Date: August 10, 2015
Author(s): Ryan Perry
In the market for a new streaming device? What about an HTPC? Maybe a new gaming system? What if you could have all of those rolled into one? If I have your attention, then the NVIDIA Android Shield TV may be for you. Get ready for maximum couch time and maximum performance, but with minimum effort… and money!
There are three things that I generally get really excited about. They are, in no particular order:
Since this is Techgage, there won’t be any sleeping or snacks, so let’s get cracking with our latest new tech review, the SHIELD Android TV. The newest entry in the SHIELD lineup differs from the portability of past offerings. Instead of allowing users to take a high quality gaming experience with them, the Android TV variant will keep your hind quarters glued to the couch with a ton of really fun features, high-performance gaming, and ultra high definition streaming.
The newest Lollipop 5.1-equipped SHIELD comes in two flavours – the standard version with 16GB of storage, and the SHIELD Pro which ships with 500GB of space along with a copy of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, which is expected to drop September 1st. Both options include the SHIELD controller, but those living in the US will also receive a $30 Google Play card and 3 months of unlimited tunes on Google Play Music. Tough luck for the rest of the world I’m afraid.
Under the hood, the SHIELD is powered by NVIDIA’s 256-core Tegra X1 processor, and if this means little to you, let’s compare that to the 72-core Tegra 4 featured in the SHIELD portable and the 192-core Tegra K1 processor tucked inside the SHIELD Tablet. To help bolster performance, the Android TV version is further pumped up with 3GB of memory.
For those who don’t care about RAM, HDMI, and all of those other geeky acronyms, feel free to skip ahead, but those who want all of the dirty details can have a look at the spec sheet below.
|NVIDIA SHIELD – Android TV|
|Processor||ARM Cortex-A57+A53 (ARMv8-A) – Eight-Core 1.9GHz|
|Graphics||NVIDIA Tegra X1 – 256 GPU Cores|
|Storage||16GB or 500GB|
microSD up to 2TB Supported
|Display||Up to 4K/60FPS|
|Audio||7.1/5.1 over HDMI|
24-bit/192kHz playback over HDMI and USB
|Wireless||802.11ac Dual-band 2×2 MIMO|
2x USB 3.0
|Et cetera||Weight: 23 oz / 654 g|
Height: 1.0 in / 25 mm
Width: 8.3 in / 210 mm
Depth: 5.1 in / 130 mm
Included Apps: Netflix, Google Play, YouTube, Photos & Videos, PLEX
|Price||$199 / $299 USD|
On the rear of this asymmetrical little wonder are all of the ports covered in the spec sheet, but we felt that it warranted a closer look. From right to left we have the power connection, an HDMI 2.0 port that can handle DRM-protected content and 5.1 and 7.1 Dolby surround sound via HDMI pass-through, a gigabit Ethernet port, two USB 3.0 ports for external hard drives, flash drives, and peripherals, a mini-USB 2.0 port to connect the SHIELD to a PC for various tasks (such as Android Debug Bridge), and a micro-SD slot that can accept cards up to 2TB.
Tucked away out of sight is 802.11 AC WiFi connectivity (which is backwards compatible for those without an AC capable router), Bluetooth 4.1 wireless connectivity for speakers, peripherals, and other bits, and an infra-red port on the front edge that allows the SHIELD to be compatible with Logitech Harmony remotes.
Speaking of peripherals, the SHIELD controller looks similar to that of the SHIELD Portable, and the layout should be familiar to most gamers. Its middle-of-the-road size means that smaller hands shouldn’t have problems reaching the buttons, including the top mounted bumpers and triggers, while larger hands shouldn’t feel cramped. The silver accent at the bottom holds the volume controls, while the back, enter, and menu options are located on the silver accent at the top. The NVIDIA logo in the middle doubles as the sync button that pairs it with any SHIELD device, and pressing it when synced enables voice search. The controller connects via WiFi Direct to take advantage of super fast, low latency communication.
