Yesterday, Apple showed up fashionably late to the smart TV micro-console party with a substantially-upgraded Apple TV. Today, Nvidia took to its blog to compare the Shield Android TV micro-console to Cupertino's latest.
Nvidia plays up two of the Shield's strengths versus the Apple TV: hardware specs and games. In particular, the Shield has a relatively powerful GPU that can drive some nice-looking games—when developers take advantage of it. Taking advantage of that graphics horsepower has been something of a stumbling block for Nvidia's nascent gaming box, though, since so many Android games cater to lowest-common-denominator hardware specs. The Shield can also output 4K, 60Hz video where Apple TV is limited to 1080p.
There's a stark difference between the Shield's controller and the Apple TV remote, though Apple says MFi-certified controllers will work on the Apple TV, too. The Shield seems to win on specs and the number of checkboxes it ticks (and Nvidia does love to tick checkboxes).
Specs aren't a blanket win for Nvidia, however—the $199 base model has only 16GB of flash storage and a microSD slot. We had a somewhat lumpy experience with moving apps and game files to external storage, so the expandability alone doesn't make up for the paltry internal flash. Nvidia also makes a 500GB Shield with a mechanical hard drive, but that boost also jacks the price up a full hundred bucks.
The Apple TV starts at $149, $50 less than the Shield, and has 32GB of flash storage with no microSD slot. For $199, the top-end Apple TV has 64GB of internal flash—four times the storage of the base Shield model.
Nvidia has also put a lot of energy into getting high-profile games onto the Shield, including a batch of games last month. We found in our Shield review that software selection is largely an ecosystem-based choice, though. If you're already heavily invested in Android apps and games, then your Google Play library probably already has Android TV software for you.
Game streaming from a local PC is another feature win for Nvidia. As I've recently learned, connecting a Shield to a network with Gigabit Ethernet does improve the streaming experience—enough so that I ran an Ethernet cable to my living room and accidentally drilled through my living room ceiling along the way. Android TV has built-in Chromecast streaming, too, so Android and Chrome users alike can easily get content streamed from other devices to their TVs.
In contrast, iOS users and more casual gamers may find more value in the Apple TV's software, depending on how its App Store shakes out. Apple also has legions of third-party developers already committed to the iOS App Store, so it seems likely that the Apple TV will see strong support out of the gate. If you already have a Mac or an iOS device, then the Apple-only AirPlay features may be more useful than a Chromecast.
Apple did have one big trick up its sleeve yesterday, in the form of aggregated search results. If you search for a show or movie, Siri returns listings for multiple services, including Netflix, Hulu, and iTunes. Google would probably really like that same functionality in Android TV, but it's missing for now. One has to wonder if, now that Apple has been able to get content providers on board, Google won't be able to tag along on the All Results Express. Laying down our platform-war swords, that kind of full integration across all platforms would be a benefit for consumers, rather than fanboys.
In the end, we don't know who wins and who loses yet, and the answer to that question probably rests with each shopper and their existing investments.