subscription service similar to PlayStation Now and GameFly Streaming, running games off-side on Nvidia’s hardware and streaming the video and audio to your device while receiving your commands with very little lag (depending on your Internet connection). GeForce Now offers a library of over 100 games, and newer titles like The Witcher 3 can be purchased piecemeal for retail prices.
Nvidia has upgraded its GeForce Now servers with the company’s Pascal architecture, which should provide a performance boost on game rendering. Of course, no server-side upgrade can fix network bottlenecks, so you’ll need to keep an eye on your bandwidth. Nvidia also announced a partnership with Ubisoft to incorporate the company’s UPlay store into GeForce Now. UPlay users who purchase PC versions of Ubisoft games can play them over GeForce Now without having to buy them separately, with cloud saves carrying over between platforms. You still need to subscribe to GeForce Now to play these games, even if you already own them on PC.
I played Shadow Warrior 2 over GeForce Now and it was an excellent experience. The game felt responsive and I experienced none of the jarring lag that early streaming game services had. The video quality was fairly poor over Wi-Fi, even with the Shield TV only a few feet away from the router, but using an Ethernet connection the game looked very closed to the way it would if I ran it locally on a PC.
The Shield TV was the first streaming media device we tested capable of displaying 4K content, and currently supports high dynamic range (HDR) video in the HDR10 format (but not Dolby Vision; if you want Dolby Vision you’ll need a Chromecast Ultra or an Apple TV 4K). The 4K media player market has been growing rapidly, with several choices available for under $100, but few are as powerful or boast the same features as the Shield TV.
The Shield TV is as capable and full-featured as any Android TV device, with plenty of big-name streaming media apps including Amazon, Crunchyroll, Hulu, Netflix, and Sling. It also provides access to Google Play’s full library of music and video content. The Shield TV supports Google Cast, so you can stream video to it from your mobile device just like a Google Chromecast Ultra.
If you get a Shield TV, you simply won’t need any other media streamer. Of course, comparable 4K-capable media streamers, like the Roku Streaming Stick+, cost less than half the price; you’re paying a premium for the extensive gaming functions more than any media feature, along with the new benefit of hands-free voice controls with Google Assistant.
A recent firmware update has enabled full use of the Google Assistant voice assistant on the Shield TV. Once the system and controller are both updated, you can easily set up hands-free voice control through the gamepad’s microphone by selecting the microphone icon at the top of the home screen and following the prompts.
Once Google Assistant is set up, you can treat the Shield TV just like a Google Home, with the added benefit of on-screen information. If you say “OK Google, what’s the weather?” you’ll get both an audible weather report and a visual display of the current weather and forecast for the coming days. If you ask, “OK Google, how tall is Jeff Goldblum?” you’ll both hear the answer and see it in text (and in case you’re wondering, he’s six feet, four inches).
The Shield TV lets you open apps with Google Assistant. Just saying “OK Google, open Netflix” will load the streaming app, and “OK Google, open The Witness” will load the puzzle game. You can even tell the Shield TV to adjust the volume, but this only affects the device’s outputting volume levels; it doesn’t change the TV’s volume setting.
Google Assistant also supports home automation, with a list of compatible smart home devices comparable with Amazon’s Alexa. After linking a Philips Hue account to my Google Assistant account, I was able to use the Shield TV to control connected Hue lights with my voice by saying “OK Google, turn off/turn on Office.” It’s a very handy feature, especially with the hands-free support provided by the Shield Controller. Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV devices also support smart home controls through the Alexa and Siri voice assistants, but they aren’t hands-free; you need to press a button on a remote and speak into it.
The Shield Controller picked up my voice surprisingly well in testing. Even with colleagues talking nearby, the Shield TV discerned my requests quickly and provided accurate responses. It became confused when those same colleagues got closer to the system as I was testing, picking up the words of an ongoing conversation taking place the same distance from the controller as I was. When I wasn’t trying to talk against people who were right next to the system, however, the hands-free voice commands worked very well.
If you don’t want the Shield Controller to constantly listen to you for a wake-up command, or if you get the remote-only version of the Shield TV, you can still use Google Assistant. It just won’t be hands-free, and requires you to hold down the microphone button on the remote and speak into it. And, of course, you can disable hands-free voice assistant features manually and still use the Shield Controller.
We first looked at the Shield TV with uncertainty, but the microconsole has really grown on us since its launch, and the addition of Google Assistant makes it even more compelling. While its hardware is about two years old now, it’s still one of the most powerful Android devices available in terms of gaming. Those features are largely limited to the Android game library, but GeForce Now and GameStream offer surprisingly functional, compelling game streaming on a device that costs less than a Nintendo Switch. The Shield TV isn’t a media streamer for users who simply want to watch videos online, but for gamers looking for 4K streaming features or a microconsole for a second TV, or who want to add hands-free Google Assistant features to their home theater, it’s quite an impressive device.