NVIDIA Shield 4K TV Media Gaming Box Review
Did the best just get better?
What is the SHIELD TV?As an all-in-one solution for streaming services, local/networked media playback – both including 4K and HDR video – as well as playing high quality videogames, the existing NVIDIA SHIELD TV, released late 2015, was already, in our estimation, the class-leading device. The new SHIELD TV is not radically different, in fact it’s actually just a refresh of the existing product with most of the key specs – including the TEGRA X1 processor – remaining the same. What has changed is the size – it’s now significantly more compact – and the controllers. Unlike the 2015 model, the new SHIELD TV comes with a media remote in the box, which is great news for us, along with a totally redesigned games controller which has an additional trick or two up its sleeve; more on that later in the review.
The SHIELD TV has two models in the range; the ‘basic’ 16GB version, which we have in for review, and the ‘PRO’, which has 500GB of storage, plus additional options courtesy of a Micro USB port and SD card slot. Most of what is new is, in fact, software based. The SHIELD TV is updated to run Android 7 Nougat, and Amazon Video (including 4K HDR) is also now part of the deal. Later in 2017, NVIDIA will release the ‘Spot’ which is a small microphone/speaker device that can execute hands-free commands and interact with Google Assistant – another new feature which will arrive with a software update later in 2017. The ‘Smart’ features don’t stop there, either, with the SHIELD TV newly compatible with Samsung SmartThings (via an additional USB dongle) and also both Zigbee and Z-Wave wireless radio frequency communication protocols to control other Smart Home devices, including security, heating and lighting systems
There’s also good news for owners of the 2015 SHIELD TV as they will also receive the SHIELD Experience 5.0 update, bringing with it Nougat and all the rest of the goodies so they will in no way be left behind, features wise, and by investing in the new games controller the user experience should be near identical. It’s reassuring to see NVIDIA looking after its existing customer base in such a way, although that probably wouldn’t have happened if the hardware refresh had been more significant. We did see quite a lot of criticism around the lack of new hardware but, given the prowess of the X1, it’s not like there would be any tangible benefits in replacing it so we have no problem with NVIDIA’s decision.
At the time of publishing (January 2016), the 16GB SHIELD TV retails for £189.99, while the PRO model will set you back £279.99. Let’s see if the best just got better…
Design and ConnectionsThe new SHIELD TV retains the stealthy looking, unusual angular panelled design of its predecessor but sheds much of the bulk. It is significantly smaller, in fact, measuring (in horizontal orientation) 16cm in width, 9.9cm in depth and 2.5cm in height compared to the 21x13x2.5cm of the 2015 model. It’s also a lot lighter, weighing in on our scales at 248g compared to the 555g of the older model. Had Sony or Microsoft been responsible for the device, it would have no doubt been termed the ‘SHIELD Slim’. There’s a ‘hard’ power button bottom-right of the top surface with the manufacturers logo embossed upon it which illuminates a green LED strip under one of the ‘shards’ when powered up.
The wedge-shaped rear panel houses all of the physical connections, including two USB 3.0 (Type A) ports, a Gigabit LAN connection and an HDMI 2.0b port that is HDCP 2.2 compliant and capable of CEC (Consumer Electronics Control), meaning you can use the SHIELD’s controllers to operate other equipment that is CEC compliant – in practise, that will likely mean you’ll use them to adjust your TV or receiver’s volume. The SHIELD TV also features Bluetooth Version 4 and Wi-Fi capability all the way up to 802.11ac.
SHIELD Controller & RemoteThe newly designed games style controller is a huge improvement on the old version in almost every conceivable way. For starters, it’s about 20% smaller and, therefore, fits much better and more comfortably in an averagely sized hand; it’s definitely far more child friendly – just ask my seven-year-old who’s hands we’ve had to prise it from in order to get this review completed. For reference, it’s a tad larger than the standard Xbox One controller and similarly ergonomic in design but don’t let the panelled shape fool you, it’s very comfortable to handle. Thanks to Bluetooth 4.0 it is also highly responsive while there have also been improvements to the D-Pad and sticks in terms of accuracy. Below the non-offset sticks are the Home, Back and Play buttons while under that is a 3.5mm headphone jack for ‘private listening’. There’s also a touch-sensitive volume slider above the buttons. The SHIELD Controller is an always-on device to make use of the built-in microphone for voice commands and Google Assistant (coming in a future update) but it doesn’t seem to have any serious impact on battery life as we’ve had it in (heavy) use for four days and it’s still going strong; it is USB rechargeable, by the way. All in all, we’re big fans of this new design and we tip our virtual hats toward NVIDIA in due recognition.
