The Weird Release Of The New Nvidia Shield TV

2017-01-21

On Monday, January 16, Nvidia launched a new Shield TV. Along with the new Shield TV came a new Shield Experience, skipping from 3.3 to 5.0. Shield Experience 5.0 brings the Shield TV to Android 7.0, and is suppose to introduce some new things like integration with Assistant, and new Shield TV exclusive (at least for the time being) apps, such as an app for Amazon’s streaming service. But this whole thing has been rather weird.

First, when I was notified by Nvidia that a new Shield TV was coming, I noticed it was light on details. I looked up the specs of the new Shield TV to see if it ran on their new Tegra platform to bring superior performance over the original Shield TV. The device looked the same so I was thinking the internals got upgraded. Interestingly, the internals, at least in terms of specs, didn’t change. It has the same onboard storage options (Shield TV with 16GB of storage, Shield TV Pro with 500GB), same SoC (Tegra X1), same RAM, and so on.

Along with the notice was information on a new controller and a new gamepad. I’m still not quite sure what’s different about the new controller, though I’ve seen indication it might have an IR blaster. The new gamepad, however, is completely redesigned.

Okay, so it looks like they are re-releasing the Shield TV with new accessories.

But it gets weirder. As it turns out, the new Shield TV is smaller. To make it smaller, however, they had to cut a couple of ports out. The micro-USB port is gone, which I don’t care about because there are two type-A USB 3 ports. But also, the micro-SDXC port was taken out. To me, this is a problem. I bought the base version, with 16GB of storage, specifically because it was cheaper and expandable. As larger micro-SDXC cards become available, I can upgrade. I have a 200GB high speed card in my Shield TV right now and it is more than enough space for the time being. Once larger cards are available, should I need it, I can upgrade. Another advantage of the non-Pro version is the passive cooling. The Pro version has a fan, presumably because the hard drive adds to the amount of heat generated within.

So the new Shield TV has less features for the same price. Or does it?

Along with the new Shield TV comes a new Shield Experience. The version bump is from 3.3 to 5.0, a major bump likely decided upon because it contains a new version of Android, a new Shield Experience, new agreements and exclusives, new performance tweaks, and 5 is more round than 4. So the new Shield TV gets all these great new software features as well. New 4k HDR, new Amazon streaming app, new Steam app to allow you to play games from your PC, new settings navigation, new interface, and so on.

Now, it should be noted that the original Shield TV was already 4k capable. A lot of people are claiming that 4k is not really new and it’s weird to be in the marketing. However, it’s the HDR part that is new. This is going to require hardware to support, right? Except, as noted, the hardware didn’t change, except that 2 ports were removed. So to achieve 4k HDR was just a software update, likely requiring the changes that came with the new version of Android.

Okay, so technically, the original Shield TV has all of these capabilities and the new one just has the advantage by software.

Well, not really.

You see, the Shield Experience 5.0 update is pending release to the original Shield TV.

But it’s not all bad for the new Shield TV. Previously, for your $200, you got the console and the gigantic bulky gamepad. The stick of a remote was sold separately. In the new package, you get the gamepad and the TV remote included. Technically, the new Shield TV is slightly cheaper. But you’re also getting a slightly less capable Shield TV than before, and it includes a weirdly designed gamepad.

I mean, who puts stealth bomber/polygon angles on a god damn gamepad like that? I want my gamepad to feel smooth. The old gamepad may be gigantic and bulky, but at least it feels alright in my hands.

So you might think the weirdness ends there. And if you do, you’re wrong. Yeah, there’s more.

Nvidia showed off the new Shield TV at CES. They talked about everything they plan to make the Shield TV capable of. There’s one notable missing feature, though, from the released console: Google Assistant integration.

Okay, so now Nvidia says this is coming soon. Supposedly it is now to be released when Nvidia Spot is released. However, the feature is prominently featured on the back of the product box. There’s no asterisk next to the feature asking you to locate the caveat to the advertised feature, no included note in any way that it’s coming soon. It is printed on the box that the feature is included.

And the feature is missing.

Lets be clear: You can voice search on the Shield TV. This is not a new trick. However, this uses the Google Voice Search subsystem, not Google Assistant. You cannot control smart home devices with Voice Search. You cannot perform conversational queries with Voice Search (though you can get pretty cose!). Voice Search is not Assistant.

You might consider this a minor technicality, but it is not the feature that is advertised very clearly on the box.

And the last thing I’ll point out in all of this weirdness is the branding. The new Nvidia Shield TV is simply called Nvidia Shield TV. Not to be confused with the previous version, called Nvidia Shield TV, of course.

Oh. Right.

This is where some of my confusion came in when I was researching the differences. No new name, no new internal hardware, are they simply re-releasing it with new accessories, or are there hidden differences? The marketing makes no reference to the old console, no comparison as to why the new one is better. The reason for this is obvious: There really is no reason to upgrade, but if you tell people that, those that have to have the latest product that might buy the new one to “upgrade” over their old one might no hand over that money to Nvidia if you tell them nothing important changed, or you might actually lose important functionality. So, literally, the branding and marketing are meant to confuse. If you are an impulse buyer, you are more likely to buy the new one even if you basically already have it.

There’s likely even more weirdness to be found in this release, but this is already a fairly long article. Needless to say, I will not be “upgrading” as I already have a fully functional Shield TV with all that I need, with a Shield Experience update pending.