In 2017, I called the Nvidia Shield TV an “essentially perfect” set-top box, and that held up for nearly three years. Today, two new Nvidia Shield TV models are going up for sale, and the new base model is a radical departure from everything that came before it. It’s now smaller, cheaper, but still more powerful than the previous generation. After using it for about a week, I think the new smaller Shield TV is still the best streaming device you can buy, but with an asterisk.
Nomad case for Pixel 3
First, let’s talk about the new hardware. As I mentioned, this is a huge departure from what Nvidia has used on its Shield TV hardware since 2015. The new design is a “tube”-shaped form factor that has some advantages and disadvantages but, before anything else, is just impressive considering everything that’s inside.
Just like older Shield TV models, the new smaller version packs an Nvidia-made Tegra processor, but this time it’s the Tegra X1+, which is apparently a bit faster. There’s also 2 GB of RAM, 8 GB of storage, and Android TV based on Pie. That’s a lot more than you’ll find in the comparably sized Fire TV Stick or Roku Streaming Stick, and Nvidia deserves credit for that.
However, this new Shield TV isn’t a dongle like those devices are. Instead, this device is meant to be sort of an extension of the cable itself. You can plug in any HDMI cable to the device — bizarrely, there’s not one included in the box — and it lands anywhere in your setup that you’d like. Since it’s not directly behind your TV, network performance is slightly improved, too.
In my case, this design meant the Shield hung just above the floor behind my entertainment setup — not exactly ideal. I’d really like to see Nvidia release a cheap accessory that allows users to attach the Shield to a specific place on their entertainment console, or even mounted to the back of their TV if they want to.
Ports have gotten a downgrade with this new form factor, though. The USB ports found on older models are gone, with only a microSD card slot available to expand the 8 GB of storage (4 GB of which are available to the user). The power plug is now a generic port, which is good, and Nvidia still left room for Ethernet, too. I would have liked to see a USB-C port, but given the size, it’s mostly forgivable. The only time this is really a shame is using the device as a Plex server, but that’s why the Shield TV Pro exists.
The new Shield TV (2019) isn’t really a direct successor to the previous Shields because of its hardware, and that’s not really a bad thing. Nvidia sacrifices some of the lesser-used features of the previous Shield TV with this new model to create a smaller device that works better for a different set of users — the streamers who just want a fast, capable streaming device for Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, and all of the other services out there today.
Software and performance
Just like Nvidia has been using for years now, the new Shield TV is using Google’s Android TV platform. That means you’ll get the clean, ad-free interface enjoyed by Shield lovers for nearly five years now.
Since Android TV is growing and maturing quickly, the app selection is also better than ever now. Disney+ is coming to the platform at launch, Hulu finally has an updated app, the Play Store is redesigned, and over 5,000 apps are available. For the core streaming services, most people need to look no further than the Shield TV. The only service that isn’t coming to the Shield TV anytime soon is apparently Apple TV+, but that’s probably also the least important.
Android TV’s homescreen on the Shield TV
As someone who relies entirely on streaming services, there was only one niche app that wasn’t available on Android TV, and that I had to boot up my Roku to access. Roku still reigns supreme with content, but Android TV is catching up quickly, and even though it lacks a few, it does the ones it does have better than the rest. Nvidia touts the Shield’s ability to use both Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos with every single major streaming platform — something Roku and Fire TV cannot say on any of their devices.
When comparing the Shield’s Android TV software with those competitors, it also just reminds me how far ahead this platform is in terms of pure simplicity. I get overwhelmed by the interface on the Fire TV every time I use it, and despite many updates, Roku still feels old and slow. The updates Google has made to Android TV over the past couple of years only extend its lead and the Shield benefits greatly from that.
Almost every streaming service can be found on Android TV
The new smaller Shield doesn’t suffer on the performance side of things, either. The Android TV interface flies on this hardware regardless of what it is I’m doing. I’ve only been using the new Shield for a week, so I’ve not had a chance to test it out from a gaming aspect, but there’s no reason to believe it’s at all a downgrade from what came before it. The specs are improved compared to the previous generation Shield, so as long as you’ve got a controller to connect — one isn’t included — you should be able to play Android titles and stream GeForce Now without complaints.