The remote hasn’t undergone anything like the transformation and is, visually at least, virtually identical to the older handset, although the build quality isn’t as impressive. It’s a very sleek little number with the directional buttons forming a halo around the OK button towards the top. The home and back buttons sit just below with the microphone activation just above centre. Volume is, again, operated via a touch sensitive slider which runs down most of the bottom portion of the remote. NVIDIA has added a Play/Pause function to the volume slider by means of a double tap, for apps that don’t do so by pressing the OK circle at the top – YouTube is one where that’s useful. There are two changes to the remote, however; it’s now lost the USB recharging port as it’s battery powered and the headphone jack has also been removed. We’re not bothered about the former, the older remote needed fairly frequent charging but we’ll miss the private listening feature as it worked very well. There is the option of buying a remote with a headphone jack but it’s expensive so we’ll just ‘make-do’ with using the feature from the controller. One minus point we’ve found with the remote over time is that it seems to lose connection to the SHIELD, on occasion, necessitating multiple (usually a couple of) button presses to restore the relationship.
User InterfaceIf ever the adage, ‘less is more’ was appropriate in the context of an AV review, it would be here in reference to NVIDIA’s redesign of the Android TV Leanback Launcher and the Settings menus. It used to sprawl a long way down the screen, leaving recommendations, apps and games invisible for much of the time. The launcher has now been trimmed down to just four rows with a Recommendations Bar at the top, a single row for apps and the same for games, while settings can be accessed at the bottom. Better yet, the Settings now pop-up on a panel to the right thus meaning the launcher – or at least its background - is always visible, whereas previously settings felt disconnected and tagged on. There is also now the option of double-trapping the home (‘O’) button to bring up a tiled list of recent apps and the option to close them down, if necessary. OK, most people aren’t going to get overly excited by a UI redesign but it all adds to the experience and we’re, again, big fans. The likes of Sony and Philips should take note when implementing their Android TV systems in upcoming, 2017 televisions.
AppsWhile there are nowhere near as many apps available on the Android TV Google Play store as there are on the regular, mobile based Android OS, the list is growing and just having Amazon and Netflix 4K HDR apps in one place, on a device external to the TV, will be enough for many. NVIDIA states that the SHIELD TV now has the most comprehensive 4K ecosystem on the planet, thanks to Ultra HD versions of the aforementioned duo, plus YouTube, Google Play Movies and TV and VUDU (in the US). There’s also the possibility to stream 4K HDR games using NVIDIA’s GameStream, provided you have a gaming rig up to the job, of course.
The SHIELD TV comes pre-installed with all the Google Apps you would expect – YouTube, Movies/TV, Music, Photos and the Play Store, of course, and also pre-loaded were PLEX (server and client) as well as Netflix and Amazon. There’s a special, NVIDIA specific BBC iPlayer available which wasn’t on the review sample when we received it but it was running beta firmware so we assume it formed part of the release firmware. Other apps of interest to our readers on the Play Store include an Android TV (remote friendly) version of Spotify, Twitch, VLC, MX Player, Vevo and, of course KODI and SPMC – more on those down the page.
You aren’t restricted to the Android TV version of the Play Store, however, so you can ‘sideload’ others using USB or networked storage or even a browser if you’ve hooked up a keyboard/airmouse. There’s also the option of the non-official Aptoide app store which also now has an Android TV friendly version. Be aware, installing apps from outside the official Play Store requires you to activate ‘Unknown Sources,’ in the Security & restrictions area of the Settings Menu.
