Nvidia Shield TV | Review
The new Shield TV from Nvidia surprised us. We have rarely seen a new edition with so few improvements, and even with more problems than the last generation.
Usually, Nvidia’s CEO, Jen-Hsun Huang, has big announcements when he goes onto the stage at a show. At the electronics trade fair ( CES 2017 ) in Las Vegas, Huang even held the opening speech, but the focus was on the automotive industry and on the artificial intelligences. In any case, the company introduced a new Shield TV, a streaming device that is built with gamers in mind. It was clear from the beginning that the new model largely corresponded to the Shield TV from 2015 as the changes are mainly about the software and about the accessories.
Smaller body, but fewer ports
Nvidia has dramatically shrunk the Shield TV compared to its predecessor. It measures 159 x 98 x 26 mm instead of 210 x 130 x 25 mm and is much lighter at 250 instead ( compared to the 650 grams). The surface is partly covered with a black plastic, which quickly collects a lot of dust. The compact dimensions of the device is resulted in the elimination of the micro SD card slot and micro USB 2.0 port. If you want to expand the internal memory though, you can do this via one of the two USB 3.0 ports by using an external hard disk or other storage media.
Gigabit Ethernet, an HDMI 2.0b output with CEC and HDCP-2.2 support, and the power connector for the 40-watt power supply are the other ports. There is no power switch, but of course, the Shield TV can be shut down. In its predecessor (with Android 6.0), you could do that by long pressing the power button but, with the current Shield TV (with Android 7.0) this point is missing. You can only shut down the device if you navigate to the “Info” through the “Settings”.
Tegra X1 is here, again
Inside the console though, you won’t find any huge changes compared to the previous generation. In fact, it uses the same processor, Tegra X1, as with its predecessor. This is still today’s one of the fastest ARM-based chips on the market and supports all of the important video formats. Up to 4K (3.840 x 2.160 pixels) at 60 Hz, the Tegra X1 decodes the increasingly important H.265 content including 10 bit color depth per channel and HDR (High Dynamic Range). The good thing is that popular streaming services such as Amazon Video, Netflix or Youtube already supports these features. However, you would need to have a good HDMI cable if you want to watch 4K HDR movies, and no, the cable you are given when purchasing the Shield TV does not support those codecs.
Nvidia combines the Tegra X1 with 3 GB of memory, which is why frequently used apps and a running game are mostly in the RAM. This makes the change from one app to another extremely fluent – with rare exceptions ( more on that later ). The new Shield TV has 16 GB of memory, but you can only use half of that. The internal memory can be extended by a USB stick, but the port is blocked.
Regarding the power consumption, the old and the new Shield TV models ( with 4 to 16 watts ) do not differ from each other as for the fact that the active cooling is inaudible. Since the January 15, 2017, both devices are also on the same platform since Nvidia has upgraded them to Android 7.0 Nougat via the Experience Upgrade 5.0. What is still missing is the announced support for the Google Assistant, which is supposed to be released in a few months.
The new controller could hardly differ from the previous model: it is far slimmer than the rather clumsy gamepad, which Nvidia shipped with the older Shield TV and the Shield Tablet. No matter whether small or big hands – we find the new controller much more comfortable. The polygon optics are also palpable, but not angular, instead grippy.
We like the new, much tighter D-Pad, the ring-knurled analog sticks and the wider as well as concave shoulder triggers. The left stick sits as under the D-pad, so differently than with a Xbox Gamepad. Instead of three toasting buttons for Home, Play / Pause and Back, Nvidia happily relies on dedicated buttons with haptic feedback. The built-in microphone is active for all the time, but you still have to press the shield button for voice control.
The fact that the headset port has moved to the side facing the user reduces the cable rate. The built-in rechargeable battery is charged via a micro USB-B port and the battery provides a usage period of 60 hours ( instead of 40 hours ).
All titles can be found at Nvidia Games, a new app that replaces the previous Shield Hub. If you want to install a larger game though, you must purchase the Pro version of the Shield TV with 500 GB hard disk or at least use a fast USB 3.0 stick for additional storage space to the console. After the installation of Borderlands The Pre-Sequel, the internal memory was already full. While the first person shooter game is apparently rendered in 1080p at 30 fps, some upcoming indie titles such as Shadowgun Legends will be shown in 4K UHD.
