We’ve cut the cord. As a family, we made the decision to get rid of cable going on five years now. In that time, we’ve relied on our consoles for access to Hulu and Netflix. But what do you do if you need more? What if you want a lot more? That’s where the Nvidia Shield TV comes in. This little box will not only stream the latest episode of This Is Us but also entire video games, give you access to GeForce Now and the Google Play store, all while utilizing the power of Google Assistant to power your smart home. For our money, it’s the best set-top box a PC gamer can buy. This is our full review of the Nvidia Shield TV (2017).
- MSRP: $199.99
- NVIDIA Tegra X1 processor with 256-core Maxwell GPU with 3GB RAM
- 4K Ultra-HD HDR Ready with 4K playback and capture up to 60 fps (VP9, H265, H264)
- 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: 16GB (expandable via flash drive)
- Connectivity: 802.11ac 2x2 MIMO 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1/BLE, Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI 2.0, Two USB 3.0 (Type A)
- IR Receiver (compatible with Logitech Harmony)
- NVIDIA GeForce Now streaming service NVIDIA GameStream
- Dimension (LxWxH): 6.2in x 3.8in x 1.0in
- Weight: 23oz
- Warranty: 1-year
The Whole Package
When the first Shield TV was first revealed to the world, I wrote it off. Now, almost three years later, I’m kicking myself for not buying in sooner. This little package offers all that I could want from a streaming box and then some. In the several weeks we’ve been using it in our home, it’s become on of the key players in our TV setup and when the family’s away, I get to play. It streams as well as anything else, which is mostly what that I expected to be using it for, but it’s the additional features that really sold me and push the Shield TV over the top.
Inside the paperback-size box, we find enough horsepower for just about anything you would want to do. The brain of the unit is Nvidia’s Tegra X1 processor. The X1 has been out since the original Shield IN 2015, so it isn’t new newest APU on the market but it’s no slouch. The X1 is based on Nvidia’s Maxwell architecture, which most recently powered Nvidia’s 900-series of video cards. It packs a punch with 256 processing cores and 3GB of video RAM. The Shield TV is ready for the newest TVs with 4K output and high dynamic range to make your content look its best.
It’s audio capabilities are also impressive. The Shield is compatible with most receivers and supports 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound. It also outputs audiophile grade playback with 24-bit/192kHz sampling over USB and HDMI. The built-in upsampler with dynamically up-res lower resolution content over USB with impressive results. The solution is good and offers quality results, but music lovers will still want to load those hi-res files ahead of time for the best possible output.
For storage, you can count on 16GB of internal memory. Nvidia has done aware with SD card support, but with two USB ports you can easily load a flash drive for additional storage space.
The Shield TV comes in controller and controller-free varieties, but for only $20 more we would definitely recommend picking up the version with a controller. It looks closest to an Xbox 360 controller but loses the offset on the joysticks. For the cost difference between the two SKUs, I was worried it would feel cheap but it’s the opposite: Nvidia’s Shield controller is surprisingly good and an absolute bargain at only $20 more. It has a nice weight and tactility to the buttons and triggers and, though I’m not the biggest fan of the angular cut of the grips, the overall quality of the controller (and that it can be used on PC too), it makes a great value add.
The Shield also ships with an IR controller. Unlike the 2015 edition, this version isn’t rechargeable but does feature microphone pick-up for use with Google Assistant.
Cutting the Cord
The biggest reason you would get any box like the Shield TV is, of course, to stream content to your TV. Coming from the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, I was pleased to see that all of my main apps were already installed. There was no searching to load Amazon Prime or Netflix, it was just login and go. There were quite a few other apps installed by default, but since the Shield TV uses the Android operating system, you have access to a huge array of streaming services and media servers like PLEX.
Nvidia has loaded the Shield with an intuitive and responsive UI. If you’ve ever browsed Netflix, you’ll be able to navigate the Shield TV interface with ease using either the remote or controller. My biggest concern going in was how responsive it would be but I needn’t have worried. There’s no input lag to speak of, which makes the entire experience extremely present.
