Page 2:Specs, Features And Availability
Page 3:What’s In The Box?
Page 4:Entertainment On Shield
Page 5:Gaming With Shield
Page 6:Google Play Games
Page 7:GRID Streaming
Page 8:GeForce PC Streaming
Page 9:Benchmarking Suites And Test Notes
Page 10:CPU Core Benchmarks
Page 11:GPU Core Benchmarks
Today we take a look at the latest addition to Nvidia's Shield line of gaming devices. No mobility here, this new Shield is for the living room!
These days, living room devices are cramming in as many features as possible in a race to become the only thing you need to watch cable, stream movies and shows, play games and listen to music. Gone are the days when the back of your TV was a tangled web of wires with gaming consoles, set-top boxes, and other products trying to replace as many cords with just a few for all your entertainment needs.
For Google, this is familiar territory, and it’s providing such a system in a one-two combination with Nvidia resulting in the definitive Android TV device, simply called: Shield. Its namesake comes from Nvidia’s lineup of portable gaming devices, the Shield Tablet and Shield Portable. But this version of Shield handles more than just gaming. With a potent combination of the Tegra X1 processor and Android, Nvidia and Google believe Shield will be the device that wins the “battle for the living room."
Specs, Features And Availability
Based on mobile technology, Nvidia classifies Shield and the higher capacity Shield Pro as Android TV devices designed to bring experiences from the mobile, gaming and streaming worlds into a single device for the living room.
- Supports 4K 30 fps and 60 fps content
- Built-in microphones on Shield Controller or Remote enable Google-based natural voice search
- Access to GRID, Nvidia’s subscription-based cloud gaming service
- Supports Android Games, including Unreal Engine 4 and Crytek’s CryEngine
- Cross-app search that scours content across multiple Android TV apps
- Support for app-based entertainment, including Hulu Plus, Netflix, Sling TV, Pandora and others
- Integrated Chromecast functionality, for casting content from mobile devices
- Live Channels for watching local network TV
- Over-the-air updates directly from Nvidia
All Shield products covered in this review are available now. The lower-end, 16GB Nvidia Shield will retail for $199, while the 500GB Nvidia Shield Pro will retail for $299 and will include Borderland: TPS. Additional accessories available include the Shield Stand for $29, the Shield Remote for $49, and additional Shield Controllers can be purchased for $59.
What’s In The Box?
The packaging for the $199 16GB Shield Android TV device includes just about everything you need to get started. In addition to the Shield, you get a hand-held Shield Controller, a power adapter, one HDMI cable, and a USB 3.0 cable that can be used for charging external devices or connecting the Shield to a computer for development or advanced configuration like side-loading apps.
For this review, Nvidia also provided us with two optional accessories; the Shield Stand and the Shield Remote.
The main Shield unit is 8.25 x 5.25 x ¾ inches in size and unit comes in at just under 1.5lbs. Except for the fan, there are no other moving parts inside the small case. Looks-wise, the Shield resembles something coming out from Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D as the black exterior design of the case is comprised of triangular shapes formed into a rectangular object. Because of its thin shape, the Shield cannot stand upright by itself, so without the Shield Stand, the device will pretty much have to sit in a horizontal position.
The Shield is powered by Nvidia’s Tegra X1 mobile processor. Announced earlier this year, the Maxwell-powered Tegra X1 is the 20nm successor to the Tegra K1 SoC. Designed with mobile gaming in mind, the 256 CUDA core Tegra X1 boasts a memory clock of 1600MHz (LPDDR4), memory bandwidth that runs at 25.6GB/s, and 256KB of L2 cache.
The Shield also comes with 3GB of built-in system memory, 16GB of internal storage and an additional microSD slot that can support up to 2TB of additional microSD SDXC card storage.
For networking, the Shield covers both wired and wireless environments. For wired, the Shield can run at Gigabit Ethernet, a network speed that some of its 100Mbps speed competitors, like the Apple TV, Roku 3 and Fire TV, don’t have. For wireless, the Shield uses the current 802.11ac spec with 2x2 MIMO, which increases Wi-Fi throughput when connected to similarly configured router. Like most AC-class network adapters, the Shield is backward-compatible to earlier standards like 802.11n.
