The new SHIELD TV features Dolby Vision and AI upscaling. However, neither of these features are backwards-compatible with older SHIELD players.
Due to this, the 2015 and 2017 SHIELD TV players will not receive Dolby Vision or the AI-enhanced upscaling via an update.
This is more of a technical issue, than NVIDIA simply not choosing to support the older models.
What is the new AI upscaling on SHIELD TV?
The latest NVIDIA SHIELD TV players feature Dolby Vision and a new AI-enhanced upscaling. Dolby Vision is a fairly well understood feature, but the AI upscaling is one worth taking a moment to get to know.
NVIDIA touts this as better than other upscaling technologies due to the AI element involved. In fact, NVIDIA states its AI upscaler on the SHIELD TV is "a first for streaming media players."
Basically, NVIDIA has combined traditional upscaling technologies with an AI predictor. The two when combined result in "crisper, clearer, video" compared to other solutions. NVIDIA used "popular TV and movies" to train the deep learning neural network offline. In essence, the AI was fed 4K videos and non-4K videos with a view to learning how to spot the differences between them.
Now the AI can do all the predicting and upscaling on its own and in real-time. When it is fed video not considered good enough on a linear scale, it can predict what it's missing and apply those differences right before the image is displayed on the TV.
Here's an example of the feature in action.
Again, as the AI is primarily looking for a difference between 4K and the video playing, it knows when a video is playing in 4K. In these instances, the AI is able to ignore the video. You can see this ignoring in action below.
Why is AI upscaling not coming to older SHIELD TVs?
While NVIDIA has confirmed that older SHIELDs will not get Dolby Vision or the AI-enhanced upscaling, it has not spent too much time explaining why.
However, NVIDIA has confirmed the short answer is the processor. Both the all-new SHIELD TV and SHIELD TV Pro make use of the Tegra X1+ processor. It is on this processor where all the AI-enhanced upscaling happens.
The same is true for Dolby Vision. While Dolby Vision can be added to a device via a firmware upgrade, it still requires a processor capable of handling it.
The new Tegra X1+ is capable of handling the performance demands of Dolby Vision, while the Tegra X1 in the 2015 and 2017 devices is not.
The older SHIELDs starting to show their age
One of the big selling points of buying into NVIDIA's Android TV ecosystem is the after-purchase support. The Android TV market in general has proven not to be the best at providing regular and worthwhile updates and upgrades.
NVIDIA has been the exception to this rule with the 2015 and 2017 SHIELDs having an excellent update track-record. The very fact that the 2015 model is still as supported as the 2017 model is further proof of this point.
However, there are some things that even NVIDIA cannot escape and the age of a device is one of them. More specifically, the processor generation. This is one of the first times we're hearing about a major SHIELD feature that won't come to older models.
While that's unlikely to be good news for existing SHIELD player owners, it would appear in this case that it's not actually NVIDIA's choice.
It's just the older SHIELDs are starting to show their age.