Nvidia’s Shield set-top streaming device got an update at this year’s CES, and it was a big one: The new hardware is 40 percent smaller than the original, with a new Android 7.0 Nougat-based operating system and a redesigned UI that groups games together and just generally organizes things a bit more logically. It also handles 4K HDR content streaming, and boasts the most sources available for such content of any set-top streaming device currently available.
The new Shield looks quite a bit like the hold one, and even has the same Tegra X1 processor powering it inside. Nvidia notes that even though it’s using the same chip as in the previous-generation hardware, which it originally released in May 2015, the company notes that it’s still three times as fast as its closest category competitor when it comes to performance of local games — and Nvidia’s Shield-based version of its GeForce Now streaming gaming service is much improved for a console-beating games performance experience.
Gaming has been improved all around, with a re-engineered backend for how it handles both GeForce Now and Gamestream, which streams games from your own Nvidia GPU-equipped PC. It’s an all-around better gaming device, according to Nvidia, partly due to a switch to all-Pascal GPU architecture for its GeForce Now streaming on the server side, which will use “up to” GTX 1080 cars to deliver the best possible detail and graphics quality while aiming for as close to a smooth 60FPS frame rate as possible for each title available.
Content is also improved, with GeForce Now getting a big bump thanks to day-and-date access to Ubisoft’s entire catalog, including upcoming AAA titles. There’s also Uplay compatibility to bring over your friends list, leaderboards and even multiplayer. GeForce Now multiplayer support is a big addition overall, and allows players to participate in some of the most popular MMOs out there right now.
Gamestream’s backend overhaul means that the new Shield handles up to 4K HDR streaming from titles and TVs that support those technologies (even if your PC monitor doesn’t). It also can now transfer haptic feedback from the game, which was a notable omission on the previous version.
Speaking of that feedback, it’s transmitted via a new Nvidia Shield controller, with a great-looking new design and a much thinner and lighter profile. Nvidia ditched the touchpad that was on the original, since that was originally made for Shield tablet interfaces anyway, and added an ambient microphone for hands-free use of Google Assistant, which isn’t available at launch but will be added in the coming months. Plus it has a conversation mode created just for Assistant on the TV, which keeps the mic open for around 10 seconds or so after your initial “OK Google” command so you can string together queries.
The controller felt terrific to use, and is a huge improvement on the original. It’s included in the box, and its internal battery boasts up to 60 hours of play time on a single charge. Nvidia is also including a Shield media controller in the box, whereas before it was an add-on accessory.
One add-on accessory coming later is a USB dongle that adds Zigbee and Z-Wave compatibility. The Shield is already a SmartThings hub, too, and the dongle will ensure compatibility across all your smart-home devices.
In my time with the Shield, the Google Assistant demo integration wasn’t behaving, but Nvidia notes that it’s still in the testing phase ahead of its proper launch a few months down the road. Other features worked very well, however, including Gamestream and GeForce Now, with no perceptible lag and graphics that put those on my own locally connected consoles, including PS4 and Xbox One, to shame.
I also got to try out the new made-for-TV YouTube 360 app, where you use the Shield controller’s joystick to navigate around the view. It’s an interesting way to use a feature that seems more at home on a VR headset, but one that could be especially interesting for tuning into 360-degree concerts.
It’s a big improvement overall, made even more impressive because most of the features will come to existing Shield devices via a software update — even the ambient Google Assistant stuff will be available if you pick up one of the new controllers, or the Nvidia Spot plug-in AI microphone accessories, which will launch later this year after the Assistant update goes live, for $49.99, according to Nvidia.
The new Shield costs $199.99, the same as its predecessor, and includes the remote as mentioned. There’s also the pro version at $299.99, with 500GB of storage. Pre-orders will begin to ship later this month.