For years my wife and I dropped cable television simply because we didn’t have the money for it in our budget. Then eventually we added back a basic package and were okay with that. Fast forward 6 years later and we are spending a fortune and have every channel under the sun. What happened was they slowly offered us deals that added additional channels, we started watching shows on those channels and then when the deal went away I would call and tell them I was going to drop it all and they would add even more channels to get me to stay. When we bought a new house though it was finally time to find a better option to save some money and it just so happened that Nvidia had sent out their Shield TV to us and it was sitting unused. So today I’m going to talk a little about how I dropped cable by using the Shield TV and I’ve been loving it.
Product Name: Nvidia Shield TV
Review Sample Provided by: Nvidia
Written by: Wes Compton
Pictures by: Wes Compton
Amazon Affiliate Link: HERE
Okay, let me preface this with the fact that I had actually had the original Shield TV as well and while I played with the game streaming and GeforceNOW functions a little, when we had cable television I would rarely if ever find myself flipping the TV over to use the Shield. Having the refreshed and original devices around left me a whole list of options when I started looking at how we could cut our costs. Honestly, I would be able to mostly get by downloading and streaming the shows that we liked but I really didn’t want to go that route. Not to mention it gets a lot more complicated when you add in that during the college football season I watch the games as my once a week break away from anything tech/work related. So I needed to have access to ESPN and Big10 Network so dropping down to the most basic package with my cable company sadly wouldn’t do the job.
Now I consume a lot of my TV at my desk while working, then a lot in the living room with my wife, but we also have TVs in our bedroom and another big TV in the basement where I can hide during gamedays. So whatever I picked needed to be flexible and be able to run on multiple platforms. We have HTPCs in all of those rooms, game consoles upstairs and down, and a few Nvidia Shield TVs as well.
Once I got looking what I found were a few options that might work for us that had a lot of the channels that we enjoy as well as the sports channels I would want come football season. All of which were more than half to a third of the price of what we were paying for TV and all of these options also allowed for more TVs where cable I had to pay for a box in each room.
So here are the services I was looking at, depending on what channels you want will determine what you might want to go with,
So all of the options have packages that start at about $35 except Sling at $20 and then they go up from there. But unlike cable, none of them add up to crazy amounts. At the time Youtube TV wasn’t available where we live so I took that off the list. Then from there, I had to decide between the three. They all can be viewed with a browser but DirectTV Now didn’t have a way to run on our Shield TVs without side loading the app so I skipped that one. That left me with Sling and Vue. Vue had every channel we wanted except Comedy Central and as a bonus, you can also use the PS3 and PS4 with it as well so I decided to give it a try.
The Vueing experience (see what I did there) hasn’t been perfect but I wouldn’t call it bad as well. You are going to have to have a good internet connection but our 250/20 is way more than enough. For a while, there were some server issues causing buffering on random channels that would get really frustrating but those have improved. Video quality is solid as is audio quality as well. Most of what I both love and hate about the server has been with the UI and how they handle channels and their DVR. So you can navigate to a somewhat traditional guide and flip through it but you have to go out of the way to do that and it only has 6 days of guide loaded at any time so forget trying to set something to record far ahead of time. Most of the navigation actually uses photos of each channel or of each tv show to make navigation easier.
The DVR is similar to the live TV navigation as well with photos. What is unique is you setup shows on your favorites list and then they just automatically record every episode. I think they store everything in the last 30 days. So if you digitally horde movies or shows that you like to rewatch over and over on your DVR or if you don’t get around to watching stuff often you aren’t going to like this setup because a lot of things might be gone. But at the same time, there is no capacity limit and especially with shows aired all the times like the Simpsons you basically have access to the entire catalog after a month. This setup also makes it weird for recording one time shows or movies, not to mention the 6 days lead time on the guide. So, for example, there are a few shows coming up that I want to make sure I don’t miss that aren’t always on the air, so I have to remember to add them the week of them airing. You can use the mobile app to do this as well at least, so if you don’t want to miss something but you will be traveling for a week or more you won’t miss it.
Channel selection gets weird when it comes to local channels as well. Depending on where you are at you might have a ton of channels or none at all. That doesn’t mean you are SOL if you don’t get the local channel you do still get access to the on demand for that channel. But sports aren’t included on demand, so for example for football, I didn’t have a local ABC channel at the time so I would have to use the ESPN app for shows on that channel. The same goes for NBC and the Olympics.
