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Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang announced today the company is launching a new version of its Shield TV set-top box, and it is beefing up its usefulness by integrating it with artificial intelligence apps such as Google Assistant.
The upgrade is the biggest change since it introduced the Android TV gaming set-top box in early 2015, and it shows that the company wants to continue to position the machine as the high-end set-top box for gamers in the living room. Huang made the announcement during his opening keynote speech at CES 2017, the big tech trade show in Las Vegas this week.
The box will sell for $200 for the 16GB memory version and $300 for the 500GB version. But Nvidia will now include a $60 game controller for free in each version, as well as a voice-controlled remote control. That remote is what you will use to access Google Assistant, which will bring a new level of convenience when you’re searching for entertainment options, said Chris Daniel, director of Shield at Nvidia, in an interview with GamesBeat. The new Shield box itself is much smaller than the original from last year.
“We’re very excited about what is happening in the living room,” Daniel said. “This is a major reinvention. We want to bring the full experience of entertainment to a single device. We have a full app ecosystem.”
Shield is part of a generation of machines that are bringing apps to the TV. You can access Google Play games on Shield, but you can also play cloud-based GeForce Now games on the Shield. And you can stream Steam games from your PC to the TV via the Shield using Steam’s Big Picture app.
How AI makes Shield better
The A.I. additions could make this machine a contender for the best set-top box. You can use Google Assistant, a similar program developed by Google. You can speak voice prompts, such as “OK, Google,” to activate the voice commands. Then you can say something in natural language, such as, “Show me the weather today.” Google Assistant will bring up a visual card on the Shield interface on your TV, telling you what the weather forecast is for the next few days.
You can also ask for “all the photos of Jen-Hsun,” and Google Assistant will search through your Google Photos collection and display on the TV the photos that you have of the Nvidia CEO.
This kind of A.I. on top of a very complicated computing system is exactly what we need for the living room, where convenience means asking for something and getting an answer in real time, rather than typing in a search with a keyboard. The Shield is the first device outside of the Google Pixel smartphone and the Google Home device to have Google Assistant. There are deep links to apps. If you say, “Play Stranger Things,” it will go to Netflix and start the TV show.
You can also walk into the room in the morning and say, “OK Google, start my day.” Since the Shield is integrated with SmartThings and Google Nest, the voice command can start a number of things in your living room. It could, via Nest, turn on your lights, start your coffee maker, and set your thermostat.
“If you compare Nvidia’s Shield TV to Apple TV, Roku, or Amazon Fire, it is the best streaming solution out there by nature of its app ecosystem, the addition of Google’s Now AI engine and its 4K console quality games,” said Tim Bajarin, analyst at Creative Strategies.
New app experiences
Thousands of Android apps are available now. One of the new Shield apps is YouTube 360, which allows you to view 360-degree virtual reality videos on the TV. You can use the Shield controller thumbsticks to navigate, moving the point of view around in the VR video so that you can see all around. I used the thumbsticks to maneuver through a jet fighter VR video, so I was able to see above, below, behind, and ahead of the flying jet. Voice search is built into the YouTube 360 app.
If you run the Plex app, you can use the Shield TV as a DVR that plays your content on the run. If you have the larger hard drive (500GB version of the Shield), you can record shows via Plex on the Shield TV. And then you can view those shows on a Shield tablet or other device while you’re on the go.
You’ll now be able to watch 4K HDR content from Netflix, Amazon, and others too.
Upgrade for gaming
The new Shield has a number of significant upgrades for gamers. The Shield gaming portal now gathers together games from GeForce gaming (the cloud), Android on the Shield device itself, and your PC (via gamestreaming).
“We wanted to put content first with this app,” Daniel said. “You come in and all your games are here. This unifies your games. It’s a single launcher.”
You can discover new content based on various categories, such as games for kids, paid games, free games, or other categories.
In addition, for $8 a month, you can subscribe to GeForce Now games in the cloud. Nvidia has beefed up its cloud infrastructure, putting Pascal-based graphics in the cloud so that the performance is now four times what it was in 2015. There are more servers around the world, and the performance is the equivalent of a $1,500 PC running a GeForce GTX 1080 graphics card.
Nvidia has added the entire collection of Ubisoft games, including hits such as Watch Dogs 2 and Steep, on GeForce Now. Ubisoft’s For Honor game coming soon will be available on the same day on GeForce Now as when it premieres on other platforms.
GeForce Now games will also have multiplayer modes, a step up from the past. Nvidia is integrating with Ubisoft’s Uplay multiplayer service. You’ll be able to use that to play against people on other platforms. Other games coming to GeForce Now include War Thunder, Marvel Heroes 2016, and Paragon. All told there are about 200 games that will be available soon on GeForce Now.
Shield itself has about 1,000 games available now. New ones include The Witness, Tomb Raider, and Shadowgun Legends.
As for gamestreaming from your PC, you can play at up to 4K HDR. With gamestreaming, the games are stored via Steam on your PC. You can fire up a game on the PC and then cast it so it displays on your TV, via the Shield, using the Steam Big Picture app. I played around for a bit with Ubisoft’s The Division on GeForce Now, running on Pascal in the cloud. And I also played a little of Electronic Arts’ Titanfall 2 via gamestreaming. In both cases, the lag was pretty minimal.
All of this is possible because Nvidia put a new Maxwell-based Tegra processor into the new Shield.
Nvidia also redesigned the Shield Controller, which now has a microphone and is about 40 percent smaller in volume. The controller has dual haptic feedback and high-fidelity headset audio. The battery life is pretty good, with more than 50 hours of game time on one charge.
So far, Nvidia is staying mum about whether it will offer a Shield tablet upgrade to go with the new Shield TV. Of course, if it did so, that might be considered competition for the Nintendo Switch, which debuts in March as the Japanese game company’s newest hybrid tablet and game console.
The Google Assistant functionality will be coming in the next few months. You can preorder the new Shield TV now. An extra stand is $20, and an additional Shield controller is $60.
Shild TV is available for pre-order now and will ship in the United States, Canada and select European regions later this month for $200, including controller and remote. Shield Pro will be available for $300 later this month with controller, remote with headset jack, and 500GB of storage.