Review: Nvidia Shield TV Streams Brilliant 4K/HDR
Last week we received the new standard (tubular design) Nvidia Shield TV streaming media player based on the Android TV OS and what we found was a slick, speedy performer with lots of apps supporting native 4K/HDR content, a fantastic remote, great gaming responsiveness and even powerful 4K AI upscaling that can make lesser-performing 4K Ultra HDTVs perform better.
Both the standard and Pro versions of the 2019 Nvidia Shield TV are optimized for 4K Ultra HD and HDR (including Dolby Vision support) to go up against the latest generations of Fire TV Sticks, Apple TV 4K and various Roku streaming media adapters. After taking the standard “tubular” version of the Shield TV through its paces, we can report this is a powerful contender for top consideration among add-on streaming media adapters. But whether or not its right for you will depend on your particular application.
As we previously reported, Nvidia recently rolled out two new Shield TV players, five years after its popular first edition and two years since the 2017 version. The players are designed to support Google’s Android TV OS (9.0 “Pie” ver./Shield Experience 8.0.1). Available now with prices starting at $149 for the standard version and $199 for the “Pro” model, both Shield TV players include a new Tegra X1+ processor that helps the devices run up to 25% faster than the previous generation player. The devices offer support for the Dolby Vision high dynamic range (HDR) profile in addition to baseline HDR10 along with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X 3D surround sound.
The Pros: The primary benefits we found with the standard version of player was the ease of setup; lightning fast response and downloading time; one of the best remote controls we’ve seen for a streaming media player; clean Android home screen layout; thousands of apps and movies; impressive 4K upscaling for the benefit of cheaper 4K/HDR TVs that don’t have the best internal upscaling technology; the ability to play a rich assortment of online video games and an open platform that tweakers will have a field day with accessing all sorts of apps (both legit and otherwise) carried by the Google Play library or available via various supported app tools.
Please note that HD Guru.com strongly advises anyone against streaming pirated video and anyone who doesn’t know what they are doing should avoid apps offered outside of the Google Play store. These can damage the player and expose the user to Trojan horse viruses, ransomware and other nefarious threats.
The Cons: What we didn’t like so much about the Nvidia Shield TV was a somewhat weaker collection of apps than Roku’s robust library. And while Google and Amazon have now made nice, allowing the Amazon Prime app on a wide range of Android devices, the new Apple TV+ app and service is conspicuously absent from the Shield TV’s on-board library. We asked Nvidia about this and were told: “Shield is an open platform and we are happy to work with developers on adding Shield support.” So, the ball is in Apple’s court, and we don’t expect that offering its new app to a company with a competing 4K media streamer and OS will be of any urgency. This will be a drawback for anyone interested in getting an Nvidia Shield TV to watch the Apple TV+ service on a non-supporting smart TV. On the other hand, the new Disney+ app is supported and prominently featured on the Shield TV players. Nvidia also said it doesn’t have any plans to build in support for HDR streaming over Google’s YouTube app. This will prevent viewing HDR from 4K shorts on the service. But we don’t expect this will be a deal-breaker for many since such content is mostly nature clips and test material. Long-form movies and television series offered in 4K/HDR from other major streaming services should playback without issue.
In developing these units, Nvidia has put a lot of emphasis on 4K Ultra HD with HDR streaming capability to keep pace with the rapidly growing popularity of 4K Ultra HDTVs. This includes support for both HDR10 and the premium Dolby Vision HDR profiles for supporting televisions. Dolby Vision support is still missing from Roku streaming media adapters (it’s supported by some Roku TVs however), despite the ever-growing selections of Dolby Vision HDR content from services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Vudu, among others.
The standard, or tubular, edition of the two new Nvidia Shield TV players is positioned to go up against Roku’s newest flagship Roku Ultra unit, and offers a few benefits and drawbacks next to that device. It also contends well next to Amazon Fire TV Sticks, Cubes etc. as well as the Apple TV 4K. Online video gaming from Google’s games are compelling but hardcore gamers likely will not find this as engaging as game play on a console-based PlayStation 4 or Xbox One S or X, all of which also pack a nice assortment of streaming entertainment apps.
The tubular version of Shield TV offers a new cylindrical design while the step-up “Pro” version retains the basic look of the previous design. The Pro version also includes 16GB of internal storage and 3GB of RAM, while the standard version has 8GB of storage and 3GB RAM. The Shield TV Pro also features two USB ports for running a Plex Media Server and connecting high-capacity hard drives and other USB storage devices, the company said.
Both units include Gigabit Ethernet and dual-band Wi-Fi for fast connectivity and game play. They also feature an HDMI 2.0b port with HDCP 2.2 and CEC support, as well as a MicroSD card slot for add-on storage expansion.
The Shield TV media adapters provide an extensive selection of streaming entertainment apps, including Netflix, Amazon Prime, Fandango, Vudu, Disney+ etc. It also builds in support for Chromecast 4K video streaming from a compatible smart phone or tablet.
For operational convenience, the latest Shield TV Experience system supports Google Assistant voice control that will help users easily find and access favorite programs, as well as control other compatible smart devices and get basic answers to common questions via the internet. Shield TV now supports “routines” — with one command, and Google Assistant will complete multiple tasks.
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The devices are also designed to “Work with Alexa” voice control devices such as Amazon Echo speakers, although setting this up to work is a little less than intuitive.
Similarly, the standard player will access wireless streamed music and video files stored on a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device played through a supporting media player app from the Google Play Store. But to set this up, the user first will need to go into the Shield TV Settings > Device Preferences > Storage > Mount network storage activation. The NAS library should show up in the media player app after a few seconds. This is not documented well in the supplied instructions.