NVIDIA Shield Interview
GamesThis is not an area we usually delve in to but since there’s a controller in the box and 30 days of GeForce NOW subscription on offer, we decided to make an exception in this instance – plus it’s lots of fun. The GeForce NOW service is billed as a ‘Netflix for games’ which is, quite frankly, a bit of a stretch given the number of titles you can play for ‘free’ under the £7.49/month subscription. There are approximately 100 at present and then when you narrow down those to ones you might actually want to play, it can look a bit of a meagre selection. What can’t be pooh-poohed is the quality of the streaming, however, and we were easily able to stream games at 1080p60 over Wi-Fi via a 802.11ac capable router. There were a few stalls and freezes over wireless – it’s to be expected - but over both a wired connection and via a powerline solution, we could count on one finger the number of times there was a hiccup. Latency seems to be non-existent (yes, we know that’s impossible) but even with twitchy shooters we never felt there would be any advantage running the game from internal memory and the experience can fairly be termed ‘console quality’. In terms of Android games, the SHIELD laughs in their faces as it’s probably the most powerful hardware on the planet running the OS. Unfortunately, we don’t have a gaming rig with which to test out GamesStream but given the way internet game streaming is handled by NVIDIA’s system, we can’t foresee networked streaming presenting any issues.
Media PerformanceAt the time of review, the SHIELD TV is in a position that is slightly unreflective of how it will pan out as a media player in the very near future. Don’t get us wrong, it’s still right up there with the best in Android TV boxes but owing to the fact KODI v17 (Krypton) hasn’t reached release status and the developer of the Android specific fork of KODI, SPMC, hadn’t got to test the Nougat based update, there are one or two gaps and bugs to be filled in and ironed out, respectively. For the record testing was done on SPMC 16.5.5 and KODI 17-RC3. SPMC slightly edged it, overall, but there could be a few second delay before audio would kick in and video could suffer break up in the first few seconds of playback as well. We will update the review with our full test tables within the next few weeks, once the dust has settled but the take home message is that just about everything plays well.
Given the Nougat update, we were expecting NVIDIA to have implemented IEC61937 passthrough for audio but, at least for now, it’s still done in RAW format. In terms of our setup with a Yamaha RX-V679 AV Receiver it didn’t have any detrimental effect as all the formats we tested, including DTS-HD MA and Dolby TrueHD passed through without any issues but it would be preferable, compatibility wise, if NVIDIA were to get IEC61937 working as well.
Playback of Ultra HD/4K video presented no issues to the SHIELD TV, as expected, including 10-bit HEVC as well as old fashioned 8-bit H.264. Automatic refresh rate switching to complement the frame rate of the content also worked very well in both KODI and SPMC for all popular formats, including 23.976, 24, 25, 29.97, 30, 50, 59.94 and 60 frames per second, at all resolutions. One thing we did note is that, irrespective of what you choose in the advanced video settings of the SHIELD, refresh switching for 4K/UHD would see the SHIELD fall back to the YCbCr 4:2:2 colour space which, again, might not be ideal in some set ups. Resolutions below Ultra HD/4K would maintain the selected colour space regardless of refresh rate switching.
As you would expect, given the horsepower, there were few issues with Full or Standard Definition files, although deinterlacing performance could be better so if you’re planning on integrating broadcast TV in to your set-up, there are better choices for that. About the one area where the SHIELD TV is lacking as a media player is in its 3D performance. The TV manufacturers have cut the throat of the format but there are still a lot of folks (or at least a few that make a lot of noise) interested and they will definitely need to look elsewhere as the SHIELD will not play 3D ISO or MVC MKC files at all; or rather, it will play them but only in 2D. Provided you manually engage your display, both side by side and top and bottom formats of 3D will play just fine.
We had hoped, although didn’t really expect, that the SHIELD Experience 5.0 might add dynamic refresh rate switching for apps other than KODI, SPMC and PLEX, e.g. for Amazon, Netflix and even iPlayer but unfortunately that isn’t the case so you’ll need to manually select the resolution and refresh rate desired in settings. For iPlayer, in all instances, you’ll want 1080p50Hz, even if your TV is 4K, as your television will almost certainly have better image scaling than the SHIELD. It’s more complicated with Netflix and Amazon although, obviously, if you want to watch the Ultra HD content, you’ll need one of the 4K resolution options. In most instances, but not all, 4K at 23.976Hz will be the correct choice. One very good thing the update did bring is the ability to play Amazon and Netflix HDR at this setting, whereas previously HDR would only work with 50Hz and above. One thing worth noting is that HDR content in both Amazon and Netflix will play at resolutions under 4K so if your internet isn’t up to the demands but your TV is, that’s quite useful. For the record, YouTube HDR contents aren’t available in this iteration of the software version so it looks as though it’s to follow in an update. Also, for the record, the SHIELD is not Dolby Vision capable so uses HDR10 for delivery.
