NVIDIA Shield vs Fire TV Cube: The Definitive Cord Cutter’s Guide
The Fire TV Cube and NVIDIA Shield TV can both help you cut the cord and get rid of cable TV. But these two 4K HDR streaming players are designed to do a lot more than stream Netflix and Hulu.
They are voice-controlled hubs for lights, thermostats, home security and even making a cup of coffee.
If you’re studying reviews to decide which streaming device to buy, then you’re in the right place. This hands-on review and comparison is aimed at cord cutters, who want to know more about the Shield and Fire TV Cube before plunking down their hard earned cash.
So which is better?
The Shield is the best 4K streaming device when it comes to delivering over-the-air channels, and DVR features alongside live TV streaming services. There is also a robust lineup of roughly 378 games that you can play from its in-house cloud gaming platform, GeForce Now. These games include ones you have bought from Google Play, Steam and Uplay.
The Fire TV Cube is better suited for someone who wants an easy plug-and-play device with voice-activated search. There are options to watch and record OTA channels through a Fire TV, but there are fewer of them. And you can’t customize your interface and menus like you can with the Shield.
The Shield and Fire TV Cube both support streaming in 4K HDR10, and have Dolby Atmos. There’s a about an $80 price difference between the Shield and Fire TV Cube, but there’s a reason for it. In short, NVIDIA is chock full of more powerful hardware, and gets more robust software updates.
The Fire TV Cube was released in June 2018 by Amazon for $119.99. It has much of the same specs as its predecessor, the pendant-shaped Fire TV 3. The biggest difference between the Fire TV 3 and the Fire TV Cube is the latter has a built-in Amazon Echo Dot that can control your TV and audio equipment like sound bars.
The NVIDIA Shield was first released in 2015. NVIDIA now sells a slightly updated version of the Shield that rolled out in early 2017. The Shield TV is priced at $199 for the 16GB version. NVIDIA just released a new Smart Home Edition of the Shield that comes with a SmartThings hub/SmartThings link for $219.99.
The Shield PRO has a 500GB internal hard drive and goes for $299.99.
How I compared NVIDIA Shield and Fire TV Cube
I’ve owned a NVIDIA Shield PRO for just over a year. It’s connected to a 4K HDR television in my living room. I pre-ordered the Amazon Fire TV Cube when it was first announced in June, and have been using it on a couple of different TVs in my home. I also have an Amazon Echo and Echo Dot in my home.
I’ll be incorporating notes from separate reviews that I wrote on the NVIDIA Shield PRO and the Fire TV Cube, along with new findings that I’ve discovered after months of use.
I’ve been using Fire TV products since first cutting the cord in 2016. I’ve been testing a number of other streaming devices ever since, including gaming consoles and a variety of Roku.
Live Streaming on NVIDIA Shield and Fire TV Cube
If you’re all about replacing cable TV or a satellite subscription like DIRECTV with a live TV streaming service, don’t assume it’s supported.
Amazon doesn’t support YouTube TV because of its ongoing quarrel with Google. There’s no DirecTV Now app for NVIDIA Shield. With those exceptions, NVIDIA Shield and Fire TV Cube support almost every other live TV streaming app on the market.
|NVIDIA SHIELD TV||FIRE TV CUBE|
|HDHOMERUN PREMIUM TV||X||X|
|HULU WITH LIVE TV||(on-demand only)||X|
What’s Better for Adding Free Live TV & DVR
The Shield is much better for an OTA DVR setup compared to the Fire TV Cube because you can use it to store recorded shows and stream live channels like NBC, CBS, FOX, ABC and PBS coming in from your TV antenna.
That’s especially true if you’re using Plex’s Live TV & DVR to watch live over-the-air channels (a.k.a. OTA channels). Most people in the U.S. can pull in local stations for NBC, FOX, CBS and PBS. To do this, you’re going to need a few things: A TV tuner, a TV antenna, and hard drive space.
The NVIDIA Shield works more like an open platform when it comes to adding an OTA DVR setup. There are a number of TV tuners you can use: HDHomeRun, Tablo USB tuner, and Hauppauge are the best known.
Most of these OTA DVR options require that you subscribe to a channel guide and DVR service.
With a Fire TV Cube, you can use an OTA DVR like the Tablo DUAL, which has a 64GB internal hard drive. It’s probably your best choice. You can also use HDHomeRun tuner with the Fire TV, but you’ll also need to set up an external hard drive, and a choose channel guide. Amazon is reportedly at work on integrating a DVR into the Fire TV to record live TV. The belief is that Amazon is developing a DVR so you can record over-the-air (OTA) channels.
