Concluding Remarks

The NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV is based on the Tegra X1, which is, without doubt, a very powerful SoC. Ostensibly designed for mobile platforms - particularly tablets - Tegra X1 none the less finds itself in a very interesting (and perhaps unexpected) role as the heart of a set top box. In the SHIELD Android TV, the thermal limits are relaxed and there is no battery life to worry about. Therefore, the SoC performance handily surpasses the currently existing competition in the over the top set top box market.

Android TV

Our experience with Android TV was a mixed bag. There are definitely more things to like about it compared to Google TV from a few years back. Advancements in the Android ecosystem and more powerful STB platforms have contributed to the positives. The removal of the web browser from Android TV clears up things for the average consumer.

  1. A good 10-ft UI is essential for interaction on a TV. Subjectively speaking, the Leanback Launcher provides an acceptable experience.
  2. Android TV enables cord-cutting with a "Live Channels" app that takes advantage of TV tuners with IP interfaces and provides an interface to watch them on a television (allowing the TV tuners / antenna to be placed somewhere suitable for good reception and not necessarily near the TV).
  3. Google's voice search (with cross-app searching capabilities) is quite advanced.
  4. Android TV comes with Google Cast - a feature that allows devices like the SHIELD to act as Chromecasts
  5. Android TV comes with an improved selection of relevant apps compared to Google TV from a few years back.
  6. Android TV is more open than any other Smart TV platform - it brings along a lot of the advantages of the Android ecosystem
  7. Android HID support ensures many USB peripherals such as mice, keyboards and webcams are compatible with Android TV devices

On the other side, Android TV still suffers from trying to do too many things at the same time. The 10-ft. UI could be modeled on the default Kodi skin, without the 'Recommendations' row trying to be an advertising window.

  1. Android TV needs better configurability - for example, users should be allowed to change the order of rows in the Leanback UI or even remove some of them altogether. Not everyone wants ad-like 'Recommendations' as soon as they power up the unit. On Android, the 'Notifications' feature is often abused to push advertisements. Users need more control. The option to control the fading and distance between each row in the launcher would also be nice to have.
  2. The Android TV framework needs to do away with forcing 60 Hz display refresh rate for the system. Ideally it should be synced to the frame rate of the content being played back (whenever possible). 3:2 pulldown of 24 fps material for display at 60 Hz creates judder that could be irksome for certain consumers.
  3. Android TV could do with better stability - We encountered a few 'Leanback Launcher has stopped' messages. In certain scenarios, users would also appreciate better responsiveness - for example, the 'fetching recommendations' at startup doesn't allow the user to navigate to the rows further down for a few seconds          

SHIELD

The NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV has plenty of plus points to talk about, once the target market is understood. Simply put, the powerful nature of the platform makes it the undisputed flagship Android TV box right now.

  1. Netflix 4K streaming is flawless. It is the only 4K Netflix certified STB we are aware of. Everything so far has been using in-built Smart TV apps.
  2. The Android TV support is comprehensive. Microphones and headset ports in both the gaming controller as well as the Remote enhance the user experience when combined with the voice search capabilities. The high-performance SoC ensures smooth navigation in the UI.
  3. The SHIELD has full support for decoding HEVC Main and Main10 profile streams. These are the only H.265 profiles that matter for end consumers
  4. Unlike some other 'HDMI 2.0'-capable SoCs, the SHIELD has extensive HDMI 2.0 compatibility with HDCP 2.2 support. It is also firmware upgradable to HDMI 2.0a (HDR extensions). In fact, it fits all our criteria for a future-proof 4K HDMI source.
  5. The CEC capability works seamlessly. A swipe of the NVIDIA logo on the gaming controller and everything in the playback chain turns on.
  6. The bundled gaming controller and the SoC's GPU performance enables Android gaming to go beyond the current casual, free-to-play ecosystem
  7. The device has excellent thermal performance and acceptable / reasonable acoustics despite being an actively cooled device

The SHIELD unit does have scope for improvement. Fortunately, all of them seem to be firmware-dependent. Given NVIDIA's track record with software updates on the PC side, it is likely that most of the show-stopper issues will get fixed soon.

  1. The AV receiver compatibility list needs to be expanded. Dolby Digital Plus bitstreaming (from Netflix) was a no-go with a Pioneer VSX-32, though such cases will soon get fixed via firmware updates.
  2. NVIDIA has skimped on licensing for various audio and video codecs keeping the target market in mind. Only H.264, H.265 and VP9 decode have been licensed on the video side. On the audio side, we only have Dolby Digital and Dolby Digital Plus bitstreaming support. The absence of HD audio (DTS-HD MA / TrueHD) bitstreaming is particularly disappointing, given the capabilities of the core platform. NVIDIA talked about making available a 'codec pack' in the Play Store for users needing hardware acceleration for certain codecs. We will have to see how that plays out.
  3. NVIDIA's experience with HTPC GPUs has not been translated to the SHIELD Android TV due to the limitations of the Android TV framework. We expected NVIDIA to work around that, providing differentiation aspects with local media streaming and video post processing in addition to the 4K Netflix feature.
  4. It would be nice to have better compatibility with local playback apps (like Kodi, MX Player and VLC). NVIDIA indicated that they are working with the developers already. Hopefully, we should see local media playback apps behave better with the Tegra X1 in the coming months.

