As so often, the leaks turned out to be right: Nvidia is indeed introducing a revamped version of its Android TV streaming device, complete with a faster processor and a new remote control. In addition to a $200 Pro model, Nvidia is also introducing a new $150 version with a home theater-friendly form factor that is meant to cater to a mainstream audience interested in great picture quality and sound.
Nvidia Shield has long been a favorite with Android enthusiasts looking for the most advanced streaming hardware. First introduced in 2015, the device doubles as a console for both local and cloud-based video games, and thanks to a powerful processor, it’s capable of running a whole bunch of software that wouldn’t work on your average Roku or Fire TV streamer. A Shield can be turned into a DVR to record over-the-air television, a hub to control smart home devices and even a Plex server to manage expansive media collections.
The flip side of this has always been the price: The 2017 version of the device started at $180. You could buy 3 Rokus for the same amount, and still have money left over. Still, for its 2019 revamp, the company decided to stay the course, and still aim for the upper end of the market. “We don’t look to do easy, cheap products,” said Nvidia Shield director of product management Chris Daniel during a recent interview with Variety.
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Nvidia’s goal was to use its expertise in graphics and AI to push the limits of what a streaming device can do, Daniel said. To stay true to that mission, Nvidia based its new generation of Shield streamers on its Tegra X1+ processor, which promises to be 25% faster than the processor used in previous-generation Shield devices.
That added processing power is being used to bring both Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos audio to the Shield. (Previous Shield devices were capable of supporting Dolby Atmos pass-through, but didn’t natively support the audio format.)
In addition, the Shield also now supports upscaling of 720p or 1080p content to 4K powered by artificial intelligence (AI). To do this, Nvidia trained a neural network with both HD and 4K versions of a lot of movies and TV shows, effectively teaching the algorithm how the 4K version of a video looks like.
The results are impressive, and make it hard to distinguish between upscaled and native 4K content. And Nvidia isn’t afraid to let people compare and contrast: Not only can consumers easily switch back and forth between HD and upscaled 4K, the Shield also comes with a custom slider that easily lets you see both versions on the same screen.
Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos and AI upscaling are available for both the $150 Shield as well as the $200 Shield Pro, thanks to the same processor working in both devices. Both devices also ship with a completely revamped remote control, doing away with one of the biggest downsides of the existing Shield hardware.
The 2017 model of the streaming device came with a slim remote with the bare minimum of buttons: A D-Pad, a home and a back button, a dedicated microphone button for voice control, and an elongated touchpad for volume control. The latter looked clever, but was a pain to use, and the size of the remote seemed optimized for it to disappear between couch cushions.
The new version is a lot heftier, and uses an interesting triangular shape that feels surprisingly good in your hand. The company also added dedicated fast forward and rewind buttons, volume buttons, as well as an on-off button for your TV. To control older TV sets, Nvidia also added an IR blaster, which worked as promised during a brief test period with a somewhat dated TV set.
All the other buttons are still there, including the mic button for voice control. Nvidia also added backlight to more easily identify the buttons during a dark movie night. The new remote even comes with a remote finder that can be accessed via Nvidia’s smart phone app — a feature that had previously only been available on select Roku streaming devices.
The revamped remote isn’t the only major hardware design change. The $150 Shield also ditches the mini-console exterior, and instead looks like a black cylinder that has the same diameter, and about half the length, of your typical paper towel cardboard roll. The idea, according to Daniel, is that you’d hide it away with the other cables behind your home theater.
This base version comes with 8GB of on-board storage, as well as an SD expansion slot, and 2 GB of RAM. It also has Gigabit Ethernet for people who prefer wired connections over Wifi. However, there is no USB port, so you won’t be able to attach any external storage to the device. That’s why users who want to run Plex will still want to buy the $200 Shield Pro, which looks just like the 2017 model, and comes with 2 USB ports.
Still, Nvidia clearly bets that the entry-level Shield will appeal to a wider audience of streaming enthusiasts. People who may not need their own Plex server, but still want AI upscaling and all the other bells and whistles. Said Daniel: “This is our primary focus.” Now, the company just has to convince consumers that a device like this is worth spending $150 on.