TV Tuners for NVIDIA Shield TV and Fire TV Cube?
I have two popular TV tuners, a HDHomeRun tuner, and a Hauppauge WinTV-dualHD tuner. They’re both very effective, but work differently.
- The HDHomeRun tuner distributes over-the-air channels across the WiFi in your home. It’s connected to your WiFi router. A TV antenna is plugged into the HDHomeRun instead of the TV. The Shield or Fire TV Cube is one of many devices that will be able to tap into your HDHomeRun tuner. I also watch local channels on my smartphone, laptop and PCs around my house.
- The Hauppauge Win-TV dualHD is made for a single device, but allows you to record on one tuner, and watch another channel simultaneously. The WinTV plugs directly into the Shield and a TV antenna is plugged directly into the other end.
I prefer using a HDHomeRun because I can watch TV on just about any device, and customize how and where I store my recordings. A third option would be to use an independent OTA DVR like the Tablo Dual. The nice thing about the Tablo Dual is that a hard drive is built in so it’s more of a plug-and-play device.
DVR Apps & Hardware
If you’re setting up a HDHomeRun with a Fire TV Cube or NVIDIA Shield, you’re going to need to do two things.
- Pick a subscription service for a channel guide for DVR functionality. Your choices include SiliconDust’s HDHomeRun DVR service for $35 per year, or Plex Live TV & DVR for $5 per month. The Channels app for Fire TV, or Channels DVR are good options for Fire TV.
- If you get the standard model of NVIDIA Shield with 16GB of internal space and subscribe to PLEX, you can easily store all your recorded shows and associated data on an external hard drive. Or set up a PC as a media server. Here’s a related post on setting up a Plex Media Server for Live TV & DVR purposes.
Fire TV Cube vs NVIDIA Shield: Specs & Streaming
If you’re considering adding a TV tuner to your cord cutting setup, then processing power is something worth considering. The NVIDIA Shield has a Tegra X1 processor, the same one used in the Nintendo Switch. The Fire TV Cube has an Amlogic S905Z, which was also used in the Fire TV 3 (pendant-shaped streamer). It runs smoothly for most people just looking to stream 4K HDR content, but overall, the Fire TV Cube isn’t as fast.
Another shortcoming: the Fire TV Cube has no Ethernet port. I do have streaming sticks in my home that work really well, but I always prefer a device with an Ethernet port. The NVIDIA Shield has an Ethernet port and two USB ports that can be used to expand storage.
Fire TV Cube: Hands Free Voice Commands
The Fire TV Cube lets you turn your TV on and off, control the volume and accessories like a soundbar with just your voice.
On a NVIDIA Shield, you can do the same if you enable HDMI-CEC with your TV and Shield. Under settings, head over to Display & Sound and select Power Control or Volume Control. Then select Setup for IR for TV. Follow the remaining steps to control your TV. Setting this up and making it function well may vary on what kind of TV you’re using.
Using your voice is becoming a more popular way to control your TV and search across a number of streaming apps like Netflix, Hulu and Crackle all at once.
Ask the Fire TV Cube, “Show me mystery movies,” and you’ll get a selection pulled from apps like Hulu and Netflix, along with Prime Video selections offered for rent. You’ll notice small numbers within the Fire TV menu. These numbers can help you scroll through your selections without picking up a remote. You can say, “Alexa, scroll right” too if you want to see what else is in a queue of movies or shows.
With the Shield, you can use your voice to pull up search results from Google Play Movies, Vudu, Hulu and other apps. Narrow down the search by app, saying, “Show me new mysteries on Hulu.”
One advantage that the Fire TV Cube has over the Shield is that some apps have deep Alexa support. So you can tell your Fire TV Cube to “Tune to ESPN” and it will pull up the live stream on your PlayStation Vue account (assuming you subscribe). The same goes for Hulu with Live TV. There’s similar support for Showtime, Netflix, CBS All Access, ESPN, Sony Crackle, NBC, ABC, Freeform, Starz, CNBC and NBC News. I’d love to see NVIDIA have deeper support for apps through Google Assistant.
Voice and music
The NVIDIA Shield and Fire TV can quickly stream music from a sound bar connected to your TV. With the Shield, you can pull music collections on Google Play Music, YouTube or another app just by using your voice.
You can set up your Google Home to power on your TV, NVIDIA Shield and start playing music from YouTube with a single voice command. The Shield also has the added benefit of having a built-in Chromecast for streaming music, photos and video.
Say something like, “Alexa, play Drake” and the Fire TV Cube will launch Spotify. You’ll be piping some “Tuscan Leather” through your sound bar in seconds.
