Price (RRP): $289/399
The NVIDIA SHIELD TV 2019 and it is bigger, even more, fully-featured brother NVIDIA SHIELD TV 2019 PRO adds 4K Dolby Vision HDR/Atmos decoding to any TV or flat panel monitor.
But there is more – NVIDIA SHIELD TV 2019 runs a certified Google Android 9 TV operating system (OS), so you get Google TV apps, Google Assistant and all that entails. And it can access a vast range of NVIDIA and Android games.
One of the first questions I put to NVIDIA is who the NVIDIA SHIELD TV 2019 and PRO are for? To be clear, there are two versions. The fundamental difference: Standard 2/8GB/microSD versus 3/16GB/USBx2/Plex server – I suspect that serious streamers and gamers will want the PRO.
Instead of defining the audience, the presenter spoke about what it could do – leaving me to identify the use cases for NVIDIA SHIELD TV 2019 and PRO.
NVIDIA SHIELD TV 2019
So while this is a review about the hardware it is also about Google Android TV, its apps and services, Google Assistant (and its smart home aspect) and an area that I am not an expert on – games casting with a GeForce RTX or GTX-powered PC to your TV with NVIDIA GameStream.
I would also like to add that this has been one of the hardest items to review. It has taken several days of use to discover its many features and options. As is practice, we use the terms FAIL, PASS and EXCEED against test items.
Australian website here
Price: $289 [standard] and $399 [PRO] and optional SHIELD Game Controller $89
It can also use PS4, Xbox and older SHIELD controllers.
Available: Now from dealers
What is NVIDIA SHIELD TV 2019, and who is it for?
It is a 4K Dolby Vision/Atmos capable decoder running on Android TV OS – a ‘set-top box’.
The ‘Standard’ is a snazzy small cylinder the size of a fat cigar, and the PRO is an angular box about the size of a videocassette. Both connect via HDMI to the TV/Monitor and receive content (video/audio/games) via its Ethernet/Wi-Fi connection and microSD [standard] and USB-A ports [PRO].
Before we explore the product, let’s explore the use cases. This review is for the PRO version, and all tests were on NBN 100/40Mbps. We had no speed issues, but I would not like to go below 50/20Mbps if you are a heavy user.
If you have a 4K TV (not a Google Android TV) – PASS to EXCEED
You will have a smart TV running an operating system like Samsung Tizen, LG WebOS, Hisense VIDAA, Panasonic MyHomeScreen, Roku TV and other proprietary TV OS. When you buy a TV, you may receive occasional bug fixes but few if any new OS or feature updates.
High-end TVs from 2019 may have Dolby Vision (TV decoding) and Atmos (TV decoding or passthrough to a soundbar), 4K upscaling and a range of apps. Adding the NVIDIA SHIELD TV 2019 for streaming may not be a compelling reason if your TV OS does everything you need.
Most consumer-grade TVs will have HDR10 and lower level upscaling. It takes a typical consumer-grade TV to a high-end TV OS.
Use #1 is to add Android TV, its apps and Google Assistant as well as games capabilities.
If you already have a 4K Google Android TV – PASS to EXCEED
Sony uses Google Android TV OS. NVIDIA SHIELD TV does not add a lot to Sony’s 2019 TVs (games and extra streaming options), but it adds quite a lot like AI processing and better upscaling to its pre-2019 models.
Other official Android TV OS sets are TCL, SONIC, JBL (soundbar), and Foxtel Go (STB). You may also see lower-cost TVs in chain stores – Bauhn (Aldi exclusive made by TPV China) and Blaupunkt/Seiki/Polaroid (licensed brand – made by Tsinghua Tongfang in China). There are several brands of unauthorised Android TV OS ‘forks’ (means can’t access Google TV Play Store apps).
Typically these will use Android 7 or 8 TV OS, and the NVIDIA SHIELD TV will add a range of features including more streaming options and apps.
Use #2 is to add licenced Android TV OS to older Android TVs.
If you have a 1280 x 720 or 1920 x 1080 TV – EXCEED
Whether it is a dumb or smart TV, it will likely have no OS upgrade path, security patches and minimal availability of apps. Android TV has over 5000 apps (Australia ones here)
- Hundreds of video and audio/podcast streaming apps (Netflix, Stan, Prime, Disney+)
- Rent or purchase movies, TV shows, music and eBook content
- International TV channels and content
- Digital TV and radio channels (including most FTA channels so you may not need an antenna)
- Adds Chromecast as well as Miracast screen mirroring
- VLC, Kodi, Plex media server/client, Fire TV and other media players
- TV games
- Google Home and Assistant
The NVIDIA SHIELD TV 2019 also has a huge range of Australian digital TV channels, catch up TV (7plus, 9Now, ABC iView, SBS on Demand, Foxtel, Kayo, YouTube, Google Play TV/Movies, Optus Sport, Spotify and more)
Use #3 to add smart TV to your older TV and access all content. Its upscaling will improve your current image quality.
