What is the NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV?
The NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV comes in two flavours; the basic model with 16GB of storage and the premium, SHIELD Pro with a 500GB hard drive. Pricing, at the time of the review (October 2015), is set at £149.99 and £229.99, respectively. It does face a lot of strong competition from some major players, however, with new and highly comparable devices either released - or just about to be; the new Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Roku 4 will be waiting for any slip-ups. The model we have under scrutiny, here, is the 500GB pro version; so let’s see if NVIDIA have their game together sufficiently to tackle the ever-burgeoning media hub market...
Design and Connections
Update: As of November 16 2015, NVIDIA has decided to include the TV remote as part of the package with no increase in price which we think is an outstanding move.
For the moment, ‘mainstream’ video service apps are a bit thin on the ground so if you’re looking for a box that has all the UK catch-up services, for example, you will be better off looking elsewhere; at least for the time being. NVIDIA has told us they are in talks with all the relevant broadcasters and providers and there could be some exciting news coming soon. So, at the time of launch we basically have Netflix, which is very soon to be followed by a unique version of BBC iPlayer. NVIDIA has been working closely with the BBC for maximum optimisation of the hardware which will result in an app featuring adaptive streaming technology – i.e. if you have a good internet connection, you will get HD but as bandwidth diminishes so will bitrate and resultant picture quality. At launch – due to other BBC apps (News/Sport) - resolution will be pegged to a maximum of 720p but 1080p content is coming soon.
Update: Following further discussions with AVForums, NVIDIA has also confirmed it is working with individual app providers to build in automatic refresh rate frequency switching to their services, which would be great. Presumably that means Netflix, at the very least, but any others would be more than welcome.
So, to summarise, whilst there are a decent number of apps available through Google Play on the SHIELD TV, it’s clear more content partnerships need to be negotiated with the major players. We’ll give NVIDIA these suggestions to be getting on with, although we know they are fully aware – Sky NOW TV, ITV Player, ALL 4, Demand 5, Spotify & TIDAL. Oh, and Amazon Instant Video, but good luck with that! You can work-around, somewhat, with the use of Google Cast to send content from your Phone, PC or Tablet but native apps would definitely be preferable. While we’re talking Google, we have to say the voice search facility is extremely well implemented through the controller and we can’t remember it getting anything wrong.
NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV KODI
The newly branded NVIDIA GeForce NOW service is billed as ‘Netflix for games’ and whilst that’s only partially true, it could well be a glimpse in to the not very distant future of console gaming. You pay a monthly subscription (£7.49 in the UK – currently free for 3 months to new owners) which then entitles you to stream around 50 games, as part of your subscription, with the option of paying extra for newer titles which you will then digitally ‘own’; prices range from £14.99 up to £49.99, for the likes of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. How good a value you’re getting from this deal will be a personal thing; for a lapsed, infrequent gamer like myself, that £7.49 a month would be excellent as there are enough desirable catalogue titles to keep me going for at least a year. For a more regular gamer there will obviously less to go at and the service might seem a bit content-starved.
I’ll admit I didn’t go greatly in to the SHIELD Games section – which is a collection of optimised Android titles – and nor have I got a gaming PC with the required NVIDIA graphics card to allow me to test out GameStream but you can bet the SHIELD Android TV knocks spots off the rest of the competition in this department. We would like to suggest NVIDIA opens GeForce NOW up to debit, as well as credit, card payments and the whole detail inputting system is beyond laborious using the gamepad but if that’s the only real criticisms we can come up with, it should tell you something. Provided your network is up to it, it’s time to stop fearing games streamed over the internet.
