- Streaming game options work very well.
- 4K and HDR media support.
- Includes a media remote and a controller.
- Hands-free Google Assistant support will be added in the future.
- Relatively expensive.
- Streaming games requires a very fast and reliable network connection.
The new Shield TV is basically the same Android TV media streamer-microconsole hybrid as the original, but with a few new tricks. More than a year of software enhancements from Nvidia don’t hurt either.
Storage and Design
The Shield TV is available in two versions: the standard $199.99 Shield TV with 16GB of storage and the $299.99 Shield TV Pro with 500GB of storage. The two models are otherwise identical. We tested the 16GB Shield TV, and while the 11GB of space left after Android and the preinstalled Nvidia apps is tight, you can add additional storage via the device’s two USB ports. If you want to play a lot of Android games with the 16GB model, this is vital. We got a 2TB Seagate Game Drive$99.00 at Walmart.com working with the Shield TV, and smaller (and less expensive) USB flash drives will work just as well.
The new Shield TV$199.99 at Amazon shares the angular aesthetic of the original, but in a slightly smaller and flatter 0.5-by-6.0-by-3.7-inch (HWD) package. It’s a not-quite-rectangular box with slightly uneven lines; the front and right panels are rectangles, the left and back panels are trapezoids, and the rectangular top panel is covered in triangles. The top is mostly matte black plastic with a few angular textured lines, surrounding a large glossy black triangle that sits elevated to show the glowing green power light along its edge. The back panel holds an HDMI port, two USB 3.0 ports, an Ethernet port, and a connector for the included power adapter.
While it’s designed to be used laying flat on a table, you can stand the Shield TV vertically with an optional $20 vertical stand accessory, just like with the original.
Nvidia drastically overhauled the look and feel of the included wireless controller from the first Shield TV. This new gamepad is much lighter at just nine ounces, with a Tron-like pattern of triangles etched into its matte black plastic body. The edges of the triangles aren’t sharp, and the controller feels comfortable and fairly smooth in the hand. Besides the triangle-covered shell, the controller has all of the usual components: two analog sticks (arranged parallel to each other in a DualShock layout), a direction pad, four face buttons (A/B/X/Y, arranged in an Xbox layout), and two pairs of shoulder buttons. A silver panel in the middle of the gamepad holds the Nvidia logo on a button that activates the Shield’s voice search and voice control features, available thanks to the pinhole microphone just above the button. Back, Play, and Home buttons sit on the bottom edge of the gamepad, below the analog sticks. A 3.5mm headset jack sits on the underside of the controller, facing down toward the user. A micro USB port on the top lets you charge the built-in battery or use the controller wired.
The microphone on the controller is possibly the most important hardware change. It’s designed to pick up voices when sitting on a table in front of you, and when Google Assistant is added to the Shield later this year, the microphone will enable completely hands-free voice control, like a Google Home speaker$129.00 at Best Buy. All other new features on the Shield TV will be added to the original Shield TV with firmware and software updates, but for hands-free voice control you’ll need to purchase the updated gamepad for $60.
The original Shield TV offered the Shield Remote as a $50 accesory, but the new Shield TV includes an updated Remote right in the box. Considering the system bears the same price as the previous version, that’s a pretty significant boon to its viability as a media streamer.
The new 5.6-inch remote is slightly larger than the original, but is otherwise identical in design. It features a four-way direction pad near the top, Back and Home buttons below it, and a large Voice Search button below them. A pinhole microphone sits near the top, though unlike the gamepad’s mic it isn’t designed for hands-free use; you need to hold it near your mouth when you speak. (And until Google Assistant is added, you need to hold the gamepad near your mouth for voice search on it as well.)
The Shield TV runs nearly stock Android TV on Android 7.0 Nougat. The multiple Shield apps from the previous Shield TV have been integrated into a single Nvidia Games app that tracks your games across all three of Nvidia’s Shield gaming categories (described below). Besides the Nvidia app, the interface is arranged in a standard Android TV layout, with apps and games listed in their own rows of large tiles. All games you play on the Shield TV will populate in the Games row, including if they’re streamed locally over GameStream or over the Internet on GeForce Now, with the Nvidia Games app always sitting on the left side of the list.
In terms of hardware, the new Shield TV is identical to the original one, with the same Nvidia Tegra X1 APU. Android TV prevents us from performing our standard Android benchmarks on the Shield TV as if it were a smartphone or tablet, but we ran implementations of 3DMark and GFXBench GL to pin down some numbers. The Shield TV scored 3,643 in the Sling Shot Extreme test in 3DMark, outpacing every other mobile device available, including the iPad Pro (3,526). The app even explicitly called the Shield TV “one of the most powerful devices available” based on the results of the test.
