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The NVIDIA SHIELD with Android TV Review: Early Impressions

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Manufacturer: NVIDIA

SHIELD Specifications

Announced just this past June at last year’s Google I/O event, Android TV is a platform developed by Google, running Android 5.0 and higher, that aims to create an interactive experience for the TV. This platform can be built into a TV directly as well as into set-top style boxes, like the NVIDIA SHIELD we are looking at today. The idea is to bring the breadth of apps and content to the TV through the Android operating system in a way that is both convenient and intuitive.

NVIDIA announced SHIELD back in March at GDC as the first product to use the company’s latest Tegra processor, the X1. This SoC combines an 8-core big.LITTLE ARM processor design with a 256-core implementation of the NVIDIA Maxwell GPU architecture, providing GPU performance previously unseen in an Android device. I have already spent some time with the NVIDIA SHIELD at various events and the promise was clearly there to make it a leading option for Android TV adoption, but obviously there were questions to be answered.

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Today’s article will focus on my early impressions with the NVIDIA SHIELD, having used it both in the office and at home for a handful of days. As you’ll see during the discussion there are still some things to be ironed out, some functionality that needs to be added before SHIELD and Android TV can really be called a must-buy product. But I do think it will get there.

And though this review will focus on the NVIDIA SHIELD, it’s impossible not to marry the success of SHIELD with the success of Google’s Android TV. The dominant use case for SHIELD is as a media playback device, with the gaming functionality as a really cool side project for enthusiasts and gamers looking for another outlet. For SHIELD to succeed, Google needs to prove that Android TV can improve over other integrated smart TV platforms as well as other set-top box platforms like Boxee, Roku and even the upcoming Apple TV refresh.

But first, let’s get an overview of the NVIDIA SHIELD device, pricing and specifications, before diving into my experiences with the platform as a whole.

Continue reading our review of the new NVIDIA SHIELD with Android TV!!

NVIDIA SHIELD Specifications

NVIDIA SHIELD will be available in two different models, as you might have previously read on PC Perspective: a 16GB model and a 500GB Pro model. The 500GB SHIELD Pro will run you $100 more (while including a copy of the Android-native Borderlands title upon release) and includes a 2.5-in hard drive inside the body of the device. The 16GB version will require you to buy a MicroSD card for additional storage if you want it, and you probably will.

(Note: The NVIDIA SHIELD 16GB Model is selling today for $199 and the 500GB SHIELD Pro is listed at $299.)

  NVIDIA SHIELD Specifications
Processor NVIDIA® Tegra® X1 processor with 256-core Maxwell™ GPU with 3GB RAM
Video Features 4K Ultra-HD Ready with 4K playback and capture up to 60 fps (VP9, H265, H264)
Audio 7.1 and 5.1 surround sound pass through over HDMI
High-resolution audio playback up to 24-bit/192kHz over HDMI and USB
High-resolution audio upsample to 24-bit/192hHz over USB
Storage 16 GB
500GB (SHIELD Pro option)
Wireless 802.11ac 2x2 MIMO 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi
Bluetooth 4.1/BLE
Interfaces Gigabit Ethernet
HDMI 2.0
Two USB 3.0 (Type A)
Micro-USB 2.0
MicroSD slot (supports 128GB cards)
IR Receiver (compatible with Logitech Harmony)
Gaming Features NVIDIA GRID™ streaming service
NVIDIA GameStream™
SW Updates SHIELD software upgrades directly from NVIDIA
Power 40W power adapter
Weight and Size Weight: 23oz / 654g
Height: 5.1in / 130mm
Width: 8.3in / 210mm
Depth: 1.0in / 25mm
OS Android TV™, Google Cast™ Ready
Bundled Apps PLEX
In the box NVIDIA SHIELD
NVIDIA SHIELD controller
HDMI cable (High Speed), USB cable (Micro-USB to USB)
Power adapter (Includes plugs for North America, Europe, UK)
Requirements TV with HDMI input, Internet access
Options SHIELD remote, SHIELD stand

