The Shield is the most exciting box in the Android TV space to date, and there's a lot to learn about it.
Before the Shield Android TV was announced the crop of boxes vying for a space in your entertainment center were pretty basic, and don't leave much to learn either before or after you buy one. There's a bit more going on here with this $199 Android TV choice, from gaming potential to ports, power and capabilities, it takes a bit more to wrap your head around everything the Shield has to offer.
We have eight things you should know about the Shield Android TV, whether you're still thinking about picking one up or already have it home and hooked up.
1. It can handle your 4K TV
One feature that the Shield Android TV can offer that no other box can at this point is 4K video output. With the power of its processor, the new HDMI 2.0 specs inside and an included high-bandwidth HDMI cable, you can watch a limited (but growing) set of 4K content from the likes of Netflix and YouTube.
With the prices of 4K TVs dropping in the past year, there's a better chance than ever that you may have one in your house right now. And even if you don't yet have a 4K-capable TV, there's no doubt that your next TV will be able to handle the higher resolution as it becomes the standard for all TVs the way 1080p is now. As that happens the content options will also expand, and you'll see more streaming (and locally downloaded) content becoming available in 4K as well.
It's good to know that your set top box of choice is ready for the future of video.
2. You can use any USB or Bluetooth peripheral
When you buy a Shield Android TV you're not just stuck with what's included in the box — dual USB 3.0 ports on the back and Bluetooth inside let you expand it in many ways. When it comes to adding extra peripherals to the box, if it has a USB port then you can pretty much count on it working. Whether that's a keyboard and a mouse, a USB flash or hard drive, gaming joystick or web cam — plug it in and it'll work.
That also extends to Bluetooth, where you can pair your own game controller even if it isn't from NVIDIA. Of course the app or game you intend to use with it will need to support it, but knowing that you can extend your system with other standard peripherals is great.
3. Old Shield Wireless Controllers work just fine
The Shield Wireless Controller that comes in the box is pretty great, but it's important to know that if you already have older version of the controller they'll work just fine as well. There are minuscule differences between the new and old models of the controller, coming down to new Lollipop-style buttons and a brighter LED on the front.
If you connect your old Shield Wireless Controller it'll likely update your controller's firmware (which will happen automatically) so it can interact fully with the Shield Android TV, but after that you'll be loading up some great multiplayer gaming.
4. It's worth considering the $49 Shield Remote
Getting a $59 controller included in your $199 Shield Android TV purchase is nice, and lowers the barrier to unboxing it and getting right to gaming. While the controller can do everything that a simpler remote can (and more), it isn't the best choice for someone who just wants to quickly move through the Android TV interface and casually control video playback.
If you won't be using the Shield Android TV for gaming a majority of the time, or will be handing over control of the box to your kids or a less gaming-focused spouse, you really should consider picking up a Shield Remote. At $49 it's a bit steep considering what it does, but its metal construction, clever design and audio jack for headphones all make it worth it. It's even rechargeable by USB, which you can do right off the back of the Shield Android TV.
5. A microSD card works well
Once you've decided to pick up a Shield Android TV, the next question is whether you get the 16GB model for $199 or a massive 500GB model for $299 instead. While gamers and local media lovers may be leaning toward the larger of the two, consider the fact that you can use a microSD card in the 16GB version to expand its storage.
Once you pop an SD card into the back of the Shield Android TV it'll instantly be available for your use, whether you put it in with media already on it or choose to move games and content there afterward. You can choose what percentage of the card should be used for app installs, and whether you want apps to automatically move to the card when you download them.
And considering you can pick up a 64GB SD card for less than $25 nowadays, it may make more sense to get the cheaper Shield Android TV and add your own storage.
6. Android TV still has its limits
No matter what manufacturers choose to put in their set top boxes that will run Android TV, most of the software experience is still being handled by Google. That's good when it comes to consistency and bringing an ever-expanding content ecosystem, but it means when Android TV has issues they're issues for every device running the software.
Android TV has gained lots of polish, small features and dramatically more apps since being introduced at Google I/O 2014, but that doesn't mean it's perfect. The interface is smooth and easy to access, but can get a little unwieldy once you get lots of apps and games loaded on it. Of course voice search can help, but you're not always in a situation where you can search by voice.
The app and game catalogue is expanding and you'll find new offerings in the Play Store very week, but it's still a far cry from what you can find for your phone or tablet when you open the Play Store there. There's also a frustrating disconnect between apps that support Chromecast and those that are available natively on Android TV, and you won't find content from all of the big cable channels just yet.
7. Grid and GameStream expand your gaming options
The Play Store may not have hundreds of great game choices available at the moment, but the inclusion of both Grid and GameStream on the Shield Android TV expands your gaming options. GameStream lets you play games on your Shield Android TV that are remotely running on your home gaming PC, and if you're a hardcore gamer you'll love the possibilities. Tons of games support the feature, and if you're willing to put up with some finicky setup and performance it's fun to play with.
NVIDIA's Grid gaming service is similar, but a bit more accessible because the games are streaming instead from a remote server. The experience is great if you have a solid internet connection, but you won't have the same number of games offered by GameStream. The Grid service is currently free as well and being offered in beta while NVIDIA works out the kinks, so it's hard to recommend against at least trying it out — you'll then know what you're getting into when pricing is announced.
8. The green lights can be turned down or off
It's hard to have an NVIDIA product that doesn't exhibit its bright green color scheme, and on the Shield Android TV it comes in the way of an LED array on the front of the box. If you keep it out for all to see the lights can be a bit distracting, particularly when you're watching a movie late at night, but thankfully you can turn those LEDs down or off completely if you wish.
It only takes a few clicks of the controller or remote to get into the settings and turn down the lights, whether it's permanently or just for the evening. Dial them back up when you want to show off the Shield Android TV to your friends.