Over the final 4 years, the Nvidia Shield TV established itself as a great streaming video player for geeks. While it didn’t have the polish of an Apple TV, Fire TV, or Roku participant, it supplied a number of neat options for energy customers, reminiscent of the power to make use of it as a Plex server or—with an inexpensive dongle—even a sensible dwelling hub.
Now, Nvidia has up to date the Shield TV with a brand new design, a decrease beginning worth, a a lot better distant, and a genuinely spectacular AI upscaling characteristic that sharpens HD movies on 4K TVs. At $150, it’s nonetheless an costly media streamer, however the brand new options ought to make it enticing even to non-nerds.
Still, some indicators of the Shield’s inside geekiness stay. Getting essentially the most out the Shield TV requires some poking round by menus, and the underlying Android TV software program continues to really feel like a piece in progress. Though it’s simpler to suggest to a wider viewers than the previous Shield was, it’s not a transparent winner over different high-end streamers together with the Apple TV 4K, Fire TV Cube, and Roku Ultra.
Choose your Shield
The new Nvidia Shield TV is available in two types, however each characteristic the identical up to date CPU, the Nvidia Tegra X1+. More on that in a bit.
The $150 model reviewed here’s a tube of grey plastic measuring 6.5 inches lengthy and 1.57 inches in diameter. There’s an HDMI port and a microSD card slot on one facet, and an influence connector and ethernet jack on the opposite. It additionally has a button that triggers a sound on the distant that can assist you discover it. Inside, there’s 8GB of storage and 2GB of RAM.
According to Nvidia, the tubular design is supposed for laying on the ground alongside your different A/V cables, however I’m not bought on the thought. Hiding the Shield out of attain might hinder Wi-Fi reception and maintain you from utilizing the machine’s remote-finder button, however putting the tube out within the open simply appears awkward, with cables protruding of each ends.
If you favor the Shield’s previous rectangular design, it nonetheless exists within the new Shield TV Pro ($200 at Amazon). It doesn’t have a microSD card slot or a remote-finder button, but it surely does have a pair of USB ports for connecting exterior arduous drives, sport controllers, TV tuners, or different equipment. It additionally has extra storage and RAM than the tube: 16GB and 3GB respectively, matching the previous-generation Shield TV field. As such, it’s the one one of many two fashions that may double as a Plex server, SmartThings hub, or an over-the-air DVR.
In each circumstances, you’re getting a tool that may stream in 4K HDR, with each Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos audio decoding. The former can optimize the extra vibrant colours of HDR video on a scene-by-scene foundation, whereas the latter lastly permits for object-based soundtracks in Netflix. Unfortunately, Nvidia skipped out on supporting HDR10+, the non-proprietary different to Dolby Vision that’s primarily out there in some Amazon Prime movies, and it doesn’t help YouTube movies in HDR.
New chip, new tips
Performance was by no means a problem with the earlier Shield, which even as we speak holds up as one of many quickest streaming containers in the marketplace. Nonetheless, Nvidia has upgraded the brand new Shield with a Tegra X1+ chip that’s 25 p.c quicker. The velocity enhance isn’t actually noticeable in on a regular basis use, but it surely’s essential to energy a the brand new Shield’s AI upscaling.
This characteristic solves an actual drawback with streaming video as we speak: Even on a 4K TV, most content material nonetheless streams in 1080p or 720p, so that you’re seldom profiting from the flamboyant panel you paid for. While most televisions have their very own primary upscaling algorithms that may fill in some particulars in non-4K content material, Nvidia went a step additional by coaching a deep studying mannequin to foretell the distinction between upscaled and precise 4K content material. This mannequin then runs in actual time on the Shield, the place it tries to fill within the high quality gaps primarily based on what it’s discovered.
In follow, because of this edges grow to be sharper, face particulars grow to be much less blurry, and strands of hair grow to be extra outlined. Nvidia is proud to point out off the tech as nicely, together with a “demo mode” that permits you to toggle the AI mode or view it side-by-side with conventional upscaling. Going forwards and backwards, the distinction is usually apparent, particularly if you happen to’re considerably near the TV or viewing 720p content material on YouTube. Video purists could make the upscaler much less aggressive or disable it solely, however I by no means discovered this to be vital.
The know-how shortly received me over, however I want it labored with extra varieties of content material and in additional methods. As of now, it might’t upscale 60-frames-per-second video reminiscent of reside sports activities, nor can it convert commonplace dynamic vary content material to HDR.
Thank goodness, they mounted the distant
The different main enchancment within the new Shield TV is its distant management. Gone is the earlier Shield’s overly slim profile that simply slipped between sofa cushions; as a substitute is a triangular design that’s snug to grip and has some heft.