Moving on to the pricing aspect, the non-Pro model that we reviewed here is priced at $199. This includes the gaming controller (other Android TV boxes treat it as a separate purchase) and a high-speed HDMI cable (supporting 4Kp60 signals). Meanwhile, for a short introductory period, the $199 price point will include a $30 Google Play store credit and a 90-day subscription ($30 value) to Google Play Music All Access.

Otherwise, not reviewed today is the Pro at $299, which throws in a 500GB internal hard drive and a bundled copy of Borderlands. The Pro's further $100 price tag is no doubt going to draw some comparisons to the current-generation consoles - and for good reason, witht he 500GB Xbox One starting at just $50 more - and may be a harder sale for NVIDIA. The large hard drive is definitely wel suited towards gaming, however possibility of also using it for DVRing TV programming through the Google Live Channels app offers an interesting alternative for all of that space.

Final Words

The SHIELD Android TV is a reasonably priced premium 4K over-the-top set top box with gaming performance that well exceeds any other STB. In that respect, given the rising importance of OTT streaming and casual gaming in the living room, NVIDIA has achieved what it set out to do.

However, HTPC enthusiasts expecting the SHIELD to be a device that combines leading-edge OTT capabilities with perfect local media playback will be disappointed. The constraints imposed by the closed nature of an embedded system (compared to PCs) mean that the situation is unlikely to alter in a major way in the near future.

Consumers need to get their expectations right - the SHIELD Android TV needs consideration only if OTT streaming (4K Netflix, in particular) and gaming credentials are important. Keep in mind - if you are getting it for 4K Netflix, ensure that each HDMI port in your display chain is capable of both 4Kp60 and HDCP 2.2.

Power Consumption and Thermal Performance
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  • spinportal - Thursday, May 28, 2015 - link

    What is interesting is comparing to the Intel NUCs for a media center hub (or HP Stream Mini) with Windows 10. The CPU power is close to the Intel Celeron 2957U, where a i5-5250U (NUC5i5YH/R) is 50% faster, but the Intel HD graphics is probably 20% slower. Both are fighting for the 4K home theater crowd, but Shield TV is cheaper (barebone NUC is 399 extra SDRAM & mSATA & remote/controller) and baked in 10' UI/UX and easier to maintain for the average user with support for DVR in the future and GRID gaming. Sure Win 10 will have a 10' UI and you can install whatever you want on it to customize to your own content, but higher price to entry and more time needed to tweak. The Intel Stick is cute at $150, but falls short in competition for the checklist of features. If sideloading is easy on the Shield TV, tweakers can rejoice and hope apps will scale properly. If people have an XB1 and enjoy the media apps / services and voice activation, then it's a hard sell. Gamestream is just icing, helping the portability of the Shield TV in a remote location (at home most games would have a big enough screen connected and avoid input lag). It's not a Roku or a Chromecast, so to get customers to make a premium purchase like this, targeting 4K video is the bait. Reply
  • nathanddrews - Thursday, May 28, 2015 - link

    "This also means that the SHIELD Android TV will not be doing any HD audio bitstreaming"

    Stopped reading.
    Reply
  • Sivar - Thursday, May 28, 2015 - link

    ``Consumers need to get their expectations right - the SHIELD Android TV needs consideration only if OTT streaming (4K Netflix, in particular) and gaming credentials are important.''

    The key feature I need is HEVC compatibility. I have many Blu-rays that I encode with FLAC audio, but with my FireTV, I am unable to use HEVC.

    Are you saying that the Shield Android-TV is a poor choice for my requirements?
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Thursday, May 28, 2015 - link

    If you are savvy enough to encode your Blu-rays with HEVC, then I am sure you understand what I am trying to convey..

    The typical media library also includes TV programs that are interlaced MPEG-2 (for example). The SHIELD is currently not a good solution for such a case.

    I have outlined clearly what works and what doesn't. In your case, I would still suggest waiting for a proper HTPC with HDMI 2.0 / HEVC support unless HEVC-encoded Blu-ray rips are the only media files you plan to play in your setup.
    Reply
  • TheJian - Friday, May 29, 2015 - link

    Being savvy enough to check a few boxes doesn't mean you know everything about formats. You can muddle through handbrake without doing much more than selecting a profile for your device. The person states they are wanting FLAC+HEVC yet you tell him wait for HTPC. HE was clear in what he needed, so you should just say yes it plays what you need, or no it doesn't instead of a flippant response :( He likely has other players for other formats already hence his main feature desired is what he inquired about.

