Hands-on: NVIDIA SHIELD TV
NVIDIA's library of SHIELD gaming devices began with the SHIELD Portable, then expanded into the world of tablets with their (recently re-launched and re-branded) K1. Most recently, in May of 2015, NVIDIA made a move into the Android-based console space with their SHIELD Android TV.
The world of Android-powered consoles designed to take center stage in your living room has been a niche and sometimes confusing one. The average consumer who isn't particularly tech-savvy might not even know things like the SHIELD exist, let alone why they might need one. But times are changing. With the rising popularity of both phones and tablets powerful enough to function as home theater streaming devices and the burgeoning Steam Machine and Steam Link markets, the general interest in what we'll call "alternative consoles" is likely to increase.
The NVIDIA SHIELD provides a premium Android console powered by the Tegra X1 Chip and 3GB of RAM, which makes the SHIELD one of the very best possible choices if you plan to use your console primarily for gaming. It also comes with some interesting extras and support for NVIDIA's streaming services which, while it won't make you forget about the console's limitations, can have you playing PC games in your living room for less than a new Steam Machine. The SHIELD runs Android 5.1 (Lollipop) powered by Android TV and Google Cast.
The right look
One of the best things about the SHIELD is apparent before you even plug it in. The SHIELD just looks really cool, combining a compact footprint with dynamic surface angles and green lighting that make it an eye-catching part of your entertainment center that can fit in a very limited amount of space.
Interacting with the SHIELD requires a controller (included) or a remote (available separately or as a free add-on at the time of this writing). The controller fits into the popular Xbox-style mold and packs in some extra features, including a touchpad and support for Google voice commands that can make browsing content faster and easier.
As a media streaming device, the SHIELD's big selling point is its robust support for 4K content. Though the selection of true Ultra HD video to stream remains limited, you'll be able to take full advantage of it with the SHIELD (provided you have the right TV of course). There are a few choice 4K options scattered throughout Netflix and YouTube, though the lack of an Amazon Instant Video app on Android TV devices is disappointing (it's a long story).
The SHIELD comes with either 16GB or 500GB of storage, with corresponding price tags of $199 and $299. We went hands-on with the 500GB option, but there's no difference in terms of day-to-day functionality between the two options. If you're interested in installing a ton of games or using the SHIELD as a media server the extra storage space is attractive, but the higher price point also puts the SHIELD into competition with full-fledged gaming consoles, with PS4 bundles currently available for around $350.
At $199 though, the SHIELD has much less competition for the functionality it provides. And if what you're looking for is a gaming-focused Android TV console, there is simply no better option than the SHIELD in terms of power and performance. The Tegra X1 chip can handle any Android game you want to throw at it, but it almost feels like a waste to use something as powerful as the SHIELD just to play games you could play on your phone. Where the SHIELD really shines is with NVIDIA's game streaming services, as we discussed in our recent look at the SHIELD K1 tablet.
If you're willing to pay the $7.99 monthly subscription fee you can use the SHIELD to play games through NVIDIA's GeForce Now service, which streams PC-quality games to your device. The current selection isn't great (unless you really love LEGO games, in which case it's a fantastic value) and will be at the mercy of your connection speed and stability, but it is one of the few viable game streaming options out there, and can give you a chance to play classics like Arkham City and Borderlands for a low cost. In my testing with an often-frustratingly-slow home Internet connection I was impressed with how smooth and playable the games were, most of the time.
GeForce Now also supports separate purchase options for newer and more popular titles like The Witcher III: Wild Hunt if you want a quick and easy way to play those games on your TV. Buying games through the service comes with a key for Steam or GoG as well, so you won't lose access to a game if you decide to stop paying the GeForce Now subscription fee.
If you have a library of PC games and an NVIDIA GTX graphics card you can take advantage of NVIDIA GameStream to transmit titles you already own from your PC to the SHIELD over your home network. With GameStream the SHIELD functions in much the same way as Valve's Steam Link streaming device, with the notable differences including that the Steam Link will work with AMD cards and clocks in at a mere $50 (plus the cost of a controller of course), while the SHIELD supports 4K and surround sound streaming.
If the only function you're looking for is PC to TV game streaming you're probably better off with the Steam Link or NVIDIA's SHIELD K1 tablet, but if you want a micro-console which packs media streaming, Android games, and a variety of other features (with more likely on the way) into a small, well-designed package then the SHIELD TV is worth a close look.
For full specs and more information regarding the NVIDIA SHIELD TV, visit Newegg.com.