It’s a safe bet Nvidia understands all too well that their $200 Shield TV streaming box is aimed at a couple of very specific audiences. Gamers would be first and foremost, with the little box’s impressive power to play exclusive Android games and stream PC games. The famous PC hardware maker is betting big on PC gamers to find the Shield their streaming box of choice.
The second audience, however, is likely people who want the absolute most powerful 4K-able streaming box on the market. When it comes to being able to bring content to your TV, the Shield TV is a wonder, even if it’s still hinged upon the overall Android TV platform. Unlike other Android TV boxes, this one even comes with Amazon Video, which has been sorely lacking from the platform.
What the new Shield TV isn’t is a fundamental hardware upgrade of the two year old original. Indeed, it’s running essentially the same Nvidia Tegra X1 chipset. Instead, Nvidia has shrunk the footprint by 40%, making the new unit much tinier, redesigned the control pad to be smaller and more comfortable and included the rather necessary media remote (which was previously a separate $50 purchase). They’ve omitted the microSD card slot for added memory unfortunately, but it still supports external USB drives.
More than that, the company has focused on certain interface refinements. A big part of the equation is the Shield is running Android 7.0 Nougat for TVs, which is where quite a few new functions come from—it supports YouTube 360, picture-in-picture, better app switching, and other minor refinements. That said, I still find the interface a bit too busy and lacking in options to customize the screen exactly as I’d like, which is ironic, since that’s one of the huge appeals of Android’s touch interface.
To help clear some of the clutter up, Nvidia has a new Games section that puts all your games in one place. This includes Android games, games from their PC game streaming service (GeForce Now), and PC games you’ve streamed from your PC through the Nvidia game streaming app for PCs equipped with Nvidia video cards. I did find it to gets cluttered with a lot of GeForce Now games I’ve never played, but it does at least provide some extra room on the home screen.
One major issue I’ve had with any version of Android TV on both the older and new Shield TV is how absurdly hard it is just to get to a list of apps you own. I’ve yet to find a way to easily list them and the apps it does show aren’t filtered based on if they’re compatible with a TV display. Granted, new users won’t find this issue as annoying as long-time Android users.
At the time of this writing, some of the biggest enhancements to the Shield TV are still under construction. The new controller isn’t just a lighter version of the old one. It also has an always on microphone specifically for the purposes of Google Assistant integration. When this finally goes live, you’ll be able to say ‘Hey Google” and the Shield will act much like a Google Home. Between this and the future integration of other smart home services, Nvidia is aiming for the device to become much more than just a streaming or gaming platform.
Right now, however, watching and playing are the big draws. In addition to all its onboard streaming services, the Shield TV doubles as a Chromecast device, which is exceedingly useful for sending all kinds of content from your phone to the TV. Both the controller and remote have a microphone built in, so with the press of a button you can search for videos and music by voice.
Gaming on the Shield TV
There’s a hefty amount of gaming goodness here as well. For $7.99 a month, GeForce now lets you steam full PC games ranging from small indies to major releases like The Witcher 3 right to your TV. While there is a reasonable range of “free” games included in that monthly price, other games you’ll have to actually purchase (usually for a much cheaper price than retail). So, it’s not exactly the Netflix of gaming.
For PC gamers who already own newer GeForce graphics cards, however, the upgrade to their built-in home network streaming app, GeForce Experience, now straight up includes Steam’s Big Picture mode. So, instead of being stuck with only the games that the GeForce Experience app views as stream-worthy, you potentially have access to your entire collection.
The caveat for either of these options is your internet connection and router. Stable high-speed connections are an obvious must, but performance is far more stable with a wired connection. Even with modern high-end wireless networks, streaming games locally and over the internet was simply unreliable. With a wired LAN connection, however, things worked amazing well. Fast paced shooters and other twitch games worked flawlessly most of the time.
Nvidia has also been beefing up the Android side of gaming. They have some impressive exclusives to their platform, like the Borderlands games, Doom 3, and other admittedly older, but still excellent high-end console games. They’ve recently added newer games like The Witness as well, making the overall system very console like.
Of course, streaming video is the main appeal of a box like this and the Shield TV handles stable, gorgeous 4K HDR video over both wired and wireless connections like a champ. This isn’t surprising, since the original Shield did as well. Admittedly, there are ever-growing choices for decent 4K streaming and while the picture and sound quality here is consistently superb, it might not be worth paying twice as much for the privilege if that’s all you want in a box.
Current owners of the original Shield TV won’t find any particular reason to upgrade, though they might want to consider buying the new control pad when Nvidia integrates Google Assistant. Other than that, they’ll get all the same upgrades. For newcomers looking for the top of the streaming box heap though, this is it. If you just want a streaming box for video, there are definitely cheaper alternatives, but Nvidia is planning for the future in this small box that offers a lot of really impressive features.