Where the new Shield’s power comes into play is with its new AI upscaling feature. Most 4K TVs have some form of upscaling to attempt to make 1080p or 720p content look better on that higher-resolution display, but their methods are basic. Nvidia uses AI to create sharper results on most content.
In practice, this does actually make a notable difference. Casual TV shows like The Office won’t really benefit much, but older films like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade look noticeably sharper with this feature turned on. One of the most impressive results that Nvidia rightly targets is Pixar’s Coco. Any time there’s a lot of vivid, detailed content on-screen, this feature shines. I think that Nvidia overhypes it just a little bit, but when you flip on the demo mode in the Shield’s settings and look at the results side by side, it’s impressive.
For me, this feature helps fill a gap. I gave up on Netflix’s highest-paid with 4K HDR plan the moment Disney+ was confirmed to be as cheap as it is, but I have missed watching content in 4K. While Nvidia’s upscaling doesn’t fix the lack of HDR, it does bring back the sharpness that 4K provides.
Unfortunately, this difference is very hard to accurately show in videos or photos, so it’s something you’ll only be able to fully appreciate in person.
My biggest issue with the Nvidia Shield TV’s last generation was its remote. Put simply, it was unreliable, easy to lose, and was extremely difficult to explain to someone who never used it. As an example on that last point, it took several weeks for my now-wife to fully understand how to use the current Shield’s remote, and she still doesn’t like it.
The new remote is absolutely the upgrade Nvidia needed to make. The Shield TV’s new remote isn’t as small as the previous one, but it’s not overly large, either. It’s admittedly weird triangular design is strange, but very comfortable to hold and use. Plus, it won’t sink into the couch cushions quite as easily.
Buttons are probably going to be the biggest upgrade for most folks. Going down from the top, there’s a power button, settings button — we’ll circle back to that in a moment — and the D-Pad. Below that, there are home and back navigation buttons, fast forward and voice controls (Google Assistant), play/pause and volume up, and finally rewind and volume down. There’s also a dedicated Netflix button now that feels out of place to me, but apparently that’s something people want. I think the layout Nvidia went with here is really weird, but it does the job better than what was available before, and I was used to the new buttons within minutes.
On top of that, the buttons are all backlit and the remote is powered by AAA batteries. I found the battery door a chore to get off, but it’s nice that the batteries are so much more readily available than the previous generation. The battery lasts for six months on a charge, too.
The new remote also handles most of the same functions as the previous generation. It has IR control over your TV and can be customized in the settings to work best for your setup.
The buttons on the Shield’s new remote are backlit
Nvidia has also included a lost remote locator feature on the new Shield. There’s a button on the Shield TV’s hardware which, when pressed, makes the remote beep until you find it and use it. This can also be triggered via the companion app which is good, since the button on the hardware is almost impossible to press if your fingers are bigger than a toothpick.
Perhaps the best part of this new remote — apart from the fact that it’s about 10 times more reliable than the previous one — is that the settings button at the top is fully customizable. There are a ton of actions you can use this button for, from opening the app of your choice, muting the volume, accessing quick settings of your choice, opening recent apps, and more. It’s a super-useful feature.
Just a few of the custom actions you can assign the settings button to do
Is it worth it?
The new Nvidia Shield TV is a truly great product, but it suffers from one thing — it is not cheap. For $149, Nvidia is asking a lot for this product. I can’t say the price isn’t worth it because, unreservedly, you’re getting one of the most capable streaming devices on the market with this smaller Shield TV. Roku and Fire TV have more affordable price points and, in some cases, more app support, but they lack features such as Dolby Vision and the powerful AI upscaling that Nvidia offers.
The problem with the smaller Nvidia Shield TV is that, unlike the company’s previous offerings, it’s not targeted at the person who wants everything a set-top box can offer. A lot of that comes from its lack of ports, but Nvidia is directly going after the people who just want to stream on their devices. While you’ll lose out on Dolby Vision and Atmos and that 4K AI upscaling, you’ll save a lot of money in the process.
At $149, the Shield TV is in a weird spot of being worth its price, looking at everything it can do, but having to prove its worth compared to other much less expensive and other not much more expensive options.
For a lot of people who actually need an Nvidia Shield, the higher-tier Shield TV Pro is going to be more worthwhile at $199. However, for the huge number of people who want a premium streaming device that is pretty darn future proof, Shield TV is a seriously great option. Sales are open now at Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart, and other major retailers.