Nvidia Shield 2019 Overview
What should have been the best streaming set-top box of the year is let down by a meagre amount of RAM and storage combined with 32-bit Android. I still think it is great, and I do recommend it, but it should have been better.
Overall - 78%
The original Nvidia Shield TV launched in 2015, with a revision in 2017 using the same system on chip but in a sleeker design and some other minor improvements. In its four years of existence, it has been regarded as one of, if not the best set-top boxes on the market.
Impressively, Nvidia has continued to push updates for the system making the Shield one of the longest supported Android devices ever.
However, the older model was starting to show its age, for me, the big omission was the lack of Dolby Vision which offers superior HDR performance over HDR10.
Specification & Features
- Fast, Really Fast: The latest advanced NVIDIA...
- Dolby Vision·Atmos: The fusion of Dolby Vision...
- AI Upscaling: Upscale HD video to 4K using the...
- 4K HDR: The most 4K HDR entertainment. All your...
In terms of hardware specification, not a lot has changed. This now uses the updated Nvidia Tegra X1+ chipset which has:
- 4 x Arm Cortex-A57 – 1.9 GHz
- 4 x Arm Cortex-A53 – 1.3 GHz
- Maxwell GM20B 256 Core @ 1267MHz with 8GB of RAM
In comparison, the older shield used the NVIDIA Tegra X1 which had the same CPU clocks but a slower GPU running at 1000 MHz.
The standard model has had an extreme design change, moving to a tubular format that is designed to be hidden away behind or beneath your TV. A Pro model exists which retains the older design.
The two versions allow for a new more attractive price point of £149.99 for this model and £199.99 for the Pro model.
Not much differentiates the two models but it depends what you plan on using the device for.
The standard model uses 2GB of RAM and 8GB of onboard storage expandable via microSD
The Pro bumps this up to 3GB and 16GB plus adds in two USB 3.0 Ports (Type A).
However, it is only the Pro model that can use Plex Media Server. Even if the none pro one had it, it wouldn’t be a great deal of use with only microSD.
For comparison, the older Shield had 3GB of RAM and 16GB of storage.
Admittedly, 2GB of RAM and 8GB of onboard storage is a bit on the meagre side for a device launched in 2019.
I was concerned the new tubular design would ditch ethernet, but thankfully this is still there, so you get full gigabit ethernet, something the Amazon Fire TV has long lacked.
Along with the improved performance, you get a new update controller which ditches that awful touch slider volume and adds more buttons, including a dedicated Netflix button. It is now powered by batteries rather than rechargeable via microUSB.
Dolby Vision is a significant upgrade for me, but if you have a TV with HDR10+, you will be disappointed to find that it is not here.
Nvidia has also introduced what they call AI upscaling, which will take SD and HD content and upscale it to 4K. Normally your TV would do this for you, but Nvidia claims this to be superior. You can have it off or on and with varying degrees of upscaling.
Can the Shield run 64-bit apps or is it 32-bit only?
I will admit, I was utterly oblivious to this issue until I started writing a glowing review about the Shield. It has been claimed the none pro model runs on 32-bit Android restricting its ability to run 64-bit apps. The chipset inside the device is 64-bit compatible, but users seem to think that the lower RAM in the cheaper model means Nvidia chose to go with 32-bit as this build and apps will use a smaller amount of RAM.
I can confirm that it is the 32-bit version of Android that is installed on the tubular-shaped none pro model. This is disappointing as it will mean 64-bit only apps such as Dolphin will not work. With this being a popular gaming device that many uses for emulators, not being able to run Dolphin is a bit negative.
While Google is continuing to support 32-bit apps, they are forcing developers to have 64-bit apps, and this could be a sign of them phasing 32-bit support out, so the long-term prospects of a 32-bit only Nvidia Shield remain unknown.
Assuming you use a Google account and also save passwords to Google, set up is a breeze. Logging into the Shield requires you to go to a URL, type in the code, and select your Google account. Logging in took a few seconds at most. With other devices, because I use random passwords, logging in can take 5 minutes or so.
If you save things like you Netflix password to Google, when you load Netflix you will auto-login. This doesn’t work for all apps though, I had to type in my annoying long password for Amazon.
When you log in the Shield will ask you if you want to enable Dolby Vision, I am not sure if this happens for everyone or if it automatically detects that the TV has it.
I would advise going through the display and audio settings and making sure it is set up for your TV OK. From memory, I think it was for the Shield, but Amazon didn’t set my colour depth correctly, and I spent a week with blotchy greys and blacks, thinking my TV was breaking.
While Nvidia has almost every app you could want for media, it does lack All4, but it is possible to cast All4 to the Shield. This does put it at a disadvantage compared to the Fire TV devices, but it is not the end of the world. On the flip side, the ability to cast to the Shield is a significant advantage over the Fire TV.
As you would expect, all the typical apps work flawlessly and 4K content from Netflix and Amazon looks glorious. When the content is 4K the AI processor will not kick in as there is nothing for it to do.
Similarly streaming local content has been flawless, thanks to the gigabit ethernet I have had no issues streaming 70GB 4K files to Kodi. Whereas with the 100m ethernet adaptor on the Amazon TV often has issues, Wi-Fi solves the problem, but Wi-Fi is never perfect, and if the signal drops things suffer.
It is hard to objectively tell which device produces better image quality, I feel like the Amazon options have a slighter darker image while Nvidia turns the brightness up quite a bit.
I am still undecided how good this is, it is obviously very subtle, and with some things I have watched, I do subjectively think it has improved.
In one case where the quality of a file was poor, the AI upscaling accentuated the defects in the video footage making it look even worse. It is easy to switch on and off though, you can have it so the top right button can switch between AI on and off.
While I think it does help with picture quality, I wouldn’t recommend buying the Shield specifically for this feature.
Neither version of the Shield comes with a game controller anymore. The Shield gamepad can still be purchased separately, and Android TV also supports Sony’s DualShock 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One controllers. Nvidia’s GeForce Now game streaming service comes included and is still free.
Googles Stadia service isn’t expected to arrive on Android TV until sometime next year, but it should be compatible with the Shield when available.
While this won’t be as competent as the Pro model for gaming, it is still one of the best options out there and will put an Amazon Fire TV device to shame.
The remote has had a major upgrade, adopting a triangular tube shape with added buttons. The remote can now be programmed to interface with your speakers directly, however, for some reason you can’t also do this with the TV, whereas you can with the Amazon which means the universal remote function isn’t quite a good as Amazon.
I wrote most of this reviewing with glowing praise stating the new Shield is cheaper, faster and with added features bringing it in line with modern HDR TVs.
Sadly, the realisation that it is 32-bit only puts a bit of a downer on things. I primarily use the Shield for streaming content via Netflix and Amazon then watching local content on Kodi and Plex (I use Kodi, my partner Plex). So, it is not something that has affected me, nor will it have a massive effect on me, but it might others.
While the conclusion of this review isn’t as positive as it started as this is still one of the best streaming devices on the market. The lower price brings it more in line with the new Amazon Fire TV Cube 2019, the Shield OS is a more pleasant experience than Fire OS, and this is superior for gaming and streaming local content. Of course, the Cube has better voice control, and if you just want a device for media last years Fire TV Stick 4K is a third of the price of this and still one of my favourite media players available.
Initially, I found it hard to justify the extra £50 for the Pro, but when you factor in more ram, storage, better storage upgrade options, plex server support and 64-bit support I am starting to lean towards sending this back and ordering the Pro model. However, that does mean I will have spent £200 on a device when my £50 Fire TV Stick 4K was doing a perfectly fine job.
Last update on 2021-08-05 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API