We turn now to the second area of focus: content. A media device is nothing without content. In the previous section, we judged the SHIELD to be arguably the best choice for a media device in terms of capabilities, and we mentioned the wide range of content also available on the device. But no one media device, including SHIELD, has access to every form of content. Therefore, if you prioritize content over capabilities and the content you want isn't available on a particular device, then the capabilities of that device really don't matter.
For example, while SHIELD leads the pack when it comes to support for live over-the-air TV (thanks to its support for directly attached TV tuners as well as Plex, which also supports live TV), it's currently missing some of the subscription streaming TV services, such as DIRECTV NOW. Additionally, while some other services like YouTube TV are still available, they lack native apps and must rely instead on "casting" the video from your smartphone via the Shield's built-in Chromecast feature.
With the likely exception of native iTunes content, services currently absent from any device will probably become available eventually, but it's important that you pick a device that supports the content you want today, lest you risk alienating your spouse and family while they wait impatiently for their favorite service or channels to arrive. Therefore, if content is king in your household, pick the services you want first and then decide on a compatible device. As we're primarily interested in both content and capabilities, and since the SHIELD is at the top of our list for capabilities, we'll focus on the content available on that device.
On-demand content, whether it's commercial movies and shows from places like Hulu and Netflix or independent videos from YouTube, has never been a problem for cord cutters. The real issue, especially in the early years, was live content. Thankfully, the live TV situation has improved significantly in recent years, and there are now a number of options available to cord cutters.
Subscription Streaming Services
When the practice of cutting the cord first gained mainstream attention, those engaging on such an endeavor had no choice but to abandon traditional cable networks. Some networks began to offer their own apps that granted users a subset of on-demand content but, for all intents and purposes, cord cutters were forced to say goodbye to live premium television content.
Now that cord cutters and frugal millennials are harming the cable industry's bottom line, things have changed and the lack of live premium content is a thing of the past. Multiple companies, including traditional television providers as well as newcomers, have started to offer subscription-based streaming television. These services offer access to the real-time live feeds of national and regional cable networks.
Users — via a browser, phone, tablet, or media player — can access a guide of currently airing programs, navigate to their favorite networks, or simply "channel surf" in search of something interesting. You get the live cable channels just as they air on traditional cable and satellite services, as well as a selection of on-demand content and DVR capabilities. However, you also get the less desirable stuff, too, such as commercial breaks and infomercials.
In other words, these services have basically taken the content normally provided to cable and satellite subscribers and made it available over the Internet. The benefit, however, is that most of these services are available everywhere (in the United States, at least) and not limited to a particular region or provider. They also don't require contracts, boxes, or frustrating setup appointments, which means that users can instantly join, switch, and cancel these services month-to-month as desired.
As mentioned earlier, not every subscription streaming service is available on every device, so since we're building our cord cutting hub with NVIDIA SHIELD, we'll focus on those that are currently available on that platform.
The subscription streaming services available natively on SHIELD are Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, and, starting today, YouTube TV. All three offer a range of cable channels for a set monthly price and let users browse and search for live shows, recorded programs, and on-demand content. While each service offers some local channels depending on location, YouTube TV offers all of the major local networks, but the service itself is only available in certain markets. Here's a table comparing the primary features of each service.
|Sling TV||PlayStation Vue||YouTube TV|
|Monthly Price (USD)||$20 to $40||$40 to $75||$35|
|Number of Users/Streams||1 to 4
depending on package
|Up to 5
limited based on device
3 simultaneous streams
|Channels (base packages)||28 to 44||49 to 90||51|
FOX, NBC, ABC
|FOX, NBC, ABC, CBS
(select markets only)
|FOX, NBC, ABC, CBS, CW|
|DVR||"My Shows" saved for
up to 28 days
|$5 per month
saved for up to 9 months
In addition to these native services, SHIELD owners can also view Hulu TV via the use of Chromecast "casting," which means you'll browse and select content from your smartphone or tablet, and then cast just the video to the SHIELD.
This method isn't overly complicated, but we found the practice of using a native app to be more enjoyable and "spouse friendly."
SHIELD TV offers multiple ways to get live over-the-air (OTA) programming, but they all rely on having some form of TV tuner and antenna to get started. We'll touch on specific hardware choices in Part II of this series, but the short version is that you can use one of several network or USB-based tuners to view live TV.
Network TV tuners, like the HDHomeRun lineup from SiliconDust, can be placed anywhere in your home that has a network connection and they then receive the OTA signal from the antenna and distribute it to compatible apps and services via your home network. Local USB-based tuners, such as the WinTV from Hauppauge, plug directly into your media device, so you'll need to have a coax connection from your antenna nearby.
With either tuner option, there are a number of SHIELD applications that can be used to view the live OTA content. Plex, the popular media server application, recently added live TV support (including DVR), allowing you to view and record OTA programming locally as well as share both live and recorded shows with your Plex friends.
The appropriately named Live Channels is a free app from Google works with both network and USB tuners. It's a simple app lacking more advanced features found in Plex and other TV apps, but it offers a basic TV experience with limited DVR support that could suffice for some users.
If you chose an HDHomeRun tuner, another option is the official HDHomeRun app. It offers a complete interface for browsing live programs, searching for content, and scheduling DVR recordings. It also supports unencrypted cable content if you purchased one of the CableCard-compatible HDHomeRun tuners. Note, however, that some older HDHomeRun tuners don't support DVR functionality, so keep that in mind if you're picking up a used tuner. The current model lineup -- Connect, Extend, Expand, and Prime -- are fully supported for DVR. There's also a $35 per year DVR fee if you want more than 24 hours of guide data at a time.
Although support is currently limited to USB tuners, another option is Tablo ENGINE. Like its counterparts described above, it offers a full guide experience for live TV as well as DVR support, although guide data and one-click recording functions are limited to a $3.99 per month subscription.