You can comb over the details of the table above yourself, but there are a couple highlights worth mentioning. The Tegra X1 processor, with four ARM Cortex-A57 cores and four Cortex-A53 cores, is a fully 64-bit compliant CPU and should offer performance at or above any other mobile SoC on the market. It is interesting that NVIDIA decided to use off-the-shelf parts for the Tegra X1 rather than going with its own Denver-based design – that should tell us a little bit about the state of that particular project. The GPU on the X1 is really what stands out: with a 256-core Maxwell architecture implementation, the same technology found in the GeForce GTX 900-series of products for desktop PCs, it runs away from anything else in this space in terms of GPU performance. This allows SHIELD to offer Android gaming experiences well beyond anything else – when you see Doom 3 running at 1080p and Trine 2 looking just as good as it does on a PC, running only on Android and the SHIELD console, you can’t help be impressed.

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NVIDIA has included 3GB of system memory on SHIELD, as much as any other ARM-based smartphone on the market.

For connectivity you’ll find both Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11ac (with a 2x2 radio) available on SHIELD, making sure that you have more than enough bandwidth on your local network for 4K streaming. I have used the SHIELD exclusively on 802.11ac networks (5.0 GHz) in my testing and had no problems getting 4K streaming working through YouTube and Netflix.

There are several USB options on the back side of the unit, including two full sized USB 3.0 ports that you can use for connecting future accessories as well as for attaching an external hard drive. If you decide to purchase the 16GB model, or even fill up the 500GB version, you can simply attach a 2TB portable USB hard drive and have more than enough space for movies, games or whatever else you want to keep attached to your Android TV system.

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With previous NVIDIA SHIELD devices, the company has proven that it can keep up with delivering on-time operating system updates, making sure you’ll always have the latest features provided by the most recent Android releases. This is often an area of disappointment and concern for Android users so it’s great to see NVIDIA committing to this course of action.

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May 28, 2015 | 03:08 PM - Posted by nevzim (not verified)

Does Nvidia Android TV support HDMI-CEC?

May 28, 2015 | 05:16 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Yes it does, but it doesn't support bitstreaming of DTS-HD, Dolby TrueHD, or Atmos, so it fails as a Blu-ray streamer.

May 29, 2015 | 04:00 AM - Posted by nevzim (not verified)

Hard sell. For $300 one can go for Xbox One. I think that by the end of the year PS4 will be $300 as well. Both much better for living room gaming and as good for media.

June 1, 2015 | 01:36 PM - Posted by Mike S. (not verified)

This device has four advantages against the Xbox One and PS4.

1. Supports 4k streaming.

2. You can run Android games, which tend to be cheap. For games without an internet component, you may be able to play offline (?)

3. You can run some PC games using the Grid service, and the service is a subscription where you get access to all games in the service. If the service is cheap enough, that's a better deal than getting an Xbox One or PS4 and paying $60 each for AAA titles.

4. You're not doing business with Microsoft or Sony.

... whether those advantages matter enough for this thing to sell, I have no idea.

May 28, 2015 | 03:42 PM - Posted by Alex Antonio (not verified)

is the 500GB hard drive an SSD?

May 28, 2015 | 04:30 PM - Posted by Gunbuster

Of course, for just $100 extra they give you a 500GB SSD... ಠ_ಠ

May 28, 2015 | 07:26 PM - Posted by ireallylovehockey

it is a hybrid hard drive

May 28, 2015 | 04:34 PM - Posted by Exec (not verified)

Does it support DTS-HD bit streaming? how is the included Plex app handling 24p content?

May 28, 2015 | 06:39 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Not sure on this, but it's the same Plex app that exists on Android today. I'll try to do some research.

May 28, 2015 | 07:06 PM - Posted by Exec (not verified)

Thanks Ryan, That's what most home theater owners would like to know. If it were to pass through DTS-HD and support 24hz Refresh for movies it would be a bargain even at over $300

May 28, 2015 | 05:53 PM - Posted by MarkT (not verified)

$35 Chromecast
$100 Nexus Player
$200-300 This....

This thing is a boondoggle, and it annoys me, SHIELD brand just needs to die.

Cut the losses,take the SOC experience and focus please.

