NVIDIA is known for graphics, but that’s not all they’ve been doing. Over the last few years they’ve made significant inroads into gaming through the hardware side of things. The NVIDIA SHIELD is their latest push to making a gaming console that embodies what streaming entertainment now means, along with what the “Cloud” is all about.
The SHIELD is a small box but a bit more attractive than most. It also comes with a game controller that doubles as the means for accessing menus and maneuvering around the various choices. Setup is simple — just plug it in for power at an AC outlet as well as running a HDMI cable from the HDMI output and into the HDMI input where desired (being a TV or an A/V receiver if a home theater system is to be part of the arrangement). Then follow some simple procedures for activating it correctly to work for you.
As the SHIELD is basically a high-end media player/game console hybrid, it’s no surprise that the mechanics for getting an image (be that a still or video or animated graphic) from it to the display uses high-end components. For one thing, the SHIELD can provide 4K video through those streaming services providing same (Netflix, YouTube, etc.). And while 4K content isn’t exactly overflowing right now, the next few years will see an increase that the SHIELD is prepared to handle now and moving forward.
But back to video, besides the 4K abilities, obviously that means 1080p Full HD too, as well as support for 10-bit color for an improved visual palette. Audio isn’t left out either, since there’s Dolby 7.1 surround sound working your eardrums. Plus the ability to silence it all by plugging headphones into the controller which, as should be really obvious by now, had better be wireless — and so it is. And designed with enough buttons and tabs to be near-instinctive for anyone who’s been using a PlayStation or Xbox.
While the addition of a microSD card for storage and an Ethernet port when you don’t want to use the 802.11 AC fast WiFi connection is important — not to forget about the two fast USB 3.0 inputs or the 16GB of storage expandable to 128GB — the “heart” of the SHIELD has got to be the Tegra X1 processor. Because it’s not just fast but exceedingly so and puts the other media players to shame. The use of such a fast processor means that the SHIELD has the speed and graphic capabilities on hand of a dedicated console — and so is able to perform with the quickness and fluidity that makes animation onscreen move lickety-split (an old fashioned term for “dang that is one fast 64-bit CPU”). This also affects the menus and everything else involved that the user is viewing; making for a quick moving and fast reacting system where lag is something to read about and not experience. Streaming video, for example from Netflix, is smooth and jitter-free and that’s not just when viewing a 1080p Full HD picture.
Now instead of a remote, the SHIELD comes with a game controller that follows the conventional profile as found on today’s dedicated gaming consoles (and to be honest, with the exception of multiple buttons, the same as back in the days of 16 bit consoles too). The controller is basic in that it doesn’t have built-in vibrations or audio speakers or other enhancements; it does have a multitude of buttons to depress (or jab) and triggers to pull. Using it, one can navigate the menus and work the varied controls. But it’s real value comes in when it’s being used for gaming, be that casual or hardcore (the gamers, not the game, is what is being said here).
But remote lovers aren’t ignored as there is an optional remote: using a click wheel and series of tabs it provides a better scheme for navigation but not gaming. Certainly it’s easier to use than the controller, but the hard core gamer who has gotten the SHIELD for its gaming attributes won’t be bothering with it. Everybody else would like to have it though. And wile the SHIELDs footprint isn’t overwhelming, the optional stand gives it a vertical boost that, again, everyone can get behind.
The SHIELD is designed around the “app” gaming aspect, in that it can access Android games, download them and play them. The gaming section is powered by Android TV — meaning that the games (apps) accessible are designed to be viewed on a TV screen (larger, more detailed)and obviously the other bits that the system provides can be found, for example, Google Voice for voice search/commands (although in use it’s sometimes less a hassle to just work the controller because just how lazy can one get?). In addition Chromecast is built in for use with mobile devices to “throw” what’s on them into the SHIELD and then onto the TV. This allows for those problematic areas and non-working apps to be circumvented, as well as making it possible for iOS devices to get involved.
NVIDIA also has a service called GeForce Now which provides streaming game capabilities (more like PC games than the “app” games we’re all getting too familiar with now). This requires a subscription payment but most of all requires a strong and stable Internet connection. That’s something that can be upgraded at a cost via the ISP being used (Internet Service Provider), but it wouldn’t amount to anything if the SHIELD didn’t have that fast processor to make it all work. While an Internet connection can be updated and the data stream increased, the same can’t be said of the graphic capabilities of a hardware device — what’s been stuffed inside is the end-all of how fast and efficient the menus will be presented and how colorful and smooth the graphics and animations will show themselves. It’s here that the NVIDIA shines as its “engine” easily outdoes many of the “media/game players” that are now out on the market. In many ways the SHIELD can be favorably compared to that of a dedicated game console costing 2 or 3X its $199.00 retail price.
The NVIDIA SHIELD (also known as the NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV) is an excellent choice as a media player due to its 4K abilities, and the other features such as gaming add to its overall value as being more than a “one trick 4K pony.” Hooked up to a big screen flat panel TV, what is there not to like about NVIDIA’s SHIELD? Nothing to dislike, is the answer.