Android TV as a platform is doing surprisingly well. TV makers and operators love it and those two alone appear to be enough to put the platform in most homes.
However, if you're serious about streaming then a dedicated streaming player is the best option. The only problem is there's not many Android TV streaming players available.
Adding to the problem, the ones that are available are not very good.
The one exception to this rule has always been the NVIDIA SHIELD TV line. SHIELD TV has remained the gold standard Android TV player and the new version further cements that status.
The new 2019 SHIELD TV is the only Android TV player worth buying.
NVIDIA SHIELD TV (2019) specs
To see how the SHIELD TV (2019) stacks up against the SHIELD TV Pro (2019), as well as the previous SHIELD players, see here.
For just the specs of the all-new SHIELD TV (2019), see below.
|SoC||NVIDIA Tegra X1+|
|Video||4K, Dolby Vision HDR, AI upscaling|
|Audio||Dolby Atmos, Dolby Digital Plus|
|Remote||Bluetooth connectivity, IR blaster, Voice search, Motion-activated backlit buttons, Built-in lost remote locator, Replaceable AAA batteries|
|Voice Assistant||Google Assistant built-in, Works with Alexa|
|Connectivity||802.11ac 2×2 MIMO 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, Chromecast 4K built-in|
|Ports||MicroSD, HDMI 2.0, Ethernet, Power|
|Dimensions||Height: 1.57 in, Width: 1.57 in, Depth: 6.50 in|
|OS||Android 9 Pie|
SHIELD TV (2019) is the SHIELD for the masses
What's clear from NVIDIA, from the new SHIELD's design, and the price, is the new SHIELD is about appealing to more people. Read: the average consumer.
To appeal more to Joe and Jane Average, NVIDIA has embarked on a whole new design philosophy.
Gone is the larger, lit-up, NVIDIA-like box. Instead, we have a fairly nondescript, weird, relay baton-like tube.
Pause to appreciate the tube: NVIDIA's choice to go with a tube is somewhat warming considering TVs used to be referred to as "the tube." Now, to get TV content, we're back to using "the tube" again. Undoubtedly, this was not NVIDIA's intention when designing the new SHIELD, but it's a nice coincidence nonetheless.
Back to the review. On first impressions, the tube design felt counter-intuitive. Why is it not a stick/dongle? TV sticks are super small, plug directly into the TV and just feel like the right design choice for an entry-level product.
But that's the point. Feelings are not always reality. Although the SHIELD TV (2019) is an entry-level product by NVIDIA's tall standards, it's not really an entry-level product in general.
Yes, the company wanted to shrink down the size and make the device more discreet, but it also wanted to make sure there was a microSD card slot so you could expand the storage. As well as fill the player with the power and processing guts to handle everything you might throw at it.
This resulted in this cylinder design where NVIDIA opted to make the actual "box" part of the cable chain. You plug the HDMI into one end, the power cable in the other and you end up with something that looks like one of those cables with built-in power protections in place.
Where you hide it, is up to you.
Interesting but pointless fact: If you roll the tube, it always stops NVIDIA logo up. We asked NVIDIA about this and the company confirmed it's by design. Attention to detail, my friends. Attention to detail.
A SHIELD TV remote worth a review
The SHIELD has always been a great player. The SHIELD Controller has always been a decent enough game pad. In stark contrast, the SHIELD Remote has always been a disaster.
Remotes are integral to TV. Android TV as an interface is strictly designed with remote taps in mind. That's what makes Android TV different to Android mobile and why if you sideload an app that's not Android TV optimized on to an Android TV device, you end up with an unstable experience.
The SHIELD remote was sort of like that. It felt similar to a non-optimized Android TV app. One where you would struggle to do anything at all, including general navigation. When it came to adjusting the volume – fuggedaboutit.
The new remote is a different proposition altogether. If NVIDIA's goal with the SHIELD TV (2019) was less: less size, less specs, less price. Then NVIDIA's goal with the remote is clearly more: more space, more buttons, more features.
The new remote is honestly a revelation. It too is designed differently. If you've ever held one of those smaller (apparently they are single-person-sized) Toblerone chocolate bars, then that's what the remote feels like. Maybe a little less sharp than a Toblerone, but you get the point.
It feels weirdly unnatural for a remote and yet at the same time, weirdly natural.
One of the benefits of the remote's increased surface area is more space for more buttons. You now get dedicated buttons for playback navigation, volume, and even a customizable button.
This button allows you to dictate which command you want at your fingertips. By default, it launches the Android TV settings and there's nothing wrong with leaving that default on. Quick access to the settings is a useful feature.
