The battle for the living room (i.e, controlling the television experience) is heating up with forays from multiple vendors. As the cord-cutting trend gains momentum, the time seems to be right for disruption. Roku has been around for a long time and they continue to taste success with inexpensive and small over-the-top set-top boxes (OTT STBs). At the other end of the spectrum is the Apple TV, which, despite just being a 'hobby', has managed to move millions of units. Google had tried to make inroads into this market a few years back with the Google TV / Logitech Revue, but, it unfortunately didn't pan out as expected. Chromecast turned out to be more popular in their second attempt, but it was a limited play. In late 2014, Google launched Android TV along with the Nexus Player.

Coinciding with Google I/O, NVIDIA is releasing their previously announced SHIELD Android TV. First announed back in March at the 2015 Game Developers Conference, SHIELD Android TV is a premium 4K-capable over-the-top set-top box (OTT STB) with a powerful graphics engine. The differentiating aspects compared to the Intel Bay Trail-based Nexus Player and the Qualcomm Snapdragon-based Razer Forge TV lie in 4K support (HDMI 2.0 / HDCP 2.2 / Netflix 4K-certification) and excellent gaming credentials.

NVIDIA SHIELD Family
  NVIDIA SHIELD Tablet NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV
SoC Tegra K1 (2.2 GHz 4x Cortex A15r3, Kepler 1 SMX GPU) Tegra X1 (4x Cortex A57 + 4x Cortex A53, Maxwell 2 SMM GPU)
RAM 2 GB LPDDR3-1866 3 GB LPDDR4-3200
NAND 16/32GB NAND + microSD 16GB NAND + microSD + USB
Display 8” 1920x1200 IPS LCD N/A, HDMI 2.0 4Kp60 Output
Dimensions 221 x 126 x 9.2mm, 390 grams 210 x 130 x 25mm, 654 grams
Camera 5MP rear camera, 1.4 µm pixels, 1/4" CMOS size. 5MP FFC N/A
Battery 5197 mAh, 3.8V chemistry (19.75 Whr) N/A, 40W Power Adapter
OS Android 5.0.1 Android TV
Connectivity 2x2 802.11a/b/g/n + BT 4.0, USB2.0, GPS/GLONASS, mini HDMI 1.4a 2x2 802.11a/b/g/n/ac + BT 4.1/BLE, USB 3.0 + 2.0, HDMI 2.0 + HDCP 2.2, IR Receiver, Gigabit Ethernet
Launch Price $299 (16GB/WiFi) + $59 (optional controller) Basic: $199, Includes 1 SHIELD Controller
Pro: $299, Adds 500GB Hard Drive

The NVIDIA SHIELD smart TV platform comprises of three distinct products, the SHIELD console, the SHIELD wireless controller and the SHIELD remote.

The SHIELD is the main console, integrating a Tegra X1 SoC along with 3 GB of LPDDR4 DRAM and 16 GB of storage. I/O ports include two full-sized USB 3.0 host ports, a USB 2.0 micro-USB device port, GbE RJ-45 port, IR for universal remotes and 802.11ac 2x2 MIMO Wi-Fi with Bluetooth 2.1. It also includes a microSDXC slot. Video output is handled by a HDMI 2.0 port with HDCP 2.2 support.

The SHIELD Wireless Controller is the game controller bundled with the SHIELD console, and was first launched last year with the SHIELD Tablet. It uses Wi-Fi Direct for communication. A stereo headset jack and microphone are integrated. It also includes a rechargeable battery that can provide up to 40 hours of battery life.

Finally, the SHIELD Remote It is meant to be a replacement for the game controller in situations where single-handed operation is preferable. It uses Bluetooth for communication with the console. Like the game controller, a microphone and headset jack are included. The rechargeable battery is good for up to 4 weeks.

While the game controller and the console together retail in the basic package for $199, the SHIELD Remote is available separately for $50. Meanwhile after a slight snafu where it was announced back in April and then immediately pulled, NVIDIA is indeed offering a higher-end Pro SKU. SHIELD Pro model is similar to the SHIELD described above, except it adds an internal 500 GB hard drive into the mix and bundles a game - Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! The Pro model is priced at $299.