To close off on media performance, we set up the SHIELD TV as a PLEX server with it distributing files from our NAS (Network Attached Storage) device. All was well on first running and accessing the movies and TV shows was the usual slick and pretty PLEX experience we’re used to. Having powered down and unplugged the SHIELD and moved it to another room, all the PLEX clients in the house were then unable to playback the files - unavailable message displayed – until we removed the SHIELD as a server using the Web management feature and re-added it. Upon next unplug and power-up, the behaviour repeated so there’s a glitch in the system somewhere that needs to be looked at.
How future-proof is this video streamer?
4K Ultra HD playback up to 60 frames per second
HEVC decoding Full HD
HEVC decoding Ultra HD
7 Channel HD Audio pass-through
3D ISO playback
Over The Air (OTA) Software Updates
- Super slick new UI
- Excellent redesign of controller
- Amazon and Netflix 4K HDR apps
- PLEX server built-in
- Excellent media playback capabilities
- Some exciting features still to come
- GeForce NOW streaming quality is great
- Remote loses connection sometimes NOW FIXED
- Still some colour space muddles
- No dynamic refresh rate switching for some major apps
- New remote is not as good
NVIDIA Shield 4K TV Media Gaming Box Review
Should I buy one?The 2017 NVIDIA SHIELD TV is by no means a revolutionary product it is, after all, more or less the same beast as the original SHIELD TV, released in 2015. Don’t take that as a bad thing, however, as the TEGRA X1 processor inside the two of them is still more than capable of fulfilling its duties with power to spare. The new SHIELD has been redesigned; it is now far more compact and nearly half the weight and the base model, reviewed here, has lost the Micro SD Card slot and Micro USB connections, as well an infra-red receiver, while the PRO retains those and boasts 500GB of built-in storage compared to the 16GB in the basic model. There’s a fair price difference between the two, with the PRO retailing (January 2017) at £279.99 to the £189.99 of the less specified model; it should be noted there is no performance advantage, which ever you choose.
Along with the significantly reduced proportions, there have been two other major shake-ups in the hardware department. First, the SHIELD TV now comes with the remote, as standard, rather than it being a costly peripheral. This move instantly increases the SHIELD’s profile, in terms of it being a media streaming device and not a games machine with those features perhaps appearing secondary in NVIDIA’s thoughts and intentions; the impression given now is that this product is at home with either discipline – and more besides. The other major revision comes in the shapely form of the new (games style) controller which is a thing of some beauty. Not only does it look great, much in keeping with the styling of the box itself, but is now far more ergonomic while also being more accurate and responsive, to boot. The controller has an ultra-low power mode enabling it to be ‘always’ on which will really come in to the reckoning once the update for Google Assistant lands. The ‘Smart Home’ features won't stop there, either, with the SHIELD TV newly compatible both Zigbee and Z-Wave protocols to control Smart Home devices, including security, heating and lighting systems.
The other new items of significance that the SHIELD TV brings to the party are software based. We now have a 4K and HDR Amazon app to go along with the Netflix counterpart. Additionally, HDR capability will be added to the already 4K YouTube app and 4K will also soon be coming to Google Play Movies on the platform. The HDR goodness is also available via the GameStream app to owners of gaming rigs with the requisite NVIDIA GPU. The manufacturer boasts that the SHIELD TV has, in fact, the largest 4K HDR ecosystem of any device available and it doesn’t seem an idle one. The SHIELD TV is also excellent with your local media, boasting playback of Ultra HD resolutions up to 60 frames per second, pass-through of HD audio formats and support for just about everything other than frame-packed 3D video. There are some tweaks required in the software used to replay the local media, no doubt as a result of the Nougat update, but they will surely come making the SHIELD TV an even stronger media player proposition.
The new SHIELD TV is really about reminding people what a great and still relevant product the original is, while being at the vanguard of a major update for the entire SHIELD family which adds new features and promises even more, down the line. If you’ve already got one of the 2015 models in your possession, there is certainly no need for an upgrade – the new software features will soon, if not already, be available on that; if you haven’t, the 2017 SHIELD TV definitely warrants consideration. It's an absolutely outstanding box of tricks that, while not perfect, we certainly deem to be worthy of Reference Status.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £189.00
Networking, Internet, Streaming quality10
Set up, Menus, Remote9
Value for Money9
Where to buyNVIDIA Shield TV 4K Media Box
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.