Though there aren't a ton of options on the market, our favorite option for sale right now is NVIDIA's Shield TV, a successor to their popular Shield and Shield Tablet Android devices. The Shield TV currently for sale represents the second generation of the platform, with a smaller body size and future support for Google Assistant. Though the box uses the same Tegra X1 processor as the original 2015 Shield TV, the new size and upgrade controller mean it's one of the best Android TV boxes you can buy right now, complete with the same power we loved in the original version.
From the get-go, the Shield looks different than nearly every other set-top box on the market right now, Android TV or otherwise. Unlike other boxes, which typically look round, soft, and uniformly black, the Shield has a sharp, angular design. While this means you won't be able to set anything on top of the unit itself, since its diagonal top frame creates an unbalance for anything above the device, it also creates a unique look that really catches the eye. Complete with green highlights and a black matte/glossy plastic build that is reminiscent of the PS4, the whole device looks really great. And though it can sit horizontally without a problem, NVIDIA also sells an equally-angular stand for holding the device up vertically, allowing for a smaller footprint in size and for better ventilation. The second generation of the Shield TV console is about 40% smaller than the original release, but both systems use the same stand utility.
The same goes for specs. Despite upgrading the platform during CES at the beginning of this year, NVIDIA has stuck to the exact same 16GB of storage and Tegra X1 processor for powering the device. There's nothing inherently bad about keeping the specs the same, though. The X1 is a powerful chip, and despite its age, still more than holds its own against competing chipsets from Qualcomm. The box also uses 3GB of RAM, plenty for something like a streaming device, and runs on Android 7.0 Nougat, with NVIDIA's own custom software built-in on top of the device. It's worth noting the 2017 version of the Shield TV removed the microSD card slot from the back of the device, so the only current way to expand your memory from the included 16GB is to use one of the USB 3.0 ports along with a flash drive.
So why should you drop $199 on the Shield TV over some of the cheaper boxes on this list? Normally, we'd question the same thing, but in the case of NVIDIA's platform, they've truly offered up enough features on the Shield TV to more than cover the asking price. In terms of hardware, the Shield TV now includes an improved remote, complete with an IR blaster allowing you to control your television, stereo system, or anything else that uses the IR standard. The remote is also now powered by watch batteries, as opposed to the original rechargeable remote meant for the first gen Shield TV. The remote also supports Bluetooth, which is how the device and remote interact. Also in the box, you'll find the Shield Controller, newly reworked and revised for 2017, which is used to play games on both the Shield TV itself and any Bluetooth-ready gaming device, including PCs and gaming consoles.
Software-wise, the Shield TV is just as packed with exclusives and features you'll want to buy the device for, especially if you fall into one of two camps: 4K television owners and PC gamers. For the former, the Shield TV includes support for showing content in 4K, making it one of the only Android TV boxes—and one of the few set-top boxes in general—to do so. It's such a powerful box that you'll have no problems being able to throw tons of 4K content at your television without any sort of lag, choppiness, or slowdown. As for PC gamers, it should come as no surprise NVIDIA, manufacturer of some of the most popular graphics cards on the market, has included their traditional suite of gaming applications on the device. As long as you have a supported graphics card and a network that can handle streaming, NVIDIA's Gamestream application will allow you to beam your games from your computer to your television without having to use any sort of wires or cables for displays. If you aren't a PC gamer, you can still take advantage of NVIDIA's GeForce Now streaming platform for games, assuming you can drop the $7.99/month to play a wide library of games.
There are a few additional software advantages if you don't have a 4K television or game on PC but are deadset on using Android TV as your platform of choice. First, the Shield TV marks one of the few times Amazon Instant Video has been included on Android TV as an application, making it a must-have if you're an Amazon user looking to access their content from a Google device. Most Android TVs don't offer Amazon Instant Video on their devices, and notably, the app doesn't allow for Chromecast streaming. Finally, the Shield TV is also supposed to support Google Assistant, with an update originally promised to roll out in early 2017. But it's August, as of the time of writing, and no update has come. It's unfortunate, but simply a scratch in NVIDIA's otherwise incredible device.
Here's the overall conclusion: if you're deadset on purchasing an Android TV, the NVIDIA Shield TV is the one to buy. For $199, you're getting a powerful 4K media box, complete with a full suite of applications including Amazon's own video app, a major score for the gaming company. The included controller is wonderful for playing games both on and off the Shield TV itself, and the smaller size and footprint is great for storing under your television or inside your media center. This is in addition to all the classic software included with Android TV, including Chromecast. But the ultimate question you have to ask yourself is, for $199, is it worth getting the Shield TV, complete with all the benefits of Android TV and the Google platform, or for an extra $50, is the Xbox One S a better buy, even if only for the media content on the Xbox. The One S supports 4K Blu-Ray discs, along with most of the other streaming apps we've come to expect on set-top boxes, but it also has a full library of video games and exclusives.
Ultimately, it comes down to your general preference. If you're a diehard PC gamer, the Xbox One doesn't offer you much, as all Xbox exclusives will be coming to the PC from here on out. The Shield TV will definitely offer you more functionality for your NVIDIA-based PCs. Same goes for non-gamers—the Shield TV is simply the better buy. If you're a console gamer, however, it's a difficult choice between dropping $199 on the Shield TV and adding just an extra $50 for all the bonuses provided by a One S. It's a choice you'll have to make for yourself, but for those who really want an Android TV, the Shield TV is the one to buy.
- 4K support
- Great remote and controller
- Amazon Video included
- Generally expensive
- Remote can be slow to wake
- No microSD card slot