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Testing the shield portable Android TV, the striking 4K experience on Android

Nvidia started marketing the Android Shield TV in the US this month. We had already been taken in hand the device during the Google I / O, which motivated us to import a model of the US Android Shield TV on Amazon. In Europe, the Shield Android TV released in the summer (without elaborating), but we wanted to deliver a comprehensive test of the import model after our grip. The opportunity for us to look at this box Android TV equipped with an ultra-powerful Tegra X1 and compatibility with 4K televisions and videos. Indeed, it is the first Android device to be compatible with Netflix in 4K.

Nvidia Andriod

First of all, note that the European model is the same as the model imported from the United States the material point of view, but with a slightly different software part. If one decodes the clues left by Nvidia, one could find TV applications. For everything else, the experience should be identical to the one we have lived with the American version of the Android TV Shield. This product is very important for Nvidia, since, as shown in the slides of the presentations Shield, greens want to impose themselves in the lounges. The picture below summarizes perfectly the vision of Nvidia: Android Shield TV should be able to replace the audio systems, digital tuner, home consoles and TV box. Is it really capable of it all at once? Let’s find out

Nvidia Shield Android TV past future

Factsheet

Model Shield portable Android TV
Android Version Android TV 5.1
Maximum resolution support UHD / 4K (3840 x 2160 pixels) @ 60 Hz
SoC Nvidia Tegra X1
CPU 4 A57 hearts @ 2GHz + 4 hearts A53
GPU Maxwell (256 CUDA core)
RAM 3GB LPDDR4-3200
Internal memory 16 Gb
MicroSDXC Yes
Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 802.11a / b / g / n / ac (MIMO 2 x 2) + Bluetooth 4.1 BLE
Ports 1 x microUSB (ADB)
2 x USB 3.0
1 x HDMI 2.0
1 x Gigabit Ethernet
Dimensions 210 x 130 x 25 mm,
Weight 654 grams
Accessories Lever
Price $ 199 (16GB)
$ 299 (500 GB)

The Tegra X1, the centrepiece

This is the famous X1 Tegra chip found in the Shield Android TV. This was announced at CES this year and has interesting strong arguments to be integrated into a box Android TV. Indeed, the Tegra X1 seems to take up too much energy in a smartphone or even a tablet. The heating and consumption would be too high. This is particularly why we find a fan (quiet) in the Android Shield TV: to cool the ardor of the platform, able to consume up to 20W support.

Tegra x1 Superchip

The X1 Tegra features eight 64-bit cores cut in two clusters. The first has 4 Cortex-A53 cores while the second incorporates four Cortex-A57 cores running at 2 GHz. Nvidia uses a scheduler house that chooses between one or the other cluster. The eight cores thus cannot be used simultaneously. In a non-mobile use, this is not very important and we will find ourselves most of the time (at least in games) with the four Cortex-A57 cores. In terms of memory, the X1 uses the Tegra LPDDR4-3200 and integrates Android Shield TV 3GB But the highlight of the show is rather elsewhere. GPU part.

Nvidia is well known in the world of PC gamers for its GeForce graphics cards. The X1 Tegra GPU is directly derived from Maxwell architecture of the second generation used on the GTX 970 and 980 (Ti). To recap, the Tegra K1 uses, meanwhile, a Kepler GPU found in particular on the GTX 780 Ti. However, in both cases, the computer units have been reduced in order to limit consumption. If we find 2816 computing units on a GTX 980 Ti or 1024 GTX 960, Tegra X1 embeds 256 clocked to 1000 MHz. The computing power thus reaches 1,024 GFLOPS (FP16) against 365 GFLOPS on Tegra K1. Nvidia uses a new method of lossless compression, allowing, for example, to reduce by 30% the memory bandwidth used in Half-Life compared to Tegra K1.

Tegra X1 Maxwell

The GPU incorporates a fully hardware decoding engine for reading UHD video (4K) at 60 Hz, both encoded in H.264, H.265 and even VP9. For encoding, Tegra X1 can record videos at 30 FPS UHD H.264 / H.265 or 60FPS in VP8. Finally, the chip supports HDMI 2.0 and HDCP monitors 2.2. A necessary prerequisite for compatibility with Netflix in 4K.

In the end, the Tegra X1 seems perfectly cut for a 4K-compatible TV box. And in fact, what happens?

Design

Android Shield TV is a great achievement with the use of good quality plastic. The box displays unconventional forms with many edges. However, all is successful, with a slightly aggressive look, but not too much to fit better on a TV. You can put the console horizontally, or vertically with a base (not supplied) sold 29 dollars. Too bad, we would have liked to see it directly in the package of the Shield.

Nvidia Android Shield TV Design

On the front of the box, there is an infrared port to navigate the Android TV remote control. You can use the remote control (not included) and sold 49 dollars or compatible infrared remote controls. Nvidia states that Logitech remote controls work perfectly. It is also possible to use their smartphone with the TV Remote Control Android app as a remote control.

