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Friday
Feb052016

Podcast #725: Nvidia Shield 4k Review

The market for streaming boxes is pretty crowded. You’ve got the Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Google Chromecast just to name a few. The market for 4k streaming boxes is even getting pretty crowded lately. So is there still room for one more? Nvidia would like to think so. And we love everybody, so we were willing to give yet another set top streamer a chance. This one is called the Nvidia Shield 4k.

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Nvidia Shield 4k Review

The market for streaming boxes is pretty crowded. You’ve got the Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Google Chromecast just to name a few. The market for 4k streaming boxes is even getting pretty crowded lately. So is there still room for one more? Nvidia would like to think so. And we love everybody, so we were willing to give yet another set top streamer a chance. This one is called the Nvidia Shield 4k (Buy now, $193).

 

About the Nvidia Shield 4k

NVIDIA SHIELD is an 4K Ultra HD (as well as Full HD) home entertainment system, delivering incredible resolution in favorite apps like Netflix, HBO, HULU, YouTube, Major League Baseball, NBA, KODI /XBMC, and PLEX. Vivid 10-bit color and rich Dolby 7.1 surround sound make this a true home theater experience. Or plug your headphones into your SHIELD controller or SHIELD remote for a private listening experience. Say "Oscar-winning movies" or "launch Netflix" and let Google's advanced voice commands find content for you on your Android TV. Get personalized recommendations on your home screen. Even cast a show or pictures to your TV from your PC, Android, or iOS device with built-in Google Chromecast support. SHIELD makes your smart TV experience fast and easy.

Download premium Android games – from family games and indie hits to the most advanced Android TV titles with rich gameplay and intense multiplayer action. Or join GeForce NOW to connect to NVIDIA's gaming supercomputers and enjoy unlimited streaming of popular PC games or buy newly released games from the online store. Enjoy what the Wall Street Journal calls “the highest performing streaming TV set-top box ever made”. NVIDIA SHIELD is over 4x the performance of new Apple TV, new Fire TV, or Roku 4. NVIDIA SHIELD comes with 16GB of internal storage, a microSD card slot for external storage, 802.11 2x2 wireless AC with MIMO, Gigabit Ethernet, two USB 3.0 ports as well as a game controller as well as an HDMI cable.

 

Setup

Setup is pretty easy. It includes all the cables you need to get it plugged into power, your TV and to charge the included game controller (which also serves as your remote). The included HDMI is a nice touch, many streamers don’t include one, but it is a bit short. We used one of our own so we could have it installed in the right spot. Then you connect to Wifi (hard wired is also an option) and log into your Google account. There’s a simple way to do it using a laptop, and a code from the Shield, but we couldn’t get that to work, so we went the more cumbersome email address and password route.

After you sign into Google, the Shield kicks into an automatic software/firmware update. This took For. Ev. Er. Perhaps the slowest update we’ve ever seen, certainly not snappy.  This is more than coffee break time in the setup routine. For us it took over an hour. After the update, you have the option to update your controllers as well. This only took a few seconds, luckily. Then you’re in an ready to start using the Shield.

 

Performance

Streaming apps like Netflix and YouTube work perfectly. They are very fast and very responsive. Often when using an app like this in a TV, you get sluggish performance. The cursor struggles when you’re typing in a password or searching for content. Things take a while to load, etc. But with the Shield, things are incredibly snappy. The videos look as good as any other streaming box we’ve used. Nothing to complain about. If you’re an Apple user, of course you can’t get to that content. No Vudu either. But if you’re a Google user, you’re set. You can side load the Amazon video app if you use prime video alot. Online rumor mill says Nvidia is working on the deal with Amazon, they just don’t have it in place yet. Might be able to side load Vudu as well. We didn’t try.

Local media playback is awesome. You can cast to it from an Android or iOS device. There is a built-in playback app. In addition to that, Plex comes pre-installed so you can use it as a media zone in your whole house video server setup. Listen to last week’s show for a full review of Plex as a media server option. You can also install the VLC app to get access to a wide array of file types and encodings that you may not have support for in the other apps. The Shield has a couple USB ports you can plug portable or external drives into for local playback and to increase the storage of the unit itself.

In addition to local media playback, there is an HDHomeRun app you can use to play over the air television directly on the Shield. It’ll set you back a cool 99 cents, but if you can swing it, the app does convert your Shield into a cord cutter’s dream. If you want to supplement that with live cable channels, you can add the SlingTV app and subscription as well. You’ve got the likes of Netflix, Google Play and Hulu for new release and catalog content, local media playback, OTA HD content and cable content from SlingTV. It’s quite an impressive array of possibilities.

Gaming is the best we’ve had on a streaming box. Certainly not Xbox One or PS4, but better then the Roku or FireTV if you’re a serious gamer. You can play any adroid games you can get on other platforms, plus additional games built specifically for the Shield. In addition, the GEForce Now service allows you to stream PC games directly on the Shield. They were great. And very fun. We aren’t hard core gamers, but they seemed the same as playing directly on another platform. This is where it got really, really close to Xbox or Playstation quality. And they are games you’ve heard of, Lego games like Batman and Marvel, Borderlands, Saints Row, Batman: Arkham Origins. In addition to the games you get as part of the $7.99 monthly subscription, you can also purchase other games to your heart’s content.

