Google's attempts to push Android TV in living rooms have so far failed, but the smart TV platform could get a boost from Nvidia's new Shield TV console, which has features that set it apart from competitors.
The Shield TV box, available now, can stream movies or shows from the Internet, and games from Nvidia's online service. The "flagship of Android TV devices," as Nvidia has termed it, attaches to a TV's HDMI port.
Shield has some advantages over rival Internet-streaming devices from Apple, Amazon or Roku. It is the first TV box that can stream 4K video from Netflix, and it supports Google Voice to seek out TV shows or movies from many online video services. The Google Voice Search feature on Android TV already supports Internet search.
A Shield with 16GB of storage is priced at $199, while a $299 model will have 500GB of storage.
It is now available in the U.S. and Canada through online stores like Google Play and in retail stores later this year. Nvidia didn't share details about worldwide availability.
The product is shipping just when Google is expected to shed light on the future of Android TV at its Google I/O show. The Android TV platform, which is based on Android 5.0, was launched last year is designed to run in TVs and set-top boxes. Sony's Android TVs went on sale this month, and Sharp is holding an event next month to share more details about its products.
Android TV is an upgrade to Google TV, which was spiked after a short run between 2010 and 2013 after poor sales caused vendors like Sony, Logitech and Vizio to remove set-top boxes from their offerings.
Nvidia officials said Shield will help Android TV win the battle for the living room with support for 4K and over-the-air content.
The Shield's tiled user interface is broken down into multiple sections featuring movie listings, TV shows, games and Android applications.
A gaming controller that ships with Shield doubles as a remote control, but it is designed more for gaming than for typing or navigating the user interface. Voice search is perhaps the best way to find movies, shows or channels based on topic, category, actor, genre and other parameters. Nvidia will sell a plain remote control separately.
Nvidia isn't offering TV packages like Sony is with PlayStation Vue, and instead relying on streaming services like Dish Network's Sling TV to deliver popular channels like HBO and ESPN. Video stored on local PCs or network-attached storage drives can be viewed through an application called Plex. Google's Chromecast has been built in, providing options to play video from mobile devices and PCs on TVs.
It is also possible to watch movies through external storage drives, which can be attached to Shield via two USB 3.0 ports. Shield has hardware decoding for 4K video files based on ITU's HEVC and Google's VP9 codecs.
The box can stream games at a 1920 x 1080-pixel resolution, which is good for shooting, role-playing and casual games. It's not yet advanced enough to compete with an Xbox One or PlayStation, though the box has the graphics processors to support for high-end gaming. Nvidia could make it a full-fledged PC or gaming system, but the company initially is opting to make it a TV and gaming box. Initially, more than 100 free and paid cloud-based games will be available for Shield.
The Shield has a Tegra X1 processor, 3GB of RAM, a micro-SD slot, 802.11ac Wi-Fi and a Gigabit Ethernet port.