NVIDIA Shield TV Review
I remember when I was a kid my dad had an entertainment center with an insane number of devices and inputs all hooked up. We had a stereo system, a laserdisc player, a VHS, a friggin Betamax, and my NES all hooked up to a CRT TV that probably weighed a good two tons. Switching between devices involved getting up and changing the input on the TV and sometimes also flipping the switch on a splitter.
Every device was separate from each other; they each had their own distinct purpose and were expected to do nothing else outside of their main function. As a young whippersnapper in elementary school, it would have blown my mind to even consider something like my VHS player being able to play my music cassettes.
Now it’s 2015. In a few short months, Marty McFly will be arriving in Hill Valley where there will be flying cars, Cafe 80s, and self drying clothes. Ok, none of that currently exists (except maybe Cafe 80s), but we DO live in a day and age where one device the size of a small tablet can pretty much cover all my entertainment needs.
With one device, I can stay on one input and freely switch between AAA games, casual games, my music collection, my photo collection, video streaming services, and a number of apps as well. The Nvidia SHIELD TV may not be perfect, but it’s pretty amazing in its own right with what it is capable of doing.
In the past few years, I have used a Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV Stick, and a Roku streaming stick. All worked fine but had their own individual quirks that prevented them from being the end all be all streaming device that I was seeking. With the Chromecast, I was tied to my phone or tablet. If for whatever reason one or both of those things weren’t available or functioning, my Chromecast was basically useless. The Fire TV Stick was great (especially the app selection), but it lacked everything from my Google account, and the UI was slow and laggy.
I couldn’t tell you how many times I had to refresh the device because it froze up while I was scrolling through the menu. The Roku stick also worked fine and had a good app selection, but all of these devices had one issue; they were tied to wifi. I have a pretty strong wifi signal in my house, but between the streaming sticks, laptops, tablets, phones, printers, consoles, etc, my bandwidth was getting a bit clogged up.
I liked the convenience of these streaming devices, but hated being at the mercy of my wifi connection. Sure I could use consoles for all my entertainment viewing needs, but I was never someone who liked having to turn a console on and off a bunch of times throughout the day, nor am I a huge fan of leaving them on constantly. Besides, I like using my consoles just for games.
The Nvidia SHIELD TV is something I have been salivating at since I saw the reveal at GDC this year. A set top box with streaming, GRID, Gamestream, all my Google stuff, AND it had an ethernet port? Sign me up! Sure the SHIELD isn’t perfect; it lacks Amazon Instant Video, HBO Now, and WWE Network (two of my most widely used apps) and for whatever god awful reason, Nvidia has decided to disable the mouse pointer function on the controller touchpad, but everything else it offers is exactly what I have been looking for.
Combine that with a truly powerful set of internals and a sleek look that blends into my entertainment center, and you have yourself a winner.
There’s a lot of power under the hood, and with great power comes a great huge price. The streaming sticks I mentioned above top out in price for under $50 (even cheaper for most of them). An Apple TV bundle can be found for under $100. The Nexus Player is currently retailing on the Play Store for $79, but it has no ethernet port. The Nvidia SHIELD TV? For the 16GB model, you’re going to drop $199. For the Pro model with 500GB of storage, you’re going to be paying $299.
Those are console prices, and while the SHIELD is impressively powerful in its own right, it’s still considerably weaker than the current crop of consoles (except for maybe the Wii U). And before I forget, the remote control is an additional $50, and the vertical stand an additional $30. If you want all that the SHIELD can offer, you’re going to have to drop a pretty penny.
Herein lies the problem with the SHIELD: what is it? Forget about someone like me or all you others who are tech obsessed…how do I explain the SHIELD to someone like my dad? How can I convince my dad, a 70 year old retiree who just learned how to use a smartphone last year, that a $199 device is better than the Chromecast I just bought him?
Flip the argument around now: how can I convince a core gamer that this device which is less powerful than his/her PS4 and costs roughly the same, is a smart buy? What about all those people out there that do want the SHIELD, but can’t Gamestream because they don’t have the requisite GeForce GPUs?
It’s a mish mash of a huge identity crisis, and the SHIELD is one of the few devices that suffers because it offers TOO much. It functions wonderfully with whatever you want it to be; it’s just too damn pricey to justify it as any one thing. It’s too pricey as a media streamer, too much as a console that can’t compete with the PS4 and Xbox One, and way too much for something just to mess around with casual Android apps on.