The Shield can be powered on by pressing its touch-sensitive, capacitive power button — shaped like the NVIDIA logo — on the “upper” part of its case cover. Next to the button is the IR receiver, which can be used by other IR controlling devices, such as a Logitech’s line of universal remote controls.
All of the Shield’s input ports lie along the device’s rear panel, including its microSD slot, a microUSB 2.0 port, two full-sized USB 3.0 ports, its Gigabit Ethernet port, an HDMI 2.0 port and the main input for the included 19V power adapter.
The included Shield Controller isn’t new. Originally paired with the Shield Tablet, the Controller somewhat resembles gaming console remotes of the past, and connects to the Shield wirelessly. Powered by a rechargeable Li-ion battery, the Remote can be charged via its micro-USB port, delivering up to 40 hours of battery life. Alongside its familiar gaming button layout, the Controller also has a built-in microphone for in-game chat and voice search, and a stereo headset jack for personal listening.
The optional Shield Remote is the elegantly styled, lighter weight counterpart to the 0.75lb Controller — about 0.5lbs. lighter, weighing in at just about a quarter of a pound. Lacking any gaming buttons and other related hardware, the Remote is trimmed down, but still includes a dedicated headset jack and built-in microphone for voice commands. Also different from the Controller, the Remote communicates with the Shield over Bluetooth, allowing cross room or cross hall communication that even works through walls. Rechargeable via USB, the Remote can hold its charge for up to 4 weeks of normal use.
Entertainment On Shield
In addition to games, Shield also supports Android TV apps. With the increasing popularity of 4K TVs, Nvidia ensured that it would be able to meet the new standard with an HDMI 2.0 port with HDCP 2.2. The amount of 4K content is still small, but popular apps such as Netflix already have a few titles available in the higher resolution, such as House of Cards and Daredevil.
Netflix does recommend a constant 25Mbps for 4K resolution, so unless you’re paying a lot of money for that much bandwidth, and you own a 4K television, you won’t be able to try it out. However, I was surprisingly able to have a somewhat-consistent 4K stream at home even at 23Mbps, but for most of the time, the Shield was able to easily push a 1080p stream to the TV thanks to its Gigabit Ethernet port.
Aside from Netflix, users can download a variety of other apps for video such as YouTube, Hulu Plus, and Sling TV. More apps are on their way soon such as HBO Now, the premium channel’s standalone app, which was initially released on Apple TV. You can also rent and download movies and shows through Google’s store. It won’t exactly replace your cable box in terms of channel availability, but there’s more than enough TV content available on the Shield that you might consider dumping the cable box.
Gaming With Shield
Other than movies and music, Shield also provides both Android games from the Google Play store and through GRID, Nvidia’s game streaming service. At GDC, we were able to try out some of the titles, but it wasn’t an ideal setting to really test how it would function in the living room until now.
First up is Android gaming. Games are bought through the Google Play store and downloaded to Shield. Aside from games, the store also includes TV and music apps. However, it’s not as organized as it should be compared to the strangely-titled Download Games area under the Shield Hub section. Here, games are organized in better categories ranging from featured titles, to a row only for indie games, and there's even a list of games that require multiple controllers. This is because the Download Games space spotlights certain titles that are optimized for gameplay on Shield.
We’re not sure why there has to be two places to purchase games since it should have been easy to add a special category in the store called “Shield Recommended Games,” or something of that nature. The Google Play app does a great job of filtering music and entertainment apps. It even breaks down a few games into a few areas, one of which is suited for titles that work best with the optional remote. However, the way games are displayed isn’t up to par with the Download Games section, which means you tend to first check the Shield Hub, then Google Play for game titles.
Considering the size of these games, your internal storage is going to fill up rather quickly. The best way to avoid storage issues is to move games and apps to a SD card. Unfortunately, Shield doesn’t support external USB drives.
With the limited storage space inside Shield, GRID is a necessity to gamers. Again, you can always transfer games and apps to a SD card, or for a $100 more you can buy the same Shield device with an immense 500 GB of storage.
