Finally, a SHIELD Console

NVIDIA finally has a Tegra-powered by console, announced today as simply: SHIELD.

NVIDIA is filling out the family of the SHIELD brand today with the announcement of SHIELD, a set-top box powered by the Tegra X1 processor. SHIELD will run Android TV and act as a game playing, multimedia watching, GRID streaming device. Selling for $199 and available in May of this year, there is a lot to discuss.

Odd naming scheme aside, the SHIELD looks to be an impressive little device, sitting on your home theater or desk and bringing a ton of connectivity and performance to your TV. Running Android TV means the SHIELD will have access to the entire library of Google Play media including music, movies and apps. SHIELD supports 4K video playback at 60 Hz thanks to an HDMI 2.0 connection and fully supports H.265/HEVC decode thanks to Tegra X1 processor.

Here is a full breakdown of the device's specifications.

  NVIDIA SHIELD Specifications
Processor NVIDIA® Tegra® X1 processor with 256-core Maxwell™ GPU with 3GB RAM
Video Features 4K Ultra-HD Ready with 4K playback and capture up to 60 fps (VP9, H265, H264)
Audio 7.1 and 5.1 surround sound pass through over HDMI
High-resolution audio playback up to 24-bit/192kHz over HDMI and USB
High-resolution audio upsample to 24-bit/192hHz over USB
Storage 16 GB
Wireless 802.11ac 2x2 MIMO 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi
Bluetooth 4.1/BLE
Interfaces Gigabit Ethernet
HDMI 2.0
Two USB 3.0 (Type A)
Micro-USB 2.0
MicroSD slot (supports 128GB cards)
IR Receiver (compatible with Logitech Harmony)
Gaming Features NVIDIA GRID™ streaming service
NVIDIA GameStream™
SW Updates SHIELD software upgrades directly from NVIDIA
Power 40W power adapter
Weight and Size Weight: 23oz / 654g
Height: 5.1in / 130mm
Width: 8.3in / 210mm
Depth: 1.0in / 25mm
OS Android TV™, Google Cast™ Ready
Bundled Apps PLEX
NVIDIA SHIELD controller
HDMI cable (High Speed), USB cable (Micro-USB to USB)
Power adapter (Includes plugs for North America, Europe, UK)
Requirements TV with HDMI input, Internet access
Options SHIELD controller, SHIELD remove, SHIELD stand

Obviously the most important feature is the Tegra X1 SoC, built on an 8-core 64-bit ARM processor and a 256 CUDA Core Maxwell architecture GPU. This gives the SHIELD set-top more performance than basically any other mobile part on the market, and demos showing Doom 3 and Crysis 3 running natively on the hardware drive the point home. With integrated HEVC decode support the console is the first Android TV device to offer the support for 4K video content at 60 FPS.

Even though storage is only coming in at 16GB, the inclusion of an MicroSD card slot enabled expansion to as much as 128GB more for content and local games.

The first choice for networking will be the Gigabit Ethernet port, but the 2x2 dual-band 802.11ac wireless controller means that even those of us that don't have hardwired Internet going to our TV will be able to utilize all the performance and features of SHIELD.

Display connectivity is limited to HDMI - though it is HDMI 2.0 so you get support for HDCP 2.2 and 4K@60Hz panels. A pair of USB 3.0 ports allow for external device connections and the micro-USB port will let you side-load content from your laptop or PC, for example.

For fans of the Logitech Harmony remotes - good news! The SHIELD includes an IR receiver on the front of it allowing for control through the very popular home theater universal remote systems. I'm curious how much of the usability is lost with that move though, especially with older remote models (which I own).

The operating system is Android TV which is currently in the Lollipop (Android 5.0.x) iteration, and you can expect frequent updates thanks to NVIDIA's direct control over upgrades. Users of SHIELD Portables and SHIELD Tablets will agree that NVIDIA tends to be very quick in that regard. The inclusion of PLEX means that you will be able to integrate the SHIELD with your media library if you have that configuration already running in your network.

Included with the SHIELD will be a SHIELD Controller, the same that was released with the SHIELD Tablet last year. You'll have to pay a little extra to get the remote controller and the vertical stand accessories.

Probably the biggest focus from NVIDIA with the SHIELD is the inclusion of support for GRID and local network game streaming. Information and pricing about the final GRID product line was finally announced, including a GRID (720p) and GRID+ (1080p) streaming option that offers low-latency game streaming to your set-top box. In an interesting twist, if you buy a game on GRID you will also get a Steam key for that same game to use on your PC, a benefit that other players like OnLive were never able to offer. Yes, native Android games will still be more responsive, as will local network game streaming, but the flexibility offered by GRID is genuinely interesting, at least on the surface. We'll need to spend some time with it on our Gigabit fiber at the office very soon!

I spent some time with the new NVIDIA SHIELD yesterday and the hardware is both impressive in its build quality and its implementation. Here are some of my random thoughts and information.

  • Voice control of the device, either with the remote of the controller, works great thanks o the Google Now voice recognition. You can browse media, load applications, etc. and it seems genuinely useful.
  • You can now support up to 4 of the SHIELD Controllers at the same time, a first for a SHIELD device. Bring on those coach co-op multiplayer titles!
  • You'll find the new SHIELD selling in the same locations as the SHIELD Tablet, etc. Think Newegg,, etc.
  • NVIDIA told me that the device uses 2 watts when idle and 5-15 watts when active. A 2 watt idle level is high for a tablet obviously but since this is not a battery operated device, that isn't an issue. And, running a game like Doom 3 at 15 watts is pretty awesome.
  • NVIDIA is bringing web cam support in a future update so you can use Skype/Hangouts and your SHIELD for video calls if you want.
  • streaming will be supported as well with the SHIELD. You'll need that web cam update to get your ugly mug included in the mix though.
  • The hardware looks good and the green glow gives the design an edge. Hopefully NVIDIA will offer a setting to disable that green light though for users that are sensitive to it.
  • Doom 3 played very well as a native OpenGL application and though I couldn't get hands-on, Crysis 3 lookd equally good. We are still concerned about developers drive to get games running on high-end Android consoles like this on their own, without work from NVIDIA, as that is what will be required to make that work in the long run.
  • NVIDIA should have included both the controller and the remote in the box with this. That's kind of dumb.

I was able to run a handful of benchmarks on the SHIELD and Tegra X1 processor and the results are dominantly in favor of NVIDIA's new baby.

  • 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited
  • Overall Score
    • SHIELD (Tegra X1): 42,406 (+42%)
    • SHIELD Tablet (Tegra K1): 29,668
    • iPad Air 2 (Apple A8X): 21,541
  • Graphics Score
    • SHIELD (Tegra X1): 56,179 (+47%)
    • SHIELD Tablet (Tegra K1): 37,983
    • iPad Air 2 (Apple A8X): 31,419
  • Physics Score
    • SHIELD (Tegra X1): 22,823 (+15%)
    • SHIELD Tablet (Tegra K1): 19,837
    • iPad Air 2 (Apple A8X): 10,256

Clearly the Tegra X1 processor is not lacking in the GPU department - it bests the Tegra K1 by more than 45% in our quick testing. The 8-core CPU based on a big.LITTLE Cortex-A57/A53 is faster, but not substantially, than the previous flagship NVIDIA SoC.

On the surface, the SHIELD is a high performance Android TV set-top box with the emphasis and focus on gaming. The real question will be if the market can stand the $199 price tag (steep, considering the competition) and if the GRID game streaming will live up to the expectations placd upon it. I'll have more in the coming weeks and expect a full review with the May release.