Android TV is finally here and our first test comes on NVIDIA’s SHIELD, powered by the Tegra X1.
Announced just this past June at last year’s Google I/O event, Android TV is a platform developed by Google, running Android 5.0 and higher, that aims to create an interactive experience for the TV. This platform can be built into a TV directly as well as into set-top style boxes, like the NVIDIA SHIELD we are looking at today. The idea is to bring the breadth of apps and content to the TV through the Android operating system in a way that is both convenient and intuitive.
NVIDIA announced SHIELD back in March at GDC as the first product to use the company’s latest Tegra processor, the X1. This SoC combines an 8-core big.LITTLE ARM processor design with a 256-core implementation of the NVIDIA Maxwell GPU architecture, providing GPU performance previously unseen in an Android device. I have already spent some time with the NVIDIA SHIELD at various events and the promise was clearly there to make it a leading option for Android TV adoption, but obviously there were questions to be answered.
Today’s article will focus on my early impressions with the NVIDIA SHIELD, having used it both in the office and at home for a handful of days. As you’ll see during the discussion there are still some things to be ironed out, some functionality that needs to be added before SHIELD and Android TV can really be called a must-buy product. But I do think it will get there.
And though this review will focus on the NVIDIA SHIELD, it’s impossible not to marry the success of SHIELD with the success of Google’s Android TV. The dominant use case for SHIELD is as a media playback device, with the gaming functionality as a really cool side project for enthusiasts and gamers looking for another outlet. For SHIELD to succeed, Google needs to prove that Android TV can improve over other integrated smart TV platforms as well as other set-top box platforms like Boxee, Roku and even the upcoming Apple TV refresh.
But first, let’s get an overview of the NVIDIA SHIELD device, pricing and specifications, before diving into my experiences with the platform as a whole.
NVIDIA SHIELD Specifications
NVIDIA SHIELD will be available in two different models, as you might have previously read on PC Perspective: a 16GB model and a 500GB Pro model. The 500GB SHIELD Pro will run you $100 more (while including a copy of the Android-native Borderlands title upon release) and includes a 2.5-in hard drive inside the body of the device. The 16GB version will require you to buy a MicroSD card for additional storage if you want it, and you probably will.
(Note: The NVIDIA SHIELD 16GB Model is selling today for $199 and the 500GB SHIELD Pro is listed at $299.)
|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
500GB (SHIELD Pro option)
|Wireless||802.11ac 2x2 MIMO 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi
Two USB 3.0 (Type A)
MicroSD slot (supports 128GB cards)
IR Receiver (compatible with Logitech Harmony)
|Gaming Features||NVIDIA GRID™ streaming service
|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|
|In the box||NVIDIA SHIELD
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 remote, SHIELD stand|
You can comb over the details of the table above yourself, but there are a couple highlights worth mentioning. The Tegra X1 processor, with four ARM Cortex-A57 cores and four Cortex-A53 cores, is a fully 64-bit compliant CPU and should offer performance at or above any other mobile SoC on the market. It is interesting that NVIDIA decided to use off-the-shelf parts for the Tegra X1 rather than going with its own Denver-based design – that should tell us a little bit about the state of that particular project. The GPU on the X1 is really what stands out: with a 256-core Maxwell architecture implementation, the same technology found in the GeForce GTX 900-series of products for desktop PCs, it runs away from anything else in this space in terms of GPU performance. This allows SHIELD to offer Android gaming experiences well beyond anything else – when you see Doom 3 running at 1080p and Trine 2 looking just as good as it does on a PC, running only on Android and the SHIELD console, you can’t help be impressed.
NVIDIA has included 3GB of system memory on SHIELD, as much as any other ARM-based smartphone on the market.
For connectivity you’ll find both Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11ac (with a 2x2 radio) available on SHIELD, making sure that you have more than enough bandwidth on your local network for 4K streaming. I have used the SHIELD exclusively on 802.11ac networks (5.0 GHz) in my testing and had no problems getting 4K streaming working through YouTube and Netflix.
There are several USB options on the back side of the unit, including two full sized USB 3.0 ports that you can use for connecting future accessories as well as for attaching an external hard drive. If you decide to purchase the 16GB model, or even fill up the 500GB version, you can simply attach a 2TB portable USB hard drive and have more than enough space for movies, games or whatever else you want to keep attached to your Android TV system.
With previous NVIDIA SHIELD devices, the company has proven that it can keep up with delivering on-time operating system updates, making sure you’ll always have the latest features provided by the most recent Android releases. This is often an area of disappointment and concern for Android users so it’s great to see NVIDIA committing to this course of action.