There’s yet another player in the marketplace for streaming TV
hardware: NVIDIA’s SHIELD Android TV, which joins Google’s Chromecast ($35),
Amazon’s Fire TV ($39.99 – $139.99), Roku ($49.99 – $129.99), and Apple TV in a
competitive field. Coming to the product as a TV critic, and not as a gamer or
tech expert, I tested the SHIELD recently and drew a few points of comparison
to Apple TV, which I purchased late last year. When you consume as much TV as I
do — my mother, who warned me as a child that sitting so close to the screen
would ruin my eyesight, would surely disapprove — it turns out that no amount
of bells and whistles can replace ease of use.
A slim, black rectangle with a puzzle of finishes both matte
and glossy and a hint of green light when it’s on, SHIELD certainly cuts a more
striking figure than Apple TV’s squat box. And though SHIELD is the
larger of the two units, it’s hard to imagine that the size difference would be
consequential, even in the tiniest New York walkup. If your place is big enough
for a TV, it’s big enough for SHIELD.
In addition to a sleek remote control similar to Apple’s —
though without the nifty touchpad that allows you to scroll with the lightest
pressure — SHIELD includes a console-style controller. It’s somewhat
clunky-looking, and goes into sleep mode when unused for any space of time,
which I failed to intuit the first time it happened. But it works well with SHIELD’s
efficient typing feature, and for those who even think they’ll be interested in game play, Sits inclusion a boon —
Apple’s two options on this front cost an additional $49.95. (Note that the SHIELD stand, included with my review unit, is sold separately.)
Winner: Apple TV
I’m a Luddite through and through, so I went into setting up
each unit with trepidation. Would I ruin yet another Saturday on the phone with
tech support? (You should see me flail away at IKEA furniture.) But installing both
the Apple TV and SHIELD hardware was a breeze. If I can handle it, so can you. Unfortunately, the speed with which SHIELD led me through
the setup and login process (via my Google account) lulled me into a false
sense of security, because it then launched directly into a “software
upgrade” — which took 77 minutes
to complete. (Cue the “Jeopardy!” theme.) That’s enough to lose this
round to Apple TV, which gave me no such trouble, in a rout.
TV, Gaming, and Apps
While SHIELD may enjoy a slight edge over Apple TV by dint of its 4K streaming and Android gaming content, neither has solved the central problem of smart TV for film and television buffs: the absence of Amazon. Cannily, perhaps, the retail giant and burgeoning distributor has declined to make its streaming video service readily available via app on other companies’ hardware — as competitors Netflix, Hulu, and HBO have done — in order to lure consumers to its Fire line of products. The problem is, from “Transparent” and “The Man in the High Castle” to Spike Lee’s “Chi-Raq” and forthcoming films from Kenneth Lonergan (“Manchester by the Sea“) and Woody Allen, it’s increasingly hard to ignore Amazon’s offerings. For now, I’ll continue streaming episodes of “The New Yorker Presents” on my laptop, but until one streaming TV option combines the strengths of the various players, none will feel 100% complete.
Winner: Apple TV
The new, fourth-generation Apple TV isn’t cheap: it retails for $149.00 (32 GB) or $199.00 (64 GB) and, annoyingly, doesn’t include the necessary HDMI cable (an additional $19.00). By contrast, SHIELD TV (16 GB) retails for $199.99. In effect, Apple TV offers twice the storage capacity for $30 less. Plus, in my experience, 32 GB is more than enough for TV and movie hounds to stream to their heart’s content — the costlier option is for serious app and game usage only.
Overall Winner: Apple
Though ardent gamers may want to consider SHIELD, ordinary
cord-cutters need not go to the added expense. Even Apple TV, which I’m pleased
with for my own purposes, is a bit of an extravagance for the casual viewer
simply streaming their favorite series on Netflix or Hulu. In fact, selecting
one of the more inexpensive options seems a fair strategy for now: Apple’s
product is the victor in this one-on-one battle, but when it comes to the
hardware marketplace as a whole, it’s unclear who’ll win the war.