The battle for the living room (i.e, controlling the television experience) is heating up with forays from multiple vendors. As the cord-cutting trend gains momentum, the time seems to be right for disruption. Roku has been around for a long time and they continue to taste success with inexpensive and small over-the-top set-top boxes (OTT STBs). At the other end of the spectrum is the Apple TV, which, despite just being a 'hobby', has managed to move millions of units. Google had tried to make inroads into this market a few years back with the Google TV / Logitech Revue, but, it unfortunately didn't pan out as expected. Chromecast turned out to be more popular in their second attempt, but it was a limited play. In late 2014, Google launched Android TV along with the Nexus Player.

Coinciding with Google I/O, NVIDIA is releasing their previously announced SHIELD Android TV. First announed back in March at the 2015 Game Developers Conference, SHIELD Android TV is a premium 4K-capable over-the-top set-top box (OTT STB) with a powerful graphics engine. The differentiating aspects compared to the Intel Bay Trail-based Nexus Player and the Qualcomm Snapdragon-based Razer Forge TV lie in 4K support (HDMI 2.0 / HDCP 2.2 / Netflix 4K-certification) and excellent gaming credentials.

SoC Tegra K1 (2.2 GHz 4x Cortex A15r3, Kepler 1 SMX GPU) Tegra X1 (4x Cortex A57 + 4x Cortex A53, Maxwell 2 SMM GPU)
RAM 2 GB LPDDR3-1866 3 GB LPDDR4-3200
NAND 16/32GB NAND + microSD 16GB NAND + microSD + USB
Display 8” 1920x1200 IPS LCD N/A, HDMI 2.0 4Kp60 Output
Dimensions 221 x 126 x 9.2mm, 390 grams 210 x 130 x 25mm, 654 grams
Camera 5MP rear camera, 1.4 µm pixels, 1/4" CMOS size. 5MP FFC N/A
Battery 5197 mAh, 3.8V chemistry (19.75 Whr) N/A, 40W Power Adapter
OS Android 5.0.1 Android TV
Connectivity 2x2 802.11a/b/g/n + BT 4.0, USB2.0, GPS/GLONASS, mini HDMI 1.4a 2x2 802.11a/b/g/n/ac + BT 4.1/BLE, USB 3.0 + 2.0, HDMI 2.0 + HDCP 2.2, IR Receiver, Gigabit Ethernet
Launch Price $299 (16GB/WiFi) + $59 (optional controller) Basic: $199, Includes 1 SHIELD Controller
Pro: $299, Adds 500GB Hard Drive

The NVIDIA SHIELD smart TV platform comprises of three distinct products, the SHIELD console, the SHIELD wireless controller and the SHIELD remote.

The SHIELD is the main console, integrating a Tegra X1 SoC along with 3 GB of LPDDR4 DRAM and 16 GB of storage. I/O ports include two full-sized USB 3.0 host ports, a USB 2.0 micro-USB device port, GbE RJ-45 port, IR for universal remotes and 802.11ac 2x2 MIMO Wi-Fi with Bluetooth 2.1. It also includes a microSDXC slot. Video output is handled by a HDMI 2.0 port with HDCP 2.2 support.

The SHIELD Wireless Controller is the game controller bundled with the SHIELD console, and was first launched last year with the SHIELD Tablet. It uses Wi-Fi Direct for communication. A stereo headset jack and microphone are integrated. It also includes a rechargeable battery that can provide up to 40 hours of battery life.

Finally, the SHIELD Remote It is meant to be a replacement for the game controller in situations where single-handed operation is preferable. It uses Bluetooth for communication with the console. Like the game controller, a microphone and headset jack are included. The rechargeable battery is good for up to 4 weeks.

While the game controller and the console together retail in the basic package for $199, the SHIELD Remote is available separately for $50. Meanwhile after a slight snafu where it was announced back in April and then immediately pulled, NVIDIA is indeed offering a higher-end Pro SKU. SHIELD Pro model is similar to the SHIELD described above, except it adds an internal 500 GB hard drive into the mix and bundles a game - Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! The Pro model is priced at $299.

