If the Nvidia Shield already sounds like a familiar name, that’s because it is. Nvidia has used the Shield moniker a couple times before, with its Shield Portable and Shield Tablet.
But the Shield console is different from its predecessors, both in its form factor – obviously – but more importantly in its intentions.
This is the world’s first-ever 4K Android TV set-top box, and the first widely offered streaming device that’s capable of handling Ultra HD. That means, unlike the Roku 3, Chromecast or even Amazon Fire TV, you can actually connect this to a 4K TV in your home, throw on Netflix or YouTube, and be treated to stunning 3,840 x 2,160 resolutioncontent.
Where the Shield Portable failed to capture the Nintendo 3DS’s spot in our pockets and the Shield Tablet a spot in our bags, the Nvidia Shield is attempting in earnest to claim a space beneath our TVs.
The craziest part? The Shield pulls it off. Well, sort of.
The Shield TV is a powerful Android TV-based media streaming microconsole with plenty of gaming tricks and hands-free Google Assistant support to help justify its hefty price tag.
Streaming set-top boxes, by and large, look exactly alike. They’re usually inconspicuous, black little boxes no bigger than a CD case and either look like a rounded puck, like the Roku or Nexus Player, or a deck of cards, like the Amazon Fire TV or Apple TV.
The Nvidia Shield is neither round nor flat, but an interesting mix of criss-crossing lines, unique slants and stark angles. It’s also longer than it is wide – 1.0 x 8.3 x 5.1 inches or 25 x 210 x 130mm (H x L x D).
Some will find its off-kilter design endearing, while others might think it enraging, and others still will be left slightly perplexed.
On the top of the obelisk-like device, you’ll find an Nvidia logo, a touch-capacitive power button in the top-left corner and a green, v-shaped LED that lights up whenever the system is on. Spin it around back, and you’ll find plenty of ports: Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI 2.0, Two USB 3.0 (Type A) ports, micro USB 2.0 and a microSD slot.
Inside, the Nvidia Shield is packing some serious plastic: a Tegra X1 processor with 256-core Maxwell GPU, 3GB of RAM and, in the base package, 16GB of internal storage which can be upgraded via microSD.
If you plan on downloading more games than you have time for, consider stepping up to the 500GB version, available for $299 (around £195, AU$385).
The Tegra X1 processor makes the Shield the fastest, most powerful set-top box to date, only bested by the Xbox One and PS4. On top of being excellent gaming machines, those consoles host a bevy of streaming services themselves.
What does a faster processor mean in terms of performance? You can play better looking games, apps and menus load faster and videos, especially those in Ultra HD, will buffer without issue as long as your internet connection is up to snuff.
The Shield is one part set-top box and two parts gaming system. The latter is better and more functional than the former, but even the former is not without its benefits. More limiting, however, is the fact that Netflix in 4K only works with TVs that are HDCP 2.2-compliant. At this time, TVs packing this content protection software are few and far between.
But while native content isn’t necessarily Android TV’s strong suit, it does benefit from the hundreds of Google Cast-ready apps available on iOS and Android phones and tablets.
There’s a lot of potential in the Shield, thanks to its killer specs. But until Google gets Android TV’s act together by curbing its urge to push first-party content and working with developers to create more native apps, the Shield will stay a “good, but not great” addition to growing number of set-top boxes trying to dethrone Roku from its top spot.