The battle for the living room (i.e, controlling the television experience) is heating up with forays from multiple vendors. As the cord-cutting trend gains momentum, the time seems to be right for disruption. Roku has been around for a long time and they continue to taste success with inexpensive and small over-the-top set-top boxes (OTT STBs). At the other end of the spectrum is the Apple TV, which, despite just being a 'hobby', has managed to move millions of units. Google had tried to make inroads into this market a few years back with the Google TV / Logitech Revue, but, it unfortunately didn't pan out as expected. Chromecast turned out to be more popular in their second attempt, but it was a limited play. In late 2014, Google launched Android TV along with the Nexus Player.

Coinciding with Google I/O, NVIDIA is releasing their previously announced SHIELD Android TV. First announed back in March at the 2015 Game Developers Conference, SHIELD Android TV is a premium 4K-capable over-the-top set-top box (OTT STB) with a powerful graphics engine. The differentiating aspects compared to the Intel Bay Trail-based Nexus Player and the Qualcomm Snapdragon-based Razer Forge TV lie in 4K support (HDMI 2.0 / HDCP 2.2 / Netflix 4K-certification) and excellent gaming credentials.

SoC Tegra K1 (2.2 GHz 4x Cortex A15r3, Kepler 1 SMX GPU) Tegra X1 (4x Cortex A57 + 4x Cortex A53, Maxwell 2 SMM GPU)
RAM 2 GB LPDDR3-1866 3 GB LPDDR4-3200
NAND 16/32GB NAND + microSD 16GB NAND + microSD + USB
Display 8” 1920x1200 IPS LCD N/A, HDMI 2.0 4Kp60 Output
Dimensions 221 x 126 x 9.2mm, 390 grams 210 x 130 x 25mm, 654 grams
Camera 5MP rear camera, 1.4 µm pixels, 1/4" CMOS size. 5MP FFC N/A
Battery 5197 mAh, 3.8V chemistry (19.75 Whr) N/A, 40W Power Adapter
OS Android 5.0.1 Android TV
Connectivity 2x2 802.11a/b/g/n + BT 4.0, USB2.0, GPS/GLONASS, mini HDMI 1.4a 2x2 802.11a/b/g/n/ac + BT 4.1/BLE, USB 3.0 + 2.0, HDMI 2.0 + HDCP 2.2, IR Receiver, Gigabit Ethernet
Launch Price $299 (16GB/WiFi) + $59 (optional controller) Basic: $199, Includes 1 SHIELD Controller
Pro: $299, Adds 500GB Hard Drive

The NVIDIA SHIELD smart TV platform comprises of three distinct products, the SHIELD console, the SHIELD wireless controller and the SHIELD remote.

The SHIELD is the main console, integrating a Tegra X1 SoC along with 3 GB of LPDDR4 DRAM and 16 GB of storage. I/O ports include two full-sized USB 3.0 host ports, a USB 2.0 micro-USB device port, GbE RJ-45 port, IR for universal remotes and 802.11ac 2x2 MIMO Wi-Fi with Bluetooth 2.1. It also includes a microSDXC slot. Video output is handled by a HDMI 2.0 port with HDCP 2.2 support.

The SHIELD Wireless Controller is the game controller bundled with the SHIELD console, and was first launched last year with the SHIELD Tablet. It uses Wi-Fi Direct for communication. A stereo headset jack and microphone are integrated. It also includes a rechargeable battery that can provide up to 40 hours of battery life.

Finally, the SHIELD Remote It is meant to be a replacement for the game controller in situations where single-handed operation is preferable. It uses Bluetooth for communication with the console. Like the game controller, a microphone and headset jack are included. The rechargeable battery is good for up to 4 weeks.

While the game controller and the console together retail in the basic package for $199, the SHIELD Remote is available separately for $50. Meanwhile after a slight snafu where it was announced back in April and then immediately pulled, NVIDIA is indeed offering a higher-end Pro SKU. SHIELD Pro model is similar to the SHIELD described above, except it adds an internal 500 GB hard drive into the mix and bundles a game - Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! The Pro model is priced at $299.

Prior to diving into the details, let us take a look at the devices that NVIDIA is positioning the SHIELD Android TV against. Note that the two tables below are direct from NVIDIA's marketing material.

As we will see further down in the review, the above table is not far from the truth. In fact, except for NVIDIA claiming that their pulldown algorithm is enhanced compared to the competition, we tend to agree with everything. For the moment at least, NVIDIA pretty much has the 4K set top box to themselves.

