I watch way too much TV and movies, most of it is streamed, via Netflix or other services or on my local server via both Kodi and Plex. I am always on the quest for the best, and ideally affordable, set-top box to handle all my media needs.
The Nvidia Shield is universally praised, many people regard it as the best of the best, and I do love it myself. It is not perfect though, it lacks Dolby Vision and HDR10+, and there are limited UK catch up services.
On the flip side, last years Amazon Fire TV 4K HDR has been my main recommendation for Kodi, Plex and streaming services. For the price, nothing beats its, it has 4K with Dolby Vision and HDR10+, all the catch-up services you need, and can comfortably play any 4K content your throw at it.
It is not as good for gaming as the Shield, and the lack of ethernet means you need a decent 5Ghz connection if you want to stream any big files.
The Fire TV Cube 4K that was just announced at IFA ups the ante, there has been a considerable bump in specification, but the price has also increased accordingly.
So which box is best?
- New Fire TV Cube 4K Ultra vs Amazon Fire TV 4K HDR
- The Best Kodi & Plex Boxes for 2019
- Install Kodi on the Amazon Fire TV
- Raspberry Pi 4 (LibreELEC) vs Vero4K (OSMC) as a 4K HDR Kodi media player
The Shield jumps up and down in price a lot. It’s generally around £180, but it regularly drops to £150-ish.
The new Fire Cube dramatically increases the price compared to the stick. This now costs £109.99. It is a massive upgrade, and you basically get a dot and a Fire TV all in one, but it is definitely a tough pill to swallow.
|Fire TV Cube 2019||Fire TV Stick 4K 2018||Nvidia Shield|
|Resolution||2160p, 1080p and 720p up to 60 fps||2160p, 1080p and 720p up to 60 fps||Up to 4K HDR playback at 60 FPS (H.265/HEVC)|
Up to 4K playback at 60 FPS (VP8, VP9, H.264, MPEG1/2)
|HDR||Dolby Vision, HDR 10, HDR10+, HLG||Dolby Vision, HDR 10, HDR10+, HLG||HDR 10, HLG|
|Audio||Dolby Atmos, 7.1 surround sound|
2ch stereo and HDMI audio pass through up to 5.1.
|Dolby Atmos, 7.1 surround sound|
2ch stereo and HDMI audio pass through up to 5.1.
|Dolby Atmos (pass-through) and DTS-X surround sound (pass-through) over HDMI|
|Speaker||Built-in 1.6'' (40 mm) speaker||No||Built-in 1.6'' (40 mm)|
|Voice Control||Far-field and near-field voice support||Yes, with the Alexa Voice Remote or paired echo||Far-field and near-field voice support|
4 x Arm Coretex A73 - 2.2 GHz
2 x Arm Coretex A53 - 1.9 GHz
|4x ARM Cortex-A53 @1.7GHz||NVIDIA Tegra X1|
Cortex-A57 - 1.9 GHz
Cortex-A53 - 1.3 GHz
|GPU||Mali G52-MP6, 800 MHz||PowerVR IMG GE8300||Maxwell GM20B 256 Core @ 1000 MHz with 8GB of RAM|
|Wi-Fi||802.11ac dual-band MIMO Wi-Fi - dual-antenna||802.11ac dual-band MIMO Wi-Fi||802.11ac dual-band MIMO Wi-Fi - dual-antenna|
|Ethernet||No - Ethernet adaptopr limited to 10/100||No - Ethernet adaptopr limited to 10/100||Yes - Gigabit|
|Ports||HDMI, power, micro-USB, wired infrared support||HDMI output, micro-USB for power only.||HDMI 2.0b with HDCP 2.2 and CEC support|
Two USB 3.0 (Type A)
|Bluetooth||Bluetooth 5.0 + LE.||BT 4.2 and BLE||Bluetooth 4.1/BLE|
The Fire Cube has had a massive upgrade compared to the Fire TV Stick 4K and it now has the best-specced ARM-based processor for any set-tup box on the market, that I am aware of.
The A72 in the Cube is the successor to the A57 found in the Shield, it was launched back in 2016 for mobiles, but things move more slowly for other markets. The A72 is not a huge improvement on the previous generation, but on synthetic benchmarks it has been shown to offer a 16-50% improvement from the A57,
More importantly, both the A57 and A72 are more than enough for a set-top streaming box. Most other streaming boxes use chipsets such as the Amlogic S905 which uses a quad-core Cortex A53, as does last years Fire TV Stick 4K, which never has performance issues.
Depending on where you live, the Cube will win hands down as it has all the UK based catch up channels, it is also Dolby Vision and HDR10+ compatible.
The Shield can do HDR, but not Dolby Vision/HDR10+.
You can sideload some catch-up apps like ITV Hub, but many say that All4 does not work. Alternatively, you can sometimes cast the app to the Shield.
Kodi & Plex
The Cube is harder to deal with for Kodi, you will need to sideload the Kodi app, it's not hard, but its more of a pain than just installing it. The Shield auto-updates the app too, whereas even when you have installed Kodi, you will occasionally need to update to a new version.
Technically, Plex is best on the Shield too, as you can run Plex Server on it. In reality, unless you really want to run Plex Server on it, they are the same.
Another issue with the Fire Cube is that lack of ethernet still. There is plenty of room and processing power for it, but for some bizarre reason, they exclude it. Worst of all, if you do want ethernet, you have to use a microUSB adaptor, and this will be restricted to 10/100mbps ethernet. So, while I find Kodi and Plex flawless with 4K content, it will require a good Wi-Fi connection.
The Fire Cube will never come close to the Nvidia. Even if the Mali-G52 MP6 GPU inside the Cube could compete with the Maxwell-based GPU on the Tegra X1 it wouldn’t have access to the gaming services the Nvidia has, nor does it have the quality gaming controller the Shield has.
So if you want to game, just get the Shield.
What about the new Nvidia Shield?
It is expected that a new device will launch soon, it won’t get a huge spec bump, it will still uses the Tegra X1 but this will be the newer model which is clocked a little better thanks to a smaller fabrication process.
It will be interesting to see what else Nvidia do to upgrade the system, personally I think Dolby Vision is a must, to keep it relevant as a premium streaming box. I can’t see it getting any new catch up channels, as they could have launched these already.
To be honest, the end result isn’t really different from last year. In my opinion, for media, the Fire TV Cube is the best solution available right now, with the caveat that you need good Wi-Fi for local content.
The lack of Dolby Vision/HDR10+ and common catch up services rules the Shield out for any serious AV enthusiast. That being said, if you are partial to gaming, then this will still beat the Fire TV Cube. The Fire may have a fancy new processor and GPU, but it most likely won’t be able to compete with the Maxwell base GPU of the Shield.
I haven’t had a hands-on with the Fire TV Cube yet, so I can’t comment on how good it is compared to last year, but for media, last years model was flawless, so I am inclined to say you don’t need to fork out for the Cube just for media. If, however, you want an Alexa dot and Fire TV then this could be an excellent choice, basically being both products in one.