The standard version of the Nvidia Shield TV is a black plastic cylinder that fits between the power cord and the HDMI connection to the TV set. This cylinder measures 6.5-by-1.6-inch (HW). One end of the cylinder carries a connector for the included power cable and an Ethernet port. The other end carries the HDMI port, a microSD card slot, and a remote-finder button that triggers a beeping sound from the remote, when lost behind the couch cushions. However, this button, which looks like a device reset button, is difficult to get to with large fingers and as we found out the hard way, it can be easily broken using a tool like a screw driver or pen to depress it, so be careful.
This plastic tube of a device doesn’t get particularly hot and tends to rest on the floor or table top out of sight behind the television where the cords and cables land. The power cord (and Ethernet cable if used) plugs into one end and the HDMI cord plugs into the other.
Nvidia uses the same remote control in both players, and it’s a beauty. It’s a long three-sided (triangle shaped) black bar that measures 6 inches long and has a minimal 11-button with a circular navigation- pad layout. The unique form factor is perfectly weighted to balance comfortably in the hand. The control buttons are back lit when shaken to make turning down the volume or switching apps effortless in the dark. The remote offers a large fast-access Netflix button. This takes the TV directly into the Netflix app, ready to find and launch a favorite program. The Nvidia Shield TV has HDMI-CEC multi-device control, which we found worked fluidly with a supporting connected television. The power button on the Shield TV remote immediately turns on both the Shield TV and the television and the gets right to the Android TV home screen with a single press.
The remote is powered by two AAA batteries that are concealed in a sleeve that slides out of the center of the hand unit. This is no simple task. The remote also houses a mic to take voice commands for the built-in Google Assistant search and control operations. Google Assistant is triggered by pressing and holding the microphone button on the remote. The system will answer basic questions, search for content, open apps, and control smart home devices by voice. Those who find pressing the mic button to be too much effort can purchase an optional $60 Nvidia Shield Controller, which is a gamepad with an included far-field microphone array. This year’s Shield TVs do not ship with the game controller in a bundle.
Where the Nvidia Shield TV impressed us the most was in its new built-in 4K AI upscaling technology. We connected the Shield TV to a TCL Series 5 Roku TV with built-in 4K Dolby Vision support and found upscaled HD and Full HD videos had noticably better contrast and color performance than what the TV was producing alone. Even streamed Dolby Vision content looked better through the Shield TV than through the supporting Roku platform on the TCL set. The upgrade was somewhat less obvious on a Samsung 4K Ultra HD QLED television supporting HDR10 (the TV doesn’t support Dolby Vision), which has a fairly robust upscaling system of its own.
We didn’t have a better performing TCL Series 6 or Series 8 TV available to test with the Shield TV adapter, but we expect those models will have markedly better picture quality performance with their own internal upscaling technologies. But for the thousands of budget-based 4K/HDR TVs in U.S. homes, the Nvidia Shield TV is a nice way of improving the 4K/HDR performance while getting a wide selection of apps and games to boot.
Nvidia said it has incorporated its expertise in AI by training on a deep neural network to provide lower-resolution Full HD and HD content at up to a 4K/30 fps rate.
The Dolby Atmos and DTS:X support offered through the Nvidia Shield TV is a nice enhancement, although this has been offered previously in Roku media players and other media streamers. Played through home theater systems that lack full object-based oriented speaker support, these formats upscale the sound using psycho-acoustic techniques that expand the sound stage for a more immersive experince through available stereo speakers and systems lacking true height channels.
Nvidia’s Android TV-based Shield TV devices are optimized for online game play, although neither the standard nor Pro versions ship with gaming controllers. These, as mentioned, can be purchased after sale, or gaming enthusiasts can use a controller from several popular console platforms. The latest Shield TV players support Bluetooth connections for use with the Microsoft Xbox One wireless gamepad, the Sony PlayStation DualShock 4, and the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller.
Shield TV also supports online GeForce Now games from Nvidia. A wide variety of games are available through the service, both à la carte and through a subscription membership. It also supports streaming many games from Steam or UPlay accounts. This allows playing PC games from either service streamed to the Shield TV device and onto a big-screen TV.
Unfortunately, neither Shield TV unit supports variable refresh rate (VRR) for use with Nvidia’s G-Sync compatible TV’s, like 2019 LG 4K OLED TVs, the company told us. Still, both devices support snappy, responsive game play without breaking the bank.
Set-up and Use
Setting up the 2019 Nvidia Shield TV was a breeze when performed using an Android smartphone. A series of on-screen prompts walks the user briskly through the process of connecting to a wireless home network and linking to a previously established Google account with minimal steps. As mentioned, instructions and documentation were a little lacking for some of the tricks and features these units can perform. Nvidia packs a tiny support guide (three pages in English of user warnings) in the box, but older eyes may require a magnifying glass to read it. Fortunately, a lot of the operational questions you may have are answered on the Nvidia website.
The 2019 standard version of the Nvidia Shield TV is one of our favorite media streamers of 2019. Its impressive AI 4K upscaling is a welcome improvement for mainstream 4K/HDR TV models and its use and setup are generally intuitive and beautifully responsive. Pricing of both the standard and Pro versions is a little steep compared to competing players from Roku, Fire TV and others, but at under $200 it won’t put you into debt. The biggest disappointment here is the lack of Apple TV+ support, which is a shame since that service is carrying a lot of 4K steaming content with Dolby Vision HDR, which Apple seems to want to keep exclusively for its Apple TV 4K players at this time. So, deciding which which player is right for you will depend on how you intend to the use a streaming media player the most, and if you like 4K streaming, online games, Android and can live without Apple TV+ this is the player for you.
We therefore award the 2019 Nvidia Standard Shield TV 5 out of 5 hearts.
By Greg Tarr
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The 2019 standard Nvidia Shield TV used for this review was supplied by the company.