NVIDIA SHIELD TV  – the dongle you need above all (review)

The NVIDIA SHIELD TV is essentially a 4K@60Hz, Dolby Vision capable, Google/Android TV 11 dongle. But that does not quite do it justice. It is the Rolls Royce of dongles.

We are reviewing both the NVIDIA SHIELD TV dongle (this review) and the NVIDIA SHIELD TV Pro NVIDIA SHIELD TV Pro – Android/Plex media centre (review), so we expect a lot of similarities with all the relevant information in this review. For now, it is about the NVIDIA SHIELD TV and how you can justify its $249.95 price over a $99 Google Chromecast 4K TV, both with the latest version of Google TV.

Australian Review NVIDIA SHIELD TV Model P4340

WebsiteSHIELD Product page
Price$249.95, but shop around as we have seen it as low as $188. Caution – if buying second-hand, ensure it is the 2019 model P4340 or later with Google Android TV 11. The Pro version is $349.95
FromHarvey Norman and many CE and Computer stores
Country of OriginChina
CompanyNVIDIA (Est 1993) is a global leader in GeForce and RTX Graphics Processing Units (GPU), graphics API software, and GeForce Now cloud gaming.
MoreCyberShack NVIDIA news and reviews

We use Fail (below expectations), Pass (meets expectations) and Exceed (surpasses expectations or is the class leader) against many of the items below. We occasionally give a Pass ‘+’ rating to show it is good but does not quite make it to Exceed.

You can click on most images for an enlargement.

What is NVIDIA SHIELD TV?

Whether it is the SHIELD TV’ tube’ or Pro’ console’, its prime function is to take all manner of video and audio content over Wi-Fi 5 AC, Gigabit Ethernet (NAS as well), USB (Pro only) or Bluetooth. It runs the latest Google/Android TV 11, which means access to thousands of digital streaming channels like Netflix or digital versions of free-to-air.

It outputs this via HDMI 2.0b 18Gbps to a TV, where it displays the best possible image to your panel’s capabilities and sound to your TV speakers, soundbar or AC receiver capabilities. That includes Dolby Vision and Atmos, HDR10+ and most video and audio formats. To be clear, if your TV is 1080p or 4K SDR, that is all SHIELD TV outputs – but it will give you the best image/sound.

It has NVIDIA GeForce Now cloud gaming, and you can connect a BT games controller or other BT device.

It is a powerful Android digital media player focusing on the best video and audio input to a TV.

Why do you need it?

It adds the latest Google Android TV 11 to any TV with an HDMI port. At $249.95, it is not cheap, so you need to use its added features or just get a 4K Google Chromecast TV dongle for $99.

In essence (NVIDIA versus Google)

  • Powerful NVIDIA Tegra X1+ processor versus Amlogic S905X3
  • 2GB RAM and 8GB plus microSD storage versus 256kb flash
  • Gigabit Ethernet port and Wi-Fi 5 AC dual band versus Wi-Fi 5 AC only (optional Ethernet Port power adapter)
  • Mains power (direct plug-in) versus USB-C 5V/1.5A/7.5W
  • HDMI 2.0b HDCP 2.2 and CEC control versus HDMI 2.0
  • Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos decode (requires compatible TV) versus the same
  • DTS-X surround versus no
  • 24-bit/192kHz Hi-Res audio over HDMI versus no
  • 4K video upscale versus no
  • Stereo 2.0 PCM upscale to 5.1 surround
  • SBC, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, MP3, WAVE, AMR, OGG Vorbis, FLAC, PCM, WMA, WMA-Pro, WMA-Lossless, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD (pass-through), DTS-X (pass-through), and DTS-HD (pass-through) versus SBC and AAC and Dolby formats (no DTS-X)
  • Bluetooth 5.0 + LE versus BT 4.2 BLE
  • NVIDIA GeForce Now gaming and Stadia versus Google Stadia
  • SHIELD Remote with IR and BT and find my remote versus similar

While both are excellent, they serve different purposes. If all you need is Google TV 4K Chromecast, then the $99 dongle is OK. But I can’t go back after using the NVIDIA SHIELD TV for a few weeks – the image and audio quality are way better.

