Things We Love: 4K Streaming with the NVIDIA Shield TV

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Like most people, I wasn’t in a huge rush to upgrade to a 4K TV. The resolution bump didn’t really feel the same as the standard to high-definition move. Plus, I didn’t really have any 4K content and my aging Samsung TV was handling my Full HD 1080p content just fine. However, that all changed when I scored an awesome deal in October, trading my launch-day OG Microsoft Xbox One for the more powerful 4K-capable Xbox One X. Then I waited until Black Friday/Cyber Monday to get my hands on the Sony X900F, a solid full array LED-backlit 4K TV for gaming and watching movies.

While 4K HDR gaming with my Xbox One X and the Sony X900F were working just fine, watching movies and streaming Netflix was a bit of a chore. The X900F uses Android TV as its OS, but like most smart TVs I’ve experienced, the UI tends to lag at times. There’s also a bit of a wait when you open an app or even switch to another one. I had set up a Plex Media Server on my computer (it’s free via a browser, but you may have to pay to stream to an official Plex iOS or Android app) so I could stream movies and photos from my computer to the X900F. However, browsing through my collection wasn’t as smooth as I wanted. Of course, I wanted to take full advantage of the 4K TV so I tried streaming a UHD 4K movie and it would sometimes buffer, despite my Verizon FiOS Gigabit Internet connection (which maxes out around 940 Mb/s). I also wanted to move away from transcoding and wanted direct play (more on this later). After a couple of Google searches and forum post research, I came across a solution… the NVIDIA Shield TV.

NVIDIA SHIELD TV Streaming Media Player with Remote

The NVIDIA Shield TV came highly recommended, especially from the Plex community, for its ability to direct play UHD 4K content with ease. Direct play is exactly what you think it is. It means that the Shield TV can play a supported file directly with no changes to the original bitrate or container. As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to avoid transcoding, which is when the video or audio format isn’t compatible, and your Plex Media Server, in this case the Shield, must convert them to a compatible format. This can require heavy CPU usage and may also affect the video quality, something I wanted to avoid.

Setting up the Shield is simple. Just plug in the power cable and connect to the correct 4K TV HDMI input. You can use Wi-Fi or a wired connection via the Ethernet jack. I opted for the latter. After firing up the Shield, I immediately noticed how much smoother the UI was than the X900F’s UI. There was little to no lag, and apps opened instantly. Switching between apps was also seamless. After setting up my Netflix (now with the Ultra HD plan), Amazon Prime Video, and YouTube accounts, the first thing I tested was Blue Planet II, from Netflix. (Pro Tip: Don’t forget to turn on HDR for your supported HDMI inputs, which for the Sony X900F is HDMI 2 and 3. They are off by default.) The sharpness of the picture quality and the colors from HDR were amazing. While it wasn’t as jarring of a difference between 480p standard and 1080p high definition, it did look better than regular old 1080p without HDR.

Wanting to see how UHD 4K movies looked without buffering, I switched my Plex Media Server from my computer to my NVIDIA Shield TV. The Shield TV I got only has 16GB of internal storage, although I could use its two USB ports to add an external hard drive. However, since the Shield supports access to network-attached storage (NAS), I opted to do that instead. It was much easier to add media to the NAS and have my Shield TV access it through my network than having to move an external hard drive constantly between the Shield and my computer. If you plan on streaming your own movie collection, I highly recommend this setup.

Playing Avengers: Infinity War in UHD 4K really showcased the full power of my X900F. I noticed a lot more detail than when I watched the film in the theater. Next up was Dunkirk. I previously watched Dunkirk in 70mm IMAX at Lincoln Square 13, which filled the entire screen, so I was pleasantly surprised to have a similar experience with the UHD 4K version. Seeing the opening sequence fill my X900F’s screen was amazing.

I wasn’t really into the whole smart home thing, but after I got an Amazon Alexa Echo as a gift, I decided to give it a shot. Using the Alexa app, I set up custom voice commands, so when I say “Alexa, movie night,” it turns on my X900F TV and the NVIDIA Shield. I can also use default voice commands like “Alexa, open Netflix on Shield” or “Alexa, mute TV.” When I’m finished watching a movie, I simply say “Alexa, the end,” and it turns both devices off. I also set up similar voice commands for my TV and Xbox One X. “Alexa, game time” turns my TV and Xbox One X on while “Alexa, game over” turns them off. It may not seem like a big deal, but it did fuel my quest for laziness… I mean convenience. How, you may ask? Well, I was looking at smart light bulbs earlier (don’t judge me).

Overall, the combination of the Sony X900F 4K TV, the NVIDIA Shield TV, and the Xbox One X, as well as the apps like, Plex, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and YouTube, have definitely facilitated and increased my enjoyment of UHD 4K movies, TV shows, games, and more. The next upgrade to my home theater setup is the audio. A good soundbar or maybe even a surround sound system might be my next purchase.

Have you made the switch to 4K yet? Go into glorious detail in the Comments section, below.

The “Things We Love” series articles are written by B&H Photo Video Pro Audio staff to talk about products and items that we love. Opinions expressed in the articles are those of the writers and do not represent product endorsements from B&H Photo Video Pro Audio.

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