WHEN YOU’VE ALREADY built the best Android TV box on the market, where do you go next? That’s the question Nvidia faced after releasing its Shield TV console/streamer back in 2015. It was – and remains – a great buy, its only drawbacks being a shortage of Android TV content, the lack of a bundled remote control and a bulky, ugly controller for games.
Two years on and Android TV is now a much more content-rich proposition, and what’s more, there’s a new Shield TV package that fixes the original’s problems while adding some new features of its own.
Despite these additions – which we’ll get to shortly – the internal hardware has hardly changed. You still get Nvidia’s own, powerful Tegra X1 processor, alongside 3GB of RAM, Bluetooth 4.1 support, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, two USB3 ports and 16GB of internal storage. As with the previous model, Nvidia is also offering a Pro option for the Shield, which includes a 500GB HDD, which is near essential for anyone who plans to do more than simply stream games or media content to their TV.
The Shield TV Pro also includes a microSD slot, the omission of which on the standard Shield TV is one of its few disappointments.
STRAIGHT AND NARROWED
More impressive is that the Shield TV has shrunk by 40% compared to the 2015 model.
It now measures a mere 159x98x26mm, meaning it’s even easier to tuck away behind a TV if you’d rather not have it on show.
It is a gorgeous machine, though. It may be fully plastic now (the mixed metal/plastic build of the original is now reserved for the Pro version), but its faceted design is just as eye-catching, and that angular design look has also made its way across to the completely overhauled Shield TV controller. This is a huge improvement on the original, no longer like an unsightly lump of plastic.
The Shield TV has shrunk by 40% compared to the 2015 model, meaning it’s even easier to tuck away behind a TV.
What’s more, in a move that is sure to make the Shield a more attractive proposition to newcomers, Nvidia is now including the Shield Remote in the box in addition to that new game controller. Previously, Shield owners had to pay for the privilege, which was not only unreasonably expensive, but those who sprung for it would also have been disappointed to find its rechargeable battery would die within a week or two of use.
The loss of SD card storage is a shame, and the alternative solution – expandable storage via USB3 flash drive – didn’t perform well.
Games such as The Witness and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance had serious loading speed issues – issues that melted away once installed on the internal storage.
The major appeal in picking up a new Shield TV is the revamped controller. While its polygonal skin looks great, what makes it a better controller is the build quality, including the feel of the sticks and buttons. Everything about the new controller feels higher quality and more refined than Nvidia’s previous effort, and that makes it far more comfortable to use for extended gaming sessions.
As part of the redesign, Nvidia has also removed all the touch-sensitive navigation buttons from the pad, replacing them with physical ones located at the bottom of the controller, just below and between the two thumbsticks. These can take a bit of getting used to at first, especially as you’d expect the home button to be the big Nvidia logo in the centre, rather than the button below the right thumbstick, but they’re a world of improvement over the original.
The gamepad’s battery life has also been improved, now lasting up to 60 hours per charge. The Shield Remote has also been tweaked for better stamina; it’s now slightly thicker , in order to accommodate the two CR2032 batteries that give it up to a year’s worth of battery life. That’s a massive improvement on the old rechargeable remote.
GAME AND FORTUNE
Two years ago, Nvidia’s Shield TV was built for gaming greatness, and while we knew from the start that its Tegra X1 chip was capable, there were few games on Android TV capable of stretching the hardware. Now, after two years of working with developers, its catalogue of native Android games is growing, and they’re absolutely incredible in motion.
Playing Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance on the Shield TV is almost unbelievable. Not only is a PS3/Xbox 360-era title running at 1080p at 60fps for the most part, but visually it actually looks more on par with the PC version. The same can be said of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, which pushes out a near-consistent 60fps at 1080p, something the original PS3/Xbox 360 build couldn’t quite manage. While that may not impress PS4, Xbox One and gaming PC owners, keep in mind that the Tegra X1 is a mobile processor.
The Shield isn’t just about native Android games, though. It’s also a great place for streamed games content. It still supports Nvidia’s impressive GeForce Now subscription service – which now includes titles from Ubisoft – but Nvidia has overhauled the back-end with Pascal-based GPUs, so you’re now able to stream games from the cloud at resolutions of up to 4K.
You’ll need pretty decent broadband to do that (around 100Mbit/s), of course, but latency-free 1080p, 60fps gameplay can be had with a connection of around 25Mbit/s.
If you’ve got a gaming PC of your own, the Shield TV also lets you stream your entire games library to a TV in another room. There’s also a Steam app that launches Steam Big Picture mode direct from your PC to your TV wirelessly, and all games can be streamed up to 4K with HDR support and with full haptic feedback, if a title supports it.
TELL Y OF THE BEAST
Android TV has come on leaps and bounds in the intervening years since the last Shield TV launched, transforming Nvidia’s powerful box from niche device into something with a whole lot more mainstream appeal. Amazon Prime Instant Video and BBC iPlayer are no longer absent, and the Netflix app has been upgraded with 4K and HDR content. There’s Google cast support as well, again with 4K and HDR capability.
Of course, if you own a 4K TV, it’s probably going to have its own streaming services built in, but the Shield TV’s selection is wide enough to plug any possible gaps. We’re also impressed that Nvidia has managed to get Amazon’s apps on an Android-powered streamer – usually, Google and Amazon refuse to support each other’s services.
The Shield TV is an enthusiast’s dream, with support for Plex and Kodi and its various builds, plus the ability to sideload any app you want.
Finally, the Shield TV also wants to double as your smart-home hub. There’s integration with Samsung’s SmartThings tech for control over things such as remote cameras, lights and heating systems, and integration with Google Assistant is in the works, too. Although still in development, we found this already works quite well; simple commands such as, “OK Google, start my day” (picked up via the always-on mic in the new controller) saw the Shield TV turn on room lighting, turn up the temperature on a Nest Thermostat and boil the kettle . Saying, “OK Google, I’m leaving” turned off the lights, reduced the temperature and powered down non-essential smart devices.
The problem is that this currently relies on the microphones built into the Shield TV’s controller and remote control picking up your voice, which isn’t the most practical solution if you want to use the system in other rooms of the house. To address this, Nvidia is to release a connected microphone called Nvidia Spot, which will act as a voice relay to the Shield TV.
In terms of hardware, Nvidia has pushed its Shield TV above and beyond the device it was back in 2015 – but there are plenty of software improvements, too. This means older Shield TV users can still benefit from some of Nvidia’s upgrades, while newcomers get an excellent experience right out of the box.
In short, there’s nothing better on the market right now. For gamers, it’s an Android console that’s capable of playing games with enough fidelity to keep up with mainstream consoles, has access to a vast library of streamable 4K titles, and hooks into your personal library of PC games.
For more casual users, it can access every video-streaming service available , lets you cast content from your phone, and is incredibly quick when loading and switching between apps.
Shield TV is also pretty future-proof and, thanks to the upcoming Google Assistant integration, could well become the centre of your smart home. Why shell out on something like Google Home or Amazon Echo, when you can get all the same functionality via a powerful streaming box that sits under your TV? It may share more than a couple of internal components, but those intervening years have propelled Nvidia’s TV streamer/console hybrid to new heights, and while it’s expensive, we can’t recommend it enough.
4K Amazon Prime Video, a smart home hub and improved controls mean the multitalented Shield TV excels