Essential differences between Nvidia SHIELD TV Model P4340 (tube) and Pro Model P2897

Some reviews call this the 2019 model; technically, the hardware is the same. The operating system is now Google/Android TV 11, and firmware is now at 9.1 and offers much more functionality.

FormatTubeConsole
RemoteSameSame
RAM/Storage2/8GB/microSD to 512GB 10MBps  UHS 1 or faster3/16GB/USB storage
Processor16nm Tegra X1+ runs in 32-bit mode (normal for Android 11 TV)Same – runs in 64-bit mode for more processing power
PortsPower, HDMI, Gigabit Ethernet (mountable network storage)Plus 2 x USB 3.0 5V/.9A/4.5W, 480Mbps
ExtrasSmart Home functionalityExpanded Smart Home Plex or Kodi server
VideoHDMI 2.0b 18Gbps supports Dolby Vision, HDR10+ 4K@60fpsSame
Wi-FiWi-Fi 5 AC 2×2 MIMO 2.4 GHz and 5 GHzSame
ChromecastBT 5.0 + LE 4K ChromecastSame

First impression – Exceed

It is a tube-shaped design 16.5 x 4cm round x 137g. At one end is power in (2-pin 240V mains power) and Gigabit Ethernet. On the other end are HDMI 2.0b and microSD. It is a neat, well-made device.

The ‘Toblerone’ shaped remote is almost as long and has a Google Assistant microphone button, motion-activated backlit buttons, BT and IR connectivity, and a programmable button. It takes two AAA batteries and is CEC compatible, so it can control volume, power, and play.

Note: This device only shines if you have a 4K Dolby Vision/Atmos capable TV and soundbar. Otherwise, it is a Rolls Royce to do the shopping.

Setup – Exceed

It is all about setting up Google TV; the process is painless if you have an Android smartphone. Or you can enter the Wi-Fi and your Google account details manually. If you have an Android smartphone, you will have already signed away your privacy rights.

Once set up, you have a clean Google TV (NVIDIA app but no junk or bloatware), and you go to the Google Play store for Android TV apps like digital TV channels etc.

I hasten to add this review has taken several days of use to uncover and discover its many features and options.

Google TV – Android 11 – Exceed

Google TV is smarter, faster, and able to deliver recommendations based on what you view and what Google knows about you. So, when you use Google Assistant to find content (there is a mic button on the remote), the massive AI cloud delivers. It also has some 5,000 Apps on Google Play.

Best use

Caveat: NVIDIA SHIELD TV cannot add Dolby Vision/Atmos or HDR10/+ to a TV that is not capable of reproducing that. But it can decode the metadata and give you the best possible image on any TV.

If you have a recent 4K smart TV running an operating system like Samsung Tizen (it has HDR10+ and reproduces Dolby Vision/Atmos in HDR10), LG WebOS, Hisense VIDAA, Roku TV and other proprietary TV OS, this is for you. It adds the ever-ubiquitous Google/Android TV 11 and the wealth of Apps and streaming services. And we note that most TVs never get an OS or security patch updates- the NVIDIA SHIELD TV does. It will generally give a better video and audio than your TV does.

If you have an older 4K Android TV, this updates that and adds its processing power to the TV.

If you have an older 1080p TV, the video will present to the best of the panel’s capabilities, adding all those new Apps and streaming channels.

Note that it uses the Internet, and you will need 50Mbps (or more) unlimited download to make the most of this.

