The Nvidia Shield TV is a refined version of the best Android TV box for years, packed with impressive new AI-based upscaling technology and a novel space-saving design.
The new Nvidia Shield TV comes in two versions: a £149.99 media streamer and a “Pro” alternative for £199 that is aimed more at gaming.
For those unfamiliar with these types of media streaming devices, they in effect add a smart TV experience to older televisions or replace the often terrible or out-of-date smart elements of more modern sets, so that you can use apps such as Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer and Netflix.
Nvidia is arguably the biggest name in graphics, and also makes mobile chips called Tegra, on which these two Android TV boxes are based. The previous Shield was released in 2015 and, unlike many other smart TVs and streaming boxes, is being kept fresh with a steady stream of updates, making it the best, most supported Android TV experience available either baked into a TV or in a set-top box.
The new Shield TV doesn’t mess with the formula. You get one of the most powerful media-streaming boxes available, running the latest version of Android TV and similar long-term software support.
The triangular remote looks odd at first glance, but works really well and won’t slip around or get lost down the side of the sofa. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
What’s new is the form factor. The standard Shield TV is not a box but a small tube with a power cable and ethernet socket in one end and an HDMI socket and microSD card slot in the other. The idea is you hide this small tube behind your TV in series with the cable without taking up any significant space.
The remote too has been rethought. Instead of being a thin, touch-sensitive remote, the new version has a triangular profile, takes two standard AAA batteries including rechargeables, has a good weight to it and an assortment of buttons that are backlit when the remote is picked up, including dedicated pause and volume buttons.
The shape may seem odd but it’s designed to prevent it slipping down the side or backs of sofas, and it works. A simple, user-friendly design.
The remote communicates with the Shield TV via Bluetooth and has an IR blaster in the end for controlling the volume on your TV, amp or soundbar. It works great.
Processor: Nvidia Tegra X1+
RAM: 2 or 3GB
Storage: 8 or 16GB + microSD card
Connectivity: wifi ac, Bluetooth 5, gigabit ethernet, HDMI 2.0b (HDCP2.2), 2x USB 3.0 (Pro only)
Software: Android TV (Android 9 Pie)
Format support: up to 4K @ 60Hz, Dolby Vision, HDR10, Dolby Atmos, TrueHD and Digital Plus, DTS-X
Dimensions: 40mm diameter, 165mm length or 98 x 159 x 259.3mm
Weight: 137g or 250g
The Shield TV has is the standard, customisable Android TV interface, without adverts, with a few Nvidia additions for things such as the AI upscaling, GeForce Now game streaming and accessory updates. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
Google’s Android TV platform is a fairly simple system based on apps and a customisable carousel layout that highlights content from certain apps. On the Shield TV it’s fast and easy to navigate in a way it often isn’t on smart TVs.
Getting around the interface is straightforward with the home, back and up, down, left and right buttons in a ring around the select button. Holding the home button pops up a quick access a list of apps, while double-pressing home takes you to recently used apps like on a smartphone or tablet.
Holding the back button brings up quick access to the settings menu, while the menu button in the top right can be customised to launch particular apps, settings or functions. There’s even a dedicated Netflix button for jumping straight in.
The tube has an HDMI socket and microSD card slot in one end. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
One of the biggest advantages Android TV has compared to other systems built into TVs is the wide app support from most of the major UK and US streaming services. Google Play, Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, YouTube, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4, My5 and Spotify are available, with the two notable exceptions being BT Sport (although BT TV is available) and the Apple TV app. Plex Media Server support is limited to the Pro model of Shield TV.
The apps are routinely updated too, meaning they continue to work, unlike some other platforms, which combined with Nvidia’s long support means you get a streaming box that should stand the test of time.
Alongside direct app support, the Shield TV has Chromecast 4K support built in, which means any app that can be cast from your Android or iPhone, tablet or even computer can be sent to your screen wirelessly, which includes BT Sport but not Apple TV.
