Nvidia recently announced a brand-new Shield TV package to help spread the adoption of its 4K TV streamer.
Now, instead of picking up the Nvidia Shield TV with a controller and the remote, you can snap up a Shield TV with just the remote. Starting at £179, you can preorder a 16GB Shield TV with remote now for its 18 October release.
The Shield TV included in the bundle is the exact same as the model Nvidia released earlier this year. By removing the game controller from the Shield TV bundle, it means Nvidia can sell its ultra-powerful 4K HDR streaming device as a TV streamer instead of an Android gaming device.
It’s also likely a push from Nvidia to combat the arrival of Apple TV 4K.
Nvidia Shield TV (2017) Review
When you’ve already built the best Android TV box on the market, where do you go from there? That’s the question Nvidia faced after releasing its Shield TV Android console back in 2015. The original Shield TV won me over but was let down by a shortage of content, lack of bundled remote and a rather bulky (and ugly) controller.
Two years on and not only is Android TV now a content-rich proposition, but Nvidia has addressed every single one of the original Shield’s issues, expanding the device’s features at the same time.
Games and content streaming are still very much at the core of the Shield’s appeal, but this year Nvidia is using its latest console to go after the giants of home automation – Google Home and Amazon Echo. This Shield TV is set to become the centre of your connected home.
In what could be considered a controversial decision, there’s absolutely nothing different – in hardware terms – between this year’s Shield TV and the 2015 model. Many were expecting Nvidia to upgrade its impressive Tegra X1 chip but as it’s still a pretty powerful chip, Nvidia felt it would be an unnecessary expense. Having seen what the Tegra X1 is capable of, not just in the Shield TV itself but also inside Nintendo’s upcoming Tegra X1-equipped Switch console, it looks like it still has plenty of life left in it.
Alongside the Tegra X1, you’ll get 3GB of RAM, Bluetooth 4.1 support, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, two USB 3 ports and 16GB of internal storage. As with the previous model, Nvidia is also offering a “Pro” option for the Shield that includes a 500GB HDD, which is near essential for anyone who plans to do more than simply stream games or media content to their TV. The Shield TV Pro is exactly the same as the 2015 model, even down to the inclusion of a microSD slot, which has been omitted from the standard 2017 Shield TV model.
Nvidia Shield TV review (2017): What’s changed?
So if the Shield TV’s guts are exactly the same as they were two years ago, what’s changed? First up, Nvidia has made it smaller, reducing the size by 40%, and while the original Shield TV (and the new Shield TV Pro) measured 210 x 130 x 25mm (WDH), this year’s model is a mere 159 x 98 x 26mm, meaning it’s even easier to tuck away behind a TV if you’d rather not have it on show.
This year’s model is still just as gorgeous to look at as the original Shield TV. It may now be made of plastic, instead of the plastic and metal build chassis of the original (that’s now reserved for the Pro model), but its faceted design is just as eye-catching. And that angular design look has also made its way across to the completely overhauled Shield TV controller, which is a huge improvement on the original and no longer looks like an unsightly lump of plastic.
Plus, in a move that is sure to make the Shield a more attractive proposition to newcomers, Nvidia is now including the Shield Remote in the box in addition to that new game controller. Previously, Shield owners had to pay £35 for the privilege, which was not only unreasonably expensive, but those who sprung for it would also have been disappointed to find its rechargeable battery would die within a week or two of use.
Unfortunately, one disappointing change is the removal of a microSD slot on the standard Shield TV model. This isn’t really the end of the world thanks to USB 3 storage support, but now that the Shield TV supports Android TV 7 Nougat’s adaptable storage, microSD support would have been a welcome addition.
And I found that using the USB 3 expandable storage option, performance via a USB flash drive and a portable 4TB hard drive just wasn’t that great. Games such as The Witness and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance had serious issues with loading fast enough – issues that melted away once installed on the internal storage.
Nvidia Shield TV review (2017): Peripheral thinking
The major appeal in picking up a new Shield TV, over trying to get hold of an old model on eBay, is the revamped controller. And while its polygonal skin looks great, what makes it a better controller is the build quality and the feel of the sticks and buttons. Everything about the new controller feels higher quality and more refined than Nvidia’s previous effort, and that makes it far more comfortable to use for extended sessions.
As part of the redesign, Nvidia has also removed all the touch-sensitive navigation buttons from the pad, replacing them with physical ones located at the bottom of the controller, just below and between the two thumbsticks.
These can take a bit of getting used to at first, especially as you’d expect the “home” button to be the big Nvidia logo in the centre – instead of the button below the right thumbstick – but they’re a world of improvement over the original.
Nvidia has also improved gamepad battery life, claiming it can now last up to 60 hours per charge. I was sceptical, but I’ve put a solid 40 hours or so of reasonably intense use into it so far, and the Shield Controller is still going strong.
