If we take a step back from there, we're left with my major Shield sticking point: In order to squeeze the most out of the thing, you'll need some extra hardware. The Shield, for instance, is the first Android TV box to support 4K video streaming thanks to working relationships with companies like Netflix. Hook up a Shield to a 4K television, fire up Netflix, and you'll see certain titles highlighted with an UltraHD badge -- one quick click from there and you're watching House of Cards in glorious super-high resolution. (Other UHD content providers, like Amazon, haven't made their stuff available here yet). Thing is, I don't have a 4K television. Most people in the US don't, though we're finally getting to the point where you can buy one without melting your credit card. All the videos I tried in a hotel suite with NVIDIA reps floating around looked gorgeous, but it's not something many of us will be able to immediately appreciate. I don't have one of NVIDIA's GTX-series graphics cards either -- again, like most people -- so the finer points of streaming games straight from my PC to an Android set-top box were lost on me. Even the excellent Shield remote control, which feels really sturdy and has a great microphone, will set you back an extra $50.
I'll be putting those features through the wringer in our full review (coming soon!), but I was still pretty pleased with the out-of-box gaming experience Shield brings to your TV stand. Titles like SoulCalibur, Asphalt 8 and even Doom III ran great on my 47-inch LG thanks to the Tegra X1 chipset and the 256-core Maxwell GPU thrumming away in that angular body. The number of games optimized to run with this sort of horsepower on screens this large is still modest, though graphically intense games like Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and Half-Life 2: Episode 2 are currently slated for summer launches. At this point, it's honestly hard to say if the Shield has the chops to depose full-blown game consoles, but it's sure as hell trying.
The biggest gaming question mark for me was whether or not I'd be able to use NVIDIA's Grid cloud gaming service, which promises to let you play games powered by remote hardware at full HD and at 60 frames per second. My home router -- a mostly new Apple Airport Extreme -- definitely wasn't one of the models NVIDIA recommended for Grid use. A bit of on-screen griping later, and I still managed to play through several rounds of Street Fighter X Tekken without too many dropped frames, though I spent most of my time laying down Hurricane-Kick-to-Hadouken-to-Dragon-Punch combos on computer opponents. We'll see what happens when we drag other humans into the mix, but I was a little shocked at just how well everything worked considering my subpar setup.
It's been less than a week, but I'm utterly intrigued by this new Shield. The original was a clunky portable that turned out to be a seriously hardy gaming companion. Its successor of sorts wound up being one of our favorite Android tablets. I'm withholding final judgment for just a little while longer, but it feels like the third time for NVIDIA really might be the charm, and that's saying something.