On the top edge are the USB charging port and headset port along with the right and left bumpers and triggers. Battery life is advertised at 40 hours, which should be more than enough for even the most rabid gamer.
Those who would rather not wield a controller while searching the Web or watching movies also have the option of purchasing a separate remote. Buttons consist of a round navigation ring with the enter button in the middle, the menu and back buttons, and the voice search button. It features Bluetooth connectivity, and like the controller, sports a USB charging port, and a 3.5mm headset port.
Wrapping up the available accessories is a stand that allows the SHIELD to be placed vertically. The heavy aluminum construction gives it the heft necessary to keep the system stable, and the rubber pad on the bottom has an adhesive-like coating to keep it in place and reduce the risk of having the unit slide around. We say adhesive-like due to the fact that it’s sticky, but it won’t ruin the surface that it’s placed on, or leave any residue behind.
Included with the SHIELD is the power cable, an HDMI cable, and the USB charging cable for the controller and remote; but who wants to see a bunch of cables, right? Let’s get to the good stuff – the user interface.
It’s impossible to show the entire home screen in one shot, but the screen capture below shows the bulk of it out of the box. There are game and video recommendations at the top, and below that are where users can stream games using NVIDIA’s GRID cloud gaming service, download games from the Google Play Store, or watch some videos on Netflix. Below that is where any downloaded games would be displayed, followed by any installed apps, and finally, the system settings, network information, peripheral setup and power options are at the bottom.
Let’s start with the games. Current Android users should feel right at home grabbing games from the Google Play Store. There are titles such as Half Life 2: Episode 2, Hotline Miami, and Badland. Flipping over to the GRID cloud service however gives access to some AAA games, such as most of the Batman Arkham-series, and a personal favourite, the original Borderlands. The list of games is constantly expanding, so if you can’t find what you’re looking for, give it time.
For those who haven’t heard of the subscription-based GRID cloud service, it provides gameplay in up to 1080p at 60 frames per second (FPS), without the need to download the full game. The “heavy lifting” is performed at a data center so users are essentially playing on a high end system somewhere else in the world. In the shot below we left the SHIELD connected via WiFi and purposely kept it a fair distance from the router to show that the service will scale down the quality based on the signal strength and connection speed. This is evident by the 540p30 icon in the top right corner which indicates that the video stream is running at 540p at 30 FPS.
Watching movies on Netflix should be pretty simple for everyone thanks to the user-friendly interface similar to that found when browsing the standard website. The SHIELD Android TV allows for streaming of 4K video at 60FPS, which Netflix and YouTube already offer, although the former is only available as part of a premium subscription, and not all titles are available in 4K.
Finally, there’s the search option. Users can manually search at the top of the home screen and enter in their queries letter by letter, but that’s for chumps. Thankfully, both peripherals have a built-in mic that allows for voice search. Hitting the sync button on the controller or the microphone button on the remote kicks off the feature that scours the Web for videos, as well as any installed apps and games on the SHIELD itself.
Rounding out the features on the SHIELD Android TV are Google Play Movies & TV, Google Play Music, a photo and video viewer, and the ability to connect to any PLEX server.
|SHIELD (TV)||SHIELD Tablet|
|MobileXPRT – Overall Perf||393||315|
|MobileXPRT – UX||104||104|
|3DMark Slingshot 3.0||4693||3134|
|3DMark Slingshot 3.1||3795||2411|
|3DMark Ice Storm||45604||29532|
|GFXBench T-Res Onscreen||3352||2876|
Well, we certainly got what we expected, and then some. The SHIELD Android TV trounces all other SHIELD systems by a huge margin, but sometimes it’s hard to get a grasp on performance by simply looking at graphs and numbers. If that’s the case with you, take a peek at the GFX T-Rex onscreen test. It ran at 60FPS compared to 40FPS on the SHIELD Portable and 53FPS on the SHIELD Tablet. For those who want the best of the best in terms of video quality, the SHIELD Android TV delivers.
