Video Game Console Review: Nvidia Shield TV
Introducing the new Nvidia Shield TVconsole.
There’s supposed to be a gaming revolution coming, a new and formidable option to the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4.
But if it’s going to succeed, it’s going to need some games.
Say this for Nvidia Shield TV: In so many ways, this Android-based console showcases the true potential of the run of “alternatives” to your classic gaming experience. It’s the class of the so-called “microconsoles,” with the horsepower to making video games fun and more versatility and polish than your average streaming Android device.
It’s the first non-traditional console that manages to come close to replacing a major gaming machine, easily towering over the likes of OUYA, the new Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV in that regard.
But to really break out from other streaming machines (and justify the steep $189 retail price), all that gaming goodness must come with two things Shield TV lacks: Games and great polish. And issues in these arenas continue to limit the promise of Nvidia’s pet gaming project.
And yet there’s so much good that makes you want to believe in Shield. It makes a strong first impression out of the box, as thin and light as a magazine. It sets up easily, and a cool green light slickly tells you when the console is on. It’s eye-catching and attractive to say the least, the sexiest tiny gaming box you’ve ever seen.
The included Shield controller feels a bit bulky at first, but it mirrors the styling of an Xbox One controller, with the addition of some fat (but useful) volume controls in its center. It takes some getting used to, but it eventually feels familiar.
The user interface offers the necessary apps on any Android device, streaming Netflix and Youtube in 4K and linking you to your library of Google movies. 4K streaming is sharp and navigation is consistently snappy. You simply can’t go wrong with the Shield if your aim is to watch movies.
Then again, you can’t go wrong with any microconsole if the aim is to watch movies. It’s the gaming chops of the Shield that are supposed to separate this machine – and it’s here that things have their ups and downs.
The feature set is intriguing. First, there’s supposed to be a magical set of games, taking advantage of Nvidia’s powerful Tegra X1 processor and a potent graphics processor. Nvidia claims its GPU is vastly more powerful than those of other streaming boxes, but the numbers hardly matter.
There are few game titles for the Nvidia Shield TV, certainly not enough yet to justify the $189 retail price.
The Shield proves its chops in the heat of gaming battle. Metal Gear: Revengeance is an older game, from the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 era, but it’s still a fierce action game, and it pushed the bounds of both those older classic gaming consoles. It released on the Shield in January, and Nvidia’s machine manages to run it solidly and fluidly. When Raiden slices opponents into thousands of pieces, there are hints of slowdown, but by and large, the game plays much as it did on consoles.
That the Shield can run Revengeance means, at the least, it can be home to a series of last-gen ports, enjoyable games that can now come at affordable prices. And you see signs of this too, in a game library that includes Doom 3, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.
You also get GameStream, a unique feature that’s supposed to let you WiFi-stream games from your PC to your Shield, letting you get PC action up on the big screen. The Shield acts as a mere conduit, with your PC powering the entire experience, and when it works, it’s sublime and fun.
But it’s an inconsistent experience: I spent considerable time with Far Cry 4 and Fallout 4 streaming from a Razer Blade Pro. Fallout 4 crashed with regularity. Far Cry 4 played well when it played, but on multiple occasions, the streaming connection could not be maintained.
If you game on PC often, you’re used to these little issues, but longtime console gamers, accustomed to more polished experiences, may grow frustrated with GameStream. At its most finicky, it can be more trouble than it’s worth. You want to count all those GameStream titles as games in your games library, but only if you’re willing to troubleshoot them.
That hurts, too, because the overall game library for the Shield is lacking. While there are a few solid games, some of the most exciting titles haven’t arrived yet. Borderlands and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel have both been mentioned in Shield TV’s ad campaigns, but they remain unavailable.
Nvidia has indicated that they are coming, but how long do you want to wait to play them? And how much can you trust that Mad Max, also indicated to be on the way, really is “coming soon”?
The end result is a quality console with upside, a console that is much better and has far more potential than the usual suspects you see at Best Buy. This could be the console you want if you’re a gamer, with a good (if bulky) controller, a sleek and attractive design, and a smooth OS.
But at this moment? Nvidia Shield TV just needs a little more time.