At the rear, there is the outlet for the fan, microSD slot, a micro-USB port for connection to a PC (eg for the ADB mode), two USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI 2.0 port, an Ethernet connector Gigabit and a power connector owner.

Nvidia Android Shield TV HDMI USB Port

To start or pause the console, simply press on the touch button with the Nvidia logo. Rather practice at first, but not ergonomic in practice. Indeed, since we like to manipulate the console turned on, it will be careful not to press the button. And believe me, I got screwed on numerous occasions. A physical button would have been nice. Finally, a touch of coquetry, a green LED illuminates the console. Best of all: its intensity is adjustable. Gadget, but still significant.

Android TV (almost) stock

TV With Android, Google plays big. The Mountain View giant hopes to establish sustainably in the living individuals, a market in which Google is very present, facing the Apple TV, Roku or other Amazon Fire TV. We are already more or less familiar with Android TV since we already had the opportunity to test the system with the Nexus Player last April. Experience with Shield Android TV is not really comparable since the latter is really very responsive compared to the Nexus Player. During the week of use, any lag was observed in the interface, unlike the Nexus Player that often suffer slowdowns. The Tegra X1, therefore, does wonders, and the ROM Android TV designed by Nvidia appears very light, without any frills. The few additions manufacturer (supports microSD card applications, HDMI-CEC audio sync – video) are useful but invisible if you do not need it. Many Android manufacturers should take a leaf.

Android TV Homescreen

The rest of the experience is the same as you would find on a Nexus with Android TV Player almost stock. So we find the engine suggestions based on the user’s activities to propose games, videos or movies based on his preferences. There are also applications installed in the form of large icons. One part is for Android games, and another in Shield Hub, which includes the streaming PC games via the Grid service and downloading games specifically optimized for Shield devices.

Experience Android TV is really nice. Everything is simple and designed for large screens and navigation joystick or mouse. Despite the lack of remote control supplied with the Shield, the handle (which is itself in the box) is nice to navigate the menus.

Android TV Shield Grid

Android TV obliges the Shield supports Google Cast, to display the screen of the Android / iOS device, Mac, Chromebook Windows or directly on the TV connected to the Shield. Very handy for caster videos or applications. For games, it is, however, a bit more complicated because of the latency induced by the system.

A word on the Play Store. This list only the applications officially compatible with Android TV. But it is possible that an application can run on Android TV correctly without the developer indicates. This is the case of the majority of benchmarks used in our test or game Real Racing 3. To install these applications, it is then necessary to connect the shield to a USB device in order to push the APK in ADB. Applications do not then appear on the TV launcher default Android. It will then go through another launcher which takes the form of an application.

 

Finally, to watch TV, Android TV is not necessarily the right solution yet. In the US, there are applications compatible with local channels. In Europe, they are not yet present. If one believes the clues left by Nvidia, they should be available at the launch of the Android TV Shield in Europe during the summer. It is always possible to tweak recovering IPTV stream / OTT, a somewhat delicate manipulation and not necessarily legal.

 

4K video: a stunning experience

The Android TV Shield is the first Android TV box to be fully compatible with 4K. This is also the first Netflix box compatible with 4K. In order to test the possibilities of video Shield, Samsung sent us a 55-inch UHD TV featuring a curved HDMI 2.0 HDCP 2.2 ( UE55JS9000 for the curious). The icing on the cake: the Shield, television and Netflix are compatible with 10-bit color mode, which displays over a billion different colors against 16 million in conventional 8-bit mode. The record is really stunning, with a level of incredible detail and very deep color. The experience was, even more, striking with 4K video (encoded in H.265 Main Profile 10) stored on a USB key. The compression was less than with Netflix and quality was even more impressive. YouTube 4K is also present, with a reading smoothly.

Netflix 4k

Parallel to streaming, you can use applications from media center like Plex or Kodi to play videos stored on an external hard drive, the microSD card or a NAS in the local network (and Internet connections with big). For buffs media center, the Shield Android TV is a little less open a HTPC, especially at the material management of codecs. But it remains possible to read all audio/video codecs in software the moment an application permits.

The stronger is to, once you view a video or series, power in less than a second, switch to an entirely different activity, such as games on Android.

 

Android games

Android games rotate perfectly smoothly. Even Real Racing 3, which is a particularly greedy game (when set in XtraHigh) flirts with the median of 60 FPS. By comparison, the Tegra Tablet K1 of the Shield prevented exceed the median of 50 FPS. In both cases, the game was made in 1080p. Remember, even on a qHD or UHD terminal (4K), Real Racing 3 will be calculated in Full HD before being upscaled. No Android game is indeed available in higher resolution than Full HD. The performance will, therefore, be identical on a Full HD screen, qHD or UHD. To our knowledge, no game is calculated natively in QHD or UHD. It’s a shame because then loses much quality and we imagine that the Shield Android TV would be able to run games 4K between 30 and 60 FPS.

