Nvidia has begun its grand strategy to change television with today’s launch of its Nvidia Shield set-top box for Android TV.
The graphics chip maker is straying far from semiconductors, launching a consumer product that will directly challenge rivals such as the Roku and Apple TV set-top boxes. This Shield is for sale now on Nvidia’s web site (and Amazon and Bestbuy.com) for $200 with 16GB of flash memory. And Nvidia is also announcing today a version with a 500GB hard disk drive for $300.
The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company spent five years working on the technology for the Shield set-top box. If Nvidia has targeted it right, it could carve out a chunk of the market for living room hardware that is now split between the set-top box makers and game console companies — a market that hit $67 billion in 2014, according to market researcher Jon Peddie Research.
It’s a bold push into living room entertainment. Nvidia’s slogan: “For more than 80 years TVs have been played at you. … Now it’s time for you to play TV.”
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Not a game console?
Nvidia made the announcement at the Google I/O conference today. It previously debuted the box at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco in March. It’s a capable game machine with a high-end Nvidia-made processor.
But now its Nvidia’s message is aimed at appealing to entertainment fans, and it says that the Shield is the flagship device for the Android TV platform.
“We see Shield as more than just a gaming device,” said Matt Wuebbling, the director of Shield marketing at Nvidia. “We don’t see it as a game console competitor. We see it as leveraging android for more entertainment content.”
Wuebbling said that a revolution coming to the third display, the television, in comparison to the other screens, the PC and the mobile devices. That third display is finally getting apps (including HBO Now, based on an announcement at Google I/O), games, and other entertainment, thanks to Internet connectivity and the Android-based Shield set-top. Wuebbling argues that people will only want one box in the living room.
Lots of apps
Nvidia is going to have competition from Apple, which is expected to reboot the Apple TV box in June. It also faces competition from Roku and Amazon’s Kindle set-top.
But Nvidia’s machine is beefy, with starting with the Tegra X1 processor, which has 256 processing cores in its graphics processing unit and a 64-bit multicore central processing unit. Nvidia said that gives the box 30 times the performance of competing devices.
“Any computing device has to be snappy and fast,” Wuebbling said.
You can play cloud-based, high-end games on it (via streaming on Grid), or you can download beefy Android-based games to the set-top box itself. You can also listen to music, watch 4K movies and TV shows, and use apps such as YouTube, Hulu, and Netflix HD (and 4K too). I’ve watched high-definition shows and they look fine.
The Nvidia Grid cloud-based game-streaming service still needs work at displaying 1080p high-definition games without delays. Nvidia is working on making the cloud-based games work better. But the downloaded games worked great. Android TV has 200 games, and almost 20 will come only to the Nvidia Shield within a few months of launch.
More than 200 Android games
These include Pac-Man, War Thunder (a massively multiplayer online [MMO] combat game set in World War II), and remastered titles like Half-Life 2: Episode Two and Doom 3: BFG. Other games include the indie hits The Talos Principle, Never Alone, Goat Simulator, Hotline Miami, JuJu, and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter.
In contrast to Apple devices, this has no restrictions on what you can watch. Additional apps include Pluto TV, UltraFlix, ESPN, live television channels, and Sling TV. You can watch personal 4K content from camcorders and GoPro cameras. It has parental controls too. You can pay $50 more for the voice-search remote control, $30 for a stand, and $60 for additional controllers. For a limited time, you will also get $60 worth of credit from Google.
The voice control works pretty good, as you can search for movies by name or by actors’ names. The box comes with a HDMI cable, over-the-air updates, 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless networking, MicroSD expansion slot, and Gigabit Ethernet. It’s nicely designed and won’t look embarrassing in your living room.
Nvidia’s idea is to provide entertainment for the whole family, not just gamers, as it delivers video, music, and apps as well as controller-based Android games. It can display 4K video and games at 60 frames per second on televisions, thanks to the powerful processor.
The Shield Android TV Console works with an Nvidia Shield Controller as well as the Shield Tablet. If you add it all up, it’s about delivering both gaming and broader entertainment to the gamer and the gamer’s whole family, for a price that costs less than most other consoles.
As we noted back in March, Nvidia is late in a crowded market. Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo have their next-generation consoles in the market. Valve is about to launch a number of Steam Machines with its partners in hardware manufacturing. Razer is launching its own cloud-based Forge TV Android set-top box, which will stream games via the cloud. Amazon also has its own Amazon TV set-top box that can play games. And Ouya, a $100 box that bombed in the market, showed what happens when you launch a low-powered Android box without enough support from game developers.
The Tegra X1 processor, which Nvidia announced in January, is based on Nvidia’s state-of-the-art Maxwell architecture for graphics processing. It’s a “desktop-class GPU,” said Jen-Hsun Huang, the chief executive of Nvidia, in an interview in March.
Back in March, Nvidia said that the difference between the Grid game-streaming and early cloud-gaming applications like OnLive was that its service could deliver games at 1080p resolution, compared to 720p to older solutions. Nvidia says it will be able to run games such as Crysis 3, based on Crytek’s high-end Cry Engine. But that game is not available yet.
You can plug in a headset to the Shield Controller, so you can play on the big TV without making any noise, as the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One controllers offer. That’s good for late-night gamers who don’t want to wake up other family members.
You can use Android TV’s Google Voice Search feature to search for movies using voice commands. You can use the Android TV voice-recognition feature to speak voice commands to the set-top box. You can do Google searches with voice commands, and you get recommendations based on your gaming history.
It has Google Chromecast built into it, so you can display the screen of your Nvidia Shield Tablet (or any other Android device) to the big-screen TV via Chromecast. You can also stream a game from the Steam digital distribution network and community from a GeForce-based gaming PC to the TV using the Shield set-top box.
The machine itself is smaller than a laptop computer. It is a glossy black box topped by a pitched green chevron. It plugs into a TV’s HDMI port and has Wi-Fi, Ethernet, and Bluetooth connectivity. It measures 8 inches-by-5 inches-by 1 inch and weighs 23 ounces.
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