My old US colleague Sean Hollister reviewed the Nvidia Shield TV almost a year ago upon its American release, and absolutely loved it. A year on and during a period that's seen me divorced from my beloved PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, I thought it was about time to revisit the console. It's fantastic – like Sean, I love it too, but probably not for the reasons that Nvidia had planned.
Related: Nvidia Shield Review – Do You Want an Android Games Console?
Though it's running on Android TV, which has received a lukewarm response so far on other devices, the Nvidia Shield is very much its own machine. From the packaging down to the execution of the hardware design, it oozes premium quality. The microphone-equipped remote control puts the Apple TV's to shame, the controller is up there with (if not quite a match for) the Xbox's, the console itself has a tiny footprint and wonderful angular design (that I now love, despite getting a nasty static shock off it the first time I used it), and the stand's suction pad is so sturdy, I literally had to prise it from my flat's wooden floor with a knife. You could argue that that last point is actually not a positive, but you see what I'm getting at here – there's a lot of care gone into making this a really wonderful gadget, well worth the £149.99 asking price it now commands.
It's impressive under the hood too. Despite being a year old the Nvidia Tegra X1 processor the console packs (256-core GPU backed by 3GB RAM) is still smokin' hot. It's one of the few things you can plug into your TV that supports 4K video (and the only console for that matter), and acts as a ready-to-go Google Cast / Chromecast tool, too. While its GeForce Now streaming service still doesn't have enough games for my liking, the ability to stream locally-stored Steam games from your gaming PC via the GeForce Stream app more than makes up for that, and then you've access to the Android TV game store on top of that too, which offers the best of the Android Play Store on your big screen.
So the core offering is great right out of the box, provided your internet connection is up to the task. But it's where the Shield TV deviates from the competition where it really goes into a league of its own. Thanks to its Android roots, it's so damn open. If you can do it on Android – the most open of all mobile operating systems – that means you can pretty much definitely do it on the Nvidia Shield too. Fancy downloading a retro console emulator? The Shield TV has you covered. Fancy tapping into the innumerable web TV channels offered for free by the likes of Kodi? Your wish, its command. Can't find an Android TV app to do your bidding? Really easily sideload a standard Android mobile app instead.
It is, essentially, a gadget tinkerer's heaven. There are whole forums and YouTube channels dedicated to pushing this thing to its limits. Yes, that sometimes includes its legal limits, but there's plenty to explore without crossing the Thin Blue Line too. My fiancé often complains that I spend more time fine-tuning gadgets like our surround sound speakers than actually using them, and the Shield definitely sees me falling into those nerdy hobbyist patterns. But it's the fact that Nvidia has managed to marry this with a pick-up-and-play core offering that is really the most wonderful part of the whole Nvidia Shield TV experience.
Despite what I said in my slightly cynical introduction, perhaps this is EXACTLY what Nvidia had planned all along. Despite the constant cries against it, we've become used to seeing the big consoles from Nintendo, Sony and Xbox take a walled-garden approach to their platforms. Despite protestations (remember when the PS3 had its ability to remove custom firmware removed, and the outcry that caused?), there's little to no room to mess about under the hood of the Big Three's machines. For someone that grew up with an Amiga 500, there's something charmingly freeing, anachronistic even, about Nvidia's console, even with its ultra-modern features and super-slick design.
Go buy one. It's incredible. All this and, for fear of bricking a press loan sample, I haven't even rooted the thing. Oh, the possibilities...