New NVIDIA Shield TV: The Gamer’s Set-Top Box

The NVIDIA Shield TV is unique in the segment as, unlike competing products, it isn’t designed to lead on price but instead on performance and with cloud and streamed PC gaming.   It is generally a good rule of thumb to differentiate when bringing a product to market in a crowded space in areas where you are expert, and NVIDIA is an expert in image conversion, gaming, and GPU performance, all of which were in the first Shield TV offering. This latest offering improves on the prior product in 3 ways it is significantly more powerful, it is significantly less expensive, and the remote control is significantly better.  In short, if you liked the old Shield TV or you like to game but don’t want to fork out the money for a new Xbox or PlayStation, the new NVIDIA Shield TV may be for you. It also is an early indicator of where the major consoles will go in the future as their Cloud efforts mature, and they too shift performance requirements into the Cloud. So also consider this the best current test of concept for cloud gaming, which remains bandwidth and latency constrained.  

Let’s talk about that this week.

The Gamer’s Set-Top Box

It helps to know your audience, and NVIDIA has been a primary brand in the gaming world for some time.  Cloud gaming has been difficult to get started because existing networks lacked the bandwidth and low latency needed.  That has been rapidly changing, though and now Microsoft, Sony, and Google are all chasing cloud gaming that will certainly change the amount of performance needed in a gaming council, and as they were with autonomous driving, NVIDIA is trying for a competitive technology edge by showcasing a successful solution first.  

As a result, their Shield TV offering has always been able to provide the best gaming experience from the cloud since its inception as long as it was connected to NVIDIA’s own cloud gaming platform GE Force NOW, which has been in an extended beta test.  

What makes this set-top box stand out for video is its GPU up-scaler.  GPUs generally do a better job with images than CPUs do because imaging was what they do best.  Besides, this is the first set-top box with an AI up-scaler. AIs can make near-instant decisions to change parameters to optimize the image because it got trained on thousands of images.  This fast decision making means it should make your 4K TV shine with non-4K content. In a visual comparison, the upscaled image was less blurry, and the lines were better defined.  

Two Versions

There are two versions of this product the $149.99 Shield TV and the $199.99 Shield TV Pro.  The only real reason you’d want to buy the higher-priced version is you need a second USB port, or you want to play PC games that have been ported to the device (they require 3GB of RAM, which the Pro has).   The Shield TV can sit on the floor behind your TV while the Shield Pro really should be on a shelf. Both have the same controller, which has motion-activated buttons, including one you can customize, voice control (connecting to the Google AI for digital assistant support), an IR blaster to control your TV, and a lost-remote locater.  This last is handy because I was always losing my old Shield Remote.  

Wrapping Up:

The competition surrounding set-top boxes is heating up.  Short of a game console, and this will, according to NVIDIA, outperform them with video, the Shield TV is the highest performing TV set-top box on the segment.  People that will want to look at this are those that have the old Shield TV, and this is much faster, those that like to watch SD and HD streaming content on 4K TVs, and those that want to play Android and PC titles on their big screen TV without having to connect a PC to it.  If you want to run a ported game on the device rather than stream it, then you should get the Pro, but for everyone else, the standard product should work just fine.  

Going forward and as cloud gaming becomes more pronounced, we’ll see more systems like this, and I expect desktop PCs will go this direction next.  It is going to be an interesting few years.