Geforce Now is now also available for Mac and PC, but is significantly more expensive than for the Shield TV. Nvidia is now using Pascal-based accelerator cards to calculate the games on the in-house servers and to stream over the Internet. We recommend, as usual, to connect a Gigabit Ethernet cable to the Shield TV for the Geforce Now. Depending on the title, up to 1080p60 are available, such as Streetfighter X Tekken.
Gamestream has a few new features to offer: this function, similar to Valves in-home streaming, can transfer games from the PC to the TV. In this case, the host is a computer with Nvidia graphics card, the Shield TV is the client. This can also work with 4K-UHD at an image rate of 60 fps and even with HDR. Apart from ShadowWarrior 2, this feature does not currently support a PC game though.
The Shield TV runs the Android TV in a version, which is based on Android 7.0 also known as Nougat. With the new version though, few things have changed. In the top area of the Android TV start screen, there is still a recommendation area. However, there is no recognizable pattern in the recommendation area.
The streaming video subscriptions of Netflix and Amazon, which are especially popular in the United States, are also supposed to provide content for this purpose, but they can not be found. In the Android TV settings, apps can be excluded from the referral section, but nothing happens even though the two apps are enabled.
The app list is better but not perfect
The apps installed on the Shield TV are located directly below the recommendation area. Fortunately, the apps that have not been installed through the Play Store are also now displayed in this area. From here, all apps can be started, no matter how they came to the device. They can be sorted manually, in order to store the often required apps in the front area. In the previous Android TV versions, the list was constantly changed by the operating system, so it was unnecessarily difficult for the user to get along on the device.
The apps are distributed on a maximum of two lines so that many installed apps soon become confusing. Users then have to scroll a lot of pages until they find the right app. Although there are more than 20 apps in one line, no third line is set up to get a better overview.
When new apps are installed, they ( most of the time ) do not appear in the beginning or at the end of the list, but rather, appear in the middle. Continuous scrolling is not possible here either. If the cursor is at the end of the line, the user can not jump back to the beginning, the user has to scroll back. Pressing the Home button on the remote control partially avoids this problem.
A double-click on the home button of the remote will open a task overview, similar to the way it is used on the smartphones and tablets with Android for a long time. For Android TV, this function was only released in this month. The list shows the most recently viewed apps. This allows you to switch from one app to another without having to go to the main screen.
The Shield TV should also have access to the Google Assistant. When it is ready, the device can become a control center for the Smart Home.
Altered remote control with many weaknesses
With the revised remote control, most of the criticisms have unfortunately been disregarded. After all, the new model will no longer only be sold as an accessory, but is finally available within the box. This makes the device also more expensive.
Unfortunately, the remote control still lacks important control buttons: there are no dedicated buttons for pause and rewinding. With the update to Android 7.0 nougat, the sensor range of the remote control becomes a pause button. Fortunately, the owners of the previous Shield TV benefit from this because the new Android TV is also available for the existing devices – as is usual with the streaming devices.
Infrared is also included
However, we would have liked to have a remote control with dedicated control buttons for the new edition. Normally, the sensor area at the bottom of the remote control is used to control the volume. The new model also supports infrared so that the remote control can take over the volume control of your TV. This worked in our tests pleasingly smoothly.
With a double tap on the sensor area, the remote can pause the playback and then continue again. This allows playback to be paused and resumed over the same range, as well as reducing the volume. You only have to get used to keeping the remote as far down as possible. Otherwise, it requires some contortions to reach the area. This is because the control buttons located above are quite far from the sensor area, so you can not reach both areas at the same time. The new pause function is in any case a profit, the double touch can be used quite quickly though.
With the remote control of our test model, we had to fight with a bad pressure point. If you think that you have pressed a key deep enough, that is usually not enough as no command is sent. Then the button has to be pressed again with a considerably higher pressure. These problems did not exist with the old remote.
The new model is powered by two CR2032 flat batteries and is intended to be used for one year without having to replace the batteries. The previous model had a built-in rechargeable battery, but there was a lack of charging on the device. This can result in the battery discharging and the Shield TV can not be operated until the battery is charged.