Prior to diving into the details, let us take a look at the devices that NVIDIA is positioning the SHIELD Android TV against. Note that the two tables below are direct from NVIDIA's marketing material.

As we will see further down in the review, the above table is not far from the truth. In fact, except for NVIDIA claiming that their pulldown algorithm is enhanced compared to the competition, we tend to agree with everything. For the moment at least, NVIDIA pretty much has the 4K set top box to themselves.

NVIDIA claims a 34x raw performance increase compared to other OTT STB platforms. We won't endorse that particular number, but, in general, the performance of the SHIELD is miles ahead of the competition. The only other entry we find contentious is the availability of 24-bit / 192 KHz audio output. As we will see in the local media playback evaluation section, this is something of a moot point in most scenarios since the unit doesn't have licenses for decoding lossless HD audio. In any case, the above tables give an idea of where NVIDIA is positioning the SHIELD Android TV in the market.

The NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV also happens to be the first shipping product with the Tegra X1 SoC. We will first analyze the SoC and its performance in detail before moving on to Android TV in general and the SHIELD in particular.

Tegra X1: The Heart Of the SHIELD Android TV
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  • nandnandnand - Thursday, May 28, 2015 - link

    What is 24p? 24-bit audio?
  • piroroadkill - Thursday, May 28, 2015 - link

    I'm pretty sure he's referring to native 24 Hz output, or more than likely, 23.976, as most content (such as the video on Blu-ray discs) is encoded at 23.976.
  • hifiaudio2 - Thursday, May 28, 2015 - link

    Really too bad about no lossless audio codec support. Maybe a codec licensing pack add on for $20 or something?
  • SleepModezZ - Thursday, May 28, 2015 - link

    They say it supports FLAC. It is lossless and should support different sampling rates and bit rates. It is free. Maybe Ganesh refers to some other proprietary format that SHIELD TV is lacking?
  • ganeshts - Thursday, May 28, 2015 - link

    I was referring to lossless HD audio - like the type of tracks in BD-Audio discs or even certain Blu-ray soundtracks. - DTS-HD MA and TrueHD - [ ]
  • SleepModezZ - Thursday, May 28, 2015 - link

    Thank you. Are those codecs widely used outside of Blu-ray discs? As the SHIELD is not a Blu-ray player, those codecs are only important if they are used in streaming services. Unfortunately I don't know what Netflix or other services uses.
  • ganeshts - Thursday, May 28, 2015 - link

    I believe using the SHIELD as a player for the Blu-ray rips on a NAS will be a common use-case.
  • SleepModezZ - Thursday, May 28, 2015 - link

    Ok. Then the question is, is it possible to transcode DTS-HD soundtracks to multichannel FLAC streams while ripping the Blu-ray disc, and if, what do you lose in the conversion? FLAC (and HDMI) can handle up till 8 channels high res audio. Is there some problem with the AV receiver understanding such streams? If not, it would be recommended to rip Blu-ray discs into a format that SHIELD TV can play back. Re-encoding old rips should not be too difficult - just takes some time and electricity.
  • ganeshts - Thursday, May 28, 2015 - link

    AFAIK, there is no open source DTS-HD MA decoder.

    In any case, the easiest ripping scheme is to extract tracks without any transcoding. If the end-player can't support the resulting rip, then it is not something ideal - After all, there are probably other players which do support it.

    In the case of the SHIELD, the only thing unique about it from a video playback perspective is support for 4Kp60 HEVC decode and HDMI 2.0 / HDCP 2.2 for 4K Netflix. If either of those are important to you right away, then you will be very happy with the SHIELD Android TV. If they are not urgent requirements - the only aspect preventing me from whole-heartedly recommending the SHIELD Android TV is that it is a closed embedded platform unlike a PC. We need something open and extensible like a HTPC that will also have full HEVC decode and HDMI 2.0 / HDCP 2.2
  • SleepModezZ - Thursday, May 28, 2015 - link

    Thank you for your patience. It seems you are right - there is only commercial software for decoding dts-hd, so a free program like Handbrake can only pass-through the soundtrack, and then SHIELD can't play it.

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