Living Room perfection with NVIDIA SHIELD TV
For cord cutters like myself, TV entertainment has been dead for years. I bought a TV out of instinct; every living room I’ve seen has a couch and a TV. Netflix and YouTube lived on my lovely desktop monitors, which allowed for multitasking and not actually watching that video content. However, my living room life changed when I came across the Roku 3 box. This wonderful box allowed me to put the very same content up on the living room screen — but it was flawed. Clunky and a weak app ecosystem, it left me hungry for more. To satisfy the craving, I tried to eat an Apple. Their 4th generation Apple TV was almost perfect with their rich app ecosystem and slick interface. However, with 4K content finally available, I craved to eek out the best from my TV. I took a risk on the NVIDIA SHIELD TV — I was not disappointed.
Apple TV Life
Why I bought NVIDIA
Upgrade Build Out
I found that, after setting up the switcher, everything was in 1080p. Through trial and error, I discovered that my sound bar and several HDMI cables, which were acting as the video passthrough for everything on the switcher, didn’t fully support HDMI 1.4a. This spec introduces support for resolutions greater than 4K. Annoying, but the solution was to downgrade my audio a little by finding a Toslink cable from Amazon and connecting that between my TV and sound bar.
With that all sorted away, the SHIELD TV detected everything was compliant and started to output 4K @ 60fps.
The remote is nothing special. It’s a remote with a microphone that connects via Bluetooth with 8 physical buttons and an IR blaster. Using coin-cell batteries, NVIDIA promises a year of battery life with “typical usage.” The microphone seems to pick up my voice well enough for Google Assistant, and that’s all that matters. Interestingly, there’s a touch surface that acts as a volume slider that I found by mistake. Protip: You can double-tap it to pause/unpause media too!
The most interesting piece of hardware I got from the SHIELD TV box is the NVIDIA SHIELD Controller. This peripheral is both my most and least favorite. The button layout and feel is similar to the Switch Pro controller with on-axis dual analog sticks and large face buttons. The controller has, in addition to the standard gaming controls, a Back, Play, Home, and Assistant buttons and the touch surface for volume tucked away between the analog sticks. The controller has a rechargeable battery pack, charged via USB. NVIDIA added a headphone jack to the controller, which routes sound from your TV to allow for personal listening. Having previously loved this feature on my Roku 3, it was a welcome feature to have again. My understanding is that the controller connects over WiFi Direct, so the audio lag is not noticeable. The reasons I don’t like the controller itself? NVIDIA decided to texture the controller with their polygonal theme. Gripping the controller feels a bit weird to hold with this theming and slim grips. Back to my DualShock 4!
My SHIELD TV Experience
The SHIELD TV was not a letdown. In fact, it has exceeded my expectations. The initial setup was fantastic — it’s just an Android device. I plugged it into my TV, plugged in the ethernet cable, and used my Google Pixel phone to send over my account info. The app ecosystem, for what I care about, is richer than the Apple TV. In addition to Pandora, Netflix, and YouTube, I’ve found Amazon Video and an official Twitch app. Unfortunately, if you’re part of the Apple content ecosystem, you will be unable to play that content directly on the SHIELD TV.
Media is perhaps the most boring part of the device. It all just works. As NVIDIA offers no multi-media products, they have no reason to force any specific service on you. I love companies that can act as a neutral party; I don’t have iTunes or Prime Video pushed on me at every search. However, as an Android device with Assistant, Google services can have bias.
Perfection (with caveats)
The title does indeed say “Living room perfection,” but nothing is perfect. I’ve had a few odd, very minor issues. Similarly, the Apple TV had its own quirks. Since they’re so minor, bullet points!
- Starting the SHIELD TV by sending it a Chromecast stream sometimes turns off a few minutes later
- There’s the odd software issue, such as Twitch not handling multitasking well
- HDMI-CEC isn’t working in my setup. I attribute the problem to my HDMI switcher.
- IR blaster does not work with my TV nor sound bar.
- I’m using the SHIELD TV’s internal audio controls as a workaround
- Bonus: works great with other Google Assistants because of this
- The Apple ecosystem is lost on this device.
- iTunes purchases need to be Chromecasted
- AirPlay functionality no longer exists in my house
That’s All Folks
For the price of $220, I’ve replaced my Apple TV ($180), Steam Link ($50), Chromecast ($35), and added the functionality of SmartThings IoT to my apartment ($100) with a single device that I’m quickly relying on for daily entertainment and a near drop-in replacement for each device. I can only hope that NVIDIA continues to support and iterate on this device. (And that I can somehow sell all this hardware I no longer need ;])