Ever since the Nvidia Shield has been weird. Subsequent iterations became a bit more normal but the device has always embraced its geeky, gaming-centric roots while it slowly morphed into a focused on video streaming.-- a 5-inch Android "tablet" grafted onto an Xbox-style gamepad that launched in 2013 -- the
After, the 2019 Nvidia Shield TV goes on sale today with two different models: the familiar-looking Shield TV Pro ($200) and bizarre Shield TV ($150) -- which looks like nothing so much as a fat stogie. Both promise improved quality compared to the , thanks to AI upscaling and and support. Here's how they stack against each other and the 2017 version.
Nvidia Shields compared
||Shield TV (2019)||Shield TV Pro (2019)||Shield TV (2017)|
|Processor||Tegra X1+||Tegra X1+||Tegra X1|
|USB 3.0 ports||No||2||2|
|Wi-Fi and Ethernet||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Android TV with Google Assistant||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Plex Media Server||No||Yes||Yes|
|4K HDR video||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Dolby Atmos||Yes||Yes||Pass-through only|
|Backlit remote with remote finder||Yes||Yes||No|
Take two and pass
So about that cigar. The basic, $150 Shield TV has most of the features of the $200 Pro packed into a black cylinder with the ports -- including HDMI, SD card slot, power and Ethernet -- stuffed into either end. It's designed to hide out of sight behind your TV or AV rack. The Pro's enhanced RAM and storage won't be a big deal for most users, but Plex die-hards might want to spring the extra cash for the -- both Shields can run the Plex client app but only the Pro can act as a server too.
Both also include Nvidia's fancy new remote, which might be the most welcome upgrade. It sports more buttons, including a key at the top you can program for a variety of functions, from app launching to settings tweaks. All of the keys light up when you pick up the wand, it runs on AAA batteries and it can control volume and power on compatible TVs via both HDMI-CEC and infrared.
AI upscaling: Netflix, meet neural net
I haven't had the chance to fully review the new Shield yet but from what I saw at Nvidia's demo AI upscaling could be worthwhile for sharp-eyed viewers. It's designed to improve the detail and sharpness of standard HD video and make it look more like 4K and how it works is pretty cool. Nvidia trained a neural network with TV and movie content from sources like Netflix and Amazon Prime video, showing it both native 4K video and video upscaled using traditional methods. The network uses the difference between the two to apply a prediction of what 4K video should look like.
The trained network lives inside the Tegra X1 Plus processor and canany video -- from standard 480p to 1080p -- to 4K. One limitation, however: It can't upscale 60 frame-per-second video. That's not a huge deal since most TV and movie content is in , but it does mean the AI upscaling doesn't work with games or certain YouTube videos.
The new Shield has a demo mode (available to end users) that places standard and AI upconverted video side-by-side on the screen, and it was easy to see the improvement on a 65-inch OLED TV from about eight feet away. Details were sharper at a cityscape from , for example, as well as Tom Cruise's face in the trailer. Users can choose from three levels of detail and also employ standard upconversion, as well as disable the effect entirely. This level of upscaling is a first for streamers although , and Apple TV 4K can make everything look like . I'm looking forward to testing Nvidia's version further.
The new Shield's apps for Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV 4K and beats that of Amazon Fire TV's 4K streamers. On-board Dolby Atmos decoding, as opposed to pass-through on the 2017 Shield, . It's worth noting, however, that the Apple TV app, Apple TV Plus and iTunes aren't available on the Shield., Vudu and all handle Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos. That Dolby coverage competes well with the
Just like its predecessor, the Shield runs Google's Android TV operating system, which aside from Apple TV offers a similar selection of apps as Roku, Fire TV and Apple TV streamers. The newest version gives the app store a facelift to surface more app categories. As always it integrates using the voice remote.
The Shield's gaming prowess is mostly unchanged -- it runs Android games from Google Play, Nvidia's cloud gaming platform and can stream games from a PC on your home network via feature -- but the new version doesn't include a game controller. You can buy Nvidia's own separately for $60, complete with medium-field Google Assistant, or just pair the Shield with Xbox, PlayStation or other third-party controllers.
Originally published Oct. 28.