- Exceptional power
- Great connectivity
- Proper 24p Support
- HDMI 2.0 output
- Unrivalled gaming experience in sector
- GeForce NOW is amazing
- Great KODI integration that's getting better
- 7.1 HD audio pass-through
- Excellent manufacturer support
- Lack of native apps
- (Temporary) Colour Space Issue
- No TV remote and optional one is pricey
- Audio drop-outs with less sensitive headphones
- Some will think it expensive
NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV Review
Not that the SHIELD TV costs the earth, the base model with 16GB of storage will set you back £150 with the 500GB Pro version retailing at £230. It should be noted that it comes bundled with a gamepad, and not a conventional TV-style remote, which we think is not necessarily the best decision; at the very least there should be an option on the controllers, especially when they SHIELD remote costs £39.99. It’s nice but not that nice, although the Bluetooth capability and USB ports mean third party remotes can be added easily
UPDATE: As of 16/11/2015, UK customers now get the TV remote control in addition to the games controller as part of the package, with no increase in pricing. This makes an already excellent product just that much better!
In fact, the SHIELD Android TV packs in great connectivity, besides, including a HDCP 2.2 compliant HDMI 2.0 port, two v3.0 USB ports, 802.11ac Wi-Fi and gigabit LAN. The horsepower also leaves the rest standing with a Tegra X1 processor, a 256-core NVIDIA GPU and a 64-bit CPU and 3GB of RAM at its disposal. It is, as you would expect, extremely responsive and slick to operate, as a result, and some of that power comes to roost with its ability to display 4K images at up to 60 frames per second; a trick only the Roku 4 can match, in this product sector, and there’s no certainty we’ll ever see that device in the UK.
But it’s obviously no good having all that power with no means of showing it. It is put in to genuinely excellent effect through Ultra HD/4K Netflix and YouTube apps with others on the way. Two weeks after release NVIDIA will also be releasing a specially tailored BBC iPlayer app with a unique adaptive streaming capability but if there’s one thing lacking with the SHIELD TV it is native apps for the UK market. It is early days for both the SHIELD TV, and the operating system for that matter, but a shot in the arm would be welcome here. There is the option of sideloading, of course, but it’s always best to go native where possible.
There are plenty of Android TV box owners who couldn't care less about the mainstream services and would be more interested in the KODI performance which, we have to say, is generally excellent. It will get even better soon when the developers bake in all the exciting new features added in the 2.0 software update; including the pass-through of 7.1 DTS-HD, DTS-HD MA and Dolby TrueHD, plus support for high resolution 24-bit 192 kHz audio over HDMI and USB. You can already use these abilities via the native players but it will be even better when KODI gives them official support. PLEX lovers will also be pleased to learn their favourite media software is pre-installed to the device.
Whilst we’ve been focussing on the media streaming side of things, it’s with gaming where the Android SHIELD TV is truly special. It provides access to a range of possibilities — including the new GeForce NOW ‘Netflix for Games’ cloud service – and PC GameStream compatibility for your NVIDIA gaming rig – GPU permitting. For £7.49 a month (free for 3 months right now) you are eligible for unlimited streaming of more than 50 PC games, including titles from the Batman and Lego series. Whilst new AAA blockbuster games including Witcher 3, Saints Row: Gat out of Hell can be purchased on top.
What value that represents to you will vary but if you have any fears about streaming games over the internet – and believe us, we did – then provided your network is up to the task, prepared to be surprised with GeForce NOW. It is a stunningly implemented system with console quality graphics at up to 1080p at 60 frames per second; it plays as though you had a disc inserted or all the data on your hard drive. We don’t know quite how they’ve done it but they have and we’re instant – and massive - fans.
So, for the tricky part – at least as far as I’m concerned - and that’s the decision on the AVForums badge. Judged up against the likes of the new Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Roku 4, the NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV is undoubtedly more powerful but lacks the number of blockbuster streaming apps some of those do/will offer. As compensation for that, it’s the best choice for KODI, certainly, and likely PLEX as well. We’ll call that a flush based on personal requirements but where the SHIELD TV is unreservedly more gifted than the rest is with games and GeForce Now is nothing short of a revelation. We also think it’s high-end audio/visual feature set , including 7.1 HD audio pass-through, hi-res audio support and Ultra HD, at up to 60 frames per second, make it the choice for the discerning customer – and that’s you AVForums readers – so it will be our reference device (against which the others will be compared) going forwards, despite the fact it’s not altogether perfect.
Networking, Internet, Streaming quality
Set up, Menus, Remote
Value for Money
Our Review Ethos
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