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
POST A COMMENT

168 Comments

View All Comments

  • hero4hire - Monday, June 1, 2015 - link

    The question is not a matter of capablability but of utility. A $20-$30 chromecast does most of the functions. A smart TV by itself can do some. The Shield is a luxury device. Using nothing or a Roku on bottom to a ps4 or a htpc on top. Fitting in the middle and attacking a niche is this product.
    What does the more capable processor provide I've alternatives and am I willing to pay a little more for significantly more capability? That's the value question.
    Reply
  • Yojimbo - Thursday, May 28, 2015 - link

    "Though it’s a bit of circular logic to say that NVIDIA is intending to exploit these same advantage in the SoC space as they have the desktop space – after all, Maxwell was designed for SoCs first – Maxwell’s capabilities are clearly established at this point."

    There's a difference between circular logic and redundancy (much like there is a difference between circular logic and a tautology). To say that NVIDIA is intending to exploit the power-efficiency in the SOC space is simply redundant after you already said that NVIDIA designed the architecture that way in the first place. The citing of power efficiency in desktop products is simply giving evidence of power-efficiency. There's no implication of EXTRA power efficiency more than what was originally designed in the architecture by moving from desktop GPUs to the SOC GPUs. How can circular logic appear when no implication is being made?
    Reply
  • testbug00 - Thursday, May 28, 2015 - link

    "Ultimately it’s clear that the SHIELD Android TV is heavily overspeced compared to other Android TV devices – no one else is pursuing this premium market..."
    Perhaps because the market isn't large enough to justify a product aimed solely at it? Nvidia can leverage their streaming GPU stuff and a bunch of other stuff no other players really have.

    Even with that, I don't think the market is large enough to support one player.
    Reply
  • UltraWide - Thursday, May 28, 2015 - link

    If I use a receiver and send the audio via bitstream to the receiver, will it play or not? I don't see why bitstreaming of audio requires a license? I thought the license is only required to actually decode the audio on the device and play some downmixed version of it. Reply
  • ganeshts - Thursday, May 28, 2015 - link

    Try convincing Dolby, DTS and NVIDIA together :) I am with you on this one, but NVIDIA says licensing is the issue. Reply
  • cfenton - Thursday, May 28, 2015 - link

    How does it handle external storage of apps? Android has typically been OK about reading media from an SD card, but it's recently been more and more restrictive about how apps can interact with external storage. Does Android TV (or some Nvidia custom magic) solve that problem? With only 16GB internal (and surely less user accessible) it will quickly run out of room if you want to install games. Recent experience with an Xperia Z3 and Nvidia Shield Tablet have not been promising on this front, at least without root access. The Xperia will copy some data to the external storage device, but still leave some on the internal, and the Shield Tablet is really picky about what games it will transfer to external storage. I'd want to just plug a 2TB portable drive into this thing, have it install everything there, and never think about it again, but based on past experience I'm worried that won't work.

    I know they want people to use GRID, but until data caps go away that won't be practical in many places.
    Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Thursday, May 28, 2015 - link

    The SATV can handle apps on SD cards. In fact it has a feature to automatically move newly downloaded apps to the SD card in order to better utilize the space it provides. Reply
  • docbones - Thursday, May 28, 2015 - link

    Application support is going to be the biggest item. Will it be updated to run current Amazon Prime, Max Go, HBO Go, CW streaming, etc.

    Currently none of the Android TV type devices have parity to the number of streaming video apps that my phone does.
    Reply
  • chizow - Thursday, May 28, 2015 - link

    I didn't have much interest in this product or any of the previous Shield products, but with Windows Media Center's impending doom with Win10 and the prospect of Silicon Dust's HD HomeRun DVR as a viable replacement, I may have to look into getting one.

    It certainly seems to pack a lot of value and possibilities into a very small price tag of $200. I'm just not sure on the naming/branding, but I guess they think the Android TV aspect may have a higher demand than some of the gaming initiatives they are slowly building upon.
    Reply
  • testbug00 - Thursday, May 28, 2015 - link

    they really should make a $150 version that is just the console. Probably would increase sales quite a bit... Although, the controller and stuff is probably well under $50 to make however. Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now