Nvidia Shield Review
Hands on with the Nvidia Shield set-top box at GDC 2015
Although you might have thought you’d seen the Nvidia Shield before, this is a new 4K-supporting, game-centric Android set-top box that’s come a long, long way since Project Shield.
Officially unveiled at GDC 2015, this Nvidia Shield is looking to take on the likes of the Amazon Fire TV or Apple TV, but because of its powerful innards, it may well ruffle a few feathers in the Sony and Microsoft console camps.
It’s an extremely thin, svelte box that actually looks different from every side thanks to its angular design. Glossy black panels intersect the mostly matte body, while a green tick lights up when the box is turned on.
Its dimensions are 210 x 130 x 25mm, making it the thinnest set-top box currently on the market, but also one of the longest. It’s almost like someone put your Sky box on a very hot wash and the Nvidia Shield popped out at the end.
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But that slightly lengthier design is to make room for all the hardware Nvidia has crammed inside the Shield. Powering this supercharged set-top box is the brand-new NVIDIA Tegra X1 processor with 256-core Maxwell GPU and 3GB of RAM. With those specs, Nvidia claims this means the new Nvidia Shield offers twice the power of an Xbox 360, but it only uses a fifth of the power to do so.
Nvidia has also made sure that the Shield is ready for 4K/UHD, with 4K playback at 60fps. That makes it the first 4K Android TV set-top box and will no doubt be of value to those looking for the best possible picture quality.
From our brief demonstration, the Android TV user interface seems very well presented. We’ll be delving deeper into the set-top box system in our full review, but for now we much prefer the Nvidia’s layout to the existing Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV alternatives.
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Around the back the Shield has an array of ports. You’ve got one HDMI 2.0 port, two USB 3.0 for connecting additional peripherals or charging the controller, Gigabit Ethernet, and Micro USB 2.0. There’s also a small fan to keep the Nvidia Shield cool.
Nvidia mentioned about it being “whisper quiet” during the press conference, and I’m willing to agree with them on this one. Streaming a Grid title, the Nvidia Shield was indeed very quiet. I got quite close to it in a somewhat crowded room and couldn’t hear it at all. That will certainly be a welcome change to my blowy Xbox One and whining Sky box.
The Nvidia Shield also has support for memory cards up to 128GB for storing all your content. This is something that we think is severely lacking in rivals like the Amazon Fire TV and the Apple TV. I think Nvidia has made a wise choice adding this, if it wants to make sure this console-hybrid device has long-term appeal.
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And we’re calling this a console-hybrid because, although it runs the new Android TV platform, the Nvidia Shield is absolutely aimed at those looking for a high-end games console.
Nvidia is even going so far as to offer the Nvidia Shield bundled with the wireless controller at launch, rather than a more traditional remote. There is a voice-command-capable remote available, although you’ll need to buy it separately.
But it’s all about the Nvidia Grid games service and Shield Store with the Nvidia Shield. When it launches in May, Nvidia is also launching the Nvidia Grid games service and a dual-layer membership system.
I had the chance to try out a couple of games at the San Francisco event using the Grid service, streaming games from the Nvidia Grid servers based in Oregon.
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Grid works by streaming the entire title over an internet connection from one of Nvidia’s certain hubs. Because we tried it out in San Francisco we were using the Oregon servers located some 500 miles away up the West Coast.
First up I tried Grid 2, just to see what the game looked like through a set-top box in 1080p Full HD on a big screen. It looks fantastic and after a brief loading screen, playing the game via Nvidia Grid was almost flawless.
I also tried out the new Doom 3 BFG Edition, which has been remastered specifically for the Nvidia Shield. Another fantastic-looking game that really shows off what the Nvidia Tegra K1 can do via Grid at 1080p and 60fps.
However, I did notice a tiny amount of lag when using Grid. It’s only slight, though, and I reckon you’d quickly get accustomed to it. It’s certainly not a big enough problem to affect the amazing functionality of the Shield and Grid, or really affect gameplay.
What we love is that the full Nvidia Grid service will offer those who purchase games via the Shield Store a Steam code too, making it possible to have the best of both worlds if you’re a PC gamer.
I look forward to seeing how the Shield runs locally based games in our full review and investigating how AAA titles, including the likes of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, compare to their console and PC ports.
With a slick design, excellent hardware and the Nvidia Shield game-streaming potential, Nvidia could have a revolutionary product on its hands.
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