In 2015, we spent some time with Nvidia’s Shield Android TV device, which provided access to entertainment apps, Android games, and the ability to stream from your PC or through Nvidia’s streaming platform GeForce Now (previously called Grid). A year-and-a-half after the release of the first Shield, the company is now out with another variant that’s smaller, yet still fills all of your entertainment and gaming needs. If you owned the previous Shield TV device, there’s little incentive to upgrade, as most of these features will arrive in an update coming soon, but if you’re in the market for a 4K entertainment device with gaming capabilities, the new Shield is worth a look.
What’s In The Box
For $200 you'll get the Shield device, the new controller, a remote that used to be sold separately, a USB 3.0 cable, and a power adapter. Nvidia didn't include an HDMI cable with the device, even though the previous Shield TV shipped with one, which seems like a mistake on the company's part.
The most notable change from the previous Shield is the size. This new device is considerably smaller, and a look at its rear ports shows why: Nvidia removed the micro-USB 2.0 port as well as the microSD card slot to make it smaller. (You can still expand the Shield's memory with an external drive.) Aside from the power connector, there are two USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI 2.0 port, and space for a gigabit Ethernet port.
As with the original, the Shield TV device is powered by the Maxwell-based Tegra X1 processor and uses 3GB of memory. To connect with other devices, it has Bluetooth 4.1, and it also features 802.11ac, 2x2 MIMO Wi-Fi. The Shield TV runs on Android; this new device uses version 7.0 (Nougat) out of the box.
Nvidia created a brand new version of its Shield controller. Overall, it’s slimmer than the previous peripheral, especially when you look at the grips. In the middle sits a large button with the company’s logo that turns on the microphone. Thankfully, it’s an actual button that you press instead of the touch-based interface that was included in the old controller. However, there is one touch-based part of the new controller: the volume slider located below the Nvidia button.
Below that are the familiar Back, Play, and Home Android buttons. During gameplay, the first two buttons act as Select and Start, respectively. In order to fit all three buttons below the volume slider, however, Nvidia had to make them quite small, which can be a problem during use as there’s no distinguishing feature that makes one button more noticeable by touch than another.
Other changes include a smaller pair of analog sticks (along with a textured rim) as well as wider trigger buttons. The audio jack was also moved so that it’s below the analog sticks. Game feedback in the form of vibrations was also added, and it now boasts 60 hours of battery life, which is 20 hours more than its predecessor. If you have the older Shield device, you can still use the new controller, but the peripheral will cost you $60.
The amount of 4K content is on the rise, but the next wave of innovation lies in high dynamic range (HDR), which is supposed to show more contrast between darks and lights. Multiple apps, such as YouTube and Netflix, already support HDR, and the Shield is about to get another app that includes both 4K and HDR content: Amazon Video. The popular app was missing from the Shield’s entertainment lineup for quite some time, but it’s better late than never. If anything, its introduction to the Shield will probably serve as a selling point. The Google Play app will soon include 4K movies in its catalog, and as an added bonus, the YouTube app on the device now also supports 360-degree videos.
I wasn’t able to test out the Shield’s HDR capabilities because my 4K TV doesn’t support it. However, the inclusion of HDR means the Shield is a prime contender for the living room system of the future. Many people might lack access to HDR for some time yet, but the growing amount of 4K content across multiple apps means those with new 4K TVs won’t regret their purchase.
Because of the Android OS, the Shield has access to the Android library of games, which features a multitude of content across varying genres. For players of all ages, this is an excellent place to find titles that don’t require too much graphical power. If you’re looking for some of the more high-profile, triple-A titles, you can use Nvidia’s GeForce Now streaming service as well as the GameStream feature.
The subscription-based ($8 per month) service lets you connect to Nvidia’s cloud servers and provides a library of games that you can play at 1080p and 60fps, although the resolution and framerate might change based on your connection. Currently, the library has 53 games, but Nvidia will continue to add more throughout the year. Ubisoft, for example, is planning to bring titles such as For Honor, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, and Tom Clancy’s The Division to the service.
If you just want to stream games from your PC to the living room, you can use GameStream. As long as you have an Nvidia GPU in your computer, you can utilize the streaming feature to bring your PC games to your living room TV, whether they’re on Steam, Origin, Uplay, or any other platform. Similar to GeForce Now, you’ll need a decent connection to get high resolution and framerates for your games.
Because of the high bandwidth speeds between the Shield and my PC--the Shield’s connection test recommends 12Mbps or more--I was able to achieve smooth gameplay on Tom Clancy’s The Division. GeForce Now, however, requires even more bandwidth to achieve the same thing-- Nvidia recommends over 50 Mbps. Fortunately my download speeds usually exceed the recommended threshold, so I had no trouble playing Shadow Warrior 2 via the cloud without any major performance hiccups.
A Word On The Google Assistant And Smart Home Connectivity
The only thing missing at the new Shield's launch is the implementation of the Google Assistant and smart home functionality. Google Assistant will use the Shield's always-on microphone to listen to commands to open apps, answer questions, or filter through specific categories of movies or TV shows.
The addition of Google Assistant also means the Shield can connect to a plethora of smart home devices. You can tell it to turn the light on or off, change the temperature on the thermostat, or even provide information about your schedule, for example.
However, because the feature is not yet available, we weren’t able to try it out. Nvidia said it should be coming soon in the form of an update.
New Look, Same Tricks
If you’re an owner of the previous Shield, you won't miss out on most of these new features. Some of them, such as GeForce Now and GameStream, are already included, and the rest will come as a software update.
The only thing you won’t have already is the new controller, which you can purchase separately, the only real effect of which is having to press a button to use Google Assistant because the old controllers and remote don’t have always-on microphones. And if you’re partial to SD cards instead of external hard drives, you might actually prefer the older Shield.
At the end of the day, the new Shield does everything its older brother can do, with a few hardware changes and omissions.