I have used the SHIELD Tablet for some time now and have absolutely loved it. I was an early adopter and got it when it first came out and haven’t regretted it once. Now almost two years later it is still alive and kicking. It is just as awesome now as it was when it was announced. Almost a year after the SHIELD Tablet was released NVIDIA rolled out another new product in the SHIELD line of devices, the NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV. At the time of the release, I was super excited and anxious to try it out. Unfortunately, it didn’t fit in the budget at the time and I had other things that needed to come first.
Thanks to my friends at NVIDIA I was able to acquire the SHIELD Pro and didn’t have to worry about the budget. Despite the fact that NVIDIA was awesome enough to give me the device, my review is still completely honest and unbiased.
Right out of the gate, I will tell you that this is an awesome device. There are a few minor drawbacks to the system but overall it is quite impressive. None of the drawbacks are major drawbacks and almost all of them are issues with Android TV and not the SHIELD. Despite the fact that it just celebrated its 1st birthday last month it has weathered the year quite well and still beats out all competition in the Android TV and Android gaming arena.
So first things first, let’s look at the specs.
NVIDIA® Tegra® X1 processor with a 256-core GPU and 3 GB RAM
4K Ultra HD ready
4K playback at 60 FPS (VP9, H265, H264)
4K capture at 30 FPS (H264, H265)
7.1 and 5.1 surround sound pass through over HDMI
High-resolution audio playback up to 24-bit/192 kHz over HDMI and USB
High-resolution audio up-sample to 24-bit/192 kHz over USB
16 GB or 500 GB
Expandable with microSD card or USB drive.
As you can see, the device has some insane processing power and has a focus on both high-end video and audio. Despite my best efforts, I was not able to get the processor to stutter or lag in any way. I was unable to take advantage of the 4K or the 7.1 audio but even without those features, the quality of the audio and especially the video blew me away. For the first time, My Sam’s Club Black Friday special JVC TV looked like a first-rate TV. Thanks to the SHIELD my wife is almost convinced that I not only need a bigger TV but that when I get one it will be a 4K TV. Thanks, NVIDIA!
As I was on the Pro version of the SHIELD I had a 500GB storage limit and it more than met my needs. For the sake of the review, I went ahead and pretended I had a 16GB standard version and hooked up both a 500GB USB hard drive and 32GB USB flash drive. The flash drive struggled to keep up at times but when I used the hard drive I had no issues and it was quite fun showing off my 1TB SHIELD to my other geeky friends.
If you want to check out all the other specs and the comparison to other streaming devices check out NVIDIA’s write-up here.
Design Next up I want to cover the design of the SHIELD itself. I am a Navy Brat. For those of you who didn’t grow up around the military, this means my dad was in the Navy, we moved around a lot and I got to see a lot of the United States and spent some time overseas. While we were living in Misawa, Japan I had the awesome opportunity to go on a school field trip to one of the hangars where they maintained several of the F-16’s that were assigned to the base. I was able to sit in the cockpit and get my picture taken in front of it. I became fascinated with jets and even entertained the thought of maybe being a Navy pilot someday. Although that dream never came true, I still love the look of many of the jets that are now in use. One of my all-time favorites is the Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk. When I opened that box up and saw that beautiful black SHIELD with the alternating matte and reflective black surfaces, the sleek angles and the sharp edges the first thing that popped into my head was the F-117. I was a happy boy!
Plug the SHIELD in, turn it on using the capacitive touch button and then the cool factor goes up very quickly. Along the front of one of the raised triangles is a power indicator light. Rather than just being a small light it is an NVIDIA green light strip that follows the whole of the triangle. Now my F-117 is not only cool looking, it is insanely cool looking!
The SHIELD is super lightweight but still manages to feel quite sturdy. While I was testing the device out for the first time I had set it up on the edge of the TV stand with the cord plugged in to the wall a few feet away. My son was super excited to see me playing a game on the TV and with his eyes glued to the TV he tripped over the cord and knocked the SHIELD off the stand. To add insult to injury both the SHIELD and my son fell in such a way that my son landed on top of it. Fortunately both my son and the SHIELD survived the fall. My son’s pride was wounded but the SHIELD wasn’t even scratched. Needless to say, the SHIELD is now in a much safer place.
