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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  • tipoo - Thursday, May 28, 2015 - link

    Certainly seems performant enough, but will it get any exclusives. Even to the entire shield platform at least. Android games are....Ok, but hardly take advantage of the latest and greatest chips, most run fine even on my Moto G. Streaming is also neat, but I'd really like to see some exclusives that really target these high end chips with controllers. Reply
  • ganeshts - Thursday, May 28, 2015 - link

    Yes, NVIDIA has indicated around 20 exclusive titles are coming to Tegra K1 and X1-based SHIELD devices. Reply
  • Jumangi - Friday, May 29, 2015 - link

    What titles. I hope no body thinks they will be even remotely close to AAA level experiences. No developer is going to risk that kind of money on this machine. They will be cheesed low end android crap. Reply
  • TheJian - Friday, May 29, 2015 - link

    Not sure what you're talking about. With unreal 4 and unity 5 engine support on android now you'll start to see some REAL games and they already have real PC ports (serious sam 3, Trine2, Portal, halflife 2, KOTOR etc). You might say PC ports are old (but they are AAA games), but if you know the sales #'s of each of these you understand not more than ~10mil played any of these titles that NOW can easily be ported to Android for a FULL (albeit older) PC game experience. More of these will likely come first, but by this xmas or next we'll start to see what unity5 and unreal 4 can produce. We are already way past angry birds...LOL. Trine 2 isn't a great looking title? That's a 2011 PC game. What exactly do you want? Trine2 runs on K1, we're already at X1 and 14nm Samsung fabbed version is coming for xmas (likely with return of Denver cpu amped up and more polished). We are not even taxing X1 yet, and the xmas version at 14nm will eat it alive. You clearly don't browse android games much to see what is already ported or new out there.

    This console has more power than an xbox360 or ps3. Not sure why you'd think we're talking Minecraft here or something. If you called xbox360/ps3 AAA experiences what is the difference? You can call that barely beating last gen, but this is the new xbox360/ps3 experience for the poor (or alternative gaming for me that isn't PC etc) who can't afford xbox1/ps4 price tag nor the $60+ games prices that come with those.

    On top of that, you don't need a $600-1000 PC to play at 1080p 60fps. For a monthly fee of even $15 (180/yr) you'd get FAR more than 3 console games at $60ea correct? Right now (free) you get 50 games that can stream like this and surely many more coming year after year. The sheer value of GRID gaming here is massive for a person who doesn't have $60 a month to keep their kid playing xbox1/ps4 games. I'm going to guess there will be a $10 fee for 720 and $15 for 1080p gaming but you can insert whatever numbers you want here, I'm just making the point about affordability for amount of fun you get. Mind you as graphics amp up, GRID keeps you from needing to upgrade. Nvidia can easily make sure you're always getting the fps that is being sold to you. They can keep dropping servers around also to keep latency in check.

    To your dev point, incorrect. Worst case scenario they can make it exclusive for 6mo-1yr then if sales suck port to PC or allow regular android to use it. You are forgetting that 1yr from now ALL gpus (14nm by then everywhere) will have X1 levels of gpu and if that's not the case by then 10nm isn't far behind. Also if NV wins the suit, everyone will be paying for NV gpu IP (great for devs) at some point. IF you make an unreal4/unity5 game here, you can easily port the thing to PC probably in a few weeks tops and it is running the exact Nvidia hardware there for ~75% of the discrete market on PC's. You're mistakenly acting as if you make a TEGRAZONE based game (meaning special for NV tegra hardware effect), it can NEVER run anywhere else...LOL.

    It took a few weeks to port most of these titles.
    http://www.tegrazone.com/games/witcherba
    Just an example of your crappy games.. Looks pretty fun to me.
    http://www.tegrazone.com/games/oddworldsw
    Listen to the dev. 1st time in 1080p on mobile etc. Can't beat the price of $6 either. Full 20+hrs just like all the other full games I mentioned that MOST of the world hasn't even played. We see some REALLY great PC games being made for $2-10mil, so I'm pretty sure a dev aiming at top tegra devices won't have a problem shifting titles elsewhere if needed 6 months-1yr later. They are coming with a shield update this xmas (or before) too, so at some point you're going to have millions on these anyway much like a console and that's not counting the fact that lawsuits may lead to all of mobile being NV/AMD at some point (on the gpu side, ARM whatever on the cpu side). I can see myself playing many games with key/mouse on BT when gamepads don't work right also (large rpg game like Baldurs Gate on TV for instance etc). Like I said, massive cheap ports first, then use the cash from those to fund BIG new IP. At worse making a potent game here, only means you'll wait for 2yrs for everyone to be able to play it as gpu power surpasses X1 for even the junker tablets/phones etc at 10nm. IF you don't like waiting that long port to PC etc. You seem to not understand 2Billion units are sold yearly from here on out, which means 2Billion can play any android AAA title very soon. Far faster than say, waiting for consoles to get even 50mil on either side of MSFT or Sony (what is that 5yrs from now?). I'll take the 2Billion side if I'm a dev as GDC 2014/2015 surveys both show they have.