Even higher, Nvidia ditched the previous distant’s maddening touch-sensitive quantity management strip in favor of precise quantity and energy buttons, whereas additionally including devoted fast-forward and rewind keys. There’s additionally a programmable button up prime that may launch apps, open the settings menu, mute the quantity, toggle AI upscaling, and extra. Some people may take difficulty with the massive Netflix button on the backside, however you may unofficially remap that one as well.
The Shield distant additionally contains backlit buttons, which have been round on cable remotes for ages, but haven’t made the leap to streaming gamers till now. You’ll even discover little raised ridges on the distant’s play and microphone buttons, so you will discover your means round with out taking your eyes off the display screen. The format of this distant isn’t good—I’m nonetheless not used to the vertical association of quick ahead, pause, and rewind keys—but it surely’s nonetheless among the best streaming remotes I’ve used but.
Setting all of it up
On paper, all of this provides as much as what ought to be one of the best high-end streaming field you should buy. It solely falls wanting that unqualified suggestion because of an general lack of software program polish.
Here’s an instance of what I meant earlier about the necessity to tinker: After establishing the Shield TV, I seen that it wasn’t streaming Dolby Vision HDR, despite the fact that my Vizio TV helps it. Digging into the Shield’s show settings, I discovered a Dolby Vision toggle that wanted to be switched on. I additionally needed to go to the settings menu to allow infrared management over my TV’s quantity and energy capabilities with the distant. While these aren’t main annoyances, each different streaming platform handles these setup steps mechanically.
More vexing are the inconsistencies within the Shield’s underlying Android TV software program.
To be truthful, Android TV is loads higher than it was just a few years in the past, with far fewer gaps in its app catalog. I additionally actually like the thought behind Android TV’s dwelling display screen, which might present you what’s on apps like Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube at a look. And in contrast to the house screens on Roku and Fire TV, the Shield’s isn’t larded up with banner adverts.
Still, it’s irritating when apps don’t take full benefit of Android TV’s options. Pluto TV’s dwelling display screen row, as an illustration, at all times recommends Spanish-language channels that I’ve by no means watched, and Channels DVR typically forgets to refresh its listing of reside broadcasts. Even worse, Amazon Prime’s dwelling display screen row has disappeared from the Shield altogether after being out there on the unique, and nobody can clarify to me why. Android TV additionally has a “Play Next” row that’s imagined to listing reveals you’re at the moment watching, however hardly any fashionable apps put it to use. By comparability, Apple TV and Fire TV nonetheless do a greater job at surfacing issues to observe, whereas Roku is with out peer in highlighting free content material.
Google Assistant voice controls are additionally spotty. The Shield’s voice distant is nice for in-depth style searches, sensible dwelling management, and normal info, and it might even launch content material straight in sure apps reminiscent of Netflix and YouTube. Still, Amazon’s Alexa covers much more streaming companies, together with Amazon Prime and Hulu. And whereas the Shield is meant to help hands-free voice instructions from a Google Home speaker, I nonetheless can’t get this to work with Netflix. If you’re into the thought of a voice-controlled streaming field, the Fire TV Cube is a better option.
Having vented on all that, the Nvidia Shield TV nonetheless supplies one of the best Android TV expertise of any machine as we speak—by a large margin. On different units, I’ve come throughout frame-rate points, janky efficiency, unreliable Chromecast help, and unusual gaps in app compatibility. None of these issues manifest on the brand new Nvidia Shield TV.
Nvidia additionally goes above and past different Android TV units on software program options. It has a multitasking menu (invoked by double-tapping the house button), so you may shortly change between apps, and you need to use an Alexa-powered sensible speaker to manage primary playback. Nvidia’s remote control app for Android phones is healthier than Google’s model as nicely, with a quick-launch panel for apps and a trackpad you need to use to manage sideloaded apps. If you might have a Bluetooth management, the Shield is even an honest gaming system with Nvidia’s GeForce Now streaming service, PC-to-Shield streaming, and a good number of video games to obtain.
Not only for us nerds anymore
In my assessment of the earlier Nvidia Shield TV from 2017, I argued that its energy was in not catering to the bottom frequent denominator. Even if it wasn’t essentially the most user-friendly or cost-effective streaming field, it allowed you do accomplish issues that no different merchandise had been even trying.
Those ifs and buts are not fairly as vital. Android TV nonetheless has some lingering points, which could make an Apple TV 4K, Fire TV Cube, or Roku Ultra higher choices for some customers, but it surely’s a a lot better platform than it was a few years in the past. And if you happen to can tolerate the inconveniences that stay, you’ll get super-fast efficiency, spectacular 4K upscaling, strong HDR, object-based soundtrack help, and a distant that raises the bar for different streaming gamers.
The Nvidia Shield TV remains to be a superb streaming participant for geeks—notably if you happen to go for the $200 “Pro” model—but it surely’s additionally an exemplary high-end streaming participant for everybody else.