Dolby Vision HDR (High Dynamic Range) – EXCEED
First, a caveat – This only applies to HDR10 or Dolby Vision encoded content with embedded metadata in the video stream. That metadata relates to colours, tones, zone brightness etc. HDR content comes from streaming services like Netflix, 4K Blu-Ray movies, some TV content, and games.
In a TV, HDR playback is solely dependent on its ability to decode the metadata and to control the panel to precisely ‘locally’ vary contrast. That is the brightness range between black and white (only OLED comes close to achieving pure black and white), so you can see more detail in the shadows and bright light.
There are other factors such as colour gamut (expressed as a percentage of DCI-P3), 10/12-bit colour, nits’ brightness and dimming methods, but if a TV claims HDR is must meet certain levels.
- HDR10 (most common). Maximum brightness of 1,000 cd/m² (nits and typically a lot less) and 10-bit colour (1.07 billion). Static metadata sets tone mapping once for the entire show.
- HDR10+. Maximum brightness of 4,000 nits (typically a lot less), 10-bit colour. Metadata does tone-mapping on a scene-by-scene basis.
- Dolby Vision uses a proprietary chip/processor with a maximum brightness of up to 10,000 nits (typically 4000), 12-bit colour (68.7 billion but typically maps this back to a 10-bit screen) and dynamic data processing – frame-by-frame basis. It is a superset of HDR (can play it all).
The NVIDIA SHIELD TV 2019 cannot add HDR to a non-HDR TV – but it can supply the best possible image that the panel can reproduce. It can decode Dolby Vision, HDR, and SD and pass that to a 720p, 1080p or 4K TV it for the best possible picture.
But it can do a little more
- 4K HDR playback at 60 FPS (H.265/HEVC)
- 4K playback at 60 FPS (VP8, VP9, H.264, MPEG1/2)
- 1080p playback at 60 FPS (H.263, MJPEG, MPEG4, WMV9/VC1)
- Format/Container support: Xvid/ DivX/ASF/AVI/MKV/MOV/M2TS/MPEG-TS/MP4/WEB-M
What this means is that you can throw almost all content from Blu-ray, downloads, streaming etc. and it will output the best possible image to you TV.
Note: we had the best 4K images by disabling Motion Estimation Motion Compensation on the TV.
Use #4 – to process Dolby Vision (and lesser SD, HDR10/10+) content and provide that to the TV
Dolby Atmos – object-based sound – EXCEED
Again, with the caveat – this device will decode more sound types than most TVs.
First, you need audio content, and that comes with movies, games, and music that gets into the NVIDIA SHIELD TV 2019 via the Ethernet/Wi-Fi, or the two USB-A 3.0 ports
- Dolby Audio (Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Atmos up to 7.1.4)
- DTS:X surround sound (passthrough) over HDMI
- High-resolution audio playback up to 24-bit/192 kHz over HDMI and USB
- High-resolution audio up-sample to 24-bit/192 kHz over USB
- Audio support: AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, MP3, WAVE, AMR, OGG Vorbis, FLAC, PCM, WMA, WMA-Pro, WMA-Lossless, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD (passthrough), DTS-X (passthrough), and DTS-HD (passthrough)
If you are just using the TV speakers, it will downmix to 2.0 (or whatever the TV has). If you attach it to a Dolby Atmos capable TV or soundbar (5.1.2/4 or 7.1.2/4), it will process the Atmos metadata and pass it to the TV soundbar for real Atmos.
It will also decode DTS-X sound, a kind of Atmos-like sound that appears to move around despite it coming from two to three TV speakers.
It also up-samples lower-res sound to hi-res. It can also upconvert 2.0/1 or 3.0/1 content to match whatever speaker setup you have.
Use #5 – to add better sound decoding provided you have the speaker setup (amp/speakers or soundbar) to handle it.
4K upscale – EXCEED
Here is what NVIDIA state
We use a convolutional neural network (CNN) to predict the residual (difference) between a regular linear scaled video and high-resolution 4K ground truth video (reference quality). After training the CNN with tons of video content, it gets good at predicting the difference between the two videos. Then, when fed only the lower-scaled video content, it can apply the prediction and produce near-4K results. It does this in real-time on the device.
