The space underneath your TV used to be reserved for a Blu-ray player, the odd console and maybe even a home-cinema system. Nowadays companies such as Amazon and Apple are vying for your attention too, with Nvidia the latest to compete for some of that space.
The Nvidia Shield is an Android TV set-top box including 4K support – and its focus is to be the ultimate streaming box, particularly for gamers.
It’s certainly the most expensive of the streaming set-top boxes out there right now (although we don’t yet know the price of the new Apple TV), and it does things a little differently to its competitors.
Next to the standard set-top box designs – as seen in the Amazon Fire TV, Roku boxes or the Nexus Player – the Nvidia Shield TV stands out from the off.
The Nvidia Shield TV has presence. It's longer than it is wide and adorned by criss-crossing lines, angular detailing and a signature green tick. It’s slim, with a design that looks good from every angle – and the exterior is all the more interesting thanks to the intersecting gloss- and matte-black panels that make up its surface.
A metal triangle on the top features the Nvidia logo, which functions as the power button – maintaining an overall look that's clean and clutter-free.
Its slightly longer design is to ensure that the Shield TV can accommodate all the internal hardware and ports it needs to be one of the most powerful streaming set-top boxes yet.
Around the rear of the Shield you'll find a microSD card slot, micro-USB 2.0, two USB 3.0 ports, HDMI 2.0 and gigabit Ethernet ports.
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By attaching an external hard disk or USB stick to the Nvidia Shield, it can function as a media station – bringing your whole library of video, photo and music content to the biggest screen in your house.
I’ve tried and tested numerous types of content via USB drive on the Shield and it's been able to run it all, directly from the Photos & Videos tab on the homescreen.
Your content is even given the Android TV treatment, with large picture icons for each item.
Under the hood is where you’ll find the serious hardware that drives this box. The Shield TV runs on the Tegra X1 processor with 256-core Maxwell GPU, 3GB of DDR4 RAM and 16GB of internal storage in the standard model, which can be upgraded via microSD.
You can opt for the larger 500GB option, known as the Nvidia Shield Pro, which retails for around £220.
The inclusion of that Tegra X1 processor ensures that the Nvidia Shield will be one of the fastest machines you’ll find sitting beneath your TV – aside from the Xbox One and PS4.
Rather than a traditional remote, the Nvidia Shield comes with a Shield Controller. It's a little like a mash-up between an Xbox One and PS4 controller, but is a little heavier and has some additional features.
On the Shield Controller you'll find symmetrical analogue sticks, four face buttons with the usual Xbox setup, a D-pad on the left-hand side and a pair of shoulder buttons on the top. There’s also a micro-HDMI port that you can use to charge the controller, and a headphone jack for a more personal audio experience.
Above the analogue sticks is the Nvidia logo, which is a touch-sensitive power button. If you double-tap it, you can access voice search.
Beside the logo sits a Start button to the right and a Return button to the left. Also included is a home button, which will be familiar to Android users.
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At the bottom of the gamepad, in a silver panel sit the volume controls. The centre of the panel is supposed to be used as a trackpad, although I’m yet to find any use for it – either on the Shield TV or the previously released Shield Tablet.
The Shield controller is a little heavier than the Xbox One or PS4 pad, but it's nonetheless comfortable to use for long periods of time. I’ve spent many an hour playing Android TV games and GeForce Now, and have never yet considered the Shield Controller to be not up to scratch.
If you want to play multi-player games on the Nvidia Shield, you can purchase additional controllers for £49.99 each.
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It's been more than a year and a half since Google first announced Android TV in June 2014. Since that time, not much has changed. It’s the same block picture-led interface as it was at launch, with the functionality of the system having evolved at the speed of a proverbial snail.
What's immediately noticeable about Android TV is the fact that its app selection is fairly limited. Nvidia has worked hard to get BBC iPlayer support for its set-top box, but aside from that you’ll find Sky News, Netflix, YouTube and Google Play Movies for video content.
So unlike your usual streaming service, you’ll find that Android TV is heavily reliant on Google Play Content. That’s evident from the moment you start using voice search, which you access by double-tapping the Nvidia logo on the controller.
It’s super-intelligent and can find you plenty of information such as weather forecasts, sports scores and more, thanks to the power of Google Now. It will even pull together movie recommendations if you search for an actor, for example. Or bring up bios of all those who star in a particular movie.
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But all too often you’ll find that search results are limited to those found in Google Play, particularly when it comes to video content. Unlike devices such as the upcoming Apple TV and existing Roku boxes, the Android TV-powered Shield isn’t capable of searching for content across platforms.
This means I was only presented with the option to buy the latest series of Person of Interest, rather than given the choice to watch it via my Netflix account.
In addition, search on Android TV only works via voice commands. There’s no option to search using text.
Usually, this wouldn't have been an issue, but it was a problem when I was in a busy living room and wanted to find a specific game. It isn't a huge issue, but it was a slight annoyance.
It’s almost a shame that the power of the Shield set-top box is let down by Android TV, even if it is a good-looking UI.
Thankfully, though, the Nvidia Shield has Chromecast functionality built right in. This means that any apps you can’t locate on Android TV you'll be able to get on the big screen by casting them from your Android or iOS smartphone and tablet.
Nvidia also has some tricks up its sleeve to make its Android TV a more appealing proposition. Especially for gamers.
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For starters, Nvidia has made sure that you can make your gaming experience social and available to broadcast. And all at the touch of a button. If you hold down the home button anywhere on the UI, you can start broadcasting straight to Twitch or YouTube, or just save and share a quick screenshot.
If you attach a webcam, you can even add your own face into your broadcast. Note that the Nvidia Shield can be used with keyboard and mouse too.
Now to one of the Nvidia Shield TV's biggest boons – 4K content. With the Shield TV you can watch stunning 3,840 x 2,160p resolution content at the maximum 60fps. And there’s full support for Netflix’s HEVC H.265 4K delivery system. As well as YouTube content, of course.
And, as you’d expect, the content is stunning. You’ll need a 4K TV or monitor to experience it, and there’s limited content available at the moment, but it’s certainly the future. And the Shield TV is a great way to prepare for it.