Prior to diving into the details, let us take a look at the devices that NVIDIA is positioning the SHIELD Android TV against. Note that the two tables below are direct from NVIDIA's marketing material.

As we will see further down in the review, the above table is not far from the truth. In fact, except for NVIDIA claiming that their pulldown algorithm is enhanced compared to the competition, we tend to agree with everything. For the moment at least, NVIDIA pretty much has the 4K set top box to themselves.

NVIDIA claims a 34x raw performance increase compared to other OTT STB platforms. We won't endorse that particular number, but, in general, the performance of the SHIELD is miles ahead of the competition. The only other entry we find contentious is the availability of 24-bit / 192 KHz audio output. As we will see in the local media playback evaluation section, this is something of a moot point in most scenarios since the unit doesn't have licenses for decoding lossless HD audio. In any case, the above tables give an idea of where NVIDIA is positioning the SHIELD Android TV in the market.

The NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV also happens to be the first shipping product with the Tegra X1 SoC. We will first analyze the SoC and its performance in detail before moving on to Android TV in general and the SHIELD in particular.

Tegra X1: The Heart Of the SHIELD Android TV
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  • maxpower47 - Friday, May 29, 2015 - link

    There is now: https://github.com/foo86/dcadec Reply
  • ZeDestructor - Friday, May 29, 2015 - link

    @maxpower47: ah yea, I saw that a few weeks ago. afaik they' re waiting on it to get merged into libav so eac3to can toy with it with minimal changes. Reply
  • ganeshts - Saturday, May 30, 2015 - link

    Thanks! That looks interesting.. Looking forward to it getting integrated with Kodi and LAV Filters.. Reply
  • ZeDestructor - Friday, May 29, 2015 - link

    DTS-HD MA is getting there. The mad boffins behind libav got Dolby TrueHD done sometime in the last 2 years, and now DTS-HD MA is left. Of course, this still requires you to decrypt the BR, but that's another story entirely. Reply
  • slashclee - Thursday, May 28, 2015 - link

    What I really want to know that the review doesn't cover: will Plex on the SHIELD Android TV decode HEVC video or will it still end up streaming a transcoded copy from the Plex server? If it decodes it using the SHIELD hardware, I'm buying one. If not... I might still buy one, eventually, I guess. Reply
  • SleepModezZ - Thursday, May 28, 2015 - link

    Should not that be up to the Plex app? On an Android tablet Plex does often unnecessarily re-encode video. The reason is probably that the included video player is limited in its playback capabilities. It is possible to use some other more advanced video player (like MXPlayer or VLC) so that Plex only hands the video stream to the player and skips the unnecessary re-rencoding.

    Ask the Plex developers how their app behaves on Android TV.
    Reply
  • jeffkibuule - Thursday, May 28, 2015 - link

    Plex has to build a profile that specifies what a device is capable of. Seeing as how they probably didn't have a unit in for testing, it probably won't be enabled just yet. Reply
  • savagemike - Friday, May 29, 2015 - link

    I would guess they might have a unit for testing. Nvidia gave the Kodi devs a unit or two for testing apparently. Reply
  • jjj - Thursday, May 28, 2015 - link

    The gaming onscreen tests are at 1080p i assume, wish you would have done them at 4k too, seems odd not to.
    On the power consumption side, data on some more devices would have helped. Maybe you can add some power data and 4k benches, would be helpful.
    The price is gonna limit this one, they'll sell 10s of thousands of units per quarter by pricing it at 2x the 99$ max price allowed instead of going 99$ and competing with Chromecast and Apple TV. Hope GRID is just not ready for that kind of scale and that's why they price it not to sell.
    Since the storage is extremely limited, especially given the PC ports they advertised at launch, some data on SD card/external storage perf might be useful.
    Reply
  • savagemike - Friday, May 29, 2015 - link

    I think the pricing is kind of reasonable at the moment. You can't buy anything with a processor this capable for $99.
    Will be interesting to see what Apple does with a next gen Apple TV device though.
    Reply

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