Stay on target
Graphics card manufacturer, Nvidia, has been trying to break out of just being the folks that make your beefy graphics cards for a while. And that’s been met with mixed success. One of those outings, the Shield, has been a frustrating little box. It’s Cool™ and Neat™, but for the most part, it wasn’t too compelling on its own. Units ran for $199, and that was a slightly better Netflix machine with game streaming capabilities. So what changed?
Well, the software, really. The current shield model isn’t too far off from the original run, but with the growth of smart home assistants and the maturity of the Android operating system for non-phones, that functionality has only grown.
I’ve spent a few weeks with the latest shield, and I’ve been continually impressed with its flexibility and genuine utility. For a bit of context, my place is something of a social hub for several friend groups. I have people over just about every day. My set-up is built around that — entertaining groups of friends. I’ve got some basic smart devices for ease-of-use, and I’m a huge fan of efficiency. When I have people over, I like seamless integration and the ability to switch to just about any video streaming or movie service I want.
Historically, I’ve used a game console for that. Either my PS4 or Xbox One have been consistently solid streaming boxes for years. But the Shield goes a bit beyond. It’s common, for example, to have guests that want to play their music or show a YouTube video quickly to the group. Searching, especially with the interface offered by major consoles can be slow and clunky. You have to type in individual letters with a controller, something for which it wasn’t really designed. My wireless keyboards don’t often work either. While it’s not a massive problem, it is an inconvenience, especially after using the Shield.
Voice search is integrated directly into most apps, and there are microphones built into the Shield’s remote. Because those search functions use Google Now (as opposed to the Xbox One’s spottier Kinect/Bing integration), they’re often surprisingly accurate and easy. What’s more, the Shield can also function like a Chrome Cast, so friends can toss up their favorite tracks from Spotify, or pull a video from their Watch Later YouTube list.
Plus, if you’re into whole home automation thing, the Shield, much like Google Home and Amazon’s Echo, works seamlessly with a Belkin WeMo or any Nest device. Granted, you won’t see the same level of advanced voice recognition that you’ll get with the hefty electronics built into an Echo, but, depending upon your use case, you may not need them.
The Shield is meant to take on the role of an entertainment hub. Just about everything is available in one spot alongside an array of extra features. Chrome Cast integration and voice recognition go a long way towards closing the gap, helping the Shield stand shoulder-to-shoulder with a good chunk of its competition. Gadgets like the Apple TV, which retail for about the same ($150-199) fall quite a bit short except when it comes to Apple’s own ecosystem support. But even then, Shield’s games-streaming and smart home features more than make-up for it.
The device still isn’t for everyone. If you already have a console you use for media, it might not be worth a buy. But those looking for an easy way to manage their media, stream games from their PC, and would also love the functionality of the new crop of smart devices have a solid bit of hardware.