Nvidia's new Shield streaming TV devices both use 'AI upscaling' to simulate 4K
The two newest Shields promise higher-quality streaming video. And one looks like a cigar.
David KatzmaierEditorial Director -- Personal Tech
David reviews TVs and leads the Personal Tech team at CNET, covering mobile, software, computing, streaming and home entertainment. We provide helpful, expert reviews, advice and videos on what gadget or service to buy and how to get the most out of it.
ExpertiseA 20-year CNET veteran, David has been reviewing TVs since the days of CRT, rear-projection and plasma. Prior to CNET he worked at Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as the Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics.Credentials
Although still awaiting his Oscar for Best Picture Reviewer, David does hold certifications from the Imaging Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology on display calibration and evaluation.
Ever since the original -- a 5-inch Android "tablet" grafted onto an Xbox-style gamepad that launched in 2013 -- the
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 do-it-all TV device focused on video streaming.
Watch this: Nvidia debuts two new Shield TV streamers
After numerous leaks, 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 streaming quality compared to the excellent 2017 Nvidia Shield TV, thanks to 4K AI upscaling and Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos 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)
USB 3.0 ports
Wi-Fi and Ethernet
Android TV with Google Assistant
Plex Media Server
4K HDR video
Backlit remote with remote finder
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
, 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 Plex Media Server function -- both Shields can run the Plex client app but only the Pro can act as a server too.
Both also include
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
via both HDMI-CEC and infrared.
And best of all there's a remote finder -- a la Roku Ultra or Caavo -- to cause the clicker to emit a sound from under the couch cushions. It can be activated from a button on Shield itself, from new Shield app on your phone or by asking a paired Alexa or
speaker to find the remote.
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
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
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 can upscale any 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 24 fps, 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 Coco, for example, as well as Tom Cruise's face in the Top Gun: Maverick 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 Samsung TVs do AI upscaling, too, and Apple TV 4K can make everything look like HDR. I'm looking forward to testing Nvidia's version further.
Just like its predecessor, the Shield runs Google's
operating system, which aside from Apple TV offers a similar selection of apps as
, Fire TV and Apple TV streamers. The newest version gives the app store a facelift to surface more app categories. As always it integrates Google Assistant using the voice remote.
prowess is mostly unchanged -- it runs Android games from Google Play, Nvidia's GeForce Now cloud gaming platform and can stream games from a PC on your home network via Nvidia's GameStream 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.