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NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV Review

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Android TV; This May Not The Android You’re Looking For

Android TV represents Google’s bright new hope for making an impact within the connected smart TV market. At its most basic, this operating system acts as a jump-off point for online media, streaming services and gaming. All of these functions are wrapped up into a sleek and accessible UI that is supposed to be easy to navigate for newcomers while also incorporating more advanced feature sets for anyone who wants additional control. Think of it as a quasi-XBMC media center but with a large selection of apps, integration of numerous Google services, seamless support for OTA, a robust back-end for voice control and many more features.

While it sounds like Android TV can offer everything someone could possibly want for the consumption of online media, the operating system itself has some notable restrictions. Since Android TV is a highly modified version of their mobile OS, Google requires all apps go through a separate certification process before they can be listed as compatible. As a result, the number of apps currently available is minimal at best and represents a very, very narrow selection of what’s accessible to all other Android users. At least initially, you won’t see many of Google’s own popular apps either. Does this negatively impact the experience? Absolutely since most of the functionality you’d normally expect from Android just isn’t there…yet.

As it’s implemented on NVIDIA’s SHIELD, Android TV is extremely responsive and applications load with a minimum of wait times. The main UI screen features both vertical scrolling for browsing different categories while application selection within each category can be done through horizontal movement.

It’s a pretty straightforward process but there’s previous little innovation here since this same premise for navigation can be found in other media center interfaces, often with even more options. This is also a lot more user friendly than the screen-full-of-icons approach most other Android devices take and it is perfectly suited for a connected TV experience. Supposedly NVIDIA has done very little to change the overall design here so we can expect the same basic UI on other Android TV compatible set top boxes. Why fix what isn’t broken, right?

The topmost accessible area consists of most used apps, channels and videos aggregated through apps like YouTube, Hulu and Netflix and seems to be largely based upon your viewing history. Oddly enough, through our time testing SHIELD, this top row didn’t change regardless of how many times different videos and streams were watched.

As with all SHIELD devices, NVIDIA has added their Hub which is essentially a jump-off point for several of the gaming-oriented features within their ecosystem. Netflix has been added as well since it highlight the 4K capabilities of this device quite well. The content of this section (and of course the advanced system architecture) are the primary reason SHIELD commands a premium over other upcoming Android TV options.

There are three separate gaming-oriented areas which include Stream Games, Download Games and GeForce PC Games. Stream Games grants access to NVIDIA’s GeForce GRID gaming service which uses cloud-based servers to render PC games and stream them to the SHIELD over a wired or wireless internet connection. It actually works quite well and NVIDIA has been continually adding new games to their library at a rate of one per week since launch so their library currently includes about 50 titles. The service is free until June and NVIDIA hasn’t disclosed how much the ongoing monthly fee will be so the actual value of this feature may diminish once it’s locked behind a pay wall.

The Download Games area is straightforward in its intent: it shows games which have been optimized for NVIDIA’s hardware within the Google Play store. While the selection here isn’t quite as broad as within the Hub on SHIELD Tablet and Handheld, it seems like NVIDIA has done a good job with insuring their co-branded titles are certified for Android TV.

GeForce PC Games enables NVIDIA’s GameStream technology, allowing users to play their own PC games on the SHIELD over a wireless connection. They can be streamed from either a notebook or PC provided you have a Kepler or Maxwell- based graphics card in the system and GeForce Experience installed. This will be a major selling point for PC gamers since it allows them to easily stream games to their livingroom with a minimum of fuss.

We’ve covered several of these NVIDIA-centric features in the past and from our experience with SHIELD’s Android TV initiative, they all work perfectly in this environment. Simply plugging in a USB or Bluetooth keyboard and mouse combo allows for more involved playing as well.

A bit further down on Google’s launcher is a section which gives quick access to any compatible games which are installed onto the device. Once again, the actual selection is a bit slim right now since there aren’t all that many games compatible with Android TV but that will change quickly as the OS matures.

The final section lists all of the apps which are currently installed along with shortcuts for Google Play’s Movies & TV, Music and Games sections. Naturally, there’s also a quick access box for the Google Play Store as well. As new apps are loaded they appear within this area in a linear fashion and their positioning can’t be changed. This causes quite a bit of scrolling from left to right but, with the well-integrated voice search all of these apps are typically a request away.

Below this area is an area with pictograms depicting Settings, WiFi access, controller status and a power toggle. These round out a simple yet accessible launching pad. Google hasn’t made any great strides forward in terms of interactivity or innovation versus the competition in this area but Android TV’s interface does represent a huge stride forward when compared directly against its predecessor, Google TV.

Summary

  1. Introduction
  2. Android TV; This May Not The Android You’re Looking For
  3. Benchmarking the Experience
  4. Parting Thoughts; Android TV Is a Work in Progress

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