Metal shield (+) Small and sleek; awesome media player; good peripherals; easy to use.
Wooden shield (-) Lackluster Android games; local game stream issues.
More Android TV than game console
The 2015 Nvidia Shield marks the third entry into the company’s Shield lineup. Confusingly, Nvidia is once again simply calling this iteration “Nvidia Shield.” Because of its new form factor, many are referring to it as the Nvidia Shield gaming console, but in our opinion, it’s actually more of a set-top box than a gaming machine. The brains behind the operation is Nvidia’s new Tegra X1 SOC, but it’s Google’s Android TV UI that’s really at the heart of the device. The Shield’s main purpose here is for watching movies/TV shows, and gaming. This means that there is no full web browser and no email client. As a matter of fact, many of the Google Play apps are walled off, and only curated Android TV apps are downloadable from the Google Play store on the device.
The Shield comes with a gamepad.
Measuring 8.3x5.1x1 inches, the Shield is smaller than it leads one to expect in pictures. The little device is running Android Lollipop and has two USB 3.0 ports and an Ethernet port. Unlike the two previous Shield devices, there is no battery here, and this Shield is meant to sip juice from a wall socket. Our $200 unit came with 16GB of internal storage, which isn’t much, but considering most Android games and apps are quite small, coupled with the fact that it does have a MicroSD card slot, it isn’t the end of the world. In case that doesn’t do it for you, however, there is a $300 model that offers 500GB of storage out of the box.
Setting up the unit is pretty easy. You simply log in to your Gmail account with the included wireless Shield controller, which is essentially the same controller that Nvidia packaged with its Shield tablet (opens in new tab) last year. The Shield controller is very similar to the Xbox controller, with the main differences being that it has a touchpad, volume buttons, a headset port, and a built-in mic. You’ll be using the controller’s mic a lot, as Android TV is largely designed around voice commands. Want to launch Netflix? Simply tap on the Nvidia button on the controller and say, “launch Netflix.” Want to view pictures of cats? Simply say, “pictures of cats.” In case you don't want to use voice commands, there is an onscreen keyboard as well. There is also an optional $50 wireless remote control, which has a circular d-pad, back button, home button, volume slider, and mic. You can also plug an analog headset into the remote, which is greatly appreciated if you want to be able to crank up the TV’s volume without disturbing the roomies.
For an extra $50, you can get an wireless remote.
There's also a $40 stand for the Shield, if you're dying to see it standing up.
When it comes to gaming, the Shield is largely a mixed bag. When we reviewed the original Shield portable (opens in new tab) back in 2013, we complained that AAA Android games were few and far between. The situation hasn’t improved much in the past two years. Sure, there are some decent Android titles, but most of them are casual games or are ports of existing console/PC games. Also, while the Shield supports multiple controllers, there really aren’t that many Android titles that support local co-op. Even the Dreamcast port of fighting game Soul Calibur, which purports to support local multiplayer, didn’t actually support it on the Shield. Oddly enough, there are even some titles that worked well on the original Shield, such as GTA: San Andreas, that aren’t officially supported on the new Shield. To mitigate the dearth of deep Android games, Nvidia is pushing its Grid game streaming service. Right now, there are about 60 streamable PC games, which you can view here (opens in new tab). You’ll need a good Internet connection, however, and we recommend a 5GHz router. We tried playing at 2.4GHz, but the lag and compression made for a frustrating experience. The Shield also lets you stream from your gaming PC, as long as you’re on the same network. Oddly, however, this doesn’t work as well as Valve’s own In-Home Streaming service (opens in new tab), as it only officially supports a couple of titles. We tried streaming Lethal League, a multiplayer fighting game on Steam, but the controls didn’t work.
The Shield’s X1 chip is a quad-core 64-bit SOC based on a 20nm process. In conjunction with its SOC is 3GB of RAM. Unfortunately, the Shield’s closed-off Android TV ecosystem doesn’t support that many benchmarks, so we only had a handful of comparisons to go by. In GFX openGL, an openGL graphics benchmark, the Shield garnered 43fps in the “Manhattan” test. In this test, there is a futuristic rendering of Manhattan at night as helicopters fly through the city and fight a giant robot. We used our Shield Tablet as our zero-point, and Nvidia’s 2014 tablet’s 2.2GHz K1 processor only managed 29fps, which is roughly 50 percent slower and is unplayable. For a compute benchmark, we used CompuRS to calculate megapixels per second picture rendering. The Shield garnered a score of 4.7Mpixels/s, beating the Shield tablet by 104 percent with its 2.3Mpixel/s score. Synthetic tests out of the way, we fired up Tainted Keep, an Android hack-and-slash game with a built-in benchmark. Here, the Shield scored an average 57.9fps in the extreme benchmark, whereas the Shield tablet, again, got roughly half that framerate, only being able to muster an average 28.8fps. While the Shield is able to handle most games well, it’s still a mobile chip and does have its limitations. We fired up The Talos Principle, which is a port of the PC first-person puzzle game, and even at its default 1080p settings the game struggled to run with a smooth framerate and was downright choppy at times.
The Shield may not be our first choice for a gaming system, though you can certainly have tons of fun with it. Its real power lies in its strength as a media player; it’s the most impressive set-top box we’ve seen to date.
|SOC||Nvidia Tegra X1 with 3GB of RAM|
|Ports||Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI 2.0, two USB 3.0, Micro USB 2.0, MicroSD slot|
|Nvidia Shield Tablet||Nvidia Shield||percent difference|
|GFX OpenGL||29 fps||43 fps||48.3%|
|Tainted Keep||28.8 fps||57.9 fps||101%|