So why would you need a dedicated media player?
That's especially true of the £190 Nvidia Shield, given you can get the Amazon Fire TV stick for less than £35. Well it's because it's an excellent media streamer on its own, but has gaming features that make it worth the premium price. Especially if you're a PC gamer looking to play on your 4K, HDR-ready TV.
It's a neat and small, and comes bundled with a redesigned controller and remote in the box that'll play nicely with the Google Assistant in a future update, but this is mostly a cosmetic upgrade.
With innards that are almost identical, owners of the previous box can just download a software update instead of splashing out on more hardware. It’s a win-win for everyone: the Shield is still plenty powerful for games, the user base doesn’t get split, and everyone gets to play with the latest features.
Is it worth upgrading?
The 2017 Shield is one sleek set-top box, housing the same internals as the 2015 original but in a body that's about 40 per cent more compact. You even get most of the same ports on the rear of the device.It comes with two USB3 ports, and streamers can use the network port for buffer-free 4K video from Amazon and Netflix. It has built-in 802.11ac Wi-Fi, but we'd still recommend hardwiring to cut out as much latency as possible when gaming.The USB ports can also charge the bundled controller, which has had a redesign and is now much slicker than its predecessor. The triggers feel a little cheap and plasticky - but it's still great for gaming and with an awesome 60-hour battery life. There's a built-in microphone this time around, one that will work with Google's Assistant, once the console gets a firmware update to support it.A media remote also comes bundled in the box too, and has a microphone of its own. This used to be an optional extra, but now it's free.
You can still give player two an old wired Xbox 360 controller, which is handy.
The Shield still plugs into the wall via a compact power adaptor and connects to your TV using HDMI, which is not supplied.
This is the first Android TV box we've seen running Nougat, the latest version of Google's OS. This adds improvements like multitasking; letting you quickly snap between apps you’ve already opened, and picture-in-picture, so you can continue watching something while accessing the main menu. On the apps side, this is also the first Android TV device to support Amazon video, which will be great for Prime subscribers.
Google Assistant is one feature of Android Nougat that’s not yet available, but Nvidia is working with Google to get it onto Shield TV at some point in the future. This will essentially turn the Shield into a Google Home device which you can use to control Smart Home devices like Philips Hue lights, Nest thermostats and Samsung SmartThings.
Also see: Sony PS4 Pro review: Beats the PS4?
A much improved interface neatly groups shows “Nvidia Games” app by title, rather than having to remember whether it's an Android game, from your local PC or from the GeForce Now service.
There are plenty of ways to play games on Nvidia Shield. There are free Android games like Crossy Road that have optional in-game purchases. There are premium Android games like Doom and Half-Life, which take advantage of the K1 processor and the Shield controller.
The biggest gaming improvement comes to GameStream, which is when you stream games across your network from your Nvidia-powered PC. Nvidia has improved GameStream performance so that you can now stream your games in 4K HDR.
You will need an expensive graphics card to run games in 4K though -- I’d recommend at least a GTX 1080 if not a GTX Titan. Plus, you’re going to need an Ethernet connection between your PC and the Shield -- and powerful Wi-Fi, otherwise 1080p gaming, let alone 4K will not run smoothly.
The Shield is jam-packed with catch-up and on-demand services, including Amazon Video and Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Twitch, Kodi and Plex. Plus, if you've got an iOS or Android smartphone, you can easily cast from them to the Shield.
Casting is one of the best features of the Shield in general, as you can easily send photos, music and YouTube videos to your TV directly from your mobile.
If you have a vast media collection on your PC or NAS device you can access it all through the Shield, either directly through Kodi or through the fancy Plex interface.
The Shield’s home cinema chops are also worth mentioning, as they go way beyond most media players. Aside from outputting at 4K and HDR video, there’s pass-through support for Dolby Atmos, TrueHD, Dolby 7.1, DTS-X and DTS-HD Master Audio, as well as High Resolution audio playback up to 24-bit/192KHz. In other words, if you’ve got a sound system, your movies and music will sound incredible.
The Shield always was a premium streamer in a world filled with cheaper boxes and sticks. You could opt to save yourself a packet and buy a Chromecast or Amazon Fire TV Stick.
A PS4 or Xbox One - are still better for gaming which both happen to have loads of media apps as well.
The Shield is aimed at the high-end gaming PC market. It'll do loads of cool stuff, but you're only going to get the most out of it if you have the hardware to go with it. A good quality graphics card and top end TV are essential for that ultimate gaming experience.
The Shield is still a great standalone media player now, is as future-proof as they come thanks to 4K and HDR support, and will only get better once Google Assistant is available in the UK later this year.
Buy the Nvidia Shield here £189 from Amazon UK