May 28, 2015 | 10:03 PM - Posted by funandjam

It's a niche product for people with niche needs. And it'll stay that way until playstation and xbox dies, shield will just never compete with them on gaming, since so many people get those systems becaues their family and friends have them already.

For me, the really only interesting feature of the device is also hardware locked in and that is game streaming from a local machine. I had actually considered a shield device at one point, until Steam came along with inhome streaming and now that they will have a box dedicated to just streaming from the pc, I no longer want a shield.

May 29, 2015 | 01:38 AM - Posted by Rock1m1 (not verified)

Does it support DLNA? As most of my media are on my computer and I would like to stream them over to my TV.

May 31, 2015 | 03:46 AM - Posted by NZtechfreak (not verified)

Yes, it will work with that, if it doesn't have inbuilt support the app Bubble UPnP from the Play Store will do it no problems.

May 30, 2015 | 06:33 PM - Posted by JCCIII

.

May 29, 2015 | 06:39 AM - Posted by Jabbadap (not verified)

Does it have open rom? Might be interesting to see if you can install some full fledged linux distro on it.

May 29, 2015 | 07:55 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Other nvidia devices let you unlock the boot loader so I expect this to be no different. From there, its just a matter of getting their drivers and getting a Linux build made.

Nvidia is at the level of google when it comes to Dev support so that's a good sign for the shield.

May 29, 2015 | 10:22 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Actually I think because of the direct DRM implications of Android TV, this one won't easily support that type of thing.

May 29, 2015 | 08:17 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

It has pretty much no benefit over a smarthphone or tablet. It uses mobile hardware (X1 still comparable to modern mobile chips, even if it hasn't been used in a tablet yet). It's the same problem that curses all Android TV devices IMO - you don't get any benefits over a decent tablet/smartphone, while sacrificing the portability.

Ouya was doomed by poor hardware, it's hard to believe that the Shield console will perform a lot better.

May 29, 2015 | 10:24 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

I don't agree with that. The benefit of SHIELD Android TV is that it's permanent - you don't have to worry about battery life, hooking up an HDMI cable when you come home. And the Android TV OS experience is very different than standard phone/tablet Android.

May 30, 2015 | 05:54 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I have a HDMI adapter cable that allows me to charge my tablet and mirror the screen with a single cable. I know that keeping a battery charging for no reason is not ideal, but before the battery becomes bad, the tablet will be outdated.
I do not see any case, where this setup is in combination with my €25 bluetooth controller less useful than a Shield console. I don't have 4K streaming, but I lack a 4K TV in the first place.

I have bought an Amazon FireTV (because this thing was so damn cheap) and the only different experience I see between FireTV OS and Android is a different UI. From what I have seen about all Apps available for AndroidTV or FireOS are also available for "dumb" Android.

June 1, 2015 | 01:52 PM - Posted by Mike S. (not verified)

I think it's decent:
1. It supports 4k streaming, which may matter to some people.
2. It is three generations of Nvidia mobile chip past the Ouya and the Android games market has had two more years for the Android games graphics and gameplay technology to mature.
3. The GRID gaming service. I don't know pricing - if it's cheap, $180 per year for a subscription that lets you play any of a dozen AAA games whenever you want beats $180 for three AAA games for an Xbox One, PS4, or PC.
4. It supports voice control for media search, which is an attractive gimmick.
5. It's not affiliated with Sony, Nintendo, or Microsoft. Some people hate all three companies. Android is attached to Google, which - right or wrong - enjoys a lot of public love these days.

If the GRID gaming service is cheap enough - ideally $10 per month or less - then I think this console is a decent choice for people with a good high speed internet connection. If the gaming service is $20 per month or more, or you live where your internet connection has low bandwidth or high latency, then it's not worth it.

May 29, 2015 | 09:52 AM - Posted by larsoncc

Does AndroidTV support CableCard based network tuners (Silicon Dust or Ceton)? Can it act as a DVR?

May 29, 2015 | 10:23 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

As of now, no. I think you'll find CableCard slowing dying.

May 30, 2015 | 09:20 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Actually Ryan is wrong. Android TV supports Silicondust's cablecard tuner, and they have had support for it since last year's Google IO.

