NVIDIA Shield Pro is a true all-in-one 4K HDR device
Whether you consider yourself a cord cutter or not, the NVIDIA Shield Pro can serve as an antidote to pricey a cable subscription. And it will give you a lot more for your money over the long run than that dusty cable box that’s now sitting in your living room.
Consider the fact that at minimum, you are paying $1237.20 per year on a cable bill. (The national average for a monthly cable bill in the U.S. was $103.10 in late 2016.)
Now that NVIDIA Shield TV can stream live over-the-air (OTA) TV channels and act as a DVR, you can liberate yourself from shelling out thousands of dollars a year for the ability to watch TV.
All your major network channels – NBC, CBS, ABC and FOX – can be piped into your home in HD quality through Plex’s Live TV and DVR features. You can stream Netflix, Amazon Video and YouTube in 4K HDR. Want to stream PlayStation Vue? Its best performing app is on Shield.
And forget about pining for a new PlayStation or Xbox console. A buffet of games, cerebral ones like The Witness, appear alongside old-school arcade titles, and fast-paced shooters like Borderlands with a GeForce NOW subscription. Don’t want a subscription? That’s fine. You can buy games too or stream them from your PC.
It has taken NVIDIA a couple of years, but Shield — especially Shield Pro with its 500GB hard drive — has truly become an all-in-one device. And with more features on the horizon, the overall value from Shield is quickly evolving.
NVIDIA Spot, a smart home hub
Pretty soon, you will be able to tell your Shield to dim the lights and launch Netflix all at once.
NVIDIA plans to broaden Shield’s abilities by making it a voice-activated hub for smart home devices like thermostats and lighting. NVIDIA Spot, the tiny microphone accessory, is expected to make this possible sometime this year.
Google Voice Search is already part of the infrastructure of Android TV. You can already do a lot with it by asking about the weather or any other question that you already bark into the Google Voice app on your phone.
How I tested NVIDIA Shield Pro with Plex Live TV and DVR
My review mostly happened during a working vacation at a woodsy spot along the coast of Maine. I only had access to WiFi while I was away. I tried out two different TV antennas while using Plex DVR and Live TV. I brought along an amplified ClearStream Eclipse by Antennas Direct. Later on, I tried out an outdoor antenna (brand unknown) that was on the roof of the property.
Testing out the NVIDIA Shield Pro while in my summer spot was not planned, but it turned out to be ideal. I got to see firsthand how the Shield would hold up as general entertainment for streaming and gaming in a summer home environment. NVIDIA provided me with a Shield Pro and a Hauppauge WinTV-dualHD USB tuner for this review. I used a Plex Pass that was provided to me for a recent review of Plex DVR. Back in the city, I did some more testing with a HDHomeRun Extend tuner.
I tested the streaming capabilities of popular apps like Amazon Video and Netflix. Live streaming services PlayStation Vue and fuboTV were taken for a whirl. I explored the capabilities of TV Everywhere apps by using my credentials for PS Vue and fuboTV.
I also played a number of games from the Google Play Store and NVIDIA’s GeForce NOW service. I tried out GeForce NOW over WiFi (away from home) and using Ethernet (at home). GeForce now functions as a sort of Netflix-like experience of streaming games. Some of the games come with the $7.99 per month GeForce NOW subscription. Others you can purchase outright.
NVIDIA SHIELD PRO specs
The NVIDIA Shield Pro comes with a 500GB internal hard drive, a slim metal remote and a sleek gamepad. The remote and gamepad has rechargeable batteries. The Pro retains the MicroSD card slot for additional storage that was on the 2015 model. (The new 16GB model released in 2017 does not.)
There are two USB ports in the back, 3GB of RAM and NVIDIA’s Tegra X1 Processor.
Getting the 16GB model vs 500GB may come down to price point for you. There is a $100 price difference between the two Shield models. The 16GB and 500GB Shield can use external storage if you are setting it up as a Plex Media Server.
Netflix, Amazon Video and YouTube on NVIDIA Shield Pro
Compared to a Roku or an Amazon Fire TV, the user interface for Shield is a lot easier to peruse. Menus scroll horizontally instead of vertical. And you can customize what apps appear first.
Suggested content from all your apps is at the top of the screen. Streaming apps are just below it in a parallel menu. Games are at the bottom.
The app selection wasn’t as robust as I wanted it to be. (More on that below.) But you can easily find more to watch than you will possibly have time for. In addition to using Plex to stream OTA channels, there are few apps worth singling out. The first three mentioned here: YouTube, Amazon Video and Netflix, offer 4K content for those with a 4K TV to view it on. Shield supports High Dynamic Range (HDR), a term you will be hearing a lot more about in the years to come.
- YouTube was the most impressive app for streaming free video. Content was much easier to find, whether it was in your subscriptions list or not. I streamed brand new concerts, and searched within the YouTube app using voice commands. It seems just silly that Fire TV and Roku aren’t delivering YouTube in a similar way. Even when I was on the main menu, Google Voice Search’s capabilities proved to helpful outside of just streaming content. When I asked, “What’s the weather today?” I was given a local forecast for the next few days. My second request “Show me cocktail recipes” was also impressive. A row of YouTube videos appeared. (Note: “How to Make a Margarita” by Howcast is pretty decent.)