NVIDIA video upscaling versus lower-cost TV upscaling (or Google TV dongle) – Exceed

Most low-cost 4K TVs and dongles wrap 9/4 of the same colour pixels around the original 720/1080p frame image (linear scaling). Better TVs like LG use AI (trained on millions of images) to analyse each frame and insert what it thinks the next will be. AI looks for objects like human faces (skin tones), high-detail parts of the screen, or areas in focus and fills the blanks for a more natural 4K image.

NVIDIA states

We use a convolutional neural network (CNN) to predict the residual (difference) between a regular linear scaled video and a high-resolution 4K ground truth video (reference quality). After training the CNN with tons of video content, it gets good at predicting the difference between the two videos. Then, when fed only the lower-scaled video content, it can apply the prediction and produce near-4K results. It does this in real-time on the device.

The NVIDIA can upscale 720/1080p to 4K@24/30fps using AI upscaling and even does a creditable job on earlier 480p images.

Dolby Vision content – Exceed

Dolby Vision/Atmos requires

  • Dolby Vision uses a licensed chip/processor with a maximum brightness of up to 10,000 nits (typically 1000), 12-bit colour (68.7 billion but typically maps this back to a 10-bit 1.07 billion screen) and dynamic data processing – on a frame-by-frame basis. It is a superset of HDR (can play it all).
  • Dolby Vision compatible TV with an HDMI 2.0b/2.1 HDCP 2.2 port or later – connect SHIELD directly to the TV, not via a soundbar.
  • Dolby Atmos 5.1.2 (or higher) compatible soundbar on HDMI eARC/ARC because your TV sound won’t give you a DA experience
  • HDMI Premium High-Speed 18Gbps cable or Ultra-High-Speed 48Gbps (Read HDMI cables are not all the same. Which one do you need? (guide)
  • Dolby Vision/Atmos content (preferably MKV Ripped) passes to the SHIELD over Wi-Fi or Ethernet via apps like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Plex, NAS etc.
  • Best played at 4K@24/30/50fps (Australian power is 50Hz)

We tested on a range of ripped Dolby Vision MKV content using an LG 2022 G2 OLED evo (1000 nits and infinite contrast – the difference between black and white), and the results were superb. Read LG G2 Evo Gallery Edition – OLED gets even better (review).

  • Netflix 4K Dolby Atmos – Pass
  • Netflix 4K HDR/10 – Pass
  • Prime 4K HDR10+  downmixed to HDR10 on the G2 – Pass
  • YouTube 4K SDR/HDR – Yes/No
  • MP4 and MKV video from 480 to 4K – Pass
  • Note that it supports DTS-X audio decoding as well and passes this to the TV/soundbar

SDR and HDR/10/+ content – Exceed

SDR (Standard Dynamic Range is usually 300-400 nits and contrast of 1000:1) will play back on any TV screen. It requires no additional metadata processing.

HDR playback solely depends on the TV’s ability to decode the metadata stream and control the panel to ‘locally’ vary the brightness and contrast in a small screen segment.

  • HDR (usually around 400 nits and contrast or 1500:1. The SHIELD TV appeared to add extra definition.
  • HDR10. Maximum brightness of 1,000 nits (typically 400-600) and 10-bit colour (1.07 billion). Static metadata sets tone mapping once for the entire show.
  • HDR10+. Maximum brightness of 4,000 nits (typically <1000), 10-bit colour. Metadata does tone-mapping on a scene-by-scene basis. It is a Samsung-developed open-source API, and its TVs do not support Dolby Vision but downmix it to HDR for a vastly inferior image.

We tested a range of SDR/HDR/10/+ content on a TCL C835 4K Mini-LED that supports HDR10+ and Dolby Vision. Read TCL C835 Mini-LED TV – bang for buck (review).

  • 4K SDR playback at up to 60fps
  • 4K HDR playback at up to 60 FPS (H.265/HEVC)
  • 4K playback at 60 FPS (VP8, VP9, H.264, MPEG1/2)
  • 1080p SDR playback at up to 60 FPS (H.263, MJPEG, MPEG4, WMV9/VC1)
  • Format/Container support: Xvid/ DivX/ASF/AVI/MKV/MOV/M2TS/MPEG-TS/MP4/WEB-M

All were superb using the TCL mini-LED panel’s capabilities.