May 30, 2015 | 09:21 PM - Posted by Luxferro (not verified)

Actually Ryan is wrong. Android TV supports Silicondust's cablecard tuner, and they have had support for it since last year's Google IO.

May 29, 2015 | 12:27 PM - Posted by mAxius

The battle for the living room has begun! why?! Because nv says so. hmm i would say the battle is over as nv has completely lost the living room being that no console manufacturer will touch them with a 10ft pole.

May 29, 2015 | 12:32 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Will it support streaming media from pc and game streaming from pc?

May 30, 2015 | 01:41 PM - Posted by Snoood (not verified)

I love the guys that know how to type but can't nail down reading.

June 1, 2015 | 02:39 PM - Posted by IaM (not verified)

Ok, I concede half my point to the person who knows how to read but not constructively participate on an open forum. Still does not specifically mention media (movie/music/photos) streaming.

May 29, 2015 | 12:56 PM - Posted by BugSmashR

If someone would write a native version of QuakeLive for this I'd like to try this out in the BYOC at QuakeCon. Do you think we could entice Nvidia to bring a Grid server and install it in the NOC? Will the USB connections on the back support keyboard & mouse? Just wondering....

May 30, 2015 | 06:33 PM - Posted by JCCIII

.

May 29, 2015 | 10:01 PM - Posted by Juniors234 (not verified)

Correction to the article. The remote is actually retailing at $49.00 not $30.00. Just ordered mine this morning. Shipping is hell expensive though, unless you prefer to wait at least a week for your order.

May 30, 2015 | 09:12 AM - Posted by thomask (not verified)

The real question is can you install APK's from the internet?
xbmc? how about the playstore?

May 30, 2015 | 04:58 PM - Posted by NickMiller_v1 (not verified)

After owning this for 24 hours, I'm became very frustrated with setting this up a home theater server replacement. With the only built in solution is plex, and I find myself not liking plex at all. My only solution are to find a work around by listening to others on forums. A 100 dollar basic blu ray player with DNLA has better home theater functions than this. I hope they fix this through an update because you can feel the power of the processor.

May 31, 2015 | 03:52 AM - Posted by NZtechfreak (not verified)

Try Bubble UPnP from the Play Store? If you don't see it when searching in the Android TV UI go to the desktop version of the Play Store and select the Shield as the device to be installed to. As I understand it most Android apps can be installed that way, circumventing the Android TV stores limited curated list of apps.

June 4, 2015 | 01:44 AM - Posted by PCPerFan (not verified)

I would have liked to see you crack it open and talk about whether you can mount a 2.5" drive yourself.

June 5, 2015 | 01:59 PM - Posted by cdx910

Has there been any news on a release date for the X1 powered Shield Tablet 2. Or whether they'll keep front mounted speakers on it which all other manufacturers seem to be doing away with? I just got the original tablet as a gift and need to know if I should return it if the newer one is coming in a month.

June 8, 2015 | 03:48 AM - Posted by FurryFish

Can you turn the light off?

June 12, 2015 | 12:17 PM - Posted by ByS04 (not verified)

Can it handle bluray ISOs?

I seen someone has already installed KODI(XBMC) on this device. Since I have only little interest in gaming, I would be using this box for playing local content and basic internet browsing for content that doesn't have an app to access.

July 7, 2015 | 10:34 PM - Posted by john skinner (not verified)

I have only thing to say, It stopped working after 2 weeks.
I order a remote with it didn't not work out of the box.
Now let me tell you, Nvidia repair service at best is crap.
So bad I had to contact my card company to see if they would
help move Nvidia along. MY ADVICE IS TO NOT DEAL WITH NVIDIA
IF YOU CAN NOT GET IT ELSE WHERE DO NOT BUY THIS TURD.

September 26, 2015 | 02:29 PM - Posted by Ilke (not verified)

Can i install linux on pro version ? If yes how any link or steps to follow i heard it is possible to have ubuntu running on this but how?

November 4, 2015 | 05:48 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

LOL Now I know where all the people who ever had an issue with this device are.

But there are a 1000 times your number who love this device including myself.

NVIDIA + KODI = AWESOME

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