- Amazon Video has a simple and efficient interface that’s similar to Roku’s app. You can easily find anything you want to watch, whether it’s a movie or favorite series. I watched some of the new Grateful Dead documentary with my stepfather. Unlike with a Fire TV, you can’t use your voice remote to hunt down things to watch within Amazon’s library.
- Netflix has voice search capabilities outside of the app. Ask Shield about an actor or a movie and Netflix movies will be among your results. The user interface within the Netflix app was similar to what I’ve used on a Fire TV. Because I don’t have a 4K television at the moment, I wasn’t able to test out the picture quality of 4K content on Netflix or Amazon Video.
- Pluto TV, the free live TV streaming service, was a lot of fun to watch, particularly for news from CBSN and live music. The channel guide gives you a cable like experience that’s ideal for cord cutters seek truly free TV. The app also has a lot of free on-demand movies to watch due to a recent deal with Lionsgate, MGM and Warner Bros.
- PlayStation Vue had a user interface that’s very similar to an Amazon Fire TV, but there was a couple of standout features on the Shield. The fast forward and rewinding on the Shield was far superior to any other streaming device that I’ve used. While watching a show I had earmarked on Vue’s Cloud DVR, I was able to whip past commercials by holding down the navigation button. Whenever I advanced too far, rewinding was a breeze. There were no hang-ups or lag, which I’ve experienced on other streaming devices. Live shows streaming on Vue are also featured among the suggested content when you turn on the Shield. So without even being in the Vue app, you might spot a show you like.
NVIDIA Shield Pro: HDHomeRun vs Hauppauge WinTV-dualHD
Setting up Plex for DVR and Live TV on a Shield is fairly straightforward. Perhaps the most important part is updating the Plex software on the Shield.
Plex Live TV arrived on June 1 – about a month before my testing out Shield Pro began for this review. Even with a brand new Shield Pro out of the box, the Plex software will likely need to be updated.
The Hauppauge WinTV-dualHD USB tuner connects to the TV antenna and plugs into the back of the Shield in a USB port. Once the tuner is recognized by Plex’s software, a simple channel scan is all you need to start watching television. Since the Hauppauge is a dual tuner, you can watch one show while recording another.
I was about 35 to 40 miles away from most of the OTA towers in my region, but Shield delivered crisp, uncompressed HD picture quality with my DVR recordings. The HDHomeRun Extend tuner that I had back home was just as easy to use. The TV antenna plugs directly into the HDHomeRun Extend. An Ethernet wire plugs into my router. Again, a channel scan is all you need before watching live TV.
The Hauppauge WinTV-dualHD is a palm-sized tuner. It was originally designed to turn a PC into a high definition DVR. It works great as an inexpensive tuner. The WinTV-dualHD is handy if you plan to take your Shield to a vacation home. I prefer using a HDHomeRun tuner at home because I can stream live OTA across my home network to devices like my smartphone.
NVIDIA Shield Pro with Plex Live TV and DVR
Since the NVIDIA Shield Pro has a 500GB internal hard drive, I used it store my DVR content. I recorded an episode of Big Pacific from the local PBS station. The show was recorded at 1080p with AC3 stereo.
I also tried out recording some live music on PBS, and shows from NBC.
Even in a rural location, the picture quality of these programs was as bright and crisp as anything else that I have streamed in HD from Netflix or Amazon Prime.
For live TV, the ClearStream Eclipse antenna worked well with picking up channels in the city and country. But if given the opportunity, I would prefer an outdoor antenna for maximum reception.
During a recent review about Plex DVR, I was surprised about how many shows and movies that I was missing before.
Using the Plex interface is an even better experience with Shield set up as a media server. You no longer have to worry about having a separate always-on device like a mini-PC or desktop PC to record content.
Watching live TV is much easier on Plex than trying to sort through a strictly text-based channel guide. Plex has a thumbnail-style menu showing you what’s on live TV at the moment, what’s coming up and even separate section for movies and sports.
Want to change channels? Just hit the bottom of the navigation button on the Shield remote to pull up a horizontal menu. Your show will still play in the background as you select which channel to flip to.
Tablo Engine app
During my two weeks of testing out the NVIDIA Shield Pro for this review, Nuvyyo had just released its competing software, Tablo Engine app.
Plex and Nuvyyo are pushing to dominate the same piece of cord cutting real estate: use of Shield as a DVR and platform for live OTA TV. I just focused on using Plex this time around because there was a lot of ground to cover. You can look for my review of the Tablo Engine app soon.
Is GeForce Now worth it?
Amazon changed the way people read books with its line of Kindle devices. Shield might be on the cusp of something similar with GeForce NOW.
A family wanting some nighttime entertainment while they are away from home would be hard pressed to find another single media device with so many uses.
