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You can buy a great 4K streaming media player for $100 or less, but the Nvidia Shield TV costs double that. If you want a really great Android TV experience, it’s worth every penny though, especially if you’re a PC gamer with an Nvidia graphics card. This is one of the most powerful, flexible, and capable streaming media players on the market and probably the best ambassador for Android TV. The Shield TV is not without flaws and annoyances, however, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a mainstream streaming player that can do more.

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Design and Features

The Shield TV has a sleek and angular look, and is small enough to sort of hide away in your media center. Along the back you’ll find a pair of USB 3.1 (gen 1) ports, an HDMI port, gigabit ethernet, and a proprietary power plug. There are no buttons or switches on it at all.

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That power input connects to a DC power brick, so you’ll need to clear a little space on your power strip. Nvidia also includes a micro-USB cable to charge the game controller.

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If you’ve used a game controller before, you’ll be familiar with the design and layout of the Shield controller. It’s a pretty standard “pair of thumbsticks, D-pad, shoulder buttons, A-B-X-Y” layout that mimics the Xbox controller layout (save for the left analog stick and D-pad switching places). The design looks angular, like a bunch of polygons stitched together.

You’d think it would be uncomfortable, but surprisingly, it’s not. In addition to the game buttons, the controller incorporates a headphone jack, Android navigation buttons, and a microphone. It runs off an integrated rechargeable battery that lasts for around 40 hours.

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The remote is a tall, slender stick with an IR blaster in the front, a microphone up top, and a four-way controller with a button in the middle. Beneath the control pad are back and home buttons, followed by a large microphone button. And though there’s no visible indication of this, the bottom half has a touch-sensitive strip in the middle: swipe up or down to adjust volume, or double-tap to play or pause video. It’s powered by a pair of CR2032 coin-type batteries that last a year or more before they need to be replaced.

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Both the remote and the controller are comfortable and easy to use, though neither are groundbreaking feats of ergonomics. In addition to switching from rechargeable batteries to coin cells, Nvidia dropped the headphone jack on the remote. The new version is a bit slimmer and the battery lasts a lot longer, but it’s not rechargeable and if you want to listen to TV over headphones you’ll have to plug them into the game controller instead.

Inside you’ll find Nvidia’s own Tegra X1 processor, a last-generation mobile processor that topped the benchmark charts when it was introduced a couple years ago but is now showing its age. It’s got 16GB of flash storage, which is on the low side for such an expensive device. If you really want to store a lot of stuff, there’s also a Pro version of the Shield that incorporates a 500GB hard drive for $100 more. It’s a bit larger than the regular version, and includes the old remote—the one that is rechargeable and includes a headphone jack. You can also just plug a USB hard drive into one of the ports on the back and to store and play back media, or even format it as “internal storage” to store apps and games on it.

Nvidia’s box supports all sorts of audio and videos standards, including HDR10, Dolby Atmos, DTS-X and DTS-HD Master Audio, and a whole heaping mess of video and audio codecs. Just about the only thing missing is the Dolby Vision HDR format. Oddly, while the Shield TV will stream YouTube in 4K, it will not support HDR with that service. This isn’t as big a deal as it seems—unlike Netflix or Amazon, most of the 4K YouTube content (and there is a lot of it) is not formatted for HDR in the first place. Still, it’s an odd omission. 4K support for Hulu is currently limited to the PS4 Pro and Xbox One S, but the company says support is coming to other platforms this year.

The Shield TV also doubles as a Chromecast with support for streaming up to 4K resolution, so you can cast content from your phone (Android or iPhone) or from Google Home, too.

Setup and Performance

The Shield TV’s latest software is based on Android 7 (Nougat), with a handful of useful enhancements on top. Nvidia just released an update that includes support for the Google Assistant, and the company has been good about making frequent updates to fix bugs and add new features. Android 8.0 (Oreo) is on the way, though Nvidia won’t provide an exact date. If history is any indication, that should land in early 2018.

The Android TV software is relatively simple to use and has a clean layout. It’s organized into several rows: the top is for suggestions based on your prior viewing habits. I find little use for this row—the suggestions are almost always terrible. It often suggests things I don’t like, and makes nonsensical suggestions like recently watched TV programs. I mean, I like The Orville fine but I’m not going to re-watch the episode I watched just yesterday. Android 8.0’s per-app recommendations list should be an improvement over this.

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Beneath the recommendations row is a double-row showing all the apps you’ve downloaded. They can be sorted manually, or automatically by most frequently used. Beneath that you’ll find a similar double-row of games, including the Nvidia games hub app and any games you’ve downloaded or set up to stream.

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Stream? That’s right, the Shield TV does much more than merely play Android TV games from the Google Play store. First, Nvidia has promoted a number of Shield-optimized Android games made to show off the graphics power of the Tegra X1 chip, and they’re definitely a cut above what you normally find in the Play Store. But you can also access GeForce Now, an $8-per-month streaming game service.