In our tests, we tried to connect a Fire TV remote to the Shield TV, but that failed. We have tried it with a Fire TV remote control, which is connected via Bluetooth, and with the newer WLAN model. The Shield TV has not recognized both the remote controls as accessories.
This would have been a counter-measure against the inconsistent operation of the various streaming apps that Android TV can give. This basic problem has not been fixed with the new Android TV versions.
Anyway, back to its own remote, the pause function adjusted for the sensor area are improved with this model, but it is assumed that the user is accustomed to always tap with a contortion into the lower area of the remote control. Then with a double-tip finally in each app reliably the playback can be paused and continued.
If, on the other hand, the confirmation button is used in the navigation cross, unpleasant surprises can be experienced. The fewest apps can directly pause playback with one click and then resume playback. In most apps, a screen menu with additional options appears instead. Some apps ensure that the pause function is always preselected, so with a double key press, the playback is then interrupted.
Another common operating variant remembers which command was last selected in the screen menu. If this is the pause function, playback is also paused with a double-click. If, however, it is for the rewind, then this is done with touching twice. To pause the playback, the pause knob must first be selected and activated in the screen menu.
The app pauses directly with a key-press, but the playback can not continue. Because in the break mode the system immediately places a content description over the video image. A push on the control button then executes commands, which can be found on the content description. To resume playback with the control button, the description must be blanked with a click to the top.
The user is therefore required to remember which app is using which operating concept. It is also annoying that most apps allow previews only from the screen menu. There are usually no different speeds and no preview.
Google’s own Play Movies app has been reworked. It now supports the direct pausing and coiling and thus equals the Netflix app. Both apps also provide a preview, and are the big exceptions. Adjusting the speed is not possible with either of the two apps. The preinstalled video player also supports direct pausing, but a loop preview does not exist.
We have also tried the MX Player and the VLC Player, both of which support many features. While the VLC player supports the direct pause feature, the MX Player requires a two-button pressing to pause.
While Google has improved the Play Movies app, the Youtube app has been forgotten. Together with most of the apps and the newly added Amazon video app, they offer only the few features within the screen menu and do not show any previews. The use of these apps is therefore associated with corresponding the budget losses.
Furthermore, there is no official behavior when the Home button is pressed during the playback. If this is done in the Apps such as Play Movies, Youtube or the VLC Player , the playback will continue in the background on the Android TV main screen. The apps from Amazon, Netflix, ARD and the MX Player automatically pause the playback. The meaning of the background reproduction does not reveal itself to us, because the main screen covers the picture to the majority, so that hardly anything can be seen. We would find it much better if the playback was always be paused when pressing the Home button.
The new Shield TV appears with pre-installed Amazon’s video app. This does not constitute the full range of functions.
Amazon’s video app is a disappointment
Proudly, Nvidia had announced that the new Shield TV is pre-installed with Amazon’s video streaming app. This makes it the first regular Android TV, which also allows access to Amazon’s video service. In retrospect, the collaboration has already started more than a year ago. In the fall of 2015, Amazon had banished all the streaming devices from their online store which compete with the Fire TV devices.
The only exception was Nvidia’s Shield TV. Amazon justified the fact that Chromecast, Nexus Player and Apple TV can not access the in-house video service because Amazon had not installed the appropriate device support. Until the introduction of the new Shield TV could only be puzzled about why the Shield TV was resold, although there was also no Amazon video app – until now.
The app, however, remains far behind the functions of a Fire TV device. Although Amazon Video can be used on the Shield TV, it is not the same experience compared to the Fire TV version. Maybe Amazon wants to ensure that customers prefer to buy one of the Fire TV devices.
Amazons video app does not provide all the features
We were surprised at how bad the Android TV app from Amazon failed. Very conspicuous is how sluggish the app responds. It does not even approach the smooth control of a Fire TV device. The interface looks similar to the Fire-TV device at the first glance: The main menu is located on the left side, and the contents are also found here.
While Fire TV users are used to jumping to the content immediately by navigating to the page, the Shield TV user has to press the confirmation button after navigating to the page before switching to the content area. Until the content appears in the first time, it takes a small moment – the Fire TV interface glides seamlessly into the content here.
