Review: Nvidia Shield TV Is An Android Beast!

- So you want to stream movies from your favorite apps and services, you want to stream local content via Plex or Kodi? Maybe you want to play games but you're not looking for a console, you're more of a “casual” gamer. What to do? Nvidia has something they're betting fits the bill quite nicely with power, performance and the looks to match! Enter: Shield TV.

 

Nvidia's Shield TV is powered by the Tegra X1 processor and it is a beast! The X1 features a 256-core GPU and 3GB RAM. Powerful enough to stream 4K at 60 frames per second and support PC games at 1080P, 60 frames per second. In addition to the processor you also get gigabit ethernet, two USB 3.0 ports, micro-USB port, microSD slot, and an IR receiver. It also supports 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound pass-through over HDMI 2.0, though you’ll need a TV which supports the newer HDCP 2.2 standard. Shield TV currently comes with an Xbox-style controller and their slim remote, in the box. :You’ll also get a USB cable and HDMI cable. I appreciate the inclusion of the HDMI cable because there ar e a lot of products which will give only the bare minimum in the box and you’re stuck having to purchase your own HDMI cables.

The design of the Shield TV is gorgeous. It fits in well with my Nighthawk router as it has a kind of a stealth fighter look to it with it’s mix of multiple angular glossy and matte black surfaces. You also get a cool glowing green power indicator that can be set to various levels of brightness or turned off all together. The only downside to the chassis is that it is a fingerprint magnet. I don’t think most people will be moving it around that often so that shouldn’t be too big a deal. The video game controller that comes with Shield TV looks a bit on the bulky side but it feels quite comfortable in hand. The controller comes with a microUSB port, headphone jack and volume controls. You also get the usual complement of video gaming buttons in the D-Pads, controls sticks, buttons, left and right triggers.Then there are the capacitive Nvidia button which launches voices search, a Home button, Back button and Start button which will also play and pause videos. Everything on the controller was very responsive and worked with precision whn gaming and interfacing with Shield TV’s user interface. The included (for a limited time) slim remote comes with a D-Pad, voice search button, Home and Back buttons and a capacitive volume slider at the middle of the remote. The slim remote feels decent in hand, though it is definitely small. I found myself using the gaming controller more often than the slim remote as its heft was just more comfortable in hand. That was more a mental choice though because there really wasn’t anything about the slim remote that made it feel bad or awkward to use.

Watch our deep dive video review, or continue reading below:

 

 

THE EXPERIENCE

Navigating Shield TV’s interface should be fairly intuitive for anyone who has used an Android smartphone. Sure, there are some differences between this and your smartphone but the theory and actions are the same. Most of what you download to add to the device is going to come from the Google Play store, unless you’re buying content from GeForce Now, or Shield Games. Even then, things are going to be pretty straight forward. You can set the unit up via ethernet or WiFi and though I always recommend a wired connection when available, it’s good to know that you have dual band 802.11ac on board to get you solid enough speeds to support 4K streaming and high frame rate PC gaming. Once you’ve signed into your account, or set one up,  you can go and download any of your favorite streaming apps and services, unless that service is Amazon Instant Video. Amazon hasn’t released an Instant Video app for Android because they want you to guy into their streaming hardware. That said, you can use Google Cast to screencast content from your smartphone to your Shield TV, so any app or service which is Chromecast compatible, or has a web app can be pushed to your screen.

Voice search works quite well on Shield TV. Check out the video review to see how it works and what information you’re able to pull up via voice search. In short, you can launch certain apps and look for shows or actors’ content using your voice. It is certainly an easier way to get to content than the clunky hunt and peck interface that is common to text-based search on these units. For example, instead of hitting Google on your phone or tablet if you want a list of the Oscar movies from 2015, you can ask Shield, “Show me Oscar-winning movies from 2015” and it will pull up a list of them. Want to watch a Kevin Hart flick? Simply hit the voice search button on the remote and say, “Show me Kevin Hart movies.” I even queried the system to “Show me Buckaroo Banzai across the 8th Dimension” and it pulled up the movie, showed me the Rotten Tomatoes score, the ratings on Google Play and associated content on Youtube. It also pulled up a carousel list of movies Peter Weller, the star of the film, was also in, as well as associated lists of similar movies in the Mad Scientist and Science Fiction categories on Netflix. It isn’t perfect, but it does provide a solid way to search through media without using the controller.

 


GAMES, PARENTAL CONTROLS AND PLEX

 

In an age of casual gaming, playing Crossy Road or even any of The Walking Dead content seems to be more the norm and Nvidia serves that content up to you in a manner that is very enjoyable. You aren’t going to be experiencing lag or low frame rates with Nvidia’s GPU. As you can see in the video, first person shooters like Unkilled play well and look great! That’s where Shield TV stands out over the competition is that they’ve packed in enough power to satisfy all you PC gamers out there and those looking for a casual experience. Again, you can see in the video exactly what that looks like. One feature that is sure to be a hit with my generation is the ability to download not just any gaming emulators, but an N64 emulator, with the power to handle the games you can play with it. So, after you’ve watched some of your childhood favorite cartoons like Robotech, streamed from your service of choice, then you can load your emulator and throw down on Castlevania, or drop back a console and play Excitebike, originally released for NES.

For parents purchasing Shield TV for their teens, or using it in the home and wanting to keep children from accessing some of the racier content available through apps and services, Android/Shield TV comes available with plenty of options to restrict content and put limits in place to keep those in-app purchases from springing any thousand dollar surprises on mom and dad. You can setup multiple profiles and completely block certain apps from being used, block content by rating and password protect the ability to make purchases. I walk you through some of that in the video review. The ability to set up multiple profiles is a great feature for parents needing it because it allows Shield TV to be the living room hub of entertainment without too much worry about access. In that case, what I would do is set up a “Family” profile which has the maximum content level set to what is acceptable for everyone in the home and let that be the default profile for the box. Then, when mom and dad want to watch movies after the kids have gone to bed, you can sign into the parent profile and watch Mad Max: Fury Road for the 45th time.

If you’re the type of consumer who likes to keep your local library fully stocked with content, you won’t be disappointed. Between Plex and KODI, your local streaming needs are fully supported and with USB 3.0 onboard you won’t be hampered by any speed bottlenecks. Just plug your external hard drive into one of the high speed ports and you’re good to go! If your content is accessible via wireless network or NAS, just pull up Plex or KODI, configure and you’re good to go there as well. One of the features you’ll like the most about Plex is that it is integrated into the home screen. Voice search is also supported on Plex. KODI must be sideloaded and it won’t be integrated into the home screen or support voice search.

 

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

This set top box is nothing short of a beast of a machine. If you’re into the Google universe, this is the best experience your money can buy right now but you just have to be aware that its only shortcoming is that Google connection. Some apps which should be optimized for television use aren’t quite there yet and there is the Amazon omission. Though you can get to content not available natively as an app download through Google Cast, the whole point of having a set top box is not having to do that. Still, in a market where there are only a small handful of boxes which come close to competing with Nvidia’s Shield TV, this one reigns -for now - as the top choice for Android boxes and gives the others running on other platforms a serious run for their money. Currently Shield TV is available from Nvidia for $199.99 and includes the $49.99 slim Shield remote with your purchase.

 

 

Disclosure: Nvidia provided me with a demo unit for the purpose of this review.

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