However, if you want to take a screenshot (something I do a lot) then you can assign that function to the button. Alternatively, you can set it to mute, to open an app, or to one of many other choices.
Another of the big remote upgrades is the motion-activated backlit buttons. Essentially, when it's dark, you can now see the buttons. This is genuinely one of the differences you'll come to appreciate the more you find yourself needing it.
As the lights are motion activated when you pick up the remote they automatically fire up. Similarly, the lights dim down again once you rest the remote back down. You can see the effect in action below.
Overall, the remote is probably the biggest upgrade with the new SHIELD TV (2019). Although it's not an upgrade that requires you to buy the latest player.
NVIDIA has already confirmed the remote will be sold separately and works with previous SHIELD TV players.
Take my advice, if you own a SHIELD and don't plan to upgrade, buy the new remote.
A new SHIELD, a new SHIELD TV app
Days before the SHIELD TV (2019) was launched, NVIDIA slyly uploaded a new SHIELD TV app to the Google Play Store. Here's the download link.
Like the new remote, the new app has also received a makeover. Again, like the remote, not a makeover for the sake of looking better, but one that legitimately improves the experience.
Now, the new SHIELD app is not exclusive to the new SHIELD TV. Like the remote, the app works fine with the older SHIELD models.
The big and immediate change is that the app comes with a new apps section highlighting all the apps currently installed on the player.
Tapping any of these immediately opens the app on the SHIELD TV.
There's also improved navigation and volume controls and overall just a more intuitive feel to the app. You can learn more about some of the generic features of the app here.
One of the features that's worth touching on right now is the lost remote locator. Let's say you can't find the remote. Before, you just continued to not find the remote. Now, you can fire up the app hit the lost locator button and the remote will make a sound.
It's a small continuous beeping sound which should be loud enough to find the remote – providing you're in the same room.
As the remote is where the sound is emitting from, you will need the new remote to take advantage of the feature. However, as the new remote will be sold separately and is compatible with previous SHIELDs, there shouldn't be any issues using the "find my remote" feature with an older SHIELD after purchasing the new remote.
Owners of the new SHIELD TV (2019) don't actually need the app to use the lost locator as the new SHIELD is also equipped with a button you can press instead.
Of course, the app is a lot more convenient to use and in reality, the app is worth the download anyway.
Never much to review with Android TV…it's Android TV
The software experience with any Android TV device is typically the same. Unless it's been highly customized by an operator (hi AT&T) or TV maker (hi OnePlus), then the overall experience is fairly standard. The new SHIELD isn't any different.
Yes, NVIDIA has always slightly tweaked things and the same is true here.
This is Android 9 Pie. So you do get the benefits from the latest available version of Android TV. That includes the redesigned settings menu.
Buried further within those settings are some new and NVIDIA-specific settings. The big one to be aware of is the new AI-enhanced upscaling section.
In case you didn't know, the new SHIELD TV (2019) comes with AI-powered upscaling which looks to improve the viewing experience.
The older SHIELDs also came with upscaling, but the difference here is the AI element.
To briefly explain, NVIDIA has coupled the existing upscaling technology in the previous SHIELD with a new AI predictor.
According to NVIDIA, it spent a good amount of time training the AI to learn the differences between 4K and non-4K video. Now the AI has learned those differences, when it comes across video that's not 4K, it can determine what's missing and effectively add those missing elements.
The bottom line is it can take 720 or 1080p and upscale it to 4K, and do it all in real-time.
In most instances like this you could be forgiven for thinking this is marketing spiel. However, that appears not to be the case here as the new SHIELD TV does indeed improve the picture, and dramatically at times.
NVIDIA is so confident in the new tech that it rather egotistically included a "Demo Mode" within the settings. When this mode is activated, you can see the difference between the original picture and the picture outputted by the AI.
Even more egotistically, NVIDIA added this as one of the assignable shortcuts for the remote's customizable button.
When assigned, you can, at any point, check the before and after quality picture. In principle, you can just watch continuously in the demo mode and revel in your AI-enhanced experience that's not available to Fire TV or Roku OS users.
Here's how the demo looks and an example of the sort of upgrade you can expect.
While the picture here is not a 4K picture, you can clearly see the difference in the before and after shots. The AI upscaling is genuinely doing something and adding value to the SHIELD experience.
For those not planning on upgrading to the SHIELD TV (2019), you should know this feature is not coming to older SHIELDs.
Likewise, the new SHIELD also supports Dolby Vision and that too won't be making an appearance on the older models.
You can blame your nasty non-Tegra X1+ processor for that.
What's wrong with the 2019 NVIDIA SHIELD TV?
To be honest, not a lot. The SHIELD TV (2019) is a great little (literally) device and is better than the models that came before it.