The Shield TV app allows read-only access to your own watchlist. It is not possible to add or delete tracks from the app. This must be done from Amazon’s website. The user thus only has a limited range of functions. Also the X-ray information available on the Fire TV devices for almost two years is missing here. On the Fire TV, the user can see during the playback, which actors are currently in a scene and in which well-known movies they have worked.
The Amazon app is one of the few streaming apps that allows you to change the winding speed without previewing it. And the pausing and rewinding is always done via the screen menu, so that with a touch print nothing can be done, because then always the screen menu appears. It remains positive to note that the Android TV app continues to display the prime markers. The Prime banderoles are no longer displayed by the Amazon since September 2016; Thus the clarity of the Fire TV surface has drastically deteriorated. The content contained in the Prime subscription is now no longer visible at a glance.
Also in the integration into the Android TV, the Amazon app cuts particularly badly. The app never stays in memory and is restarted after each exit. Even if the task overview is used, it is always completely restarted. It is already enough to call the task overview from the app and then immediately go back to the app and start the app again. The memory on the Shield TV is definitely big enough with 3 GB to keep the app longer in the memory. The Netflix app is an exemplary here: Even if several other apps are opened, just click on the Netflix icon and then, you can continue what you were doing previously.
Even the change to the Android TV start screen ensures that it flies out of the memory and is restarted completely. Anyone who has searched for a film in the assortment has to search for it again. And since the Watchlist can not be changed, this otherwise probate resource is also no solution.
Voice control with restrictions
Even over a year after the launch of the Shield TV, there is no voice search for the Netflix app. This also applies to the Amazon video app. The other apps can also not be searched with the voice for content. The voice search is available for Google Play Movies, Youtube, and Nvidia’s own games During the test, the voice search worked fine and sometimes it did not understand anything at all. We could not find a reason for this.
If you want to search without additional tools in the content of Amazon and Netflix, then you usually have to rely on the screen keyboard. Amazon uses the standard keyboard, which is not very comfortable, because it is not possible to jump from one end of the keyboard to the other. The Netflix app has – as on other platforms – its own screen keyboard, but also does not support endless scrolling.
The Shield TV has two full-fledged USB jacks and we simply connect a conventional PC keyboard. Disillusion comes promptly. The keyboard is recognized, but only one key layout is used for all inputs even though the user interface has been set to the English. The problem also exists with the old Shield TV. In the settings there are no options for the key assignment of a hardware keyboard. Oddly, the hardware keyboard in the Amazon app does not work at all – all text inputs are blocked, only the navigation in the interface with the cursor keys is possible.
Furthermore, the use of Android TV does not mean that all Android apps for this platform are directly available. The app selection is much more limited. Even though all the major video play apps are available, the important video streaming apps continue to look old.
Nvidia sells the new Shield TV for $200, but at least, the controller and the remote control are included. The predecessor was a little bit cheaper, but you had to buy the remote control for $39. If you prefer to use a 500 GB hard disk instead of 16 GB internal flash memory, you must buy the Shield TV Pro for $299. This price corresponds to the older model with the new accessories. A second controller costs $59, the pedestal is available for $19.
Nvidia’s new Shield TV is strange: anyone who already owns a Shield TV has no reason to change to the new model. On the contrary, the old model has some advantages over the new one. In the new model, Nvidia has removed some of the connections, including the Micro SD card reader. If you are only now looking to buy a shield TV and would like to use it mainly for the game use, you will get a significantly improved controller, which is much more ergonomic. Customers can buy the controller individually, if necessary.
As a pure streaming device, the Shield TV is expensive, but it supports 4K-UHD with 60 fps and HDR as well as multi-channel sound. For less than half the price, there are Amazons Fire TV without 60 fps or HDR. However, the Amazon App app installed on the Shield TV has fewer features and works much slower than on the Fire TV. Added to this is the inadequate remote control that comes with the new model. We missed especially the simple pause button, because the streaming experience on this device was thus unnecessarily spoiled.
The good thing is that it combines all the video services with Android apps and GeForce Now games, but that is not enough to convince anyone completely. The inadequate control of most streaming apps and the not-lush app selection is a nuisance to the console. This is largely due to Android TV itself, which is obviously not particularly liked by Google and therefore is developed in a short period. Once the Shield TV supports the Google Assistant, the device might become more interesting.