The Shield TV also blew all other Android devices out of the water in GFX OpenGL, rendering 1,570 frames in the most intensive Car Chase benchmark. However, the iPad Pro beat out the Shield TV in the most challenging Manhattan benchmark, rendering 2,075 frames to the Shield’s 1,574.
Android and Local Gaming
Nvidia built the Shield TV around three gaming pillars: Android games with the Shield TV’s own Tegra X1, local PC games with GameStream, and streaming Internet games with GeForce Now.
For native Android games, the Shield TV is still one of the most powerful devices out there. We played the Android version of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, and the action was consistently smooth. I could perform parries that required precise timing, and gameplay appeared to stay close to 30 frames per second under most conditions. It isn’t as visually impressive as the PC version of Revengeance, which has higher-resolution textures and can push a much higher number of flying enemy chunks in Blade Mode, but it’s still a remarkable game to see on Android.
Besides local Android games, you can stream PC games from your computer over your home network thanks to Nvidia Gamestream. You need a solid gaming PC with an Nvidia GeForce graphics card. I streamed Metal Gear Rising Revengeance and Mirror’s Edge to the Shield TV over our test lab’s 5GHz Wi-Fi network with the Shield TV connected via Ethernet. Both games were fast and responsive, despite a few performance hiccups on the PC’s end. Seeing Revengeance streamed from a PC also confirmed that the Android version makes a few graphical compromises.
Finally, you can play streaming games over the Internet from Nvidia’s own servers with GeForce Now. It’s a $7.99 subscription service similar to PlayStation Now and GameFly Streaming, running games off-side on Nvidia’s hardware and streaming the video and audio to your device while receiving your commands with very little lag (depending on your Internet connection). GeForce Now offers a library of over 100 games, and newer titles like The Witcher 3$59.99 at Dell can be purchased piecemeal for retail prices.
Nvidia recently upgraded its GeForce Now servers with the company’s Pascal architecture, which should provide a performance boost on game rendering. Of course, no server-side upgrade can fix network bottlenecks, so you’ll need to keep an eye on your bandwidth. Nvidia also announced a partnership with Ubisoft to incorporate the company’s UPlay store into GeForce Now. UPlay users who purchase PC versions of Ubisoft games can play them over GeForce Now without having to buy them separately, with cloud saves carrying over between platforms. You still need to subscribe to GeForce Now to play these games, even if you already own them on PC.
I played Shadow Warrior 2 over GeForce Now and it was an excellent experience. The game felt responsive and I experienced none of the jarring lag that early streaming game services had. The video quality was fairly poor over Wi-Fi, even with the Shield TV only a few feet away from the router, but using an Ethernet connection the game looked very closed to the way it would if I ran it locally on a PC.
The Shield TV was the first streaming media device we tested capable of displaying 4K content. The new Shield TV keeps that feature, and adds support for high dynamic range (HDR) video over Amazon. Like most other new features, the original Shield TV will also be patched to support HDR.
The Shield TV is as capable and full-featured as any Android TV device, with plenty of big-name streaming media apps including Amazon, Crunchyroll, Hulu, Netflix, and Sling. It also provides access to Google Play’s full library of music and video content. The Shield TV supports Google Cast, so you can stream video to it from your mobile device just like a Google Chromecast$35.00 at Best Buy.
If you get a Shield TV, you simply won’t need any other media streamer. Of course, comparable 4K-capable media streamers, like the Amazon Fire TV$89.99 at Amazon and Roku Premiere+$92.99 at Amazon, cost less than half the price of the Shield TV; you’re paying the premium for the extensive gaming functions more than any media feature.
We first looked at the Shield TV with uncertainty, but the microconsole has really grown on us since its launch, and the newest version is even more compelling. While it’s effectively the same hardware as the original, it’s smaller and lighter, with a $50 remote thrown in for good measure. More importantly, Nvidia has been working on steadily improving the system’s gaming features, and establishing the Shield TV as a platform for streaming games as much as it is for running them locally. The most powerful Android device is still limited to the Android’s game library, but GeForce Now and GameStream offer surprisingly functional, compelling game streaming on a device that costs less than a Nintendo Wii U. The Shield TV isn’t a media streamer for users who simply want to watch videos online, but for gamers looking for 4K streaming features or a microconsole for a second TV, it’s quite an impressive device.