NVIDIA Audio upscaling – Exceed

It supports 24-bit/192 kHz hi-res audio (over HDMI) and can decode Dolby Atmos and 7.1 surround sound systems. Advanced Sound options allow the Shield to pass all the audio untouched over HDMI.

Spotify users should use the SHIELD App as it will upscale PCM 2.0 to whatever the TV, soundbar or AV receiver’s capabilities are.

Plex Server – Only the Pro version

We list this as the Pro version can replace a Windows-based Plex server.

SHIELD Experience 9.1

The latest firmware adds a lot of new features

  • Night mode to boost voice over louder sounds
  • Auto low-latency games mode (ALLM)
  • Network workgroup and better data transfer speeds
  • AI upscale to 4K@50/60Hz
  • Microphone use indicator
  • Better HDMI CEC support

Gamers

We are not gamers, so this advice is general. NVIDIA states

Play right on your SHIELD with over 400 Free To Play Games, action-adventure, online multiplayer, and even family favourites available on the Google Play store-all played from the comfort of your couch. With a GeForce RTX or GTX-powered PC, you can also effortlessly cast your full catalogue of games to your TV for a bigger, more immersive gaming experience with NVIDIA GameStream.

Here is a list of featured games.

Power – Exceed

The TV uses from 5-10W depending on content and under 1W on standby. Negligible.

Privacy – Pass(able)

NVIDIA promises never to sell your data and only collect and use what you approve to do the job. Great!

Google has one privacy policy for all its goods and services. If you live in an Android world, you have no choice.

But it is the myriad of Apps that you need to beware of. NVIDIA nor Google can control what information these apps exfiltrate. In short, if you use any streaming service, then you are subject to its privacy terms.

However, Google Android TV 11 can lock down app permissions, and you need to spend a little time – some apps automatically access the microphone, camera, contacts and more, but you can turn this off.

CyberShack’s view – NVIDIA SHIELD TV  is the ultimate Google/Android TV 11 dongle.

Since I saw the 2015 model with Android TV 5, there has been a steady improvement to the software and one hardware upgrade (2019 model). Interestingly NVIDIA has moved from positioning this as a gaming device to a multi-media device – which is what it really is.

To be clear, there are two versions. The fundamental difference: Standard 2/8GB/microSD versus 3/16GB/USBx2/Plex server – I suspect that serious streamers and gamers will want the PRO.

Google/Android TV 11 adds a lot of extra features regardless of what TV you have.

Downsides – you need to be a little tech-savvy to use all its features. You need to connect via Ethernet cable – Wi-Fi AC 5Ghz supports 4K video but can be scatty unless you are in a few metres line-of-sight of a decent AC router. Wi-Fi 2.4Ghz does not support 4K video. That may mean laying cable or using a pair of Ethernet-Over-Power Powerline adaptors.

If your needs are limited to streaming to an older TV, then a Google TV dongle is all you need. But if you don’t mind spending more, this can do much more.

NVIDIA SHIELD TV Model P4340

$249.95
8.5

Features

9.0/10

Value

8.0/10

Performance

8.5/10

Ease of Use

8.0/10

Design

9.0/10

Pros

  • Better video and audio upscale than msot TVs
  •  Adds Google/Android TV 11 to any TV
  • Upgradeable OS and Firmware
  •  Nvidia GameStream supports up to 4K@50/60fps from a suitable PC
  • Huge user base community support

Cons

  • 32-bit Android is slower – the Pro runs at 64-bit
  •  GeForce Now really depends on NBN ping times and latency
  • Can be slow changing between Apps
  •  For more experienced users capable of getting the most out of it


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