Apps other than TV and video streaming services are also available, including Android games and Nvidia’s GeForce Now game-streaming service, which has both paid and free tiers of PC games and works surprisingly well. You’ll need a controller for games, and while Nvidia sells one, you can use any Xbox or PlayStation joypad that supports Bluetooth.
Press and hold the mic button on the remote to talk to Google Assistant. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
Google Assistant is built into Android TV and works like a cross between an Android phone and a smart display such as the Nest Hub Max. Press and hold the mic button on the remote to talk to Assistant.
You can control playback in apps, such as playing, pausing or skipping to the next track in Spotify or even a particular time in a song, movie or TV show. You can launch apps, adjust the volume or search for shows, movies or tracks via voice. Ask Assistant to play Lost in Space and it will offer to play it via Netflix or Google Play Movies.
Then there are all the standard Assistant functions. Ask it how to get to work and it’ll give you the current state of traffic or transport and a small map. Ask it for the weather and you’ll get the forecast with visual cards. It’ll answer questions, command smart home devices, stream footage from smart cameras and hundreds of other things. The only exception I found was an inability to search for images from the web.
Next-generation AI upscaling
Nvidia’s AI-powered HD-to-4K upscaling technology is very impressive, and ideal for dealing with the many shows and movies across the various UK TV catchup services, Netflix, Amazon and Google Play that are still in HD. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
The Shield TV’s ace in the hole is Nvidia’s new AI upscaling technology, which takes HD content and turns it into 4K with some very impressive results. While practically every TV or set-top box can handle basic upscaling of content – stretching HD content to fit a 4K screen with four times as many pixels – Nvidia’s technology is a cut above, particularly when viewing highly detailed scenes.
Cityscapes look incredibly crisp and detailed, while faces, cars and even wildlife are all significantly improved even compared to basic upscaling. Feed it a modern HD picture and the differences between it and real 4K content are surprisingly hard to spot. It even makes a decent job of handling something as old as NCIS, Futurama or Knight Rider.
Only comparing something such as the faces of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence in Bad Boys in proper 4K versus the HD AI-upscaled version can you begin to spot the differences in closeup scenes or when the original picture was a little grainy in low light.
The standard figure-of-eight power lead and optional ethernet plug into the other end of the tube. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
You can play music in the background from Spotify or similar while doing other things.
The Shield TV can be controlled through Alexa on an Echo smart speaker via the Nvidia Shield TV skill.
The Shield TV comes with a two-year warranty, but Nvidia doesn’t currently offer a repair, recycling or trade-in programme, ultimately making it disposable.
The original Nvidia Shield has long been the power user’s Android TV streaming box of choice, and realistically the only one I could recommend. But with its redesign as a hide-away tube and with a new, much more user-friendly and smartly designed remote, the new Shield TV is not only the best streaming box for power users, but one of the very best for regular people too – right up there with the Apple TV 4K and Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K.
On most fronts it beats or matches everything else, be it support for the latest Dolby Atmos, Vision and HDR standards, app support or even the built-in 4K Chromecast support. But it is the impressive AI upscaling that is the killer feature. If you predominantly watch HD content from Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, Google Play or BBC iPlayer et al on your 4K TV then the Shield TV is the box to buy.
The only fly in the ointment is a lack of the Apple TV or BT Sport apps in the Google Play Store on Android TV, but at least the latter can be Chromecast to the Shield TV from your phone or tablet. Only the Apple TV 4K has a wider selection of apps than available on Android TV.
The Shield TV isn’t cheap, coming in at £150, but it’s fast and feature-packed, will be supported for a long time and has one of the best remotes you can buy.
Pros: AI upscaling, Android TV, fast, bloat-free, Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos, long support, space-saving design, excellent remote, built-in 4K Chromecast, Google Assistant, GeForce Now
Cons: fairly expensive, no BT Sport or Apple TV apps
This article contains affiliate links, which means we may earn a small commission if a reader clicks through and makes a purchase. All our journalism is independent and is in no way influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative. By clicking on an affiliate link, you accept that third-party cookies will be set. More information.
This article originally appeared on https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/feb/26/nvidia-shield-tv-review-the-best-android-tv-box-with-brilliant-ai-upscaling