Nvidia Shield TV Review
Many have tried it. Many have failed. This new generation of consoles fighting for survival and for the approval of the livingroom and desktop gamer have been a very enthusiastic push of many tech companies. They come in the form of TV sticks, boxes, as kickstarters and indiegogo campaigns. One things is common between most of them. They all try to open up gaming in the living room, attempting at giving the gamer more options and play types to enjoy with their TV.
The console we will be talking about today is the Nvidia Shield Console. Now the first thing I want to get out of the way is that a popular name for any console that is not one of what we consider the "big 3", powered by an Android, Linux or a custom open source OS is "Micro Console". and folks, that may be true of many of these new startups, but there is nothing Micro about the Nvidia Shield TV. Like any good console it has the power needed to run some of the highest end games, for that Nvidia outfitted it with the Tegra X1, the most powerful SoC (System on a Chip) Processor available on the market allowing this to be very slim, virtually silent and more powerful than all of the last gen consoles. I am not going to get too much into specifications becase I firmly believe that they don't immediately translate into a better gaming experience for the end user but know that this will be able to run almost anything you throw at.
Another Highlight of the Console is Nvidia's own howngrown video game streaming service called GRID for which there is 60+ titles available to play. Games ranging from Indie to AAA, from casual to the immersive quintessential PC and Console class games and experiences.
The Console is powered by Google's own Android TV OS, which offers Nvidia Shield owners not only a great gaming experience but a far better media viewing and discovery experience than is currently available on modern consoles. The box has 4K streaming capability, with Netflix and Youtube currently supporting and delivering 4K content right now. It also supports almost all the necessary video codec required to play any files you may have whether you download it directly to the Shield, stream it from the Cloud or by your Local Area Network. It comes with 16GB for $200 or for only $100 more 500GB which is the version that I purchased. It also has support for external hard drives and Micro SD Cards so downloading video content or games will not be an issue for Shield.
The Nvidia Shield is definitely a very interesting piece of tech and it is not without it's faults but it is definitely the best argument to be made for this new classification of upcoming consoles. Let me talk a bit about the experiences I've had with the Shield since I got it the 3rd of the month.
Soon after booting the device up you are asked to sign in with your Google Account and go through some other start up settings. Once the start up phase is over you are presented with the Android TV Homescreen where you will see a row of content recommended to you by Google. Followed by a row for Nvidia's services called the Shield Hub which hosts the Shield Store (Download Games) which is a list of currated games that you can play natively on the device or GRID (Stream Games) which is the streaming service we touch on earlier. There is a row for some basic apps like photos and videos, music, Youtube, Plex (a media server service) as well as the Google Play Store for getting new apps, games, movies and TV, etc. The last row is one for your settings, here you will be able to manage your connections, peripherals, etc. As you start to download games another row will appear for them below the Shield Hub. The interface is quite simple and it is easy to find your way around. What I like is that the content is front and center and there is nothing to get in the way of that. Something to note though is that out of the box there is an update that is required and unless you scroll all the way to the right on the recommendation row you may not see the update options. Fortunately you can also manually seach for an update via the settings but I think they could have placed this front and center with a little more priority. One of the biggest things this update brings you is Netflix which you will not find anywhere on the Homescreen or the Google Play Store until the update is done.
One of the most imprtant things about a gaming device is it's controlls. The Nvidia Shield controller is the best video game controller I have ever used. It is very comfortable in the hand, light but solid, and the buttons have just the right amount of springiness to them. It is lightning fast and has virtually no latency when used wirelessly. To achieve this Nvidia used a Wi-Fi direct connection to the console. The controller has the ability to route audio from the console to the controller by plugging in a pair of headphones to the headphone jack located at the top of the controller. This is absolutely huge for me. I love playing games with headphones as I can play it loud without bothering anyone and it increases my immersion in the game. Yet again, the audio has virtually no latency and is very high fidelity. The seamlessness in which the controller worked for both gaming input and audio blew me away. Not to mention the controller has a home and a back navigation key so there is no guessing which button does what and they don't have to put a legend on the game or app telling you what the buttons do, another big annoyance I have with consoles I have used. The controller has volume controls built right in and it uses a standard micro usb cable for charging. Holy Moly I cannot tell you how awesome this last one is. No proprietary cables or charging docks. This really made my life easier. Finally it has an Nvidia button for activating voice dictation which is also built into the controller, allowing you to search for content on your Shield. All in all, the Nvidia Shield controller really feels like what a console controller should be. I'll be waiting eagerly for Microsoft and Sony to catch up.