What’s more, if you have a PC with a GeForce graphics card on the same local network, you can stream games from it using GameStream. You’ll need a robust internet connection to make GeForce Now worthwhile, but GameStream works great over most home networks. Just make sure you don’t have a crummy wireless signal, and you can play Hearthstone on the big screen! GameStream supports resolutions up to 4K with HDR, so despite a little extra latency, you can get excellent image quality.

shield-tv-gamestream You can stream hundreds of games from your PC, if you have a GeForce graphics card.

Nvidia’s version of Android TV has a few tricks up its sleeve that you won’t find with other Android TV players. First, it supports Amazon Prime Video, so you can enjoy The Man in the High Castle and Transparent in 4K with HDR. Amazon’s video app is notoriously absent from the Play Store on Android TV, but Nvidia has made a deal with Amazon to include it with their firmware.

If you’re a fan of Plex, you’ll get way more out of it with the Shield than with other streaming media boxes. Plex on Shield TV includes not just the client, but the Plex server. It’s the real deal, with support even for Plex TV and USB antennas. Other streaming boxes let you use Plex to stream media from a server you run on your computer, but the Shield can also serve as that server itself! Plug in a big fat USB drive full of content and stream video, music, or images from your Shield to any other device with Plex, like your phone or tablet.

Nvidia has added a game recording and streaming layer on top of Android TV, too. Just hold down the menu button and you can record video of your gameplay, take screenshots, or even stream directly to Twitch. It’s a really nifty feature, but of course it is limited; most video apps disable the recording features, so you can’t make pristine digital copies of copyrighted content.

You can easily record gameplay and even stream to Twitch. You can easily record gameplay and even stream to Twitch.

The Android TV experience is very well represented with the Shield TV. It’s fluid and responsive, where other Android TV boxes have sometimes been prone to slowness and stuttering.

And then there’s the Google Assistant, which is a bit of a mess. Shield TV just became the first Android TV box to get the Assistant, and it’s meant to be a wonderful way to control Android TV with your voice. In practice, the results are inconsistent and frustrating. Many of the Assistant’s features work as you’d expect. You can do a lot of the same things you can on your phone, like asking about the weather, your schedule, or traffic. But Assistant has not been very well tailored to a media consumption box.

Ask for Blade Runner stars, get Blade Runner 2049 info. Swing and a miss, Assistant. Ask for Blade Runner stars, get Blade Runner 2049 info. Swing and a miss, Assistant.

If I hold down the mic button on the remote and say, “Stranger Things” I get a nice info card about the show, with a button to watch it on Netflix. If I say, “Show me the latest episode of Stranger Things,” I just get a bunch of search results (which typically start with YouTube videos). In fact, I very often get search results with commands that should prompt direct action. If I say, “Play Tom Petty” from the home screen, I get search results. “Play Tom Petty on Spotify” doesn’t do any better. That’s especially frustrating, because the Assistant handles this fine with other devices. I happen to have a Google Home on the same network. With it, I can say, “Hey Google, play Tom Petty on Spotify on my TV,” and it will pop up the Spotify app on the Shield TV and begin immediately playing Tom Petty songs. Why does the same Assistant on the Shield TV itself just give me a bunch of search results?

I asked you to play music, not search for it on YouTube. I asked you to play music, not search for it on YouTube.

The contextual understanding is often paper-thin, too. With the Nest app installed, I can say, “Hey Google, show my Nest cameras,” and it will hop right to the app and my list of cameras. But “Hey Google, show my Nest Living Room camera” simply shows, you guessed it, a bunch of useless YouTube search results. When I say, “play the latest Kanye West album,” the Assistant is smart enough to know I want The Life of Pablo, but it just shows a bunch of YouTube search results for it. Interestingly, if I specifically ask for the album to be played on YouTube it will jump right into the app and start playing.

My results when using Assistant have felt like playing Russian roulette with my TV. Will this work? Will I just get search results? Which of the voice commands that work perfectly well on Google Home will fail to function on Shield TV? (You can’t even set timers or reminders yet!) What’s more, you can’t use your voice to spell out passwords or enter text into search boxes. You’re left pecking out logins and passwords with your remote, which is always a frustrating setup experience.

Google has a lot of work to do in making the Assistant provide a consistent, it-does-what-you-expect experience. Until then, it’s more of a liability than a great feature.

At $199 the Shield TV is the most expensive dedicated streaming media player out there. If you don’t want the game controller, there’s a $179 bundle that only includes a remote, but that’s no bargain—the controller is $59 by itself, so saving $20 to ditch it is a raw deal. And it only has 16GB of flash storage, while the $179 Apple TV 4K has 32GB.

Despite the price and the aggravating Google Assistant experience, this is a great streaming media player for power users. You get all the major video sources at top quality, with the odd omission of HDR on YouTube videos, and the fact that Hulu doesn’t yet support 4K on any streaming media player. It supports lots of codecs and formats for local media playback though, includes a Plex media server, and can stream PC games from either a local PC with a GeForce graphics card or via Nvidia’s GeFore Now service.


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Source : http://me.ign.com/en/nvidia-shield-tv/140281/review/nvidia-shield-tv-review

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