The Controller The SHIELD controller also receives high marks for its quality. The controller looks and feels an awful lot like an Xbox controller and has all the bells and whistles of the controllers for more mainstream devices. It is a little on the heavier side but that heaviness adds to the quality feeling of it rather than taking away from it. I’m not one to get angry often but I will confess that there have been several thrown controllers in my life after a particularly upsetting game. I am much more mature now and don’t plan on throwing the controller but if somehow a fit of uncontrollable rage comes upon me I have the utmost confidence that it will survive.
Between the two grips of the controller is a silver pad that controls the volume but it also doubles as a track pad and mouse when paired to a SHIELD Tablet. It supposedly does this with the SHIELD TV as well but I haven’t found anywhere where it does. This track pad offers a high coolness factor but it is the one downside I found to the controller. The track pad piece of it works great and has no issues but I found that when my kids played it they held the controller in such a way that the sides of their thumbs were resting on the track pad and the volume was always spazzing out both up and down. It got so bad that I ended up relegating them to using my non-NVIDIA controller so that I didn’t always have to go fix the volume for them. This wasn’t the fault of the controller but my kids not knowing how to hold the controller right.
The controller comes in at a normal price of $60 but there is one included with the SHIELD. If you want to play any local multiplayer games you will need to buy a second controller. NVIDIA doesn’t lock you in to their controller though and gives you the ability to use a USB or Bluetooth controller with the SHIELD. Although $60 seems like a fair price for a controller of this quality I decided to try the SHIELD out with a competitor’s product to see if there were any issues. I purchased the much cheaper E&A Bluetooth Gamepad to see how it measured up. You could definitely tell it wasn’t built to the same level of quality as the SHIELD controller on the SHIELD. The gamepad was extremely slow when initially pairing to the SHIELD but after the first pairing, the only issues I ran in to was with the right trigger (R2) not working on some racing games through the GeForce Now catalog. It was spotty but I also had issues using it to navigate in the main menus and exiting apps. Although the E&A gamepad works well enough I plan on getting a second NVIDIA controller.
The Remote Control Although the NVIDIA SHIELD Remote doesn’t come standard with the SHIELD, I was lucky enough to get one with my review unit. The remote is normally $50 and yes, I feel it is slightly overpriced. But I have to say that I am in love with it. The remote is very small and light and sits well in the palm of my hand. It has a mostly metal body with some plastic highlights. It doesn’t have all the buttons, bells and whistles that the controller does and only comes with the bare necessities. What it does have is executed very well and feels very polished. My favorite feature of the remote is the volume control. It is a capacitive touch slider that sits in the bottom half of the device at the center of two raised sides. There’s just something about sliding the volume up and down with the tip of your thumb that is strangely satisfying. A bit expensive but beautiful and awesome nonetheless.
Following in the pattern of the controller, NVIDIA doesn’t limit you to just their remote control. The SHIELD comes with an IR receiver on the front of the device that allows for the use of a universal remote. The user guide specifically mentions Logitech universal remotes but I was able to use some cheap knockoff I’ve had for several years and although it wasn’t as good as the NVIDIA remote it still functioned well enough and did the job relatively well.
The Software The SHIELD comes with a lot of bells and whistles but the real power of the device is unleashed by the software and apps that the SHIELD comes with. At its core the SHIELD is running Android TV but NVIDIA took what Google created and made it more powerful with the inclusion of GeForce Now.
GeForce Now gives you another option to not only play Android games but to play PC and console games. GeForce Now does this by connecting the user to a massive host of high-end supercomputers and then streaming them from those supercomputers down to your SHIELD. As long as you maintain a solid connection you can play the games at a full 1080p with 60 frames per second for as long as you would like! Now this awesome feature isn’t free but it comes at a very reasonable $7.99 a month. Think of it like Netflix for gaming. There are some games that do cost extra but the selection of apps available with the $7.99 is quite large and varied.
If you prefer not to spend the money there are many ways to play games on the SHIELD, with everything from sideloading games, to downloading them from the Google Play Store. But just to see if you like it NVIDIA offers three free months of access (credit card is required) and you can cancel it at any time before the three months is up.