All these things combined make the SHIELD worth every penny, but there are few people that can come into the perfect situation where the SHIELD can match every single one of their needs without having to buy extra components.
Identity crisis aside, the Nvidia SHIELD TV is awesome. I remember saying to my wife last year as I was streaming something via Plex on our wifi and having it freeze constantly, “I can’t wait until I can get a streaming device that’s ethernet capable.” It was horrible; have you ever had a three year old out freak out because the Fire Stick seized up in the middle of a Sofia the First episode? I mean sheesh, now I have to take the kids outside or something (please don’t call CPS, I am joking of course).
The SHIELD solves all my connection issues, as I have yet to experience one instance of freezing or even buffering, even if I’m hogging the bandwidth from my PC or console (except for one…more on that later). Everything is silky smooth, bolstered by the incredible Tegra X1 processor that allows me to fly through the menus like greased lightning.
Coming from a streaming stick, the speed at which I could navigate the UI was astounding. I won’t go far as to say the $199 price tag for the X1 is worth it JUST for the snappy menus, but it’s clear I’m willing pay a good chunk of change for that ease of use.
With the SHIELD, you get all the good of Android TV (Your Google library, associated apps, and mainstays like Netflix, Hulu Plus etc.), but you also get the bad. Android TV is still finding its way, and as a young OS, there are some glaring holes to be found.The lack of HBO Now, WWE Network (for me, anyway) and more is a huge oversight; however, Nvidia recently announced that these apps and many more are coming soon to the SHIELD.
Also, Android TV does not get the full Play Store, meaning there will be plenty of apps that are either not compatible with the SHIELD, or will have to be sideloaded and still risk not working correctly.
One of the coolest features of Android TV is the “Recommended” row that curates a list of recommendations from the apps you have installed…all except Netflix. For whatever reason, Netflix does not integrate into Android TV. In addition to that, the Netflix app also sits in a weird spot; not with the rest of my apps like Hulu Plus or Sling, but all by its lonesome next to a submenu of “Stream Games, Download Games,” and “GeForce PC Games.”
What was once a nice clean section of gaming related options now has a random white and red Netflix box next to it, which truthfully is more of an OCD thing, but still odd. It’s almost like Netflix was viewed as some sort of black sheep, but was included “just because.” None of this is the fault of the SHIELD itself, but more so an issue afflicting Android TV devices in general.
The same issues that bugged me during my time with the SHIELD are the same ones that are bugging users on the Nexus Player and Razer Forge TV. As more apps come to Android TV and improvements are made via updates, Android TV will begin to find its footing, but for now, it’s kind of a mess.
If you look past the issues I just mentioned, the Android TV UI is beautiful to look at and intuitive to use. You have clearly defined sections for apps and games, beautiful box art that fills the background as you scroll through your recommendations, and a dedicated section for Nvidia goodies (the submenu I mentioned earlier).
Firing up any TV show or movie via Netflix, Hulu, Plex…whatever, is fast and responsive with virtually no loading and buffering times. If you have a 4K TV, you can even enjoy videos in full 4K glory, as the SHIELD is the first ever 4K capable Android TV device. Go check out Netflix and Youtube if you’re curious to see what all the 4K hype is about. It’s pretty insane.
You can also have Live TV enabled on the SHIELD, but the results were hit or miss for me. I downloaded the Pluto TV app and was pretty impressed by that. It’s not “real” live TV, but more like a Pandora for a variety of shows and channels.
There are no actual networks of traditional channels in that regard, but each “channel” is broken down by category (like BMX TV or Tech TV, etc) and essentially contain a curated playlist of related videos throughout the day. You get shows and movies, but they are hard to find. I also own an Hauppage Xbox One TV tuner, which I tried hooking up to the SHIELD. Unfortunately, the tuner didn’t work, as it is currently not supported by Android, apparently.
Entertainment apps aside, the SHIELD also doubles as a gaming console. The Tegra X1 processor is so beefy that it’ll run games like The Talos Principle and upcoming AAA titles like Borderlands TPS, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, and Crysis 3 with no issues.
Keep in mind, this isn’t the SHIELD streaming these games from your PC or GRID; it will actually be able to play these full powered games locally. Yes, they’re all last-gen games for the most part, but I love Borderlands and MGR so much that I’m absolutely thrilled that games of this quality are coming to the Play Store. That’s a huge deal; console/PC AAA titles and mobile games are becoming blurred in the best way possible.