NVIDIA SHIELD TV will play native [email protected]/60fps content. But it has intelligent 4K AI upscaling that is superior to most in-built TV upscale chips. If it gets content from HD (720p) to FHD ([email protected]), it can improve picture quality by delivering a faux [email protected] signal to the TV.
#Use 6 – Upscale can make a hell of a difference to sharpness and colour of low-res content
Google Home/Assistant – PASS if you want this
To use it you need to have a Google account or Gmail address to use Android TV.
But the caveat here is that the TV controls are limited to what the HDMI-CEC ARC can do – usually on/off, volume up/down. It uses the TV Panel and speaker/soundbar to show Google responses and to display other Google compatible devices (like a security camera) on the screen etc. In short, it will do almost anything that a Google Assistant speaker can plus has HDMI ARC functionality to control the device.
Use #7 – Add Google Home and voice assistant to any TV. It also supports Alexa.
Games – PASS to EXCEED for ADDED VALUE
Sorry – not our forte but it has both a list of Android games playable on the device. You can also cast your games from a GeForce® GTX-powered PC to your TV in up to 4K HDR via NVIDIA GameStream.
NVIDIA SHIELD TV 2019 PRO is the only one with access to around 20 Lightspeed Studios games, including Half-Life 2, The Witness, DOOM 3, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, Borderlands 2, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Portal 2, the Half-Life 2 episodes, Resident Evil 5 and Tomb Raider.
NVIDIA Share also lets you live-stream your gameplay to Twitch.
Use #8 – Casual gamers will enjoy this device (not tested) and PRO gamers may be interested in Twitch
Plex server and client – PASS
If you know what Plex is then you the NVIDIA Plex client does most things you expect although you need to add an external NAS or a USB-C storage device.
It has enough power to run a paid Android TV VPN like Private Internet Access or NordVPN that also supports torrents. We tested with PIA, and it increases ping times from about 10 to 15ms and reduces DL speeds by 5-10% (depends on the VPN server location). We did not exhaustively test this with concurrent 4K playback, but the Tegra X1+ processor seems to have the capability.
Alternatively, you can also load a media player like VLC or Kodi, to play external content.
Use #9 – If you like to rip or download Blue-ray, DVD or other content, it can replace a separate media PC or server.
USB-A (PRO version) – EXCEED with caveats
The two USB-A 3.0 ports on the PRO can, subject to power needs (maximum 5V/900mA per port)
- Act as a DVR – it handles USB Flash drives and HDD/SSD up to 5TB (at least)
- Play content from a USB device – maximum transfer rate is about 200Mbps (25MBps suitable for 4K)
- Support a 720p-4K webcam/mic
- USB or a dongle receiver for keyboards and mice
- Support a TV Tuner (Hauppauge WinTV-dualHD DVB-T2 #1590 for Australia) but may require Plex, Kodi or Android TV Live Channels to act as the OTA interface. Not tested so buy from a retailer that allows returns if it does not work). More here.
- Output sound to a DAC equipped amplified speaker or AV receiver
- We were unable to test with a USB-A hub, but if the voltage/amperage is within spec, it should work.
Storage Caveats – PASSable
To keep costs in check, it only has 16GB of internal storage – about 10GB free before you add too many apps, games or 4K movies (compressed movies are about 3GB each).
So, for most uses, you need to add external NAS (Network Attached Storage) or USB storage.
NAS – Gigabit Ethernet (1000Mbps/125Mbps full-duplex)
It can access most network storage devices. We tested on a 2TB WD MyCloud, achieving just over 80MBps although this did fall to 30MBps when accessed by multiple devices – still more than enough for 4K. Here you have no USB volt/amp issues.
USB-A 3.0 (480Mbps/60MBps half-duplex) – this is the limiting speed factor
It has just enough amperage for a SATA 6 SSD like the Samsung T-series, SanDisk, WD, LaCie or Seagate (not reviewed yet). A 1/2TB will set you back about $350/600. We got around 35MBps – suitable for 4K.
It will power an external SATA 3 HDD, but large file caching is an issue. The drive is capable of 130-150MBps sequential read/write but drops to around 1.5MBps for random read/write of large files.
Note: If you select the USB device as ‘internal’ storage it will format it accordingly, and you can’t use it on a PC without reformatting, so it is a permanent addition.
