CES 2017: Nvidia's high-end media streamer gets an upgrade, with 4K HDR, Google Assistant and a redesigned game controller.
The Nvidia Shield TV is one of the best media streamers for power users, as it supports 4K video at 60 frames per second - still one of the few devices to do so.
However, it also has its shortcomings - namely, the lack of app support for major suppliers like Amazon. There’s also the small fact that most new 4K TVs come with smart applications built in, making media streamers like the Shield kind of redundant.
Nvidia isn’t going to be caught napping though, and has updated its Shield TV with a host of improvements. First of all, it now supports 4K HDR streaming, both for video content from compatible suppliers, and games streamed from an Nvidia-powered PC. Seeing as though there aren’t any 4K HDR computer monitors available as yet, that’s a pretty big deal for those with compatible TVs.
Secondly, its redesigned the game controller, not only to make it more comfortable but also adding in Google Assistant — the first set-top box to do so.
Thirdly, it’s shrunk the unit down to about half its original size — not much longer than the remote control. Speaking of which, that remote is now bundled in with the Shield TV when you buy it, rather than being a separate accessory.
As good as the original Nvidia Shield TV was, it lacked the app support of some of its major competitors like Google Chromecast and Amazon Fire devices. One of the major omissions was Amazon Prime Video, which will now be added to the device thanks to a firmware update (it’s also worth noting that owners of the original Nvidia Shield TV will get this update too). Only the new box will play content from Amazon in 4K HDR though.
Other app updates include YouTube, which will display 360-degree videos that you can navigate using the controller. We played a video taken in the cockpit of a jet flying in formation, and it honestly felt a little bit like a video game as we panned around the cockpit and looked out of the plexiglass at our fellow pilots.
There are other benefits to running the latest version of Android N — you will now be able to run picture-in-picture, so a video will continue to play in the corner as you navigate the menu screen. Speaking of menus, the interface has now been refined so that the Nvidia apps aren’t crowding the top of the screen, so you can get to stuff like Netflix and Plex quicker than before.
Games are now presented in one area together, regardless of how you bought them. Whereas before there would be separate apps for the games you had on Android, on GeForce Now (Nvidia’s streaming service) and on your PC, they now all sit together on the main menu. It means the menu first of all looks nicer, presenting you with all your favourite games at one glance, but it makes it quicker to actually get into your games.
The latest version of Shield TV isn’t technologically any faster than the previous generation Shield, but it is capable of outputting in 4K HDR, which will be a boon for those with compatible displays. The biggest win is for those who use Nvidia’s GameStream app to stream games from their PCs. As long as your PC is powerful (i.e. has an Nvidia 10-series graphics card), you can stream games in 4K HDR to your TV. Given that there aren’t any 4K HDR monitors out there yet (although there will be soon), this is a pretty attractive feature for PC gamers with a 4K HDR TV in their living room.
AT YOUR ASSISTANCE
Like the idea of Google Home (Google’s Amazon Echo competitor) but lamenting the fact that Google hasn’t released it outside of the US yet? Well, the latest Nvidia Shield is effectively a Google Home itself, thanks to the integration of Google Assistant. The new game controller has an always-on microphone that responds to the “OK, Google” start command. From there, you can get Google to do a number of really cool things.
First of all, you can get it to find stuff on Nvidia Shield TV itself. “Show me drama TV”, you might start by saying, then drill down further with “only recent”. The box has deep integration with certain apps such as Netflix, so if a programme like “Stranger Things” showed up, you could just say “Play Stranger Things” and the box would open the Netflix app and go straight to the show. You can also say things like “OK, Google, play me the song that goes “I’m Waking Up I Feel It In My Bones” and it will search lyrics to find “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons and start playing it on YouTube.
However, Google Assistant also integrates into your home because it’s essentially a SmartThings hub itself. Anything that works with SmartThings, like Honeywell thermostats, Philips lights, Netgear cameras and many more all work via voice commands. You can also set scenarios so that you can say things like “OK Google, I’m home”, and it will turn on your lights and the temperature up on your thermostat.
The hardware itself has also had a big change, or rather a small change, as it’s shrunk down to about half its original size. This means it’s about the same length as the remote control, which is now wisely included in the box rather than being an optional extra. The game controller has also been redesigned to be more ergonomic, with new dual vibration motors for haptic feedback, and a massive 60 hour battery life for gaming. If you’re using Google Assistant then it will need recharging more frequently as it will always be listening for the “OK, Google” command, but we really liked the new controller — it felt very comfortable and sturdy in the hands.
Given that you get all of the hardware for $US199, it’s pretty good value for the new Nvidia Shield TV. Nvidia has wisely seen that TVs now mostly come with all the apps that you need, so they’ve made a box that can do 4K HDR game streaming, acts as a SmartThings hub, and is a Google Home unit all-in-one. The mere fact that it’s launching in January when we still don’t know when Google will release Google Home will make it an attractive proposition for many.