The first “real” android box was released only 3 years ago in 2014 and while it served the purpose of streaming video, there was a relatively untapped potential that many could feel while using it. In 2015, Nvidia released their version of the android box: the Nvidia Shield. With a strong presence already with the PC gaming world, it was natural for them to bias towards the gamers or more technically inclined populations. Their updated version of the shield (released in 2017) is a big step up from it’s predecessor.
What is the Nvidia Shield?
The Nvidia Shield is a media streaming device first and a customizable gaming console second.
What Does it Do?
The device can do many things. From a video streaming perspective, you can access YouTube, Netflix, Google Play Videos, Vudu, Amazon Video, and Kodi in addition to other streaming services. It has built in Chromecast to allow for mirroring of your PC/Laptop screen as well as its own proprietary software for streaming PC games.
Aside from streaming, though significantly underpowered compared to today’s generation systems, it is also a legitimate gaming console capable of running games such as the Witcher 3, Metal Gear Rising, Borderlands 2, and Batman Arkham City. Soon, the Nvidia shield will also provide full Google Assistant functionality adding further value.
What’s in the Box?
The device comes packaged with an HDMI cable to allow for up to 4K HDR streaming, a gaming controller, a smaller handheld remote control, AC adapter, and USB charging cable.
NVIDIA Shield vs. Other Competitors
What We Think
Upon unboxing the Shield, 2 things are very evident. Number 1: The shield is much more compact than you think it may be and Number 2: the product is made with quality in mind. Dense foam is used to cradle each and every user device in the box.
After you get past the striking awe of playing possibly one of the most gorgeous games of all time on your Shield, you can see where the system falls short as a console.
The device itself has 2 3.0 USB-A ports for faster transfer of data, an ethernet port (which you are going to need for 4K streaming and most console level gaming), and an HDMI port. The housing is a 2-tone plastic construction measuring 15.9 cm x 25.93 cm with a height of only 98mm making one of the thinnest and sleekest boxes on the market. There is neat glowing led light on the surface/front of the Shield further playing off the sci-fi brand that Nvidia has fostered over the years.
The wireless gaming controller fits nicely in your hands and is reminiscent of the award winning style of microsoft’s xbox franchise. One knock I have against the remote is its geometric, polygon housing. This was no doubt an aesthetic choice opposed to a functional choice, as each vertex is quite prominent and identifiable in the user’s hands. The controller has a built in Google Assistant microphone that can be activated via the press of a central “Nvidia” button. The joysticks are responsive, but feel inferior compared to the Xbox One, PS4 or even Steam counterparts. The battery life is definitely not an issue and is often forgotten about until some 50 hours later when you are reminded why they included a mini USB charging cable.
The second of the 2 remotes included is a standard single handed device. The design is clearly minimalistic with only 4 “pressable” buttons (Back, Home, Enter, and Google Assistant) in addition to a tactile wheel for navigation; this seems to be the standard. Without reading the manual you may find yourself confused about volume control and even wondering if the Shield has a mind of its own. Occasionally you may notice the volume slider move back and forth on the screen as you are cycling between Netflix shows. Volume control is done with a vertical touch pad located between two built up edges of the controller near the bottom half of the remote. This control is quite sensitive and frankly unnecessary in this writer’s opinion. It should be noted that an almost identical volume control feature is built into the gaming controller as well, but is far less prone to accidental activation.
For a streaming device, the technology is impressive. It comes packed with an NVIDIA Tegra X1 processor, 3GB of RAM, and a 256-core Maxwell GPU. We put the shield to the test with the Witcher 3 (a piece of software that should strain the unit to its maximum degree). After you get past the awe of playing possibly one of the most gorgeous games of all time on your box, you can see where the system falls short as a console. First and foremost, without an ethernet connection you are rolling the dice with stream lag. There is a sizable difference in frame rates compared to the Xbox One with the Shield topping out at 31 fps. In addition to the frame rate gap, the Nvidia Shield’s hands are tied in terms of lighting, shadows, textures, and animations compared to the latest consoles. Here is a visual comparison of the 2 systems:
Because this is an android box with Google Store equipped, you have access to Steam. This is essentially a shortcut to launching the Steam Interface on your laptop and streaming directly to the Shield. Those looking for a great gaming experience may want to steer clear of this feature as input lag, though small, is still noticeable.
Either 16GB (Standard version) or 500GB (pro version) of on board storage is available, however with the ability to adopt more, storage should not be a concern. Standard video Output is available in up to 4K HDR 60fps regardless of the model and is flawlessly beautiful. Audio is stellar with the ability to output Dolby and DTS-X surround sound over HDMI. Though you have the ability to connect to the internet via ethernet, wifi connection is obviously available.
An issue that many users seem to be having troubles accepting is the cost. With a cost of $279-289, many feel as though the price is too steep for a streaming device and they’d be correct if only considering that criteria alone. When you factor in the other loaded features and capabilities of the Shield such as AAA video gaming, Google Assistance, multiple remotes, and 4K resolution it can quickly be seen as a high value system.
We believe that the Nvidia Shield is the best Android box on the market, however it is likely too much “box” for most individuals just looking for an easy to use streaming device to watch their favourite episodes of Friends. Don’t look to the Shield to replace your current gaming consoles, instead look at it as another way to enjoy the games you already have. All in all, the Nvidia Shield is an impressive piece of technology and the best option in its class.
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