“Streamer for Gamers” is how NVidia wants us to look at its Shield TV’s 2017 avatar. Making a splash at CES 2017, Jen-Hsun Huang, NVidia’s CEO introduced the device as a compact TV hub/console, that’s powered by NVidia’s Tegra X1 chip and runs on the latest Android-based UI.
Theoretically speaking, you get the best of both worlds with this $200 streaming device in that you can choose from its vast library of games (requires monthly subscription) and stream HDR and 4K movies and shows on your TV via the multitude of Android apps.
After having played around (read research) with the 2017 Shield TV, here’s our comprehensive take on the nifty ‘stream-box’.
NVidia this time around, went for a more compact footprint accentuated by a sleek, sharp and angular design. However, the full plastic build seems like a cost-saving measure especially when compared to hefty, metallic finishes that the previous version of the Shield box featured.
Under the hood exist NVidia’s Tegra X1 graphic chip with 3-GB of RAM and a 12-GB SSD storage; an aspect that’s remained unchanged from its 2015 model. However, there is the choice of larger storage with the Pro version that features a 500GB HDD. There’s a stand on offer that lets you orient the Android box vertically.
Turn to the back of the box, and you got two USB 3.0 ports, one HDMI out and an Ethernet jack. They have dropped the SD card and micro-USB slot. Instead, there is an option to utilize one of the USB ports as an input port to connect your PC if the need arises. Also worth mentioning is the non-inclusion of an HDMI cable in the package.
The included Shield controller has gone through some structural overhauls: its much smaller; sports a geodescent pattern and overall feels like a better version of the Xbox One S controller. The controller still charges via micro-USB and NVidia claims that it can withstand 60-hours of game-time.
One thing we did notice is that the navigation buttons aren’t capacitive but proper physical buttons. This is a welcome change given the finicky aspect of the last NVidia controller which would inadvertently pause in between games only to realise that you had accidently flicked on the pause button.
With the previous model, the remote controller was sold separately for $50. Thankfully, this time around, they have included the nifty controller with the package. Its got a simple design that lets you work with the non-gaming menu, thereby making the Shield TV a true hybrid between a console and set-top box.
The 2017 Shield runs on the new Android 7.0 “Nougat” thus giving us a look at how well Google has planned the UX for the big screen. One useful tip we learnt straight off the bat was the double-pressing of the home button to drop back into the home screen.
Also, the picture-in-picture support of Nougat means that developers can include this as a feature in their apps thus letting a user browse the Android TV interface while having the media content play on a mini-screen.
NVidia has announced an ambitious strategy for the Shield in terms of making it a true smart-home appliance by integrating it with Google Assistant. However, we couldn’t test that feature since the update for that isn’t going to be out until later in the year.
Theoretically though, it should make for an intriguing and perhaps inspiring partnership with NVidia’s in-house voice-command feature ‘Spot’ which lets you bark commands at Google Assistant from anywhere in the house.
Sadly, all that we could achieve at this point in time was ask simple questions by tapping the microphone button about sports update, which would show up on the TV screen in a very Google Now type card.
We noticed a pretty solid collection of media-centric apps on Shield’s Android TV and while some did display performance glitches from time to time, the overall experience wasn’t so bad. There’s also the Cast support from Google using which we could cast apps from our android phones.
Media streaming performance is perhaps where the Shield makes a giant killing. Be it Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, we were able to stream 4K video content seamlessly. The fact that we could access 4K HDR from Amazon’s video platform was quite amazing since Amazon’s own Fire TV box struggles with it!
A big change from the previous model is the revamped game streaming service otherwise known as GeForce Now. With the new servers powered by GeForce 10-series GPUs, that opens up a whole new dimension for enjoying high-end, graphic intensive games, especially when they are being rendered remotely and then streamed to the Shield device over the internet.
For instance, our gaming rig featuring a twin GeForce GPU takes around 5-7 seconds to load The Witcher 3 and that’s about the same time it took for the streamed version to load on our TV screen. We could play the game at the highest available resolution (1080p @ 60 FPS) and ‘ultra’ graphic setting and were hard-pressed to find any noticeable lag or compression artefacts.
We feel its important to mention about the quality of GeForce Now experience which will vary depending on the speed and bandwidth of your internet setup. So, a flaky internet connection would naturally encourage more issues with the overall rendering, lag and compression artefacts in streamed games.
In terms of game streaming, the NVidia faces stiff competition from the likes of Steam who have released their own version of a remote game streamer. And when it comes to media streaming, there’s just too many players to name.
Where NVidia’s Shield TV takes the gallop is that it is a single-point device for both game and media streaming, and this it does quite admirably.
If you already own a Shield TV box then the NVidia’s 2017 Shield TV will feel like the same offering with a few new tricks. However, for the many who don’t, it is the perfect media streamer/micro-console hybrid out there in the market right now.