Games in Android TV

The Shield Android TV benefits from a catalogue of titles only available on Shield devices, like Doom, Half-Life or Portal. We appreciate the great classics Android, but we would also see in other hardware platforms that seem capable of running the games. Good performance even so prolongée.Nvidia terminals One thinks especially of Snapdragon 801 and 805 in which the scheduler provides permissive has also told us that the “exclusive” Shield was not: all games currently running on Shield devices (think Doom or Half-Life) could run on other devices. Should be sufficient power, and joint work with the developers concerned. Thus leaving the door open for a competitor box equipped with a powerful SoC. But nothing seems to come on the horizon. In any case, few titles have interesting graphics that basic Android games with a higher level of detail, more effects and a greater amount of displayed objects.

If the Shield Android TV has no trouble turning Doom 3 to 60 FPS (1080p), we can not say the same for War Thunder, an MMO type of flight game that appeals to many players on the same game. The console was struggling to maintain 30 FPS and the bar was rarely crossed. One even wonders if the game was allowed to exceed the 30 FPS. Not very surprising when you know that this game runs at 80 FPS on a GeForce GTX 750 Ti with 640 PC units calculations.

But we quickly made the rounds of Android games that take full advantage of the boundless power of the Tegra X1. So now turn to developers to create titles that can take advantage of powerful chips. It was thought that the arrival of Android Extension Pack within Android Lollipop change things, but the expected change has not yet occurred. Let then still a little time to developers. It also requires that smartphones and tablets manufacturers play the game by allowing users to unleash the power SoC when necessary, the risk of heat excessively the device and chip autonomy.

Even if one is content with the simplest games, the experience is just as good. I thus found to play for hours Do Not Commute, a small, simple car game (which has some strategy game tunes). The handle and bring the big screen indeed a very different feeling from the one proposed by smartphones and tablets. This game would have amused me a few minutes on my phone, but deep in my sofa with the joystick in hand, nothing will stop me. Oh yes: the call of the Grid.

Shield portable Android TV Nexus 9 Shield Tablet
AnTuTu 57047 54100 51000
PCMark 7414 5800 4750
Ice Storm Unlimited 46619 25300 30700
Ice Storm Unlimited (Graphics) 60347 35313 37753
Ice Storm Unlimited (Physics 25954 19765 12233
Manhattan (onscreen / offscreen) 54/62 FPS 22.4 / 31.2 FPS – / 31.1 FPS
T-Rex (onscreen / offscreen) 60/120 FPS 47 / 62.7 FPS – / 64.9 FPS

Game Bench Shield Android TV

PC games: Grid to the rescue

We have already discussed the streaming service Grid on numerous occasions, including during the handling of this service last November. Remember, this is the Netflix video game since Grid allows playing PC games in streaming directly on the Shield. The service has changed a little since then, it is now possible to take advantage of streaming games offered by Nvidia in 1080p at 60 FPS. We must then have a connection of at least 30 Mbps and connect the Ethernet Shield Android TV and not in Wi-Fi. The experience is bluffing. Latency is very low, and we do not feel that the game is being calculated based on the Nvidia servers, hundreds of kilometers from the console. However, we see sometimes appear some artifacts due to compression of the flow, but nothing very annoying. The visual quality of the games is very good.

Nvidia Grid 2

We do not really extend the service, since the beta of it will end on 30 June. After this date, the service will go to the final and commercial version, with monthly subscriptions to pay. For now, the owners of an appliance Shield can enjoy free catalog fifty titles (fed every week with a new set). But the result is a great mystery. We know neither the price nor the details of future subscriptions. However, it should be two different formulas, which would differ from the catalog available. And for now, it is a bit weak point of the service, since hardly find recent productions and classics such as FIFA.

We return in detail on this point when the Grid service will have been commercially launched on 1 July.

Our opinion

With Android Shield TV, Nvidia delivers a TV box near perfection. The powerful Tegra X1 provides a fluid interface and ultra smooth Android games, even the greediest of them (except for War Thunder). When we want to move on, PC games streamed via Grid are really bluffing in 1080p at 60 FPS, like videos and films in 4K. Support for Google Cast and media center applications like Plex or Kodi really can transform the central Shield Product salon.

The console is capable of replacing many devices typically found in television. But the product is not yet perfect. One can quote a ridiculously low storage capacity (16 GB) then you need to add $ 100 more for the version equipped with a 500 GB hard drive.

Fortunately, the microSD slot Enhances the storage until 2 theory To. It also regrets that the remote control is not supplied with the unit and that is then obliged to add 49 extra dollars for its procurement. Finally, Android TV seems not yet ready for 4K, since the entire interface is displayed at 1080p and 4K upscale. Nvidia leaves the door open for an update on this.

Finally, some issues remain unresolved for the moment. This is, for example, the case of the availability or price of the unit in Europe. Nvidia simply indicates availability in Europe during the summer. We also expect to know the applications installed by default Nvidia (with seeming partnerships with content providers) in Europe to rule on the television experience (even if it is possible to use an external digital tuner).

Finally, the biggest questions come from Grid, PC games streaming service. The free beta will stop at the end of the month and Nvidia has yet to release the sales department who will succeed him. Too expensive service greatly diminish the value of the platform, given the small number of games offered to date.

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