Access to the Google Play Store provides a huge array of app options, but if you need something more the Shield TV also supports sideloading. If there’s an app you can’t find or isn’t available in the Play Store, you can download the APK to a flash drive and simply install it from there. Sideloading is fairly standard with Android devices but it’s especially nice on a device as central to your entertainment setup as the Shield TV.
Native Games and Emulation
With the Tegra X1 behind it, the Shield TV doubles as a miniature gaming console. You, of course, have access to games already on Android. Playing through Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic on my TV again was a treat. I’m not a big Android gamer, though, so while I did play a lot of mobile games in my testing, I was more focused on the world of remade classics like Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2, Icewind Dale, and Planscape: Torment’s Enhanced Editions which work perfect with a mouse and keyboard. Other ports, like XCOM are also great on the Shield.
The Shield TV also makes a perfect emulator box. Using a program like RetroArch, you can easily download emulators for everything from the Atari 2600 to the PS1 and play all your favorite classic games. We loved the NES and Super Nintendo Classic, but with the Shield TV, you can play your entire library quickly and easily. Just make sure you own the original game to abide by the letter of the law.
Nvidia Gamestream and GeForce Now
If you own a GTX 650 or higher, you can take advantage of the Shield TV’s killer feature: Gamestream. If you’re a PC gamer that doesn’t always want to sit at a desk, Gamestream may just be your answer. After a quick setup process, the Shield TV will connect with your gaming PC and stream the game directly to your TV or even your normal desktop. I was extremely impressed at how well it worked. When wired with ethernet, input lag nearly disappeared and I could mostly forget what I was playing was being streamed. There is the occasional hiccup with some pixelation but it’s pretty rare. When connected wirelessly, this did happen more often. I wouldn’t call it game breaking by any means but if you’re able to plug in, I would definitely recommend doing so.
The biggest competitor device offering this service is the Steam Link. Right now, that device retails for $49.99 but offers none of the additional functionality of the Shield TV. If all you need is game streaming, the Link works well. If you’re already buying a set-top box, though, there is simply no reason to consider the Link. The shield wins, hands down.
Nvidia also offers the GeForce Now subscription service. For $7.99 a month, you can stream games over the internet powered by a GTX 1080 gaming machine. It’s a simple and effective solution to get high-end graphics even on low-end machines. On the Shield TV, I found that it worked well and easily better than PS Now (which I haven’t used since beta, so take that with a big old caveat). GeForce Now isn’t without its own issues, like the infrequent artifacting as the stream hits a delay, but if you can’t afford a gaming PC, it’s a definite option worth considering.
The Power of Google Assistant
Lastly, we have Google Assistant which brings voice control to the Shield. More than that, though, it allows the Shield TV to integrate with all of your other Google-powered devices and services. I didn’t find myself using it much because I typically have my phone on-hand, but it’s easy to see how much of a benefit this could be. If you have a smart home, Google Assistant will allow you to send commands to your connected devices, like your lights, speakers, or even the thermostat. Unfortunately, this isn’t our home, so I wasn’t able to test it. The potential here is clear, and I found normal voice commands to be responsive.
Someday, just before a movie, I’ll tell Google to dim the lights and that will make me happy.
When I reached out to Nvidia to look at the Shield TV, I didn’t anticipate using more than some streaming services and the occasional streamed game from my PC. What I actually received was a streaming box that doubles as a small game console or, with GeForce Now, a miniature gaming PC. If you’re a PC gamer looking for a set-top box, look no further. This is it.
- Extremely versatile with lots of power under the hood
- Includes high quality controller and remote
- Game streaming works wonderfully (but go wired)
- Google Assistant works very well, expanding functionality
- No Tegra upgrade this generation
The product discussed in this review was provided by the manufacturer for the purposes of review.