Sure, all the streaming and OTA TV options mentioned above can fill plenty of hours. But on some rainy day, watching TV can get kind of monotonous. Between the GeForce NOW library and a bunch of purchases, I had dozens of games on hand to play with family during my vacation. There are plenty of kid friendly titles from the Google Play Store like Beach Buggy Racing. Roughly a dozen games from the Lego franchise are available on GeForce NOW.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Batman 3, Beyond Gotham were a lot of fun to play, and had zero lag over WiFi.
I played more than a dozen games from GeForce NOW and the Google Play Store over WiFi while I was away, including Borderlands and Mad Max. I didn’t have any issues with lag. If you’re playing a game that’s more bandwidth heavy like Witcher 3, then you will want to use an Ethernet connection. Even a powerful 5GHz WiFi signal won’t cut it. PCs or laptops with NVIDIA GTX can stream games to the Shield. I tried out a copy of The Talos Principle, which worked really well.
Ubisoft games like Assassin’s Creed coming to GeForce NOW
In January, NVIDIA announced that the company struck a deal with Ubisoft to bring some of its award-winning game titles like Assassin’s Creed to GeForce NOW.
Streaming GeForce NOW is far from perfect, but it’s definitely a big improvement from lugging around dozens of discs. It’s also hard to imagine future iterations of PlayStation and Xbox consoles selling games on a disc versus some kind of Netflix-like format similar to GeForce NOW.
The games currently on a PlayStation 4, Xbox One or even the soon-to-arrive Xbox One X might have flashier graphics. But these newer consoles are now hewing closer to gaming PCs than streaming devices. The Shield brings you streaming choices and high-end gaming at a better price.
Areas of improvement for Android TV
Google could really improve its app selection for Android TV software. TV Everywhere and streaming apps are limited compared to competing devices like Roku or Amazon Fire TV.
DirecTV Now still doesn’t have native app support for Shield TV. When this review was written, DirecTV Now had to be cast from a smartphone or tablet.
For a number of apps, you’re required to use the Shield’s built-in Chromecast feature to stream from popular channels like AMC, A&E and History Channel. Animal Planet, Discovery Channel and ScienceGo apps are also not natively present. There’s no Sirius XM app.
That’s a small pain, but a pain nonetheless.
TV Everywhere apps are no small thing for cord cutters. Live streaming companies like Sling TV and PlayStation Vue have been engaged in an arms race of sorts over building the most robust lineup of TV Everywhere app support.
I could get FX Now on the Shield which is great. And there are many other great Android apps. But the problem goes beyond a lack of choices. It’s a lack of function, too.
The CNNgo app is a good example. On Amazon Fire TV, the app has live feeds for CNN in the U.S., CNN International, and HLN. There are on-demand shows like Anthony Bordain: Parts Unknown and the app-exclusive Mostly Human.
The CNNgo app from the Google Play Store is largely an aggregator of clips from the day’s news. There is no live TV option, and there are no on-demand shows. It’s ho-hum at best. At worst, it totally contradicts the dazzling innovation that NVIDIA has pulled together for Shield, especially now that it has live TV and DVR through Plex.
The blame for this largely goes to Google, the creator of Android TV software.
None of this would discourage me from recommending the NVIDIA Shield. It’s easily among the best streaming devices that I have used to date.
Is NVIDIA Shield Pro worth it?
A decision about whether to buy a NVIDIA Shield Pro might come down to your age demographic. Anyone among Generation X or younger that enjoyed the first and second coming of game consoles will appreciate Shield for its gaming and cord cutting chops.
If your 65-year-old uncle just became the latest cord cutter in your family, please buy the man a nice Tablo-2 DVR. There’s nothing wrong with people who want to lead a simple plug-and-play lifestyle. Some people might just want to buy a Roku and call it a day.
The NVIDIA Shield has many more capabilities than a Roku or Fire TV, and it’s a much better value if you use it to replace your monthly cable subscription.
Yes, there will be some up-front investment for utilizing the Shield’s newfound OTA abilities. But you have much more control over what you spend on subscriptions like Sling TV or other streaming platforms. If you wanted to stay frugal, you could easily get by with a free cable-like experience with Pluto TV, OTA channels through Plex and free apps like Crackle and YouTube.
>> BY THE NUMBERS: CUTTING CABLE WITH NVIDIA SHIELD TV & PLEX
|OPTION 1:||OPTION 2:|
|NVIDIA Shield PRO||$300.00||NVIDIA Shield (16GB)||$200.00|
|Hauppauge WinTV tuner||$70.00||HDHomeRun Connect||$98.00|
|ClearStream Antenna||$40.00||ClearStream Antenna||$40.00|
|Plex Pass (annual)||$40.00||Plex Pass (annual)||$40.00|
|GeForce NOW (annual)||$96.00||1TB hard drive||$50.00|
A Shield is likely a better value proposition if you’re tapping into all of its features. The perk of cord cutting, for many, is maximizing the value in what they pay for entertainment.
With OTA channels, a great DVR, streaming and gaming, the Shield delivers a maximum value like no other device.