    But still you're acting as if mpeg2 interlaced is all anyone wants and a reason to NOT buy it, when I'd suggest it's not many people (that can’t get that some other way until this unit CAN do it, like a dvd player or bluray player in your rack already) and most would want all the other stuff this thing can play NOT just bluray HEVC encoded stuff. IE, anything in mkv/mp4 with dolby etc in h264/x264 (which is most libraries of current content and mostly what people rip bluray to also as you even note in the review). This thing plays a LOT more than hevc. IF you're only going to use the NATIVE Android Tv player then it's somewhat limited, but you're not stuck with that and can choose a dozen or more others (paid or free). 3rd party stuff can easily be had to get around it all if not now then at some point most likely. IE you mention kodi can play mpeg2 without license in software. You also mention Deinterlacing might be added soon to Kodi. So your problem with the device here just a software fix away anyway (and only the interlaced part is a problem correct?)? There are many free apps that can deinterlace already on PC for conversion even if players that do it on android don’t exist…but wait for it…

    Just check googleplay store: BSplayer, MX player Pro, KMplayer, vlc, etc (not saying which does the job just noting a bunch):
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSBG13gknoA
    1080i mpeg 2 on mxplayer without transcoding. Appears this would solve your combo problem, and this is really old version of the software from 2013 post running on nexus 2013. I’m thinking your excuse for not buying is dead already. You can use de-interlacing option in MX player > settings > decoder. Considering you MENTIONED MX Player in your review, you can’t be this ignorant right or am I missing something? Unlike the OP who may NOT know about all this stuff, you definitely DO know about MX player yet seem to be unable to pass the chance to find some reason to KNOCK an nvidia product even when you know what I just showed fixes it. Typical Anandtech BIAS against Nvidia stuff (**cough AMD portal cough**) here or what?

    From your last sentence it almost seems as you're acting like HEVC encoded blurays is all it does, which is categorically false (even though that is what the guy said he wanted to play as a main feature).

    Worse you even state most people do the following (which it plays fine):
    "The SHIELD Android TV / Kodi combination has absolutely no trouble with the vanilla H.264 files that people usually rip their Blu-rays to."

    But no ignore that, it doesn't play mpeg2 interlaced stuff (yet, at least out of the box, but seems to with at least mxplayer as shown which you know about) so it sucks...LOL. OK...Whatever. With 100million-500million installs I think most know about this app (free with ads, $6 without) yet you avoid using it for testing. 2.8million reviews too...LOL. That has to be one of the MOST KNOWN apps on android as most use videos on mobile. How well it works on a TV who knows (10 foot interface? Not sure) but that isn't the point. Worst case you just use it for specific vids with issues. .ts files play fine on mx player also. It seems to have many multiples of the installs of kodi (or xbmc if you like). Kodi on the other hand is only available to the handful of people that can find it (not directly on googleplay so to speak).
    http://www.androidpolice.com/2015/04/03/kodi-forme...
    You can follow how to get to it above I guess if desired (from googleplay & not sideloaded). Maybe this will help it gain popularity ;)

    http://forum.kodi.tv/showthread.php?tid=160720&...
    Instructions here too I guess.

    MX Player features (among other stuff):
    "Plays almost every movie files including .3gp .avi .divx .f4v .flv .mkv .mp4 .mpeg .mov .vob .wmv .webm .xvid and many more."

    Either I'm missing something here, or don't really get the complaints you're making nor your flippant response to the OP. Are you saying MX Player with deinterlacing checked won't work for mpeg2 as shown in the supplied youtube video? That guy is testing 1080i mpeg2 on it. I'm confused.
    Reply
  • Adding-Color - Thursday, May 28, 2015 - link

    My ibothsion is that it will play hevc/h.265 content with hardware acceleration and flac should have no licensing issues and doesn't need hardware acceleration, software acceleration should very well be possible on such a beefy SOC. I don't know if there's yet a software avaible that combines both though. Reply
  • Adding-Color - Thursday, May 28, 2015 - link

    My impression ... Reply
  • Aegrum - Thursday, May 28, 2015 - link

    Perhaps I missed it, but to me the killer feature is streaming my steam library to my TV from my GTX 680 desktop. Why didn't you cover that? I couldn't care less about the android games. Being able to plop down on my couch and stream Witcher 3 from my PC is worth the price of admission, as it nullifies any desire for a steambox, if it works well. Reply
  • jjj - Thursday, May 28, 2015 - link

    The 50$ Sream Link should do that in a few months. If it works well enough , getting this just for that feature is excessive. Reply
  • Aegrum - Friday, May 29, 2015 - link

    Sadly that price doesn't include the Steam controller, which is likely to be at least $50. I'm also in need of a streaming device for the television, so while yes, a steam link + controller + chromecast would be ~$135, I think the extra capabilities of this device for $200 is a fair price. Plus it's 4K ready for once I get a 4K TV, and all on one HDMI input that I don't have to switch between. And plays more than just what I have in Steam, though unconfirmed whether Steam link will play non-steam titles or not.

    I like the Steam link, especially for the price, but for me I think the Shield console is a better fit.
    Reply

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