I was able to play Doom 3 BFG Edition, Half-Life 2, Portal, and The Talos Principle with no issues whatsoever. If you don’t look too hard, the quality looks almost identical to the full PC versions (even though I’m sure they’re not), and throughout my time gaming, it constantly blew my mind realizing that I’m play all these games locally on the SHIELD.
Then after the initial honeymoon period, I realized that the 16GB base storage was going to fill up really fast. Luckily, the SHIELD allows SD cards up to 2 TB in size (whenever we get a microSD of that size).
For those with a compatible GeForce GPU on their PC, the SHIELD opens up a whole new world of gaming. In the past, I either had to make my own small PC for living room gaming, or hook up the SHIELD Portable/Tablet in order to stream my PC games.
Hooking up the SHIELD Tablet, for instance, was not a huge pain, but it did involve having hook up and remove a device and wires constantly, which soon became a nuisance. After a while, I just stopped Gamestreaming because the setup wasn’t worth it. Toss in the fact that Gamestreaming via wifi, even with a 5 Ghz band, was not ideal, with tons of lag and a less than stellar image.
With the SHIELD, none of this is an issue. Since I’m hardwired via an ethernet cord to my U-verse GigaPower internet, streaming from my PC is virtually painless. There’s still a bit of artifacting in the image and things can get choppy when other devices are being used, but at least everything is playable and nothing has yet to freeze on me (except for one instance…more on that later).
Also with the Tablet, I constantly was losing my connection to my PC for some reason. With the SHIELD TV, this is not a problem. Most of my PC gaming library is available to play at anytime, with no worries about a lost connection or having to hook up a separate device.
Many of my games can Gamestream at 1080p/60 FPS and even those that aren’t officially supported can still be added and accessed. Mouse and pointer games only? No problem, as a bluetooth mouse and keyboard work just fine on the SHIELD. Any game I want to play from my PC can now be enjoyed on my couch in the living room.
The third part of this SHIELD “holy trinity” of gaming is the GRID service. GRID has been around in beta since the days of the Portable, and through the past few years, more and more games have been added. For those that aren’t familiar with the service, think of GRID as a Netflix for PC games, similar to PlayStation Now.
Everything available on GRID is streamed to your SHIELD from remote servers, and believe me when I say the quality is spectacular. Playing games off of GRID is basically like playing a local downloaded version, with only a small handful of instances of stutter and lag. In fact, I was surprised when Dead Island Riptide ran into serious freezing issues, because no other game had any problems at all. If any readers also have the SHIELD, feel free to let me know if Dead Island Riptide freezes up for you as well in the opening stage.
At the end of July, GRID will end its public beta and enter a paid subscription model. No details yet on pricing, but we do know there will be two tiers; one for 720p with a bevy of included “free” titles, and a premium tier with 1080p/60 FPS. More details are sure to come in the coming weeks regarding pricing.
So how can I best describe the SHIELD TV? Is it a streaming set top box or a gaming console? I can tell you what Nvidia wants you to think: the SHIELD is shipped with a controller and not a remote. I think from a company standpoint, that says it all. But for the consumer? The SHIELD is whatever you need it to be, even though that answer seems like a cop out.
If you need a streaming device to watch movies and TV shows, the SHIELD can do that. Sure it’ll be at a crazy price for JUST a streaming box, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a faster, more capable device for that purpose. If you need something where you can play the upcoming influx of SHIELD AAA titles like Borderlands TPS and Crysis 3, then the SHIELD can do that as well.
True, these are mostly all last-gen games, but if you never had a PS4/Xbox 360, this is a fantastic way to enjoy some of the top titles from the past few years. Maybe you just want to use the GRID service and have a Netflix style gaming experience. The SHIELD can provide that as well.
Where the SHIELD truly shines is when all these parts come together for a user that can best maximize the device’s potential. As an ecosystem, the SHIELD is not only powerful, but it’s ultimately a huge convenience as well. It’s amazing that I can play The Talos Principle, then 20 minutes later, my daughter can come at me with “Daddy, are you done working?
Can I watch Daniel Tiger now?” and I only have to push one button to fire up Netflix. Then after that as I’m making dinner, I can once again push a button and have my entire music library ready to play from Play Music. All this can be done on one device on one input with little to no loading times. If you think about it, that’s pretty amazing.