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Christian De Looper/Business Insider
- Nvidia’s Shield TV streaming boxes have long offered excellent Android TV performance with access to a large assortment of apps.
- The latest Shield TV has a cylindrical design, and it’s built to be placed behind other components, or in a corner.
- The powerful device offers advanced 4K, HDR, gaming, and upscaling capabilities, along with integrated Google Assistant support.
- At $149.99, the Shield TV is a little expensive compared to players from Roku and Amazon, but the device is a great option for buyers who want a high-end Android TV solution.
- For more media player recommendations, check out our guide to the best streaming boxes and sticks.
The Nvidia Shield TV lineup has long been the go-to streaming solution for those that want Android TV capabilities in a high-performance box. The classic Shield TV held its place as one of the best options for a few years — until Nvidia finally gave it an upgrade, and split the line into two devices: The Shield TV and the Shield TV Pro.
At $149.99, the standard Shield TV is $50 cheaper than the Pro model, and it offers an all-new tube design. But is it actually worth buying? Or should you pay a bit extra for the more expensive model? I’ve been testing the Nvidia Shield TV to find out.
Design and setup
The current Shield TV Pro may offer the same rectangular shape as the original Shield TV model, but the cheaper version has been completely redesigned from the ground up. Gone is the black box look. Instead, what we get here is a tube-shaped device that Nvidia says is designed to be tucked behind a TV or in the corner of a shelf. It’s not a bad look, and while it’s a little strange trying to place a cylindrical device, most buyers will be able to find a decent spot to hide it.
Part of what makes the Shield TV concealable at all is the fact that it’s relatively small. The device measures in at 6.5 inches wide and 1.6 inches thick, which isn’t that big at all. It’s around the same size of a can of spray deodorant. Port-wise, the tube has an HDMI and MicroSD card slot on one side, and an Ethernet and power port on the other. That’s pretty much everything you’ll need, and the ability to expand the device’s storage through the MicroSD card slot is a nice touch.
The remote has also been redesigned. Gone is the relatively flat look of the original Shield TV’s remote, in favor of a prism shape. It’s relatively thick compared to the previous generation remote, but it still feels fine in the hand. Unfortunately, also gone is the rechargeable battery, in favor of replaceable AAA batteries. That seems like a step backwards.
The controls on the remote are pretty basic, but that’s not a bad thing as this makes the remote relatively easy to use. You get backlit playback controls, volume functions, Android software controls, and a big Netflix button on the bottom.
Setting up the Shield TV is fairly simple. You start by plugging it into a power port, and then into an HDMI input on your TV. Once the device switches on, you just need to log into your Google account and download the apps that you want to use.
- Dimensions: 1.57 x 1.57 x 6.5 inches
- Weight: 4.83 oz
- Storage: 8GB
- CPU: Nvidia Tegra X1+ processor
- RAM: 2GB
- Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0, Gigabit Ethernet
- Video resolution: up to 4K Ultra HD
- HDR: Dolby Vision and HDR10 support
- Audio: Dolby Atmos and DTS-X surround support
- Voice control: Google Assistant built-in, works with Amazon Alexa
In day-to-day use, the Nvidia Shield TV is very easy to navigate. Android TV is generally a heavy operating system, and some TVs with Android built-in are often sluggish. Thankfully, the Shield TV is well-equipped to perform thanks to its Tegra X1+ processor and 2GB of RAM.
The end result is fast and responsive software with access to an extensive library of streaming apps and services, including Netflix, Disney Plus, Amazon Prime Video, Peacock, and HBO Max. One of the only major apps that isn’t currently available is Apple TV Plus.
Of course, the device’s impressive processing power has another purpose — it enables support for 4K resolution and High Dynamic Range (HDR) playback. In practice, this means that as long as your TV and the content you’re watching support these standards, you’ll get crisp video and more colorful content with higher contrast.
Unlike Roku’s streaming devices, the Shield TV also supports the Dolby Vision HDR format. This standard can offer better HDR performance and scalability when paired with a Dolby Vision capable TV. Several streaming services support Dolby Vision content, including Netflix, Disney Plus, and Vudu.
