Nvidia Shield TV
IT’S TAKEN A LONG TIME TO REACH AUSTRALIA, BUT IS THIS FINALLY THE ONE MEDIA- AND GAME-STREAMING DEVICE TO RULE YOUR LOUNGE ROOM?
DESPITE LIVING THE in age of smartphone video-streaming apps and Google’s Chromecast making it easy to get almost anything online onto your TV, the idea of a do-everything standalone media player still has appeal to many people. If you’ve got a TV purchased in the last 4–5 years, chances are it has apps that cover all the major Australian streaming services, although if you’re wielding an older TV, there’ll likely be some gaps. From a media-streaming perspective, then, Nvidia’s Android TV-powered Shield TV box seems more pitched as a device for those with an older telly, although it does have 4K video output and, moreover, built-in Google Cast capabilities, meaning that it can act like a supercharged Chromecast Ultra — but with a ton of extra features. That’s because, on top of media streaming, the Shield TV also makes a rather fine PC game-streaming device, letting you seamlessly play your PC titles from the comfort of your lounge. Powered by Nvidia’s own Tegra X1 processor — the same one used in the Nintendo Switch — it’s also got lots of grunt for powering Android-native games and apps, too.
COVERING THE BASICS
Before we get too deep into the gaming side of things, though, let’s take a closer look at those media capabilities. The Shield TV comes in two options in Australia — the more media-minded one comes with the just the box and a TV remote. The second kit is pitched at gamers, and adds an Nvidia-built gamepad.
That remote is much like what the Apple TV uses — it’s simple but serviceable, with Select, Back and Home buttons, a circular directional-pad for navigating onscreen menus and a Mic button for initiating voice controls. There’s also a strip down the middle of the remote that acts as a touch-sensitive volume slider — one that’s, frankly, a bit too easy to bump with your palm as you handle the remote, especially if you’re unaware that it’s there.
The Shield’s interface is clean and straightforward, with a series of rows for different apps or services — such as Netflix, YouTube, Games and Google Play Movies/Music — which can be customised to a certain extent. Navigating and finding things is quick and easy, and thanks to voice search, you can press the Mic button to locate things more rapidly or find specific media content — say “Post-apocalyptic movies”, for example, and it’ll give you a list of flicks available on Australian streaming services and local video sources, including links to start playing an item. That ‘local video sources’ area is also well catered to, as Nvidia has included a built-in Plex server and player, so you can attach a USB hard drive into the back of the Shield with your personal TV and movie collection and (provided the files are named sensibly) you’ll
get a polished, Netflix-like interface for navigating through those files, complete with synopsis, cast and other pertinent info.
SOME CATCHING UP TO DO
Despite all those pros, the Shield TV isn’t quite perfect when it comes to media playback — at least not in Australia. The one real shortcoming is that several major videostreaming apps aren’t available for Android TV — or at least, can’t be officially installed on the Shield TV yet. While Netflix, Stan and Amazon Prime Video are all available (as well as Tenplay and 7plus for catch-up TV), at the time of testing, the ABC iView, SBS On Demand and Foxtel Now apps weren’t Shield compatible, so if you’re a fan of these services, you’ll need to rely on casting from your phone or tablet. If you’re feeling adventurous, however, a version of the ABC iView app can be sideloaded — and in testing, we found that this worked fine.
GAME STREAMING DREAM?
What’s also tempting about the Nvidia Shield — and perhaps the main reason you’d choose it over a cheaper Android TV streaming box — is its capacity as a gaming device. Being able to stream games from your PC is the major drawcard here but there’s also a range of TVoptimised Android titles available on both the Play Store and Nvidia’s own Games Store. Moreover, because the Shield is open to some tinkering, you can sideload apps and games, and with emulation apps for classic consoles like the Super Nintendo, Sega MegaDrive and original PlayStation all available to purchase from the Play Store, to many gamers, the Shield starts to stack up as a very attractive do-it-all machine. There is one caveat to all this, however. To stream PC games to the Shield, you’ll need to BYO PC or laptop with an Nvidia GPU, and the latter will need to be a GeForce GTX 750 or better. Ideally, you’ll also want both your PC and the Shield TV plugged into your wired Ethernet network — game-streaming does still work over Wi-Fi, but the Shield is aggressive about wireless strength and will prevent you from connecting to a Wi-Fi network if it doesn’t think the signal is beefy enough. If you pass those hurdles, you can stream basically any game from your PC to the Shield hooked up to your lounge room TV. All the processing happens in your computer, with the Shield merely streaming everything back and forth. Titanfall 2, running from a GTX1080 tower over Wi-Fi was near flawless, with barely perceptible input lag between the Shield gamepad and the action on screen.
ANDROID GAMES ON YOUR TV
The quality of the Android games — in terms of both their gameplay and technical measure — varies from title to title. Annoyingly, not all Android games you may have already bought on your smartphone or tablet are compatible. The marvellous XCOM is off limits, but Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars is fine. Nvidia’s controller is the classic Xbox scheme, and it’s a beauty of a gamepad. Handily, the Shield TV also supports pairing Bluetooth gamepads — so you can add multiplayer gaming support quite easily.
But is that all worth the price? At $250, the basic package is a fair bit more expensive than an $100–$150 no-name Android TV box, but the Shield TV does offer game-streaming on top of that, and Nvidia also does a good job of keeping the device patched and up-to-date — something that’s far less likely if you go the cheaper route.
Whether it passes the value test really does come down to a couple of things — firstly, whether you see yourself using the gamestreaming capabilities extensively and/or, alternatively, whether you’re a mad-keen media streamer who doesn’t like their TV’s own interface. If either of those descriptions sounds like you, then the Shield TV is a classy and fairly-priced box for what it offers — it’s, without a doubt, the best Android TV box you can currently buy. For everyone else, that price is might be a bit high to warrant pulling the trigger...
THE SECOND KIT IS PITCHED AT GAMERS, AND ADDS AN NVIDIA-BUILT GAMEPAD.