Since the Shield comes with its own controller, which is the same one used in the Shield portable system, veterans of the smaller device are in familiar territory. However, for people who are used to playing with an Xbox One or PlayStation 4, it might feel strange even though the layout is the same. It’s bulkier than an Xbox One Controller and your hands don’t fully wrap around the grips. Near the top of the controller are four buttons: one that brings up the search bar, another for the Shield home menu, one pauses the game, and the last brings up the option to capture a screenshot or even livestream your gameplay through Twitch. However, they’re touch-based, so the slightest tap can accidentally pause your game or even go back to the home menu. The Dualshock 4 has a similar feature with the touchpad, but even that requires a few presses to activate certain actions, whereas the central buttons on the Shield controller are activated with a simple touch, so it can take some time to get fully acquainted with how it feels in your hands.
Google Play Games
As far as gameplay is concerned, I played three different games on a full HD televsion: The Talos Principle, Hotline Miami and Doom 3: BFG Edition. All three games were very smooth with only slight graphical hiccups at rare times, but other than that, it’s as if you’re playing with any living room console.
One thing to note however, is that Shield isn’t exactly a powerful gaming PC. For example, when checking on the graphics and overall performance settings of Shield during The Talos Principle, the CPU speed is set to Low while the GPU speed is on Medium. The 3D rendering resolution is set to 720p with anti-aliasing and V-Sync disabled. It doesn’t look as good as some of the current titles both on console and PC, but it’s still pretty impressive considering the hardware inside Shield.
Google Play might not have the most compelling games in its roster, but that could change with this device. In the past, Google Play only existed on computers, tablets, and mobile devices. With Shield, it can bring the same experience to the living room TV, which could open doors for more popular games to make their way to the store.
Another way to play games is through Nvidia’s GRID service, which streams games from a server straight to Shield. Until recently, all of the games on GRID were running at 1280x720 resolution and 60 frames per second. Nvidia recently upgraded GRID ahead of Shield’s launch so that it now supports a 1920x1080 resolution at 60 frames per second. However, the full HD gaming experience requires pretty high bandwidth, with Nvidia recommending a constant 30Mbps! Those with at least 10 Mbps will still be able to play at the 720p resolution, though.
In my home, the highest bandwidth I had available was around 23Mbps, and that’s with no one else at home using other connected devices. At that speed, games like Dirt: Showdown, Batman: Arkham Origins and Saints Row IV were very smooth and didn’t have any stuttering issues. Latency wasn’t a noticeable issue either.
That quickly changed when other family members used up bandwidth for browsing, social media and Netflix. At one point, I only had 13Mbps for GRID, and while it’s still within Nvidia’s acceptable range for GRID at 720p gameplay, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. Stuttering became slightly more apparent, and a few rendering issues came up, such as a disappearing section of the road or a streak of black emanating from the player’s character. Latency was very noticeable, especially with a few audio delays, but the controls still worked. I was still able to move around and the character would respond almost immediately. However, the decreasing quality and latency in other areas would become too big to ignore at some point.
With the limited storage space inside Shield, GRID is a necessity to gamers. The ability to stream games is still fairly new to the market, and Nvidia is trying to capitalize on it by providing well-known titles without having to deal with issues such as installing large games in the small device. Of course, you’ll need to have the necessary bandwidth to actually play these games without any problems. On top of that, GRID is turning into a subscription-based service at the end of June, so consumers will eventually have to pay a premium to play games at full HD. At least you’ll have a whole month to decide if GRID is the best choice or whether a console or PC is still the way to go.
GeForce PC Streaming
In the test lab, we have the advantage of testing out different networking scenarios while using a variety of hardware to simulate a home network. With this in mind, we went to town trying to see how well GeForce PC Streaming (aka GameStream) worked.
First, here are Nvidia’s system requirements for GameStream to work:
- GPU: Desktop - GeForce GTX 650 or higher; Notebook - GeForce GTX 700M or higher, and select (Kepler-based) GTX 600M GPUs
- CPU: Intel Core i3-2100 3.1GHz or AMD Athlon II X4 630 2.8GHz or higher
- System Memory: 4GB or more
- OS: Windows 7 or 8
- Software: Latest GeForce Display Drivers; Latest version of GeForce Experience (Installed with Driver); Latest Steam Client
- Routers: 802.11a/g router (minimum). 802.11n dual band router (recommended) at the 5GHz band
For the game, we went with Tomb Raider (2013), a game listed on Nvidia’s approved GameStreaming list. Using a Steam account, we played the game on Gigabyte’s latest P34W v3 gaming laptop.
After setting up the necessary accounts, were ready to start streaming away.