Yet again we see no change in the User Experience score of MobileXPRT, so it looks like that test is geared for lower-end systems. We found that navigating through the various menus was smooth and nearly instantaneous, as were Web searches and browsing various system folders and shared folders on the local network.
As mentioned earlier, the GRID service will scale down the stream quality based on the connection, so with the WiFi signal at roughly half strength we decided to take Dirt 3 for a spin. Even though it was running at 540p at 30FPS, we found it virtually unplayable due to excess lag. On our fibre connection with the WiFi signal at full strength using a typical 802.11n router or with the SHIELD connected directly, we experienced silky-smooth 1080p gameplay at 60FPS. Despite the down scaling ability, those with slower connections or weak WiFi signals should ensure that the environment where the SHIELD will sit is ready to roll beforehand for the best possible experience.
As stated in the introduction, the SHIELD Android TV aims to do all things for all people. Not only does it accomplish this, but it does so flawlessly. I’m sure there are “power users” out there who could punch holes in this assessment since their needs differ from my own, but without getting too down and dirty, it’s hands down the best all-in-one gaming system/media player on the market today.
Voice search capability does away with any tedious on-screen keyboard work, playing downloaded games or streaming them through the GRID service is as simple as picking what you want and firing it up, and streaming movies online is as easy as it has ever been. Navigation is fast and fluid, there’s more than enough horsepower for some eye-popping graphics thanks to the Tegra X1 processor, and the ability to stream flicks in 4K is fantastic, provided the service is available.
The hardware itself is well designed, with the SHIELD being much smaller and much thinner that I expected once out of the box, so it’ll be easy to tuck away if need be. It’s also virtually silent, which is a huge plus in the living room. I use an mATX system as my HTPC, so there’s always the slight sound of the fans running, but with the SHIELD, it’s dead quiet.
NVIDIA did a great job designing the peripherals as well. The controller feels good in the hands and the buttons are well laid out resulting in no fatigue after long gaming sessions. Perhaps my favourite peripheral is the remote control with its understated look and aluminum construction that makes it right at home in the living room and gives it a robust feel. The microphone on both peripherals does a great job at picking up vocal commands, and the fact that they can be charged using the same cable reduces clutter, which is a top priority in my household.
The list of games and apps available on Google Play is pretty thin given the massive amount of titles available at the mobile and desktop stores, and while you won’t find the latest titles on the GRID gaming service (yet?), there are some gems that you might have missed. The service itself is a massive leap forward in what has been talked about for years, but never really delivered until now. Who doesn’t want 1080p gaming at 60FPS, streamed to their TV virtually lag free? I do, I do!
At $199.99 US, the 16GB SHIELD Android TV isn’t terribly hard on the wallet, but the lack of storage space may turn some folks off. When you consider that a 500GB hard drive and USB 3.0 external enclosure would set you back around $65 US, the total price tag is still far less than the price of building a traditional HTPC that could match the SHIELD in terms of performance. When it comes to the $299.99 500GB version, however, concerns about money are replaced by the simplicity of having everything contained in the unit itself and less clutter since no external drives should be needed. We’ll let you decide which takes priority.
While the SHIELD comes with the controller, the remote will set you back $49.99 US, and if you want to to stand the system on its end, be prepared to dish out another $29.99 US for the aluminum base.
As it stands today, the SHIELD Android TV strikes me as a product with a specific niche although it covers a very broad spectrum within that niche. Until the list of games can match that of the PC (which may never happen, but we certainly hope it does someday), I’ll personally will stick with my desktop system for games and a separate HTPC for media in the living room. I feel that the freedom that a traditional PC provides trumps the simplicity of the SHIELD Android TV, but that’s just me.
For someone who has a specific need or want for a single system that does everything, the SHIELD Android TV is going to rock their world.
NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV
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