Which Android TV box should you buy if you’re in the market this year? The answer: The NVIDIA Shield TV.
If 2014 was Android TV’s first couple laps, surely 2015 is where the platform is really getting into fine form. Ever since it’s announcement in 2014 Android TV has gotten a lot of people very excited. While streaming boxes have sold pretty well for the past 5-7 years, many of them have been hampered by less-than-stellar software that is not well-supported. Case in point is the WDTV Live box from Western Digital. Great box, awful software and even worse customer support. Android TV has offered a way out. By basing streaming devices on the Android TV platform we are seeing hardware that truly has a good software experience. Not only that, but the whole Android app ecosystem opens up to your living room which is increasingly a major reason to move to the platform.
But what is the best option to buy right now? If you search online you’ll see a metric tonne of cheap boxes developed by no-name companies out of Hong Kong. And to be honest, some of these are probably decent buys. Just don’t expect too many official updates or customer support. So for this article I want to focus on a device that is a bit more mainstream but still has gotten the Android TV aficionados excited.
The best Android TV box of 2015: NVIDIA Shield TV
When Android TV launched we were teased with the ASUS made ADT-1, which later was released as the Nexus Player. An unassuming little puck, the Nexus Player was a great first stab by Google and its hardware partners at regaining control of your living room. But it wasn’t until this year that a real contender entered the fray.
NVIDIA’s Android TV box is nothing but solid. To put it lightly, it’s a powerhouse. Sporting 3GB of RAM, native 4K resolution, a swathe of ports on the back and, of course, the blazingly fast Tegra X1 processor. This box has a lot going for it.
It always brings some really unique features that no other streaming box bring to the table. Since NVIDIA has it’s feet firmly placed in the gaming world, it’s no surprise that the Shield TV has a strong gaming component. The unassuming little Android TV box seems to almost be vying to move people over from PS4 and Xbox One (if you can believe it). I don’t think gamers will immediately be willing to jump over from those platforms just yet, but bare with me here. The Shield TV can obviously run regular Android TV-optimized games (just like the Nexus Player), but it steps it up a notch (actually, probably more like a couple notches) with the integration of its GRID gaming service. This allows owners of PCs with NVIDIA chipsets to stream a wide-array of triple A PC gaming titles. And it does so with minimal lag and at full 1080p resolution. An amazing feat to say the least. Lastly, the Shield TV will allow users to access some really great Android exclusives such as Portal and Half Life 2 (which aren’t available for none Shield devices).
Of course, this is just gaming. For cord cutters, we want to know how the thing performs for video playback.
The absolute best media streamer outside of a PC
Due to the beastly hardware inside this thin box, the Shield TV has no problem running the Android TV interface. Everything is snappy as expected with such beefy innards. But the device really shines when it comes to pushing some high resolution, high bitrate video. This is first truly 4K Android TV box. In fact it is one of the few devices available that can deliver crystal clear 4K video from Netflix to your brand new TV. This is all thanks to to their snappy X1 processor that NVIDIA claims is up to 34X better performance than the current Apple TV, and 25X than the Roku 3.
As with other Android TV devices, the Shield TV sports built in “Google Cast” support for casting content “a la Chromecast.” This is a big plus considering the Android TV app lineup is still maturing (ie. no HBO Now yet).
I have used the Shield TV to beam my local video storage through Plex and it worked like a charm. 1080p content at high bitrate was played with no stuttering or artifacting (using a Mac Mini as a server over AC wireless). It is also a champ at installing the new Kodi media centre app from the Google Play Store. Kodi itself is a darling of the do-it-yourself streaming video community online and it looks like Android TV has become the most flexible platform (since the PC) to get content to your TV. Of course there are varying levels of legality associated with the Kodi platform. But in any case, it works, and it works well.
Rounding out the package is an optional remote control that includes an input microphone that can be used to serve up content via voice. And it works really well! You can also use the included the remote to send voice commands to the Shield TV.
Where the Shield TV beats the competition
First of all, as mentioned above, the connectivity on the Shield TV lays no stone unturned. I can’t count the number of devices that have been released recently without wired internet connections. For those serious about video streaming, wired connections are the most reliable and are almost necessary. The Shield TV comes with a built in gigabit ethernet port to ensure your network keeps up with the device.
The Shield TV also sports wireless 802.11ac over both 2.4 GHz and 5GHz (I’m looking at you Chromecast…) So for those of you in apartments with congested wireless, you’ll be happy. It also packs in Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy, two USB 2.0 connections for connecting external drives, one micro USB port, and HDMI 2.0 output, and a micro SD card slot to extend the internal storage.
Speaking of internal storage, the device comes in two flavours. The first is the base mode that sports 16GB of on-board storage. But this can be upped to 500GB with the Shield TV Pro for $100 more.
All of this connectivity fills the void that the Nexus Player really didn’t. Look at the Nexus Player as a tricycle, where the Shield TV is a Harley.
The wrap up
The Android TV ecosystem will only get better and better as the platform matures. Already, it is presenting one of the most attractive platforms for many cord cutters or those that just want a convenient way to access internet TV content. And as far as mainstream Android TV boxes go, the Shield TV is the absolute pinnacle. In my opinion, it is now the box to beat.Check out the Shield TV now