What's Important to the Gamer?
When it comes to Gaming there are many aspects that are more important to some than others and there are many styles of gamers that will want different things. Where does this console fall in the grand scheme of gaming devices? Right now the Shield is a very fun device full of useful features and is definitely worth every dollar, all 200 of them (or 300 for the Pro Model). What I will say for the already hardcore Console gamer, who may own a console or two or three, this is not the one for you. When it comes to exclusives there no such thing with the Shield, as it is open it borrows from the existing library of PC and Mobile games which means essentially you can get these experiences elsewhere. There are about 60 PC titles available for streaming now, about 120 games featured by Nvidia in the Shield Store and even more controller compatible games available to download in the Google Play Store, which is very good for a console that has existed for less than a month but do not expect this device to trump Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo with quantity of titles so early in the "game"… Most of these games offered in the Google Play Store while very fun and good looking on the TV are indie or casual games that will not appeal to the Core Gamer. The Shield Hub is definitely better on this end but still are mainly indie games and some AAA titles, and GRID offers the best satisfaction to the core gamer's expectations but still needs to grow. I'll talk a little more though on why even though this isn't the console for the core gamer right now, it's still totally worth the buy and may eventually be the console for the you.
Who this console is for?
How about PC gamers? This is where this console really shines right now. Shield has the ability to do 2 things that give PC gamers a lot of flexibility to play the games they love. 1st is like I mentioned earlier. GRID is going to allow you to stream games straight from Nvidia's servers. Shield also lets you stream your own PC titles that you have downloaded at your Desktop to the Shield as long as it is Geoforce GTX powered. This means for these players they have a far greater game library that they can play from the comfort of their living room than theoretically any other console. And for $200 and a pre-existing PC this is a bargain. There are some other PC streaming options out there that are cheaper but none offer an in house experience that is this streamline along with being a best in class media/smart tv box.
There is another type of gamer that this device will appeal to. I believe there is a gamer that doesn't fall under PC, Console or Mobile label. This new generation of gamer is who I think this console will appeal to the most and I think Nvidia is a little early to the party. Games for a long time have been tied down to the platform they reside on, but as technology grows, the way they can be consumed also has and all of this growth has culminated into what the Shield represents. A console that will be the hub of your entertainment life. Remember when all a video game console could do were play video games? Remember when the most advanced game you could play on your cell phone was snake? Nvidia is just taking what console and mobile computers are and bringing them to their logical conclusion. You can browse the web, watch video, and use apps on consoles but it is largely a poor experience because they are dedicated gaming PCs after all. They aren't optimized for anything else. I could argue that all these extra features are just a distraction as long as they remain as bad as they are but with Shield this is not the case. It knows it is a PC, a Mobile Computer and a Console and tries to bring you these services in the best way. With Shield, content isn't branded as a "Shield game" per se, so if you have the same game on PC or Mobile you can play it on Shield, if your friends have the same game and it is an online multiplayer game, just like PC and Mobile you'll be able to play with that person. You can use a PC, XBOX, Playstation or any Bluetooth or USB controller to play games on the Shield. I had a friend come over and we wanted to play some games but I had not bought an extra Shield controller, I actually panicked for a moment as I usually do when I tell my friends to bring their PS3 controllers over because I only have 2 and they come over and realize they have forgotten. I scrounged through my drawer and found an XBox Controller, my brother also wanted to play so he went up stairs and got a PC Logitech controller of his and we all played Bomb Squad for hours. This was a real highlight for me and something that really solidified my purchase.
The Nvidia Shield is a device that has yet to grow into it's shoes. It is trying to appeal to a larger range of gamers than current consoles and because of that it doesn't have a ton of any one type of content, especially native AAA experiences which is where Sony and Microsoft still dominate. In time however it will get this library as long as Nvidia stays on top of it and gets Developers on board which I believe they can do with their money, and influence in the PC gaming realm. Until then, this is a console for early adopters, PC gamers and less then hardcore but more than casual console gamers that does a bang up job at viewing and streaming media. As we approach the end of it's first month available to consumers my hopes are high for this device and I am eager to see what Nvidia has in store for it.
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