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Nvidia Shield TV (2019) review: fully tubular
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I spent a few days testing the tubular Shield TV and I think it will appeal to an even wider audience than home cinema enthusiasts who are attracted to the Shield because of the enormous horsepower and software (Android TV) that provides lots of tinkering. Do you want to load the shield with emulators and game ROM & # 39; s? Just try. Sideload to your heart's content.

Both the Shield TV Pro and Shield TV are equipped with Nvidia & # 39; s Tegra X1 + chip, which is "up to 25 percent faster" than the older device. The Shield has always been strong when it comes to performance, and I don't think you'll find a faster Android TV experience anywhere. This type of speed and fluidity is only matched by the Apple TV 4K. Netflix, YouTube, Prime Video and other apps open almost immediately and are buttery smooth while you scroll around to watch something. Google Assistant responds quickly and Android TV can now be included in routines created with the Google Home app.


I became quite bullish on Android TV when I used Shield. The home screen is nicely customizable and is not peppered with advertisements such as a Roku or Fire TV. You can use Chromecast to Shield TV and voice commands through Google Assistant work reliably. Google is finally also improving the Play Store on Android TV for better findability.

The design of the Shield TV is certainly unconventional. You are not going to confuse this thing with an Apple TV or Roku. And with a length of more than 6 centimeters, the Shield TV is by no means a streaming stick. It is not intended to hang from the HDMI port of your TV. Instead, Nvidia believes that most customers will hide it behind the TV or even leave it behind their entertainment cupboards on the floor.


There are different ports on both ends of the tube: HDMI, microSD and an external viewfinder button on one side and Ethernet and power on the other. The microSD slot is so close to the HDMI port that access is almost certainly impeded by the housing of an HDMI cable, so you may need to remove the cord when loading a card with new movies or other content. Nevertheless, I am happy that Nvidia has included expandable storage here, because the Shield TV itself only has 8 GB on board.


The Shield TV Pro, which has a more traditional set-top box design, has double the storage (16 GB) and more RAM (3 GB instead of 2 GB on the Shield TV). However, those figures still seem low to me for a $ 200 device. The Pro is the only one of the two that can be used as a Plex Media Server, and you also get two USB 3.0 ports for connecting external drives, keyboards / mice or SmartThings Link from Samsung. I have read some early feedback from disappointed customers hoping that Nvidia would become more ambitious with this hardware. In addition to always slightly faster processor renewal (for an aging chip) and Dolby Vision, there really isn't much that is new, and the Shield TV Pro lacks Wi-Fi 6 and HDMI 2.1.

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Neither of the two versions comes with a game controller. The Shield gamepad can still be purchased separately, and Android TV also supports DualShock 4 from Sony and Xbox One controllers from Microsoft. Nvidia & # 39; s GeForce Now game streaming service is included and is still free – for the time being – while in beta. Google's own Stadia service is not expected on Android TV until sometime next year, so Nvidia does not have to defeat that competition.


The remote control that is doing coming in the box has been greatly improved. It now has buttons for power, volume, and rewind / fast forward. The buttons for voice search, home page and back are still present and there is a special hot key for Netflix at the bottom. It is the only service that receives this treatment and Nvidia told me that this is because Netflix is ​​by far the most popular service among its customers.

In the top right corner of the remote control is a button that you can adjust to open any app (I predict that Plex and Kodi will be popular choices), launch the settings menu, take a screenshot or a number of other options. The buttons on the remote control have background lighting and are activated when motion is detected. It works on two AAA batteries and has Bluetooth (for communication with the Shield) and IR (for controlling your TV and soundbar).


The 2019 Shields support Dolby Vision, HDR10 (not HDR10 +), Dolby Atmos and Dolby Digital Plus surround sound. So you'll find many 4K HDR movies and TV shows from all the usual suspects, and the Netflix app finally runs Atmos on Shield. But there is one disappointment: the Shield TV does not play HDR from YouTube because Nvidia is not behind the VP9 profile (and has no plans to).


For all content that is not in 4K, it is worth trying out the new AI-enhanced upscaling from Nvidia. If done correctly, scaling may make you look at content with a higher resolution than the original source material; everything looks sharper and more detailed. But TV & # 39; s and streaming gadgets don't usually work well. Nvidia says it is a & # 39; deeply learning neural network & # 39; has trained on how best to scale 1080p and even 720p video to 4K, and that neural network runs in real time when you play video on the Shield TV and Shield TV Pro. Here is more from Nvidia about how it works:

We have trained a convolutional neural network (CNN) to predict the remaining (difference) between a normal linearly scaled video and a high resolution 4K ground-truth video (reference quality). After training the network with tons of video content, it becomes really good at predicting the difference between the two video & # 39; s. Subsequently, when it only feeds the scaled video content, it can apply the prediction and produce results in the neighborhood of 4K. Once trained, the neural network model runs in real time on the Tegra X1 + processor and scales up video just before it is displayed on the TV.


So is it a gimmick or does it really work? I would vote for the latter. The Nvidia system makes a noticeable difference and it not only covers everything with a layer of sharpening. The AI ​​upscaling does not work for 60 fps video and is also not performed when you play games. But for everything else you can ensure that the image on the screen is optimized at all times. And I got away very impressed.

You can't watch Star Wars: The Last Jedi in 4K on Netflix, but I certainly noticed more clarity in clothing and on faces when AI enhanced scaling was enabled. You can set the customizable button on the remote control to turn this function on and off if you want, and there is even a "demo mode" where you can drag a slider along the current frame to see the difference and which part of the image it's improving . By default, detail enhancement is set to medium, but it can be increased or decreased if you notice that it produces weird artifacts that are not in the source content. I didn't really come across that, so I kept the upscaling of the AI ​​on.


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The Shield TV from 2019 immediately hits the top of my list of recommendations for those who want a great streaming experience in their living room. At $ 149, it still depends on the best elements of the more expensive Shield TV Pro – speed, flexibility and that great new remote – and offers powerful user functions for the powerful user product. There is definitely a sense of similarity with the Pro model, and I doubt that the current Shield owners are forced to upgrade until Nvidia makes more meaningful hardware improvements. But for those who are new to Android TV, there is no device better at presenting it.

Photography by Chris Welch / The Verge

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