For our networking piece of the puzzle, we first used an internet-connected D-Link DIR-815 Dual Band Router. Both the laptop and Nvidia Shield were on the same N600 wireless network and immediately we saw lag as we scrolled through the menu options. As we played the game, things only got worse, so we moved on to the next wireless router.
Next up, we grabbed a Buffalo WXR-1900DHP AC1900 router, and like the D-Link router before, we configured the router, set up the SSID and connected the Gigabyte laptop and Nvidia Shield to the new wireless network. Whereas the D-Link has a theoretical max speed of 600Mbps, the Buffalo is rated to peak out at 1.3Mbps. Still, even with this faster configuration, we continued to see lag with little improvement.
The last router we tried was D-Link’s latest release, the AC3200 tri-band DIR-890L. Even though the theoretical speed of the DIR-890L’s 5GHz band was the same as the Buffalo’s, we were wondering if the faster hardware inside the D-Link would speed things up for us. Performance did eventually improve, but we still got some lag during gameplay.
Finally, we turned to Nvidia and they suggested that we try a wired solution to see if it would eliminate the lag problem completely. We then connected a Zyxel GS-108B 8-port Gigabit switch to the original N600 D-Link router, then the Gigabyte laptop and then the Nvidia Shield. Gameplay was better, with an occasional frame skip, but at this point we just realized that hard-wiring the Shield and the computer to the network is the best way to go.
One thing we should note was that while playing Tomb Raider on the laptop and streaming to the Shield, the session running on the laptop display was flawless as far as we could tell, even when a frame was skipped on the Shield’s session, the laptop barreled through each frame without a hitch.
Benchmarking Suites And Test Notes
CPU Core Benchmarks
Basemark OS II, Geekbench 3 Pro
GPU Core Benchmarks
3DMark, Basemark X 1.1 Full, GFXBench 3.0 Corporate
For comparison, we ran the Shield against three of it tablet-based contemporaries, including its predecessor, the Tegra K1-powered Shield Tablet along with the iPad Air 2 and the HTC Nexus 9.
During the days leading up to the Nvidia Shield’s announcement, there weren’t too many benchmarking options available to choose from. Since Android TV is a new branch of the Android OS, we had to sideload some of benchmarking applications ourselves. This meant putting the Shield into development mode, installing the android drivers on our laptop and installing the APKs via an android developers bridge (ADB). Because it’s a new device with different menu options, setting up and sideloading the apps took some time to figure out, but we got there.
One other note we should point out about using sideloaded apps on the Shield is mouse support. Some of the tablet-based benchmark apps require touch input, and since we’re using a regular non-touch display, we needed some way to press those “Start Test” buttons. Since we didn’t have a Bluetooth mouse available for testing, we tried using a USB mouse, but ran into a screen freezing problem every time we plugged the mouse into the Shield’s USB port. It was only after we observed that the Shield would go back to normal once we unplugged the USB mouse that we realized there was an issue with the Shield’s plug and play. We didn’t run into any other problems with other plugged-in devices that came in the Shield package, but I did check and got a similar response with a USB keyboard. In the end, to get around the plug-and-play problem, we simply plugged the mouse into the Shield before booting up the Android TV OS.
Now, onto the tests…
CPU Core Benchmarks
Basemark OS II
Basemark OS II is a cross-platform mobile device benchmarking tool that scores overall performance by looking at several different specs; System, Memory, Graphics and Web. For System performance, Basemark looks at single- and multi-core CPU speeds, math testing, and XML parsing performance. The Memory portion of the benchmark looks at the read/write speeds of the device’s internal storage using fixed and growing files of different sizes. Graphics scores a device’s ability to handle 2D/3D effects as different operations get applied. Lastly, Web looks at system performance during the manipulation of CSS 3D and HTML5 objects, including transformations and resizing.
As we’ll see in the upcoming Geekbench 3 results, it seems like memory is the Nvidia Shield’s key deficiency. Probably a weakness due to a focus on graphics, we can see from the scoring that the Tegra X1-powered Shield relies heavily on its SoC, but with the machine's focus on gaming and video, we already know who Nvidia is trying to please.
Our second test is Primate Labs’ Geekbench. Also a cross-platform testing suite that covers Windows, Linux, OS X, iOS and Android, Geekbench produces two sets of results; one for single-core processing and the other for multi-core processing. The overall Geekbench Score for each of the two benchmarks is a product of three individual sub-tests that score on integer, floating point and memory testing.
