Media streamers come in all shapes and sizes these days but few live up to the new Nvidia Shield TV Pro's capabilities.
Nvidia’s latest premium Android TV box is a monster of a 4K media hub, with beefier internals than previous models and added support for Dolby Vision.
The Shield TV Pro can also claim, quite comfortably, to be the best streamer for gamers. But with so many cheap and capable streamers out there, and a high price, is the Nvidia Shield TV Pro worth paying for?
The Nvidia Shield TV Pro is Nvidia’s premium Android TV media streamer for 2019. According to Nvidia, its performance is “up to 25%” faster than any previous Shield TV device thanks to an updated Nvidia Tegra X1+ CPU and 3GB RAM. It has only 16GB of storage onboard, however, which is quite a drop from the 500GB found on the last Pro.
As well as being a powerful media streamer with 4K HDR10 and Dolby Vision support, the Shield TV Pro doubles as a Plex Media Server, allowing you to organise and access your personal media library and stream that content wherever you go. On top of all that, the Shield TV Pro is also a formidable gaming hub that can stream Triple-A games titles and run practically any retro emulator going.
If that’s too much for you, there’s a cheaper Shield TV, also with an all-new design, for a more reasonable £150. That unit has the same Tegra X1+ CPU and video capabilities as the Pro but only 2GB RAM and 8GB internal storage. It also has fewer ports but its storage is expandable via microSD. Like the Shield TV Pro, the TV can double as a Plex server.
The main competitor in this price bracket is the Apple 4K TV, a compact set-top box powered by Apple’s A11 Bionic chip. It has 32GB of internal storage and support for HDR10, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos. At £179 from Amazon, it’s still a hefty investment, and it’s not without its flaws.
For the full Amazon experience, including Alexa-driven smart speaker capabilities, the £110 Amazon Fire TV Cube is also worth a look. Bear in mind, though, that it’s not as versatile as Nvidia’s Shield TV devices and lacks Now TV.
The Shield TV Pro (2019) is a chunky, wedge-shaped device that’s over twice the height and three times the width of the standard model. The chassis is plastic through and through but it feels well constructed. Although most promotional shots depict the Shield TV as standing upright, I found that I preferred to lie it flat because it’s easily toppled by the forces of tugging cables.
The Shield TV Pro has its smaller sibling beaten for connectivity: on the rear edge there are two USB 3.0 Type-A ports, an HDMI 2.0 output and a Gigabit Ethernet jack, in addition to the proprietary power input. In a rather miserly move, however, Nvidia hasn’t bothered to include an HDMI cable inside the box.
Both new boxes use a redesigned remote control that’s triangular in shape and reminiscent of a tiny Toblerone. It’s a design, much like the chocolate it resembles, that I don’t really care for. It feels less secure in the hand compared to a flat remote and it rolls off surfaces too easily, meaning it’s not very safe when placed on the armrest of a chair or sofa.
Still, for all that it works as advertised. All the usual controls are here in pleasing rubberised form, as well as a dedicated Netflix key and a voice search button that activates the Google Assistant-aided microphone inside the remote. A tap of any button ignites a subtle white backlight that illuminates most of the buttons on the remote – but not the navigation wheel, annoyingly – and then fades after a moment or two.
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Setup and app
Initial setup was simple enough but took longer than I’d hoped for. My Samsung TV prompted me to set up the device as soon as it was hooked up through HDMI. Within a minute I’d connected to the Shield TV Pro’s Android TV software using my Google Pixel 3a and transferred Wi-Fi and Google account details over to the device. The TV Pro soon launched into a software upgrade that delayed proceedings for about 10mins while it added new features such as a remote locator.
At last, I was into the home screen, which is broken up neatly into tabs (or ‘channels’) for Netflix, YouTube, Nvidia Games and plenty more besides. It’s very easy to customise the order of the channels on the home screen and to add and remove them.
The first thing I did was download the Nvidia Shield TV app on my Pixel to try out the virtual remote. (Note that you’ll likely need to disconnect your phone from your VPN service if you want to use this facility.) This isn’t as well-designed as the Roku TV equivalent but it works well enough.
It’s split into two halves that you swipe between: one half for navigation and the other for the specific button controls, and it duplicates most of the functionality of the physical remote control faithfully. This includes the ability to conjure up the Google Assistant, although you need to be careful with this as it’s easy to mix this up with your phone’s general Assistant. The only thing I wasn’t able to do with the app was control my Samsung TV’s volume.
As mentioned earlier, this year’s edition of the Shield TV Pro has a meagre 16GB of storage, but at least Nvidia has designed the Shield TV Pro (2019) to act as a Plex Media Server, and it comes with the Plex software pre-installed.