If it had USB-C 3.1/2 Gen 1 (5Gbps/625Mbps) or Gen 2 (10Gbps) and PD 2.0 power specs, it would be awesome.
Use #10 – lots of added functionality.
Setup – PASS but EXCEED if you are tech-savvy
It is typical Android TV requiring a Google Account. You can opt-in/out of telemetry (spying).
Settings are self-explanatory, but it helps if you are a little tech-savvy. At one stage, I decided to hit factory reset – that was a mistake as it took a couple of hours!
Once set up (and default settings are fine, but you will want to play with HDR and AI settings) you can download Android TV apps from Google Play.
‘Toblerone’ remote control – EXCEED
Well, it looks like one. It has an IR blaster for TV control as well as BT to the SHIELD. BT means that you don’t need the unit in line-of-sight and can put it in a cupboard!
A dedicated Netflix button is great and if you want to remap it to something else, use Button Mapper.
A mic on/off button summons Google Assistant (Alexa – not tested). It is perfect for in-depth genre searches, smart home control, and general information, and it can even launch content apps such as Netflix and YouTube.
Motion-activated backlit buttons and quick menu mean it is easy to use.
We did not test the NVIDIA remote control app as it appears that the latest version is having issues.
Competition – depends on what you want
NVIDIA claims it is the dominant streaming platform. Its competition includes high-end Android TVs, Roku boxes, Apple TV, JBL Link Bar (Android TV review here) and a raft of streaming TV boxes like Foxtel Go (also Android TV).
I have not made an exhaustive comparison, but a few things stand out
- True Atmos decoding matching the TVs speaker capabilities
- Hi-res music DAC and upscaling
- The best 4K image upscale from 720/1080/ to 4K
- Full Google Assistant and smart home support
- Play content from USB (including non-DRM content)
- USB-A ports on the PRO can act as a DVR, Webcam or a TV Tuner. It can also act as extended internal storage or to access network storage
- USB-A ports can also output sound to a DAC equipped speaker or AV receiver
- Supports BT keyboard/trackpad/mouse
But at $399 plus storage and accessories it may be overkill for video content streamers.
I presently use a Telstra TV 4K Roku powered box with an FTA tuner (also called Roku Ultra). But it is not as fully-featured. Cost is $216 outright (and you don’t need to be a Telstra customer) or shop around online for a bargain.
And I have a late model Sony Android TV, yet I can see the advantages of this device.
Privacy – PASSable to FAIL
NVIDIA promises never to sell your data and only collect and use what you approve to do the job. Great!
But it is the myriad of apps that you need to beware off. NVIDIA nor Google can really control what information these apps exfiltrate. In short, if you use any streaming service, then you are subject to its privacy terms.
However, Google Android TV 9 OS does have the ability to lock down app permissions, and you need to spend a little time – some apps automatically accessed to microphones, camera, contacts and more but you can turn this off.
What about the hardware? EXCEED
- NVIDIA Tegra X1+ processor
- 2/8GB/microSD [Standard] and 3/16GB RAM plus USB for apps and games storage [PRO]
- ‘Toblerone’ triangle remote with remote find feature
- Gigabit Ethernet and Wi-Fi 5 AC 2×2 MIMO 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz
- Bluetooth 5.0 + LE as well as IR Blaster
- HDMI Out 2.0b 4K for a 60Hz refresh panel
- 2 x USB-A 3.0 (480Mbps and 5V/.9A)
- Android 9.0 Android TV with Chromecast 4K built-in
- 16.5 x 4cm round x 137g [standard] and 15.9 x 9.8 x 2.6cm x 250g [PRO]
- Power: 19V/2.1A (40W) plug pack (PRO – not USB-C)
GadgetGuy’s take – NVIDIA SHIELD TV 2019 offers two models
Standard is for streamers and casual gamers. But that is a crowded marketplace and it may be hard to justify the cost against far lower-cost offerings.
Let’s focus on the PRO. Gaming capability aside it is a perfect streamer with the ability to take content over a network, USB or the internet.
It is Android TV OS, and regardless of what smart TV OS you have now, adds a lot of extra features.
Downsides – you need to be a little tech-savvy to use all its features. You need to connect via Ethernet cable – Wi-Fi AC 5Ghz supports 4K video but is a bit scatty unless you are in a few metres line-of-sight of a decent AC router. Wi-Fi 2.4Ghz does not support 4K video transmission. That may mean laying cable or using a pair of Ethernet-Over-Power Powerline adaptors.
I have been using a Telstra TV 4K Roku (Ultra) powered box, and it beats that for image quality and features.