The single-core results for the Nvidia Shield are underwhelming, and if the year were 1992, I would probably care more. Being that we’re now in an era that bleeds multi-core computing, we should probably look to focus on multi-core results instead. I’m not saying that there’s nothing important about the single-core testing since it does emphasize the importance of cache sizing and other supporting tech, but in the end we want to see the processor shine.
In the multi-core case, the Shield and it’s Tegra X1 SoC do shine, especially in the integer testing. For floating point calculations, the Shield ekes out ahead of the iPad Air 2, but falls behind in the memory/storage testing.
GPU Core Benchmarks
One of several benchmarking products from Futuremark, 3D Mark’s Ice Storm test measures GPU performance on Android devices using OpenGL ES 2.0. Using the company’s in-house engine, the two results we get out of the Ice Storm benchmark are Graphics, which looks at GPU performance via 720p tests, and Physics, which runs a stress test on the CPU.
It’s not very surprising that the newest device on the list would take the lead. The Tegra X1-based Shield performed better than both the Tegra K-powered Nexus 9 and its predecessor, the Shield Tablet, while the Apple iPad Air 2 and its exclusive A8X fall into fourth place.
Basemark X 1.1
Recently liberated from Rightware, Basemark X is an aggressive graphics benchmark that’s based on the Unity 4.0 gaming engine. Using two scenarios, Dunes and Hangar, the tests push the target system by using heavy game-like graphics with an emphasis on rendering, lighting and post processing.
Looking at the overall results for both the medium and high quality testing, when it comes to performance at this level of processing, we can see that Nvidia needed a game changer. For this test, the Shield Tablet was pretty much pacing along with the competition, but with the new Shield and the Tegra X1, things are looking pretty bright for Nvidia. We’ve also seen this kind of leap before when the Tegra-K was first released in the Shield Tablet.
GFXBench 3.0 Corporate: High Level
One of the more comprehensive tests around, Kishonti’s GFXBench 3.0 GPU benchmark produces a collection of test results that look at high-level and low-level processes, both in onscreen and offscreen modes. High level tests include the Manhattan and T-Rex scenarios, with the former scene using OpenGL 3.0 to render a night time event in the middle of a lit city, and the latter is a daytime joyride escape from a dinosaur with quick shifting jungle scenes via OpenGL 2.0.
T-Rex is one of my favorite benchmarks, something that I don’t mind running and watching, over and over again. We definitely see the Shield shine as the action is happening on screen. What was more impressive were the results we got for the Manhattan test. We definitely see the Nvidia Shield ready to tackle OpenGL 3.0. Looks-wise, what we saw on the display was great, especially the lighting, but more importantly, the numbers from Manhattan speak for themselves.
GFXBench 3.0 Corporate: Low Level
GFX 3.0’s low-level benchmarks focus on a GPU’s subsystems by testing shader compute performance on the arithmetic logic unit (ALU), alpha blending for texture rendering, a driver overhead test to see how the CPU responds to draw calls and state changes, and two degrees of render quality. Lastly, the fill rate test measures the rate it takes to render four compressed textures.
The low-level benchmarks are interesting. Maybe it’s a case of the whole being greater than the sum of all the parts. In most of these benchmarks, the Shield did pretty well, while in others it was just a face in the crowd. Alpha Rendering and Fill are the two highlights in this set of tests. Again, we see the older Shield Tablet sitting in the shadow of the Apple iPad Air 2, which enforces what I wrote earlier about how Nvidia needed something serious in the SoC space. That something is the Tegra X1.
Overall, I think the battle for the living room is just starting. Other devices may have already gotten a head-start, but Nvidia’s big leap puts the Shield into the fight in a strong way. Short of being a computer or HTPC, the Nvidia Shield covers several basic, but important, entertainment needs — it’s a gaming system, streams video, plays music, uses apps and may provide a way to finally cut the cable company chord that’s been taking all your money.
Realistically, it’s still a new product, but the options aren’t that few and there’s definitely more room for Shield and similar products to grow. It will be interesting to see what Nvidia and its competitors will come up with next.
Corrections: Added fan as a moving part; clarified max capacity on SDXC memory slot; 500 GB drive typo fixed; added details to "Gaming with Shield" section.