We're now in a world where even supermarket special TVs come bundled with a suite of built-in streaming apps - so why would you need a dedicated media player?
That's especially true of the £190 (S$340) Nvidia Shield, given you can get the Amazon Fire TV stick or Google Chromecast for less than S$65. Here's why: it's an excellent media streamer on its own, but has gaming features that make it worth the premium price. Particularly if you're a PC gamer looking to play on your 4K, HDR-ready TV.
Let's clear the air for anyone with an original, 2015-vintage Shield sat under their telly right now: this new console might be a lot smaller, and come bundled with a redesigned controller and remote in the box that'll play nicely with the Google Assistant in a future update, but this is mostly a cosmetic upgrade, not a technical one.
With innards that are almost identical, owners of the previous box can just download a software update instead of splashing out on more hardware. It’s a win-win for everyone: the Shield is still plenty powerful for games, the user base doesn’t get split, and everyone gets to play with the latest features.
So while it’s not really worth upgrading from the previous Shield if you already have one, is it worth buying a Shield today? Let’s find out.
The 2017 Shield is one sleek set-top box, housing the same internal tech as the 2015 original but in a body that's about 40 per cent more compact. You even get the same ports around the back - mostly.
Media hoarders can use the two USB3 ports to connect a usb flash drive or external hard disk, and streamers can use the network port for buffer-free 4K video from Amazon and Netflix. If your connection can keep up, anyway. There's built-in 802.11ac Wi-Fi too, but we'd still recommend going the wired route to cut out as much latency as possible when gaming.
The USB ports can also charge the bundled controller, which has had a redesign and is now much slicker than its predecessor. There's still a clear Xbox influence, and even if it doesn't feel quite as premium as the Xbox One controller - the triggers just feel too cheap and plasticky - it still feels great for games and has a ridiculous 60-hour battery life.
There's a built-in microphone this time around, one that will work with Google's Assistant, once the console gets a firmware update to support it.
You can still give player two an old wired Xbox 360 controller, if you've got one lying around - handy if you want to avoid the ridiculous £60 (S$110) asking price for an extra official Shield controller.
A media remote also comes bundled in the box now, and has a microphone of its own. This used to be an optional extra, so it's great to see it included for gratis.
The Shield still plugs into the wall via a compact power adaptor and connects to your TV using HDMI, but there’s no cable in the box.
This is the first Android TV box we've seen running Nougat, the latest version of Google's OS. This adds improvements like multitasking, letting you quickly snap between apps you’ve already opened, and picture-in-picture, so you can continue watching something while accessing the main menu. On the apps side, this is also the first Android TV device to support Amazon video, which will be a big deal for Prime subscribers.
Google Assistant is one feature of Android Nougat that’s not yet available, but Nvidia is working with Google to get it onto Shield TV at some point in the future. This will essentially turn the Shield into a Google Home device which you can use to control Smart Home devices like Philips Hue lights, Nest thermostats and Samsung SmartThings.
Given Google Home isn’t even available in Malaysia at the time of writing, this makes the Shield an attractive device for those who want to add voice control to their smart home. While we weren’t able to review this feature for launch, we were certainly impressed with what we saw at CES 2017.
Nvidia’s controller has a 60-hour battery life, and by default will always listen for the command “OK, Google”. You can set up a routine so that if you say “OK Google, I’m home”, the Assistant will turn on your lights and adjust the temperature up on your thermostat.
There will also deep Google Assistant integration into apps such as Netflix. So you can say “OK Google, show me drama TV shows”, and it will list shows across the various apps, and then you can drill down further by saying “only recent”. If you see a show you like, you can say something like “Play Stranger Things” and the box goes straight into correct app and starts the show.
You can also say things like “OK, Google, play me the song that goes “I’m Waking Up I Feel It In My Bones”” and it will be smart enough to find “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons on YouTube. In fact, we tried this on the current version of the software, and it was smart enough to do this already.