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HolidayBuyer's Guide
Media Streamers

Nvidia Shield update brings Netflix HDR, Vudu, Spotify and HDR games

Looking to close the "app gap" with streaming competitors Roku, Apple and Amazon Fire TV, the high-end Android TV device from Nvidia will add a bunch of new services, with a concentration on 4K and high dynamic range content.

Sarah Tew

In my updated Nvidia Shield review I called it a powerful but niche product that appeals primarily to tech geeks. A software update aims to broaden its appeal, while also increasing its already substantial geek cred.

Coming soon with a free update to version 3.2 of Shield's software is the ability to stream Netflix's HDR (high dynamic range) material. Shield will be the first streaming device to deliver Netflix HDR, beating rival Roku 4 to the punch.

Samsung's UBD-K8500 4K Blu-ray player can also support HDR streaming, but its apps haven't been updated yet. Samsung says they will be soon, but didn't provide exact timing.

In my tests high dynamic range (HDR) offers better image quality than mere 4K/UHD, with improved colors and brighter highlights. How much better depends on the TV and the content itself. Shield will access the HDR10 version of Netflilx HDR, not the Dolby Vision version.

Shield will also be getting a Vudu app, allowing access to the service's large collection of 4K movies (although it won't get any of Vudu's HDR). The Shield can also access 4K60 streams from YouTube.

Of course, Roku 4 launched with Vudu, and still offers one big 4K app that probably won't be available on Shield anytime soon: Amazon Video.

Shield and Android TV trail Roku, Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV in terms of entertainment apps, but a few new additions are helping narrow the gap. Other new apps coming soon to Shield include:

  • Spotify
  • Deezer
  • Watch ESPN
  • Watch ABC
  • Disney Junior
  • Disney Channel
  • CNN Go
  • Nick
  • MTV
  • Comedy Central
  • Freeform
  • NPR news

Most of the above are "TV everywhere" authentication apps that require a cable subscription. The big exception, Spotify, is a great addition, although as a Spotify Premium subscriber I've found that the third-party Emma for Spotify app works well in the meantime.

Beyond its chops as a streamer, Shield is also a capable gaming device, as long as you don't expect the same selection of first-run titles available on PlayStation and Xbox. Nvidia announced a few new Shield titles, namely Resident Evil 5 (native Android) and two games coming to its GeForce Now game streaming service: Shadwen and Homefront: The Revolution.

nvidia-hdr-games.png
Nvidia


Shield is also the first device I've heard of to support HDR gaming. To take advantage you'll need a PC with a HDR-capable, Pascal-based Nvidia video card (such as the $600 GTX 1080 or the $380 GTX 1070) and one of a handful of games that will support HDR, including Lawbreakers, Obduction, Paragon, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Shadow Warrior 2, The Talos Principle and The Witness. Using Shield's GameStream feature you can then play the game on an HDR TV. Like HDR video, HDR games promise better color, brightness and contrast.

Android N update adds DVR, picture-in-picture

Separately from Nvidia, Google will introduce new capabilities for Android TV as part of the Android N update coming this summer to Shield and other devices. One is the potential ability to record streaming video to the device itself or the cloud, much like a DVR, and without having to use an external device like an HDHomeRun TV tuner.

According to Google's developer site "Users can schedule recordings in advance, or start a recording as they watch a program. Once the system has saved a recording, the user can browse, manage, and play back the recording using the system TV app."

The catch? Enabling DVR functionality is up to the app developer, so whether you'll actually be able to record the live streams from WatchESPN or CBS All Access, for example, is up to them. I'm not holding my breath.

Other potential features include picture-in-picture, where an app could continue video playback while users are interacting with another app, a recent apps switcher and support for multiple accounts.

Updated May 24 with information on Samsung UBD-K8500.