Battery life is also the major reason Nvidia tweaked its Shield Remote. Now ever so slightly thicker than the previous model, the newly bundled-in remote ditches the rechargeable battery and headphone port in favour of two removable CR2032 batteries, a change that Nvidia says gives it a year’s worth of battery life.
Nvidia Shield TV review (2017): It’s all in the software
Two years ago, Nvidia’s Shield TV was built for gaming greatness and while we knew from the start that its Tegra X1 chip was capable, there were few games on Android TV capable of stretching the hardware. Now, after two years of working with developers, its catalogue of native Android games is growing, and they’re absolutely incredible in motion.
Playing Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance on the Shield TV is somewhat unbelievable. Not only is a PS3/Xbox 360-era title running at 1080p at 60fps for the most part, but it actually looks to be more visually on-par with the PC version. The same can be said of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, which pushes out a near-consistent 60fps at 1080p, something the original PS3/Xbox 360 build couldn’t quite manage. While that may not impress PS4, Xbox One and gaming PC owners, do bear in mind that the Tegra X1 is a mobile processor.
The Shield isn’t just about native Android games, though. It’s also a great place for streamed games content. It still supports Nvidia’s impressive GeForce Now subscription service – which now includes titles from Ubisoft – but Nvidia has overhauled the back-end with Pascal-based GPUs, so you’re now able to stream games from the cloud at resolutions of up to 4K. You’ll need pretty decent broadband to do that (around 100Mbits/sec) of course, but latency-free 1080p, 60fps gameplay can be had with a connection of around 25Mbits/sec.
And if you don’t fancy paying £8 per month to get access to a library of on-demand PC games because you already have a beast of a gaming rig in your home, the Shield TV lets you stream your entire catalogue to your TV. There’s also a Steam app that launches Steam Big Picture mode direct from your PC to your TV wirelessly. All games can be streamed up to 4K with HDR support and with full haptic feedback if a title supports it.
Nvidia Shield TV review (2017): The only way to watch 4K HDR Amazon Prime Video
Android TV has come on leaps and bounds in the intervening years since the last Shield TV launched, transforming Nvidia’s powerful box from niche device into something with a whole lot more mainstream appeal.
For a long time there was no Amazon Prime Video support; Netflix existed but didn’t support 4K or HDR; and BBC iPlayer was absent, leaving most people to try to wrap their heads around Plex or Kodi if they wanted to stream content. Now, though, Android TV is as fully featured as the Amazon Fire TV or Roku boxes and contains extras such as Google cast support.
And since Amazon hasn’t yet bothered to bring out the 4K HDR-compatible Amazon Fire TV Stick over here, it’s also currently the only way you can watch 4K HDR Amazon Prime Video content in the UK. The Netflix app has support for 4K HDR, too, as does the Google cast facility.
And the Shield TV remains an enthusiast’s dream, with support for Plex and Kodi and its various builds, plus the ability to sideload any app you fancy. In essence, it will run pretty much anything you want.
Nvidia Shield TV review (2017): The smart hub for your home
Finally, the Shield TV also wants to double as your smart-home hub. There’s integration with Samsung’s SmartThings tech for control over things such as remote cameras, lights and heating systems and, during my earlier hands-on session with device, I was lucky enough to see the still-in-development integration with Google Assistant.
Simple commands such as “OK Google, start my day” (picked up via the always-on mic in the new controller) saw the Shield TV turn on room lighting, turn up the temperature on a Nest Thermostat and start the kettle boiling. Saying “OK Google, I’m leaving” turned off the lights, reduced the temperature and powered down non-essential smart devices.
The problem is that this currently relies on the microphones built into the Shield TV’s controller and remote control picking up your voice, which isn’t the most practical solution if you want to use the system in other rooms around the house. To address this, Nvidia is set to release a connected microphone called Nvidia Spot, which will act as a voice relay to the Shield TV.
Nvidia Shield TV review (2017): Verdict
As a complete package, Nvidia has pushed its Shield TV above and beyond the device it was back in 2015. But beyond the welcome overhaul of the controller, remote and the Shield TV’s new smaller form factor, all of the improvements come via software. This means older Shield TV users can still benefit from Nvidia’s upgrades, while newcomers get an excellent experience right out of the box.
In short, there’s nothing else better on the market right now. For gamers, it’s an Android console that’s capable of playing games with enough fidelity to keep up with mainstream consoles, has access to a vast library of streamable 4K titles, and hooks right into your personal library of PC games. For families and more casual users, it can access every video-streaming service available, lets you cast content from your phone, and runs incredibly quickly when loading and switching between apps.
Shield TV is also pretty future-proof and, thanks to upcoming Google Assistant integration, could well become the centre of your smart home. Why shell out on something like Google Home or Amazon Echo, when you can get all the same functionality via a powerful streaming box that sits under your TV?
It may be the same device as two years ago on the surface, then, but those intervening years have propelled Nvidia’s unparalleled TV streamer to new heights. And although expensive, I cannot recommend it highly enough.