 

Conclusion

Is there room for another streaming box in the market? Sure. For the Shield, that’s like asking if there’s room for Ferrari in the automobile market. Choose for yourself what brand you would identify each of the existing streaming boxes with, but none of them would be a Ferrari. Yes the Shield is considerably more expensive, but it also does so much more. As always, if you’re an Apple fan and have all your content in iTunes, this isn’t the box for you. But for anyone else, and especially for those serious about cutting the cord, the Nvidia Shield deserves a serious look. After all, who wouldn’t want a Ferrari if you could pick it up for under $200?


 

Download Episode #725

Reader Comments (3)

Updating the Nvidia ShieldTV, must have been a bad connection day, I don't remember any of mine taking anywhere close to an hour to do. I'll clock it when the Marshmallow update comes out.

Sideloading Amazon Video on the device is nothing by doing this http://forum.xda-developers.com/shield-tv/development/amazon-prime-video-demand-android-tv-t3278778 The great thing is you can sideload apps that aren't specifically supported (apps that may need a mouse or keyboard).

The upcoming HDHomeRun DVR app, in beta now, and the update to Android 6.0 with adaptive storage will fill any needs I for any player.

February 5, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterByron S.

One of your commentators requested an alternative to Windows Media Center for cable card usage (particularly to watch and record DRM content). There is a reason this feature is so hard to come by. In order to support live viewing and recording of DRM content a vendor needs to acquire a license from CableLabs and go through vigorous testing that proves their solution offers full end-to-end encryption to prevent copying for flagged content. The actual implementation of such security in itself can be expensive, but a likely larger issue is that the actual testing and licensing is quite costly to my knowledge. And since cable card usage, particularly on PC's, is quite low there has been basically no competition in this field.

Microsoft was able to rationalize these expenses in their previous operating systems since they could amortize it over the massive number of OS licenses they were selling. I imagine that is how they similarly rationalized 'free' lifetime guide data as well. When you purchase a bulk license that millions are paying into, the hit per-user is going to be low. With their move to Windows 10 being a free 'software as a service' however, I suspect eating such a cost was no longer tenable. They looked at the number of actual users and unfortunately it just isn't a feature who's costs make sense to eat. I wish they would have at least offered it as a paid feature, but that is neither here nor there.

For these reasons no one has offered another DIY solution that handles DRM content. The market is just too small and the costs are just too high. The good news however is that Silicon Dust of HDHomeRun fame is now actually working on a DVR feature to fill in the whole left by Windows Media Center's demise. It is currently in beta while bugs / features are worked on, and while DRM is not supported in current builds, the plan is to have that ready once it goes public. The bad news is Silicon Dust does not have a massive revenue stream from an operating system or the like, so they will be charging a yearly fee. While free would be great, they obviously need to pay for this niche service. Thankfully they already have a license from CableLabs to support their HD View playback software however, so the price is quite reasonable at $60 / year. That really amounts to paying for guide data and software maintenance.

Obviously I recommend taking a wait-and-see approach until their is a public release before shutting down your Windows Media Center solution, but this looks to be the best and only real option moving forward. I should mention that one of its killer features is support for a variety of NAS devices, including several inexpensive WD My Cloud products as well as several more powerful and full-featured NAS options.

https://www.silicondust.com/products/hdhomerun/hd-homerun-dvr/

As an aside, I should mention that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler very recently proposed a replacement for cable card that would be an open software solution. Essentially it would force cable and satellite MVPDs to allow basically any device to be able to playback and record content. This would massively increase competition in this area, particularly on the DVR side of things. If this were to pass you could eventually be using a Roku as your cable box and front-end to your recorded content. The mind boggles at the improvements to UI and features that could be possible - unified voice search for not only your streaming but TV content as well? Integration of all your content in one UI?

My understanding is the official proposal will be happening soon, and as with all FCC proposals that will include a period of open feedback from US citizens. Once that happens I urge everyone to comment and voice their opinion.

http://arstechnica.com/business/2016/01/open-set-top-box-tech-could-help-online-video-kill-cable-rental-fees/

Of course even if this were to pass it would be quite some time before it is implemented, but I figured the news is quite timely and topical.

Keep up the great work!
-Hugh

February 6, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterHugh

The problem for CableCard users like myself is that WMC is basically the only game in town if you have "Copy-Once" DRM-protected content (HBO and Showtime for Comcast subscribers, for example). I came here to mention that Silicon Dust is currently working on (still in Beta) a DVR solution, that in theory, will be able to handle DRM Copy-Once content, but it looks like another poster already beat me to it.

Once you pay for the HDHomeRun DVR software (I think they plan to ask for $60 a year for updated Guide data), you'll be able to access the DVR via the HDHomeRun View app that you guys mentioend on the show (note also, the View app also works with CableCard users who have a HDHomeRun Prime, it's not just limited to OTA).

I also just wanted to mention that there are a lot of ways to integrate the Shield as the "front end device" to access DVR'd content, even without HDHomeRun DVR. I'm currently running "ServerWMC" on my Win7 WMC HTPC, and then running the PVR.WMC plug-in within Kodi on my NVidia Shield, and as such my Shield has access to my whole-home-DVR (minus any HBO/Showtime recordings, as WMC only authorizes WMC Extenders to read those copy-once files... that's where the HDHomeRun Solution will likely be the only path forward for DVR-on-Shield).

I already own three NVidia Shields. We love them in my house. If/when Silicon Dust finishes their DVR project, we will probably unplug all of our WMC equipment and outfit the rest of the TVs in the home with AndroidTV boxes too.


Love the show, guys. Keep it up.

-tim in Pittsburgh

February 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTim

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