In the consumer space, NVIDIA has dedicated much of the last four years building up their gaming footprint by investing to improve the overall gaming experience, wherever the gamer wants to game. NVIDIA is currently delivering leadership products and technologies in gaming tablets, handheld gaming, the highest-end gaming PCs and cloud gaming. The gaming console eluded NVIDIA this round to AMD, but if you know NVIDIA, they’re willing to move mountains to get what they want, even if they need to create new categories of products. At this year’s GDC (Game Developer Conference), NVIDIA announced a new SHIELD device for the living room based on Google’s new Android TV, which many interpreted as NVIDIA’s answer to the Microsoft Xbox One and Sony Playstation 4.
I’m here to say it’s not.
What SHIELD isn’t
Game consoles like the Microsoft Xbox and Sony Playstation are all about three things: the AAA game title experience, the online community around them, and the game controller. All things equal, the exact hardware underneath and media features are secondary or tertiary to the gamer. This isn’t what SHIELD is delivering, at least not yet.
What SHIELD is
NVIDIA wants SHIELD to deliver a bigger world of entertainment to the TV, today and into the future.
It’s all about having a rich 10’ streaming media experience with the added benefit of being able to play some high quality games.
It’s about streaming 4K UHD videos with Dolby 7.1 audio support and music in Google’s new Android TV environment. The Tegra X1 processor enables SHIELD to play back 4K video footage at 60 FPS and does it efficiently with hardware-accelerated support for VP9 and H.265. Even the highest-end graphics cards don’t offer this kind of hardware acceleration.
The Tegra X1 and SHIELD will also be one of the first devices in the world to support both HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2, which means it will be compatible with future 4K video formats and content protection. Buyers should feel good that they’re buying a premium device that will play multiple generations of content.
With movies and music at its core, the comparison point should start with Roku, Apple TV, and the Amazon Fire TV, all of which I own. I also owned a myriad of older, Google Android-based streaming boxes that are sitting in a box gathering dust. Granted, Google is on its third or fourth try at this, but I like what I see here. With Android TV, Google has simplified things a bit, connected the TV with its Play Store, bringing the world’s largest app ecosystem to the living room. For the first time, this could be the time the TV has a chance to become truly “smart”.
And that remote
NVIDIA’s SHIELD remote control is unique. I have owned and used close to 25 different streamers and it’s the best I’ve used so far. When you pick it up, it is firm in grip and you won’t drop it like others. You can control the volume of the content, too, which is really nice. I can’t tell how frustrating it is to have to have two remotes on the bed to control content and volume. Make sure your volume is at the right level first, though, as it controls the content volume of the content coming from SHIELD, not the TV. I would get the optional SHIELD remote if you get a SHIELD.
Both the SHIELD controller and the optional SHIELD remote offer natural-language Google voice search that actually works, and extends the search to all content in the Google sphere. So when you press the microphone button and say, “show me the best movies with John Belushi”, it gives you just that, the top movies from John Belushi. From what I experienced, the voice capability is as good if not better than Fire TV in terms of accuracy and adds the feature of a broader Android TV search.
The SHIELD controllers also have an audio jack, which means you can watch a show and not disturb loved ones who are sleeping, reading, or playing on other devices nearby. That’s a very useful feature. It does use battery power, but you’re covered as the SHIELD controllers are rechargeable.
SHIELD has game, too
SHIELD can also play a tremendous amount of games. I’ll get into some more details on this when I review the device, but owners can play four different types of games:
- Android games via Google play: these Android games, featured ones here, range from Half-Life 2: Episode 1 to Game of Thrones and are optimized for the SHIELD game controller
- NVIDIA SHIELD optimized: These Android titles are natively optimized for SHIELD devices and consist of titles like Crysis 3, Doom 3: BFG Edition, and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!
- NVIDIA GRID streaming service: these are AAA PC titles that stream from the cloud at 1080P/60fps from NVIDIAs GRID service. Titles are listed here, and AAA titles likeStrider, Dirt 3, Batman: Arkham Origins are available.
- NVIDIA GAMESTREAM: these are PC games you own on your PC and when used with a GeForce graphics card, can stream to your SHIELD. Games are listed here.
The amount, variety and quality of games eclipses anything a Roku or Amazon Fire TV can offer. While the gaming library isn’t where it needs to be to compete head to head with an Xbox One or PS4, I could see in a few years that could be the case. I can see a day where AAA PC titles would be available at day of launch for use on the GRID service and when NVIDIA has more servers in more places, the gaming platform fully comes to life.
Like the SHIELD tablet, SHIELD for the living room is yet another deliverable in NVIDIA’s strategy to drive gaming anywhere it’s being played.
SHIELD for the living room is without a doubt the best looking piece of hardware NVIDIA has made to date and the coolest looking living room device available. That, coupled with a powerful Tegra X1 processor with a massive amount of GPU units for its size, makes the SHIELD one of the most interesting competitors for the living room today, and it does it at a $199 price point, a premium over 1080P streamers and half the price of the current generation gaming consoles. That $199 price point comes with 4K video and Dolby 7.1 audio support, a SHIELD game controller with all the media bells and whistles, and four different ways to play games. If you are buying anything for the living room, you have to consider NVIDIA’s new SHIELD.
As soon as I get a unit, I’ll tell you specifically about my own experience with NVIDIA SHIELD.