The extra power of the Tegra X1+ chip means it’s able to take some video file types – H.264, H.265 (HEVC) and MPEG 2, for example – and transcode them on the fly for instant streaming. Some file formats that don’t support hardware-accelerated transcoding on the Shield TV Pro will perform less well, however
Content and performance
There’s a wealth of content to explore on the Shield TV Pro. You can access most of the popular streaming services, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, Google Play Movies & TV, YouTube plus plenty besides. Now TV is absent, however.
Those looking for a more complete streaming hub might want to consider the Roku Premiere instead, as these grant access to every UK service you can think of, not to mention that both are far cheaper. And, really, if all you want is a streaming box for viewing content, the Nvidia Shield TV Pro (2019) is total overkill.
Still, the Shield TV Pro’s video capabilities are exceedingly good. As with the last-gen device, it’s 4K HDR10-ready, but it now has Dolby Vision HDR support as well. 4K HDR content can be streamed at up to 60fps and it offers 4K-upscaling from 720p upwards at 30fps. My TV isn’t Dolby Vision-capable but I was able to enjoy Attenborough’s Seven Worlds, One Planet and Our Planet in stunning 4K HDR on BBC iPlayer and Netflix, respectively.
Audio features are excellent too, if you’ve got the surround sound system to make use of them. The Shield TV Pro supports the full Dolby audio suite, including Dolby Atmos, plus DTS-X surround sound (pass-through) and high-res audio playback at up to up to 24-bit/192 kHz over HDMI.
Equipped with an Nvidia Tegra X1+ processor (quad-core, ARM Cortex A-53), a 256-core GPU and 3GB RAM, the new Shield TV Pro easily outstrips its rivals in performance terms, and its upscaling powers really show that off.
There are numerous upscaling settings available but, to get the most out of the Nvidia’s processing power, you should select “AI-Enhanced”. There’s a handy demo mode to go with this that lets you apply an upscaling slider across the screen during video playback and observe the difference between AI-upscaled and standard upscaled content simultaneously. The improved clarity and vibrancy of the AI-enhanced images is plain to see.
Before you get too excited, however, it should be noted that the Nvidia Shield TV Pro’s upscaling works solely for video content and not games.
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Nonetheless, gaming is surely the Nvidia Shield TV Pro’s biggest draw. From the Android TV Play Store and the Nvidia Games channel there are countless free games you can download for the Shield TV Pro, many of them playable with only the remote.
For more complex games, a console controller is a must, which is why it’s such a shame Nvidia has chosen not to provide one in the box. This isn’t as bad as it sounds as it’s compatible with Xbox One and PS4 gamepads but it’s something to bear in mind if you don’t have any already lying around at home.
Using the pre-installed GeForce Now service, players can go far beyond the realms of standard Android TV gaming apps, however. GeForce Now is Nvidia’s soon-to-be-live premium subscription gaming service; it’s similar to the Google Stadia games streaming service and, in the UK, it’s currently in free beta phase.
Once it launches, GeForce Now will allow players to access Triple-A PC titles through the Shield TV Pro and stream them onto a TV through the power of the cloud, with detail settings and frame rates comparable (internet speeds depending) to playing on a high-end desktop PC. Unfortunately, Nvidia did not respond to my application for GeForce Now beta access, so I was unable to try it out first hand. Once Nvidia eventually grants me access to GeForce Now, I’ll update this review with my impressions of the service.
PC enthusiasts, however, may still prefer to use SteamLink, which connects the Shield TV Pro to PCs on the same network and lets you stream games from your Steam library onto your TV. At the moment, Nvidia Shield TV does not officially support the Google Stadia and Shadow game streaming services.
Finally, the Shield TV Pro serves as a robust platform on which to play countless classic games. Unlike a plug-and-play retro console like the PlayStation Classic or SNES Mini, the Shield TV Pro runs emulators for classic consoles, while front-end launchers like the RetroArch and Dig apps (found in the Play store) let you organise and play all your individual emulators and installed games from one hub. You’ll have to (legally) supply all the ROMs yourself, of course.
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As media streamers go, the Nvidia Shield TV Pro is pretty much the complete package, allowing you to stream 4K HDR content, manage your personal media library and play games in a multitude of different ways. But unless you’re gasping for a media hub that’s capable of console emulation, Triple-A game streaming, and running your own Plex server, the Shield TV Pro might not be for you.
As for those who already own a Shield TV, there’s not enough new here to recommend upgrading, and in some ways – lack of storage, no controller – it’s actually worse value for money than before. So, should you buy one? Probably not. But it is a jolly impressive piece of hardware.
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