The Shield TV also supports upscaling, allowing HD content (720p and 1080p) to appear more detailed and sharp, without having to be in native 4K. Nvidia’s process utilizes Artificial Intelligence (AI) to analyze the picture in real-time, resulting in higher quality upscaling than many TVs.
AI-enhanced upscaling can be activated in the Settings menu. Once activated, you get three options for detail enhancement: low, medium, and high. I recommend turning AI-enhanced upscaling on and setting detail enhancement to high. It’s important to note that the tech really only works on video at 30 frames per second or lower, so since some apps, like YouTube, often stream at more than 30 fps, there will be times when the tech won’t be enabled.
But, for HD movies and shows on Netflix or Prime Video, the feature works great. Series that aren’t in 4K, like “The Office,” benefit nicely from Nvidia’s AI upscaling process. Details are noticeably sharper, and content simply doesn’t have the same pixelation that it otherwise would.
Because the Shield TV is based on Android TV, it ties neatly into Google’s overall ecosystem. For example, it has Google Assistant built right into it, which can be used to find out information from the web, control smart home devices, and control content on your TV. It works pretty well, and it’s fast on the Shield TV.
Using the voice remote is a good experience. While the previous generation remote looked better, its slimness meant that it could easily slip between couch cushions — and that’s not a problem here. The added physical buttons for volume controls, and the backlit keys, are a nice touch as well.
One of the things that makes the Nvidia Shield TV unique among streaming players is that it supports game streaming through the GeForce Now streaming platform. Those really into game streaming should probably save up a little more and go for the slightly more expensive Shield TV Pro, considering it has extra RAM. That said, the standard device still supports game streaming if you buy a compatible controller or have one handy.
Game streaming with GeForce Now actually works really well, but there are a few caveats. For starters, you really need to have a good internet connection to get a truly seamless experience, and to get the most out of the service, you’ll still need to own or purchase games from platforms like Steam in order to play them.
Lastly, GeForce Now only supports streaming at 1080p — so don’t expect to get 4K gaming on your TV through the Shield. All that said, if you don’t mind dealing with those issues, gaming on the Shield TV is a fun experience. It’s worth checking if the games you’re interested in are supported before you get too excited, but the selection is generally pretty good.
Perhaps the main issue with the Shield TV is that it’s relatively expensive, despite the fact that it’s the cheaper of the two Shield TV devices. If you’re in the market for an inexpensive streaming device, it may be worth looking at products from companies like Roku and Amazon, which offer a number of media sticks and boxes that are cheaper than the Shield TV.
If you’re looking for an Android TV-based streaming device, you can’t do much better than the Shield TV series. The standard Shield TV offers many of the same features found on the Pro version, including 4K HDR playback, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos support, AI upscaling, Google Assistant, and GeForce Now gaming capabilities. The Android TV platform works well and, while not for all tastes, the device’s unique tube-shaped design makes it easy to store the player out of view.
Which model should you get?
The Shield TV ($149.99) and Shield TV Pro ($199.99) both offer similar specifications and features. With that said, the more expensive Shield TV Pro does step things up with two USB Ports, 3GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, support for high-resolution audio upsampling, and Plex Media Server capabilities. The Pro model also uses a more traditional rectangular design.
If you’re interested in gaming and media server functions, it could be worth paying the extra $50 for the Pro model. When it comes to general streaming playback, however, the regular Shield TV is just as capable and costs less money.
What are your alternatives?
Though the Shield TV’s powerful processing is impressive, if you want a smart streaming device on a budget, then it’s worth looking at Roku’s lineup instead. The Roku Ultra offers reliable 4K HDR streaming, Dolby Atmos capabilities, and a voice remote for a retail price of $99.99. With that said, Roku’s player doesn’t feature Dolby Vision, built-in Google Assistant, or GeForce Now gaming.
If you want a powerful streaming device with those apps, along with Android TV, easy integration with Google’s ecosystem, Dolby Vision HDR, AI-upscaling, and advanced gaming capabilities, then the Shield TV is a better option.
Pros: Powerful performance, great upscaling and video support, HDR10 and Dolby Vision capabilities, gaming options
Cons: Expensive, design takes some getting used to
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