NVIDIA claims a 34x raw performance increase compared to other OTT STB platforms. We won't endorse that particular number, but, in general, the performance of the SHIELD is miles ahead of the competition. The only other entry we find contentious is the availability of 24-bit / 192 KHz audio output. As we will see in the local media playback evaluation section, this is something of a moot point in most scenarios since the unit doesn't have licenses for decoding lossless HD audio. In any case, the above tables give an idea of where NVIDIA is positioning the SHIELD Android TV in the market.

The NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV also happens to be the first shipping product with the Tegra X1 SoC. We will first analyze the SoC and its performance in detail before moving on to Android TV in general and the SHIELD in particular.

Tegra X1: The Heart Of the SHIELD Android TV
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  • ganeshts - Thursday, May 28, 2015 - link

    From NV: "we do not have an empty HDD bay in the 16GB sku. Users will not be able to add their own HDD into the 16GB sku."
  • ZOONAMI - Friday, May 29, 2015 - link

    Wow thank you for prompt reply!
  • Cami Hongell - Thursday, May 28, 2015 - link

    Tellybean is the first video call service on Android TV and the SHIELD is the first device that works with a regular Logitech camera. Try it out and please let us know what you think.
  • vdek - Thursday, May 28, 2015 - link

    How does the performance compare to the XB1 and PS4? Those would seem to be the two immediate competitors for this device. It seems like Anandtech has grown too focused on comparing everything to Tablets/phones...
  • kron123456789 - Thursday, May 28, 2015 - link

    "How does the performance compare to the XB1 and PS4?" — It doesn't. This is just hardware:
    Sheild Android TV — 256 CUDA cores(at ~1GHz), 16ROPs, 16TMUs, 3GB of RAM with 25.6GB/sec bandwidth
    Xbox One — 768 GCN cores(at 853MHz), 16ROPs, 48TMUs, 8GB of RAM with 68.2GB/sec bandwidth
    PS4 — 1152 GCN cores(at 800MHz), 32ROPs, 72TMUs, 8GB of RAM with 176GB/sec bandwidth
  • ppi - Thursday, May 28, 2015 - link

    Given that basically all TVs now are "smart", what are real advantages of device such as this one over a Smart TV? I am talking video and content playback, of course.

    While I do not own 4K TV, my 1080p Samsung has no trouble playing HD YouTube and variety of formats from USB disk.
  • jt122333221 - Thursday, May 28, 2015 - link

    More content should be available on Android TV, and it's more likely to be updated than your TVs. Also, there are a lot of people who don't have a Smart TV and who would prefer NOT using their TV's smart features (I despise mine, the interface is horrible, apps are abysmal; only reason I have it is because it came with the TV I wanted).
  • Yojimbo - Thursday, May 28, 2015 - link

    I have a Samsung smart tv and it's slow, slow, slow.
  • jeffkibuule - Thursday, May 28, 2015 - link

    When's the last time your TV got a meaningful software update?
  • TheJian - Friday, May 29, 2015 - link

    You did see the gaming benchmarks right? If that wasn't a major point for the user, not sure why you would pay for this here other than playing all kinds of formats from your USB drives (flash etc), across the network (smart tv's usually not good at that either). Not to mention Grid gaming, which eliminates much of the need for a high end PC and constantly buying $60 games (be it console or PC).

    You have to be looking at this for more than just vids I think. IE you can do anything android devices can do. Meaning play their games, browse the web etc. I can sit on the couch and browse with a keyboard and mouse with this and a big screen (saving me a fat foot after 8hrs at work and some home time also on top). Too bad anandtech didn't bother to use it like this and comment.

    I think SMART tv's are actually pretty stupid. They basically can stream some crap from netflix, youtube, amazon etc and not much more. Now if your tv has roku built-in or something, ok maybe sort of smarter but even that lacks major formats (really just has far more channels than smart tv's). My roku 2/3's are useless for USB sticks on about 80% of my content. I end up sticking it in the bluray player instead as most of the time it either can't play the audio or can't play the video.

    If all you're after is movies and some streaming, I'd probably rather have a bluray player for $79-$99 that plays almost all formats from USB and streams fine, not to mention playing all disc formats (LG, BP350 $79 or something). Or even just a roku2 (new model with faster chip or roku 3 if using headphones in remote is needed) if just after streaming stuff but again, from usb sucks here, so I'm just talking web streaming vids.

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