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Nvidia’s new Shield TV is a refined media box, but it’s still best for gamers

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New design, familiar experience

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Photo by Dan Seifert / The Verge

About two weeks ago, Nvidia announced a new version of its Shield TV media streaming box. The new box features a smaller design, redesigned controller, an included remote, and a couple of other minor tweaks. But inside, it’s the same Tegra X1 processor and 3GB RAM hardware that is found in the first Shield TV box released in 2014. That’s not necessarily a problem — as Nvidia is quick to point out, the Shield TV is “three times” more powerful than any other streaming box on the market — but if you have the original and were hoping for an upgrade, you won’t really find much of one here.

Most of the upgrades are actually found in the software, which is also coming to the original Shield TV this month. Nvidia has added Amazon Video content in 4K HDR, and the new software runs on Android 7.0 Nougat, though it’s not hugely different from Android TV on Marshmallow. It will also support Google’s voice-controlled Assistant — making the Shield TV one of the first devices outside of Google’s own Home and Pixel to have it — but that won’t be available until later this year. For gaming, which is Nvidia’s main focus here, the Shield TV can play Android games, PC games streamed through Nvidia’s GeForce Now cloud service, or games streamed from a PC on the same network with Nvidia’s GameStream feature. If you have a 4K HDR TV, you can even play your PC games in 4K resolution with HDR through the Shield TV.

Photo by Dan Seifert / The Verge

I’ve spent a couple of days using the $199.99 Shield TV and have found it to be a great media streaming box and a fun gaming machine — if you’re willing to invest in Nvidia’s GeForce Now or have a gaming PC with a lot of games that you want to play on your 4K TV. If all you are interested in is streaming 4K content, you’re better off saving money and going with an Amazon Fire TV or Roku Ultra (or just use the apps already installed on your 4K TV — chances are both Netflix and Amazon Video are there). The Shield TV may become more interesting to non-gamers once the support for Google Assistant and smart home integration is released, but I was unable to test this functionality yet.

Here are the highlights of my experience with the Shield TV for a couple of days:

  • The new design is much appreciated, as it’s smaller and easier to conceal in an entertainment center, but the glossy top panel is a serious dust magnet.
  • The new Shield TV doesn’t have a microSD card slot like the original, but it does have two full-size USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI port, and an Ethernet jack for wired networking.
  • You’ll probably want to use a thumb drive or other USB drive to expand the Shield’s internal storage — the 16GB of included storage doesn’t go very far when Android games such as Resident Evil 5 take upwards of 4GB of space each.
  • The redesigned game controller looks funky with all of its polygonal facets, but it’s small and comfortable to hold. The buttons have nice travel and feel, though the D-pad is stiff. It also has a headphone jack, which is great for gaming at night without disturbing everyone else in your home.
  • I’m glad that Nvidia is including the remote in the box this time, instead of charging an extra $50 for it. It’s well made and does what it’s supposed to, but the glossy plastic on top gets gross with fingerprints really quickly and the touch-strip volume control on the bottom half is awful. (Side note: when are companies going to learn that glossy plastic is never a good idea?)
  • It’s kind of lame that Nvidia doesn’t include an HDMI cable in the box, when Xiaomi does with the $69 Mi Box.
  • 4K video from Amazon and Netflix streamed over Wi-Fi looks great on my 55-inch Vizio TV, and there was none of the buffering or choppiness I experienced with the same services on Xiaomi’s Mi Box Android TV box. (My TV doesn’t support HDR, so I can’t speak to that, but I’m sure it looks great if you have it.)
  • The Shield TV had no issues with any of the Android games I tested on it, but it can take a while to download and install them. Android games definitely aren’t cutting edge, however, and the 4K resolution is largely wasted on them.
  • I don’t have a gaming PC with GameStream, but I was able to demo GeForce Now, and it’s impressive. I have a fast internet connection and strong Wi-Fi network, which let me play first-person shooters like Homefront: The Revolution and racing games like Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed in 1080p resolution and 60 frames per second on my living room TV. Load times were minimal there were only a few minor hiccups in frame rates, none of which interrupted game play. The downside to GeForce Now is its cost: at $7.99 per month plus the purchase cost of games (Nvidia includes “more than 50 popular games” at no extra cost), you really have to want to play PC games on your TV to make it worthwhile.
  • Accessing the games you can play on the Shield TV is easier now thanks to the Nvidia Games App, which preinstalled and collects Android and GeForce Now games together in the same library.
  • Android 7.0 Nougat for Android TV isn’t much different than prior versions, but does make it easier to switch between apps (double press the home button for a recent apps view) and you can do some split-screen stuff if you want.