In brief: The NVIDIA SHIELD is now in the process of gaining additional support for Google Home leading to a deeper level of integration between the two. NVIDIA confirmed the increased support via a blog posting today which details the scope of what a user can now do when a SHIELD is paired with a Google Home unit, while also confirming the improved integration should go live on all SHIELD devices by the end of this month. Although NVIDIA did point out current SHIELD owners can speed up the process by restarting their SHIELD in the meantime which should trigger the activation of the new support within a day.
Once the support has arrived SHIELD owners can expect an increased ability to do more when giving voice commands to a Google Home unit. For example, owners of the Android TV device will be able to command a Google Home device to turn a SHIELD device on or off, increase/decrease or mute/unmute the volume, as well as initiate playback of movies, shows or music tracks through compatible apps. This is also in addition to pausing and playing, viewing photos through Google Photos, and controlling compatible smart home products. The blog post also notes users can now open an app on the SHIELD just by asking a Google Home device to open the specific app, though it remains to be seen at the moment if this feature is resigned to only select compatible apps, or all apps in general.
Background: The NVIDIA SHIELD has become the go-to Android TV device for many as it offers a powerful user experience within a device that can be connected to just about any TV. While it’s not the cheapest of set-top boxes, the value on offer with the SHIELD eclipses past and present alternatives, and aspects like compatibility with Google Home-branded products is a prime example. Although in recent weeks and months the SHIELD has gained far more useful features than Google Home support. One of the most useful new additions from the end user perspective was the introduction of a new compatible Android app. The new app offers better control of a SHIELD device as well as cursor support when needed, and launched to coincide with the company’s twentieth software upgrade - another point that highlights just how frequently the SHIELD does get updated.
As is the case with a number of Android TV devices running a newer version of the operating system, the SHIELD does not necessarily need a Google Home product to make use of many of the same commands, as the SHIELD also comes loaded with a version of the Google Assistant built-in. Granted, while that version is not quite as useful as a dedicated Home device, it does still allow the user to navigate the TV interface and get feedback on questions asked through voice commands alone, as well as the option to control a number of Assistant compatible products - and even more smart home products if the SHIELD is also coupled with a Samsung SmartThings Link. In spite of the included Google Assistant support, there are benefits to connecting the SHIELD to a Google Home device in the same location. Especially considering making use of the additional features simply requires the two devices to be connected to the same Wi-Fi network. As with the Google Home’s greater hearing ability, this means commands can be given directly to the Home for the SHIELD without having to hold down the mic button on the SHIELD’s remote control - a prerequisite for typically using the built-in version of Assistant on the SHIELD. The Google Home support therefore offers far more of a true hands-free experience than what would otherwise be possible. In addition to also offering the option to control the SHIELD from elsewhere in the room, or for that matter, in another room altogether.
Impact: Technically speaking, Google Home compatibility in itself is not new for the SHIELD Android TV, as the device did gain that support some time ago. As a result, what NVIDIA has actually announced here is a widening of the commands that Google Home can now act on in relation to the SHIELD. Those who are already highly invested in the SHIELD’s user experience will already be familiar with a number of these SHIELD-relevant commands and might only find a couple that are new or useful. More to the point for those users, the improved integration is expected to offer a more reliable experience overall, including when using the commands that were previously available. So it’s best to think of this as an overall improvement to the relationship between the two devices and not just support for some additional commands.
For those new to the SHIELD in general, this announcement acts more of an overview of the type of Google Home support that can be expected when purchasing the Android TV device. Equally, as an insight on how NVIDIA typically works when it comes to supporting the SHIELD in general. As in spite of already offering Google Home support, this announcement highlights that behind the scenes NVIDIA is continually looking to improve existing features and supports, instead of just focusing on adding new features which then remain left as they are for the foreseeable future. This should be an important distinction when considering a new streaming device as NVIDIA has consistently proven to be very much in tune with the SHIELD community and routinely releases updates and patches to fix issues when they become known to the company. If you are totally new to both products, then they can often be picked up together and at a reduced rate. For example, the SHIELD typically retails for $199.99 in the US and when bundled with the SHIELD Controller and Remote, while the Google Home Mini is priced at $49.99 on its own. At the moment though, both can be picked up for $199.99 when purchased together. In other words, if you buy a SHIELD right now, you also get the Home Mini for free.