When it comes to recommendations for an Android TV box, the answer from those in the know is invariably the Nvidia Shield TV. Through now three generations Nvidia has produced a great experience for Android TV users, and the third generation launched recently in Australia, with two models, the Shield TV and Shield TV Pro.
The kind folks at Nvidia loaned us an Nvidia Shield TV with it’s intriguing new tubular design. The Nvidia Shield TV 2019 has an updated Nvidia Tegra X1 processor, 2GB RAM and 8GB of on-board storage, with a microSD card slot for you to add more memory. THere’s a Gigabit Ethernet jack to wire this into your home network – or Wi-Fi if that’s not your thing, and a HDMI 2.0b port to connect to your TV.
The new Shield TV sells for $249.95 RRP, but stock shortages have seen prices spiking up to $290, so it pays to shop around. So, if you look at the pricing and compare it to the other Android TV boxes available like the Vodafone TV for $72, or Foxtel Now box for $99, you could say Nvidia is positioning it as a premium device.
There’s a sense of gaming pedigree as well as being an entertainment device with the Shield TV. Nvidia introduced Dolby Vision to complement the HDR10 and Dolby Atmos support, as well as new AI upscaling for media, and for gamers you can connect either the Shield controller or any number of third party controllers – Xbox, PS4 and almost any random Bluetooth controller (Thanks Ouya) – and pop on the latest Android game, or even an old classic on an emulator. There’s also the NVIDIA GameStream service which lets you stream games from your PC to the Shield TV so you can play on your TV.
The hardware is interesting. The tubular design is pretty neat, though it looks cool, it’s not meant to hang off your TV, but sit hidden out of sight. Nvidia thinks having the unit hidden behind the TV panel may hinder control signals but you should be able to hide it behind your entertainment unit.
The HDMI port is on the same end of the Shield TV as the microSD card slot – Pro Tip: put your microSD card in first before inserting the HDMI cable and you probably will want more storage with only 8GB on board. The other end has the ethernet port and figure-8 power both easy to attach.
Setup is a breeze with the Shield TV and Android TV. You enter in your Google account details and you’re away.
It’s running Android TV’s latest OS update, and Nvidia are committed to keeping their Shield TV devices up to date, even the original got the latest update, so you can rest assured you’re in safe hands.
Once it’s in you can search through the wide range of apps available in the Google Play store or sideload an app if you need to. There’s all the big apps like Plex, and a bunch of games, including some Shield TV exclusives. The Geforce Now service is still installed on there – despite it not being available in Australia which is a bit odd, but there’s some Geforce exclusive Android games in there, so have a look.
All the Android TV apps for Australian terrestrial and streaming services, ABC iview, SBS OnDemand, Foxtel, Kayo etc. are there, but you can also Chromecast the stream from any app that hasn’t released an Android TV app right to the Shield TV. The big winner for me is Nvidia offers to install a good selection of these local apps for you during setup.
There’s all the big streaming services available as well like Disney+, Amazon Prime Video and of course Netflix who will all stream content to you in 4K, with support for Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos which the Shield TV now supports as well. Stan will stream 4K content and will soon be adding Dolby Vision support as well.
Of course there’s the Google apps you love: YouTube & YouTube Kids and Google Play Movies as well.
One of the big things I wanted to try was the new AI upscaling algorithms for videos. Nvidia uses Deep Learning Neural Networks to fill in the missing information and it’s surprisingly good. The video quality had a crisper and more detailed look, bringing some of my 1080p content up to a little more like 4K, it’s not a perfect job but a very satisfactory update that fades into the background as you accept the upgraded video quality.
I couldn’t capture the comparison due to HDCP, but it definitely is noticeable – on all your content.
If you really want there’s some neat developer tools to show off the difference between the standard video and AI Enhanced video – but that’s getting a bit nerdy, so switch it on and enjoy it.
The Nvidia Tegra X1+ processor inside works like a champion, and the only tweak I’d look at is bumping the RAM to 3GB with some heavy lifting making the system occasionally lag. Of course if you’re doing a lot of heavy lifting the Shield TV Pro has more RAM, as well as USB ports for adding storage which is a consideration, but costs a fair bit extra too with a RRP of $349.95 – and selling higher at most retailers due to high demand – so in that respect the Shield TV is doing pretty well.
One of the best things about the new Shield TV, for me at least, is the new remote. If you’ve had a Shield TV previously you’ll have accidentally adjusted the volume, or lost a remote at least a couple of times, with the Shield TV that’s not a thing any more.
For a start the remote is larger, and triangular shaped, but it feels comfortable to hold even if it doesn’t sit flat on the coffee table.
The remote has physical buttons for the volume up/down and fast forward/rewind now. It also uses IR and Bluetooth so it can control your TV volume now.
Ever lost the remote control? We all have, so Nvidia built a find remote function into it. You have two choices if you lose the remote. First, you can press the find remote page button on the end of the Shield TV unit above the HDMI output, or you summon it via software. The software option is harder, but if you download the Android TV app on your phone (Apple, Android) then head into settings and hit the ‘Find Remote’ option, at which point the remote lights up and starts beeping fairly loudly.
Another big plus for me is the motion activated backlit keys. Just pick the remote up and you can use it in the dark without having to guess. A tip for you is that you can change how long the backlit LED stays on for and how bright it is in settings (Settings > Remote & Accessories) so check that out.
It also now uses AAA batteries instead of having to charge it. It’s a little change but one that’s absolutely worth it.
The remote has a mic built-in so you can summon your virtual assistant. Nvidia includes options for you to use either Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa, so you can choose your favourite.
The remote is just brilliant, and if it was exclusive to the new Shield TV it would be almost worth updating for – but don’t worry. The new remote pairs with, and works great on older models, the only bummer is that Nvidia hasn’t started selling it separately just yet – but they’ve said they will.
Should you buy it?
If you want a premium Android TV experience, then 100% yes. The Shield TV is worth the premium price tag.
The whole experience is premium from the hardware to the interface and little touches like the inclusion of Dolby Vision support and the new upscaling algorithm. There’s also the inclusion of all the Amazon apps (Twitch, Prime Video etc.) and adding Alexa support instead of just relying on Google Assistant.
Nvidia’s new remote is also great as well with so many new features. You’ll be able to buy that separately soon, but it’s still a big plus.
I’m currently using a 2015 Smart TV with embedded Android TV. It got one major update and that’s where support stopped. It’s laggy and overall a horrible experience, this Shield TV has revived my interest in Android TV. It’s fast, stays up to date and the content – which there is plenty of – looks gorgeous.
There’s no two ways about it, if you’re looking for a premium Android TV experience in 2020 that just works, then the Shield TV is the only choice.