The new 2nd-generation NVIDIA Shield TV was released yesterday and it’s a solid alternative to the Amazon Fire TV, especially now that it has a fully functional Amazon Video app. I’ve picked one up and will occasionally write about it to round out my coverage of Android based streaming media boxes. Here’s a comparison of the physical aspects of the new Shield TV versus the Amazon Fire TV, including comparisons of the Shield TV’s remote and game controller with Amazon’s remote and game controller.
If you’re familiar with the first-generation NVIDIA Shield TV, you’ll immediately notice that the new one is notably smaller than the older model. That’s because the 16GB model shown above and the 500GB Shield TV Pro no longer share the same enclosure, so instead of just leaving a massive empty space in the 16GB model where the Pro’s spinning 500GB hard drive goes, NVIDIA has redesigned the housing for the non-Pro model. The new Shield TV is wider than the Fire TV, but slightly shallower.
The two devices share nearly the same ports. The main difference is, instead of having a microSD card slot like the Fire TV, the Shield TV has a second USB port. Since both devices support USB hubs, the microSD slot is preferred, but the Shield TV uses USB 3.0 ports, while the Fire TV uses USB 2.0 ports.
The extra width of the Shield TV, compared to the Fire TV, is mostly due to the device’s internal cooling fan which exhausts hot air out of the large vent next to the rear ports. There is a slim air intake vent located under the Shield TV, facing forward, which pulls in cool air from the front.
The Shield TV remote, while being much thinner, is nearly the same length and width as the Fire TV voice remote. The curved back of the Fire TV remote fits better in the hand, but the flat Shield TV remote is fine. The Shield TV remote is powered by two CR2032 batteries that NVIDIA claims will last a year of normal use.
The new Shield TV controller is very similar to the Fire TV Game Controller and a big improvement from the previous model. My only issue so far with the new Shield TV controller is how shockingly bad the D-pad is. The travel of the D-pad is non-existent. It literally moves as much as the play button on the Fire TV remote. For games that use the D-pad for utilities, like menus and maps, it’s fine, but for anything where you use the D-pad for movement, like with emulators, it’s horrible.
The joysticks on both controllers feel equally great. The only perceptible difference is that NVIDIA’s controller has ridges around the top of the joysticks, while Amazon’s controller joysticks are smooth. NVIDIA has changed from narrow triggers on their first controller to wide triggers on this new one, just as Amazon did, and they feel great. I prefer NVIDIA’s triggers slight more because they curl up just a bit at the bottom, so your fingers never touch the housing of the controller when the triggers are fully depressed, whereas Amazon’s triggers become nearly flush with the controller housing when fully depressed. The A/B/X/Y buttons on both controllers are good, but once again, I prefer NVIDIA’s buttons slightly more because they’re larger and have slightly smoother travel.
NVIDIA’s controller has a built-in rechargeable battery and charges off of an included micro USB cable you connect to the Shield TV, whereas Amazon’s controller uses a pair of AA batteries. This results in NVIDIA’s controller being slightly slimmer. Both controllers have Android navigation buttons, headphone jacks, and microphones for voice commands, but NVIDIA’s microphone is always listening for the “OK Google” command for hands free use. NVIDIA’s controller also has a touch pad between the joysticks for volume control via a built-in IR blaster.
Physically, the two products are very similar. For the set-top boxes, I give the nod to Amazon for being smaller, not having a fan, and including a microSD card slot, but obviously NVIDIA’s box is a much more powerful device. I easily prefer Amazon’s voice remote to NVIDIA’s because it feels better in the hand and includes dedicated media buttons. Picking a prefered game controller is a bit difficult. If it weren’t for the terrible D-pad, it would be an easy win for NVIDIA’s game controller, so I’ll just leave it at that. It has always been clear that Amazon’s Fire TV is the more streaming centric device, where as NVIDIA’s Shield TV is more tailored towards gaming first, but it’s surprising how much that comes through, even when simply comparing the physical hardware. Both devices are great in their own way.