NVIDIA SHIELD (2017) Android TV Is Getting A New Wi-Fi & Bluetooth Chip

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This week a new FCC filing emerged for a new NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV device. Now it seems the current (2017) NVIDIA SHIELD might be in the process of getting a refresh that could in theory affect the Wi-Fi and/or Bluetooth performance.

NVIDIA recently made a request to the FCC for a Class II permissive change to the 2017 SHIELD TV filing. These requests are typically used when a company is making a change to an existing product that is likely to require the product to be re-tested to ensure the same quality and level of performance is offered as was approved under the original certification.

Looking into the detail and the change refers to the Wi-Fi / Bluetooth combination chip. The existing 2017 SHIELD TV uses a Broadcom BCM4354 chip and it seems NVIDIA is now replacing this with a Cypress CYW4356 chip.

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Although this appears to be a different chip from a different brand, it's not really. Back in 2016 Cypress Semiconductor acquired Broadcom's Internet of Things (IoT) business and this included all related wireless chips. Following the acquisition a number of those chips were rebranded and this included the CYW4356 which was previously known as the Broadcom BCM4356. The same is true of the BCM4354 as this is technically now known as the CYW4354.

In other words, the CYW4356 is just a different version of the chip that's currently in the 2017 SHIELD with the differences so minimal that it's almost a 'plug and play' change for NVIDIA.

For further reference, the CYW4356 is the same Wi-Fi chip that's used in the Nintendo Switch, and both of these chips can be commonly found under the hood of a smartphone. For disclosure, in some teardowns people have suggested the SHIELD uses the 4356 chip and it's unclear why those suggestions have been made. In theory, it could be the case the SHIELD Pro uses that chip and that's where the confusion arises, but official documentation seems to point to the use of the 4354. As is the case with this Class II change (FCC) which clearly indicates a changeover from the 4354 to the 4356.

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In the new documentation NVIDIA does provide some insight into a couple of the changes this will bring although neither of these are likely to be necessarily noticed by the user.

For example, NVIDIA points to the newer Wi-Fi chip as supporting Bluetooth 5.0 but not FM. This is in contrast to the previous chip which did support FM, but only Bluetooth 4.1 / LE.

The reason this won't matter much from the consumer point of view is that the FM functionality was never in use with the current SHIELD so removing its support won't have any effect on the user experience or features. Likewise, the support for Bluetooth 5.0 won't matter either as the Android TV device does not support any Bluetooth 5.0 features. NVIDIA specifically states in the documentation that Bluetooth 5.0 support is actively disabled by the software.

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Overall, the two chips are more alike than different and this includes performance and data speeds in general, with both topping out at the same 867 Mbps rate.

What is unclear is if there are any changes to the Tegra X1. The newer SHIELD Android TV that was recently spotted passing through the FCC is understood to come with a tweaked version of the Tegra X1 although there's nothing in this Class II request that suggests that's the case with this 2017 model's change.

That does not necessarily mean the tweaked chip won't be in use as it could simply be a like-for-like replacement (albeit tweaked) might not need a declared change through the FCC. However, that seems unlikely as there's also been rumors that the Nintendo Switch is also due a tweaked SoC upgrade – matching the SoC found in the new Switch Lite model. The standard Switch uses the same T210 version of the Tegra X1 found in the current SHIELD, and prior to the announcing of the Switch Lite Nintendo had also filed a Class II change request with the FCC – specifically relating to a "change of SoC type." Based on this, it would be presumed a similar Class II request would be needed if the 2017 SHIELD was following suit with a newer version of the Tegra X1.

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That may still happen as there's nothing stopping NVIDIA filing a separate Class II request for that but as of right now, all this particular FCC change seems to relate to is the Wi-Fi / BT combination chip change.