However, that doesn't mean there aren't some buyer bewares.
Know what you're buying with the new SHIELD
If you just think of streaming as streaming then there's no problem. The new SHIELD is a great streaming device. In contrast, if you demand the best streaming player available, things become confusing.
As only just mentioned, the SHIELD TV (2019) comes with a new tweaked processor. So you are getting a bump in that respect. The new SHIELD is more powerful at the processing level and that's why it can handle the AI upscaling and Dolby Vision.
In other areas, however, the SHIELD TV (2019) takes a step back. For example, both the RAM and storage are less than on previous SHIELDs. Likewise, there are no USB ports.
In addition, if you are "upgrading" to the new SHIELD from the previous version then you're also going to be missing some important features. Most notably, Plex Media Server and SmartThings Hub support. The all-new SHIELD TV does not support either of these features.
Yes, that's less RAM, less storage, no Plex Media Server and no SmartThings hub. If any of this matters to you, then you have a problem with the new SHIELD.
During our brief game testing, there was no obvious issues with the SHIELD TV (2019). After all, this is NVIDIA and the SHIELD is partly a gaming machine.
Any games from the Google Play Store ran fine when tested. Likewise, the SHIELD TV (2019) comes with the NVIDIA Games app and by association has access to a wide number of titles available to game-stream.
But, NVIDIA itself has been very quick to point out that if you want an advanced gaming experience then this might not be the SHIELD TV player for you. Instead, it is recommended that you opt for the SHIELD TV Pro (2019).
SHIELD TV Pro (2019) is the better player
All of the problems mentioned above are easily solved by opting for the SHIELD TV Pro (2019). That's exactly why there is a SHIELD TV Pro (2019) in the first place.
The SHIELD TV Pro comes with the same RAM and storage as last year's SHIELD, as well as the new tweaked Tegra X1+. It also comes with the same Plex Media Server and SmartThings Hub support.
It is the more powerful SHIELD overall and the true successor to the SHIELD's throne.
The problem with the Pro model is that the successor adopts the same design as the previous models.
If you are more attracted to the new and modern-looking tube style, but also want the most powerful streaming player available, then you're out of luck.
This is exactly where the all-new SHIELD TV (2019) proves itself as the entry-level SHIELD player. The SHIELD TV player for Joe and Jane Average.
Albeit, Joe and Jane Slightly-Above-Average due to the price.
A cheaper SHIELD TV, but not cheap enough
NVIDIA evidently knew the price of the SHIELD was too high. It's very rare for a company to launch a better product at a lower price. When they do, it tends to be the result of knowing the product is not hitting the mainstream.
So yes, in terms of price, the new SHIELD TV (2019) is now the most affordable SHIELD ever. But it's still too expensive.
To be clear, it's not expensive for what you get. The SHIELD TV (2019) is worth the $149 asking price, and easily. However, in a world of price-conscious consumers and Fire and Roku TV sticks, the SHIELD TV (2019) feels like it's overpriced for what NVIDIA wants to achieve with it.
While it is not as expensive as the SHIELD TV Pro, that's splitting hairs. The SHIELD TV Pro is only $50 more than the SHIELD (2019) and yet it comes with more of an emphasis on gaming, better specs and more features. It is, a better device.
Officially, NVIDIA refers to the SHIELD TV Pro as the SHIELD for "enthusiasts." Yet, at just $50 more it appears to be the better buy for price-savvy shoppers in general. Irrespective of their enthusiasm level.
In reality, the cheaper 2019 SHIELD TV is just as much an "enthusiasts" device as its more powerful sibling. While the Pro can be considered the gaming enthusiast device, the cheaper one is priced high enough to be considered a streaming enthusiast's player.
With the cheaper SHIELD priced at $150, most people are probably better off buying the better player. The gains outweigh the additional $50.
Should you buy the NVIDIA SHIELD TV (2019)?
The very short and honest answer is yes. You should absolutely buy one of the SHIELD TV (2019) players. Here's the Amazon link again. Buy it.
It is the best streaming player on the market. It runs smooth, its upscaling is more than just marketing talk, it doubles as a decent enough gaming machine, and it's design is great.
Whichever way you swing it (and you literally can swing the new one as it's a tube on a cable), you should buy the SHIELD TV (2019).
That's as long as you want Android TV. If you are fairly agnostic about the platform and just want to stream video, then at the price it becomes a little harder to recommend as an instant buy.
At $99, this would undoubtedly be the only streaming device you should ever consider buying, and irrespective of platform.
With a $149 entry-level price, there can be no escaping this is a streaming enthusiasts' player, at a streaming enthusiasts' price.