One of the most frustrating issues I’ve had with Vue was something I would never have seen coming and it rarely gets mentioned when talking about the service. If you pause or rewind a show that you are watching live they only allow you to go back or stay paused for 3 minutes. The crazy thing to me is on most channels the server has to be recording it anyhow because it's going to be on someone’s favorite list. But this even happens when you have it being DVRed at the same time. Basically, if you get up to go to the bathroom or fix dinner you better be quick. It will hit the end of the buffer and start playing again and anything you missed it gone. Most DVRs will pause for 30 minutes, but come on Sony at least give me enough time to poop lol.
So what does Playstation Vue have to do with the Nvidia Shield TV? Well, I did initially use the PS4 but once we finished moving in I wanted to have a system better integrated into our lifestyle. The Shield TV fit this better because as a Google TV device it allowed me to pair Vue with other apps. I have my ESPN app as I already mentioned but I find myself flipping mostly between Vue, Amazon Prime, KODI, and the Twitch app for TV. Then it opens up a lot more for gaming as well. Using Vue worked well for me, but being able to have access to even more content on Amazon Prime for a few of their shows and a lot of great moves helps fill in the gaps. Then beyond that Kodi gave me access to all of the movies, TV shows, and music on our network. Even more than that Kodi also has a basically endless stream of add-ons that you can add to it to do other things. For example, during the Olympics, I added on an NBC addon that used my Vue login to get us access to all of the Olympics content, not just from the two channels on Vue. I also don’t have to mention that there are a LOT of add-ons that can also get you any tv channel or show you want as well as any movie as long as you are willing to go that route. For me, it's nice to know we have the option, but I would prefer to keep things legal as much as possible while also not getting gouged by the cable company.
So let's take a quick look at the new Shield TV that Nvidia sent over to me. This one includes a game controller and a remote along with a standard Shield TV. I don’t think this one is available now, they lowered the price and you just get the remote and can pick up the controller on its own. (correction, it is available and is actually on sale for $179.99 right now, normally $199.99) There is also a Pro model with 500 gigs of storage onboard.
When you get in the box you have the Shield TV itself and the remote up on top. Then below that, the controller has the instructions with it. There is also a box with two cables. One is a shield branded USB charging cable for the controller and the other is the power adapter for the shield.
The controller shape is actually really nice and is a lot like Xbox controllers. You have two analog triggers, four XAYB buttons in the normal location and a direction pad. In the middle is a Nvidia button to power everything on and above it is a microphone. Below that is a small touchpad that can control the volume up and down. Down on the bottom, you have your normal Android controls with the back and menu buttons. They also slipped a headphone jack in up under in the same area as an Xbox controller.
Facing out the top you have the USB charging port in the middle. Then there are four triggers. Two are smaller click triggers and the two bottom triggers are analog and extra wide. The overall controller look has a weird tessellated look to it that is okay to hold but I can imagine a lot of people who might prefer something smooth.
The remote looks exactly like just about every other smart tv remote like the Amazon Fire and the Apple TV. In fact, I think people have gotten the Fire remotes working on the Shield TV. It has a round direction pad up top with a middle select button. There is a microphone above that, just like on the controller and down lower is a large microphone button that you use with the built-in Google Assistant. There are the back and menu buttons as always. Then down the middle of the bottom, the strip of glossy plastic is actually a touchpad used to control volume. The back of the remote doesn’t have anything going on. The controller uses a large watch style battery. This is a change from the old design that would plug in and recharge. The old design also always needed charged every time I used the Shield TV where this one has never needed to be replaced so far so I’m okay with the change. The remote has a solid feel helped by the metal construction.
As for the actual Shield TV, the new (well current, its been out a while now) model is much smaller than the original. They basically cut out any of the really thin parts of the design that most likely didn’t have much inside and shrunk it down. The original wasn’t large, but you aren’t going to have trouble finding someplace to put the Shield TV lets put it that way. We still have the angular shape that Nvidia uses on their video cards and the controller. The shape helps hide the green LED strip across the top that shows when the Shield TV is powered on. On the bottom, they also have a similar integration of the ventilation as well.
You need that cooling because inside of the Shield TV it has Nvidia’s Tegra X1 system-on-chip. It is based on the ARM Cortex-A57 CPU and Nvidia’s Maxwell microarchitecture (think GTX 700 and GTX 900 series). Now on the GPU side, that might sound a little old, but this is still a powerful little box for an Android device though I do wish it would get a refresh. For hookups on the back, you get an ethernet connection, two USB plugs, and the HDMI 2.0 to support 4k. The small plug over on the right looks a lot like a Type-C but it is squared off and is the power cable. If they did another refresh, moving to Type-C for power would be cool to see just to get it standardized.
