Nvidia is today releasing version 6.0 of its software for the Shield TV set top box, which brings along the Google Assistant. First announced back at CES in January, Google Assistant on the Nvidia Shield TV allows for hands-free control of media playback, voice search, and smart home control. The Shield TV is the first Android TV device to get the full Google Assistant experience; Google says it will also come to Sony Bravia TVs with Android TV in the coming months.
Google Assistant on the Shield TV may sound very similar to the Google Voice Search that was available in prior versions, but it has been enhanced with a cleaner visual design and more capabilities. Nvidia says that apart from a handful of functions, such as timers, alarms, and phone calls, the Assistant on the Shield TV can do everything that it can do on the Google Home.
For media control, the Google Assistant can cast audio to the Google Home or other Google Cast speakers. It can be used to play, pause, skip, fast-forward, or adjust the volume while watching something. It also has deep integration within apps, so it can surface content directly from Netflix, HBO, and others.
The advantage that the Assistant has on the TV over a Google Home is that in addition to audio feedback, answers can be displayed on a big screen. A request for a weather report will be accompanied by a visual five-day forecast, while asking what’s on my agenda can show my calendar appointments right on the TV’s screen. It’s a lot like how Google Assistant works on a phone, where it can display more information and follow-up suggestions.
Google Assistant on Android TV can be used to access Assistant apps, such as Tender for cocktail suggestions or Fitstar for workout guidance. It can control smart home gadgets, such as lights or thermostats that work with Google Assistant. It can even be used to turn the TV off or control the volume, if your TV has the right HDMI CEC support.
In addition, with the Shield’s gaming controller and its built-in microphone, Google Assistant can be activated hands-free with a “Hey Google” or “OK Google” voice command, just like on the Google Home speaker. The hands-free voice commands even work when the TV is powered off, making the Shield very similar in functionality to the Google Home. Nvidia notes that while other set top boxes have voice assistants or voice control, the Shield is the only one that is fully hands-free.
Along with the Google Assistant upgrade, Nvidia is also partnering with Samsung’s SmartThings division to add more smart home control to the Shield TV. A dongle will soon be available that plugs into one of the Shield’s USB ports and acts as a SmartThings hub to allow control of Zigbee and Z-Wave smarthome devices. The dongle, which will sell for $39.99, but is available for $14.99 as part of a launch promotion, provides the Shield with the full capabilities of the standalone SmartThings hub.
One thing that Nvidia isn’t ready to talk about is the Spot device that was also announced at CES. The Spot is a peripheral microphone that plugs into a wall outlet and provides access to the Shield’s Google Assistant in other rooms of you home. The company did not have any information to share on when the Spot will be available or how much it will cost when I asked.
The Shield 6.0 software is available to download on all Shield TV devices starting today. Nvidia says that new and existing owners of the Shield TV will receive three months of YouTube Red for free as part of the update.