    NV can also pay $2-4mil x 25 games to get exclusives they perhaps OWN (say 20mil on 5 top exclusives yearly? Hopefully more?), and then do the same at a later date by porting to PC etc. It's not risky knowing they can port easily to the same gpu on PC. I really hope they start funding games in this range for AAA experiences aimed at X1+. At some point they'll tell us numbers sold on a unit (maybe xmas handheld or android tv here), but not likely until they have a million unit sales launch or something. Maybe they'll wait for an unreal 4 engine showcase game to give us that data. Imagine what 10nm HBM2 version of Tegra will bring to the table...ROFL. Hopefully something from AMD then too for this type of stuff.

    http://www.tegrazone.com/news/tabletssurpass
    EA, tablets will surpass consoles, and add more to the bottom line THAN consoles. Simple math. Starting 2017 consoles have a real problem if not before as better games launch. HBM2 with 10nm socs will make some waves in replacement devices for what we have today and many problems will be created even at 14nm shortly as everyone rolls that out probably a few devices using HBM1 too in this next gen of ARM devices etc. WiiU just hit 10mil devices sold, and they have some AAA experiences correct? ;) Vainglory from iOS just got ported to NV. Between apples next devices (A9), NV's current and their next model at xmas, qcom's next model (after 810), etc you will have a 100mil+ (likely far higher) that can do X1 gpu levels and likely with 128bit bus everywhere adding more fuel. I really don't get your point ;) Have you seen modern combat 5 blackout or asphalt 8, Order & chaos online, Dungeon Hunter 4 etc? Not angry birds and neither aimed at X1 levels. Haters gonna hate I guess...
    Reply
  • darkich - Friday, May 29, 2015 - link

    I doubt he'll even read your comment but I can say, thank you Reply
  • Jumangi - Friday, May 29, 2015 - link

    It has nothing to do with capabilities. Try and understanding what I was actually saying. No developer is going to invest the time and money needed to make high end games for this thing. The return on investment isn't even remotely there. Reply
  • Odey - Friday, May 29, 2015 - link

    I am really not sure what you are talking about. Border Lands, the new Metal Gear, Doom3, Half Life, Star Wars series, Portal, Shadow Run, and many more..and I am sure that they will get the newer games as well. Reply
  • heygeo - Friday, July 31, 2015 - link

    I understand what your trying to say and also agree, its about having limited engineering resources and the IMMEDIATE return on having them churn out product that will have the best chance of selling the most... in other words when you look at who out there owns this thing (remember not talking about all Android users just the ones with the graphical horsepower) its minute vs say PCs and consoles... while gaming is a passion to us its a business to them and in a crowded gaming platform field this one doesn't have the user base or differentiation to stand out. Reply
  • farble1670 - Friday, May 29, 2015 - link

    Xbox / PS4 for the poor?

    if you look at the reasonable model, the one with the 500GB drive, it's only $50 less than the Xbox One and the PS4, which are orders of magnitude more powerful than the Shield. for only $40 more, wouldn't you want a top of the line next generation gaming console with hundreds of games and hundreds more committed?

    if you're looking at the 16GB model (with 10GB of usable space), you won't be able to load more than a few high-end games. you can load them onto an SD card, but that's slower, and you *can't* store game data on the SD card, so if it's a game that downloads content, you're screwed.

    i wanted to love the shield, but the price is silly. there's just no way they can compete with the subsidized prices of the Xbox One and PS4.
    Reply
  • mkozakewich - Saturday, May 30, 2015 - link

    "...orders of magnitude better..."

    I'm pretty sure they aren't. I'd be surprised if the consoles get more than 6x the performance.

    (That would equate to something like a comparison between 10fps and 60fps for a given display size, so it's not like it means nothing, but that's not even ONE order of magnitude.)
    Reply

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