It also important for me to note that not only did Nvidia send this kit over. But they also included a tiny USB thumb drive to plug into the Shield TV for additional storage and a $25 Google play card. This wasn’t a payment for coverage, they just included both to make sure I had storage to load the device up and money on my play account to pick up 4k movies and some of the games made specifically for the Shield TV. Speaking off, most of those games aren’t anything like what you find on other mobile games. For one they have controller support out of the box, but a lot of them are older PC games like most of the GTA games, Half-Life 2, Portal, Metal Gear Solid 2, and more!
I also dug out the original Shield controller to compare the differences. The whole angular feel of the new one isn’t my favorite but you quickly forget about it when you put it next to the old controller and see how much more compact it is. It isn’t smaller, but it's more like it’s been on a diet. It's not as extreme, but it's like going from the old Xbox Duke controller to what we know and love today.
Samsung SmartThings with the Shield TV
If you have been around LanOC recently you might have noticed that I have been toying around with a few different smart home products. We bought a new place and along with some renovations and changes around the house, we have also been looking at ways to integrate some new technologies. Switching to Shield TVs for all of our TVs is one way, I also upgraded our thermostat to the Nest, and we have a few smart lights. To really start to expand things though I would have to buy into an ecosystem and use a hub. So when Nvidia and Samsung announced their Samsung’s Smart Things would turn the Shield TV into a hub I had to try it out. Nvidia sent over a small kit that included the dongle as well as two lights and a motion sensor.
The dongle is called the SmartThings Link and along with a two-step instruction manual, you get the dongle and a USB extender. I found it interesting that they bother at all to put a cap on the USB dongle though. It's not like this is a flash drive that you might put in your pocket and take places. Anyhow the cable is there so you can get a better signal, plus it helps you have room to plug something into the other rear USB port on the Shield TV.
The motion sensor they sent over is the Samsung SmartThings branded model. It isn’t very large and like most every other SmartThings or z-wave device, it is battery powered and completely wireless. It has a motion sensor bubble on the front so if anyone sees it they will know what it is, but the whole device isn’t much more than an inch and half square. The back pops off and you can use that as a mounting bracket with the included screws or with double-sided tape. They also included a mounting guide as well. The sensor is interesting though because beyond motion it does also have a built-in temperature sensor as well.
The bulbs Nvidia included were Sengled Element Classic LED bulbs. These are the cheapest SmartThings integrated bulbs that you can find on Amazon so I was especially curious to see how well they would work. They look like any old LED bulb with a metal bottom half that is used as a heatsink and a plastic globe on the other. They screw into your standard socket and are 60 watt equivalent in light output. The downside for me though was their color range. These are only available in a 2700k Soft White range where we use a more neutral 4000k range around the house. In other words, these put out a yellow light. I’ll touch on that more in a minute.
So setting up the SmartThing dongle wasn’t difficult. You plug it in and then download the app on your Shield TV. From there you get a code and have to input it into the SmartThings app running on your phone. Basically, the hub runs in the background all of the time with the Shield TV, even when you have it off. I thought the Shield app might also let you set things up but it doesn’t have any of the front facing features that your phone app has.
So how can you use all of these together? It really depends on how far you buy into the ecosystem. I ended up playing around with them in a few ways. Because I have a full RGB TP-Link bulb in one of our lights in our living room already I put one of the Sengled bulbs in the other lamp. Using IFTTT I set it up that if one of the two bulbs was turned on the other would come on. This saved me from having to walk across the room to turn the second light on at night. Then from there in SmartThings, I used the motion sensor to pick up movement in the living room and if it was after dark it would turn on the lamp that then turned the other light on. Talk about making things simple!
But the color difference was bothering me, so when I ended up doing is moving both of the Sengled bulbs out to our back porch. Our front porch lights are already automatic with light sensors, as is the light on our garage. So with the back porch lights, I could set it up to turn on automatically at a specific time or mount the motion sensor and only have them on when needed. Though honestly, I haven’t bothered to mount the sensor yet, it is still in our living room. This had an extra benefit though, our living room can sometimes feel colder than the rest of the house. I used the built-in temperature sensor to keep an eye on that. In the future, though I think the motion sensor outside would help more, plus I could then check the outside temperature as well.
My time with SmartThings being integrated into our Shield TV is still early but I’m hoping to play around with more integrations this summer. Once you start adding more hardware into the mix you can do some crazy stuff. You can setup water sensors under sinks to warn you ahead of time of leaks and there are even a few options available where you can even turn off the house water automatically when a leak has been detected. The Works with SmartThings list has a lot on it and that doesn’t count all of the homebrewed stuff that you can find that people have written. Because it has Z-Wave Plus and Zigbee built in, just about anything that supports those wireless formats can be integrated with a little programming, assuming it hasn’t already been by someone in the community.