The YouTube Factor: Fire TV Cube vs NVIDIA Shield TV
There is one area where the Fire TV Cube’s voice support comes up uniquely short – with YouTube. The ongoing spat between Amazon and Google has been well documented. The trickle-down effect? YouTube doesn’t have as much support on Fire TV as other streaming devices.
Makers of Firefox and the Silk Browser have added voice-control support to their Fire TV browsers, so users can play and pause videos, including ones on YouTube. But rewinding and fast-forward isn’t supported.
The Shield uses Google Assistant. This gives you hands free controls to do a lot more with YouTube compared to the Fire TV Cube, especially with playing videos and music. I can say to the Shield, “OK Google, play The Grateful Dead,” and it will play videos off of YouTube. I can also do a wide variety of specific searches for 4K videos or a favorite concert.
Having said that, Amazon has become a more neutral interface in the last year that has queues for Netflix, Hulu and free streaming apps like Crackle. But Amazon Prime Video content is still front and center. That said, you don’t especially need to be a Prime customer to get the most out of a Fire TV Cube.
My first Fire TV device (a second generation TV box in 2016) was primarily used as a vehicle to stream PlayStation Vue. And the same is true for the Fire TV Cube except now you can use it to turn off and on your TV, and enjoy a lot of the same functions as an Amazon Echo.
NVIDIA Shield Oreo: Better for Custom Menus
The NVIDIA Shield just rolled out a new version of Android TV called Oreo. It’s a much better for customizing your interface. There’s three sections.
Apps: This top row can be customized so that only your favorite apps and games appear. Organize what order you want to see them in by pressing the select button.
Play Next: If you want to quickly get back to a movie or show you started watching, the Play Next queue already has it there waiting for you. A number of apps are supported, but currently Netflix is not one of them.
Channels: Netflix, Hulu and more than a dozen other apps get a dedicated row that shows suggested movies and shows. You can launch any movie or show you pick from this row directly from Shield’s home page.
NVIDIA Shield Games vs Fire TV Games
The horsepower behind a NVIDIA Shield is pronounced the most when you compare its gaming chops with the Fire TV Cube.
The NVIDIA Shield currently supports 378 games between Android and streaming through GeForce NOW. Android games are available through the Google Play Store – both free and ones for sale.
GeForce Now is NVIDIA’s cloud-gaming service that once required a subscription. It’s currently free while in beta. If you purchased games from Steam, Uplay or BlizzardBattle.net, you can play them through the Shield. I already owned a low-end gaming laptop with the NVIDIA GEFORCE GTX 950M. So, when I started using my Shield, I also started to make the most of my Steam account.
I never got around to buying a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, but I’m still able to get in on some current games like Witcher 3. As a Gen X’er, I’m still a huge fan of arcade-style games like Tekken or Mortal Kombat.
You can definitely find some decent casual gaming on Fire TV devices like Grand Theft Auto series. But the variety and scope of gaming options on the Fire TV Cube don’t even come close to the Shield.
What’s the best 4K streamer?
What really separates the NVIDIA Shield from the Fire TV Cube is its overall versatility. If you’re looking for a fast device for 4K YouTube videos, free or rented movies, an OTA DVR and serious gaming chops, then you should buy a NVIDIA Shield TV. You can even tap into your 4K movies that you bought on iTunes and elsewhere using the Movies Everywhere app.
It’s the more expensive device, but you’re getting a lot more, and the price is pretty close to what you may already be paying per month for cable TV.
So from an overall value perspective, the Shield is a better deal. Consider that NVIDIA Shield TV debuted in 2015, but has had about 20 software upgrades that added features like Google Assistant with hands-free voice controls, and the ability to watch and record live TV with apps like Plex. NVIDIA has been open about its strategy to improve the Shield through software upgrades instead of asking customers to buy a new device every year.
That’s quite a contrast compared to Amazon’s approach. A Fire TV Cube is enjoyable to use. I like the voice features a lot and it does a great job when you’re streaming. But overall Fire TV devices have had fewer innovations since 2015, and generally require you to buy new device to get a major improvement.
You can look over the prices and specs of the NVIDIA Shield including the new Smart Home Edition. The Shield is also sold at Amazon.
The Fire TV Cube is exclusively sold at Amazon.
So now that I’ve broken down my take comparing the NVIDIA Shield and Fire TV, I want to hear from you. Tell fellow cord cutters how you think these two devices stack up in the comments below.
Founder and Editor of The Cord Cutting Report. Before launching the site in 2016, he worked for more than two decades as a staff writer or correspondent for a number of daily newspapers, including The Boston Globe. His enthusiasm for tech began with the Atari 2600. Follow @james_kimble
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