The SHIELD also comes with one other method of gaming where you can use your own PC in place of the systems that NVIDIA uses as part of their GeForce Now setup. Bought Witcher 3 on your PC but want to play it on the TV? As long as you have a system that meets the specs you’ll be able to with the SHIELD!
The SHIELD’s awesome software doesn’t end there. Due to the fact that it comes with the Google Play Store you can download any number of Android TV supported apps from the there. There’s no more need to hook up your computer to the TV to enjoy all your Netflix, Hulu, VidAngel and other streaming video. You can use them all from the SHIELD and enjoy up to 4K quality with them too!
The Rest All of the stuff we’ve covered so far are the things that make the SHIELD look like a great buy up front but they aren’t what keeps the SHIELD in the living room. There has to be something that differentiates the SHIELD from the old consoles that are in a box in my basement. NVIDIA did a great job of not only delivering up front but they gave me a lot of other little reasons to give the SHIELD a prominent place on my entertainment center.
When NVIDIA built the SHIELD they knew that not everyone was going to have the same setup. They knew some people like me wouldn’t have a 4K TV or a 7.1 surround sound system. I’ve already mentioned that NVIDIA planned on people not wanting to (or not being able to) fork out the money for a second controller or for the remote, or even for the Pro version of the SHIELD. Rather than making the SHIELD an elitist product that only the wealthy can use they gave us the ability to plug or connect just about any device to it. I’ve successfully connected several devices over Bluetooth and USB. I’ve used keyboards, mice, remotes, hard drives, flash drives, webcams, and more! Quick note: you can also use the USB ports to charge your remote and controllers. 🙂
When I started using the SHIELD I was a little frustrated that some games and apps didn’t fit my screen quite right, the edges of the game or app would be off-screen and I couldn’t enjoy the games I was playing as I was missing important things like my health bar at the top of the screen. I remembered seeing something in the user manual that mentioned adjusting the audio to work with systems where the sound was a little out of sync. If NVIDIA planned for that they had to have planned for issues with TV resolutions as well. I opened the manual, glanced through it again (I actually read the whole thing before I even opened the box but there was a LOT to consume), and lo and behold there was a setting that allowed me to correct resolution issues!
Another cool feature of the SHIELD is that it comes with its own built-in Chromecast. I’ve had a Chromecast since it first came out and I loved it but it had issues. For whatever reason, I was never able to cast audio or video without having massive lag and stuttering unless I was casting my whole screen. Then when I would stop casting the Chromecast app would lock up and I would have to restart my device. I tried three different Chromecasts and had the problem on every one of them and then I just gave up. The SHIELD changed that, and for the first time I am able to cast from any of my devices without any issue!
I’ve barely scratched the surface and I could go on for hours talking about the features of the SHIELD and telling you how much I love it but at 2,500 plus words already I should probably let you take a rest. But to wrap things up, I have to say that this is by far THE BEST gaming system I have ever owned or used! It is also THE BEST Android system I have ever used! With specs that knock your socks off, features that blow your mind and build quality like you wouldn’t believe the NVIDIA SHIELD has set the standard by which I will judge all future devices.
And if my review isn’t enough to convince you maybe my wife’s unspoken review can. My wife hates video games. The aforementioned gaming systems that are in a box in my basement are there because she thinks they are a waste of time. I will confess that now that I’m older I agree that they can be a waste of time, but I still like to pull them out for the occasional game. I knew the SHIELD was cool but I didn’t realize how cool it was until after my son and I had played together for a while and were in the process of putting it away. My wife was sitting on the couch watching us, we made eye contact for a brief second, and then with a sheepish grin she asked, “Can I try it now?” Almost an hour later I had to convince her it was time to put the game away and time for us to go to bed!
So long story long (sorry, not so short), if you don’t have one I would urge you to get one. You won’t ever regret it! A HUGE thank you goes out to NVIDIA from me, my wife and my children!
Roy likes to dabble in all things Android and contributes everywhere he can. He owns the site rwilco12.com and its accompanying forum, he develops his own apps and ROM’s, is a Moderator and Recognized Developer on XDA-Developers.com and is the VP of Public Relations for AndroidFileHost.com.