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New NVIDIA SHIELD TV Stick – A Worthy Competitor to the Amazon Fire TV Stick?

For years, Amazon‘s Fire TV Stick has dominated the affordable 4K streaming landscape. But NVIDIA aims to shake things up with the new SHIELD TV Stick packing impressive power in a petite package. Can NVIDIA‘s miniature streamer stand up to Amazon‘s established streaming stick? Let‘s dive into a detailed comparison to see how they stack up.

The Rise of SHIELD TV and Fire TV

NVIDIA first waded into streaming devices back in 2015 with the original SHIELD TV. It stood out with its Tegra X1 processor, console-style design, gaming capabilities, expandable storage and flexible OS based on Android TV.

The 2017 SHIELD TV Pro continued the concept but increased performance and added features like always-on voice command and SmartThings integration to control smart home devices.

The SHIELD TVs catered to tech enthusiasts willing to pay a premium for power user features. But at $149 and up, they cost substantially more than mainstream streaming sticks.

Meanwhile, Amazon rapidly grew its Fire TV line after launching the first Fire TV box in 2014. The minimalist Fire TV Stick arrived later that year, offering easy access to Prime Video along with Netflix and other popular apps.

The combination of low cost, Alexa voice remote and tight integration with Amazon‘s services fueled the Fire TV Stick‘s popularity. Amazon moved over 100 million Fire TV devices in the first five years, becoming the #1 streaming device brand in the US by 2017 according to Parks Research.

The third-gen Fire TV Stick 4K released in 2018 added support for 4K Ultra HD along with Dolby Vision and HDR10 high dynamic range. Aggressive pricing around $25 to $40 made it an irresistible 4K option compared to Roku and Apple TV 4K devices costing 2 to 4 times as much.

Now in late 2022, both companies are expanding into new territory – NVIDIA with its first SHIELD TV streaming stick, and Amazon preparing a Fire TV cube with detachable Alexa speaker. But in the battle of compact streamers, how does the SHIELD TV Stick take on Amazon‘s strengths?

Design – Compact Cylindrical Streamers Go Head to Head

The SHIELD TV Stick sports a radical new look compared to past SHIELD TV boxes. Measuring just 6.5 inches long and weighing a mere 1.3 oz, the cylindrical streaming stick is slightly longer but considerably lighter than the 3rd gen Fire TV Stick 4K.

NVIDIA‘s PET and silicone construction allows unique ventilation on both ends. The circular port layout enables 360 degree orientation, though it may block adjacent ports on congested TVs.

Both streamers disappear neatly behind a wall-mounted TV. The Fire TV Stick 4K‘s flat HDMI connector hugs closer to the screen compared to the SHIELD TV Stick‘s rounded body. But the SHIELD‘s all-black color and smooth finish help it blend seamlessly into any setup.

Overall, the compact and concealed streaming stick form factor is ideal for modern minimalist home theaters. The SHIELD TV Stick holds a slight edge in sleekness but both devices accomplish the mission of hiding away unobtrusively.

Performance and Graphics – Powerful Tegra X1+ Processor vs Amazon‘s Budget Silicon

The biggest separation between the SHIELD TV Stick and Fire TV Stick 4K lies under the hood. NVIDIA leverages its gaming and graphics expertise to cram serious horsepower into the miniature SHIELD.

The new SHIELD TV Stick utilizes NVIDIA‘s Tegra X1+ processor, which delivers 25% faster performance than the standard X1 chip in older SHIELD models according to the company.

It‘s paired with 3 GB of RAM, 8 GB of flash storage, and enhanced gaming/AI capabilities from the integrated 256-core Volta GPU.

By comparison, the Fire TV Stick 4K is equipped with a 1.7 Ghz quad-core processor, 2 GB RAM, 8 GB storage and 450 MHz graphics.

Pitting the two head to head shows the massive performance advantage of the SHIELD hardware:

Benchmark SHIELD TV Stick Fire TV Stick 4K
Geekbench 5 CPU Score 615 single / 1867 multi 176 single / 496 multi
3DMark Wild Life Score 2552 387
PCMark Storage Score 10659 4998

Performance benchmark data source: [Android Authority]

The benchmarks demonstrate the Tegra X1+ CPU and Volta graphics enables 2x the processing speeds and 5-6x the graphics performance as the Fire TV Stick‘s silicon.

In real world usage, this equates to far snappier response when loading apps, quicker navigation and multitasking, and the ability to handle much more graphically complex games.

Android Authority measured app launch times with the SHIELD TV Stick beating out the Fire TV Stick 4K by 15-50% in every test.

Game loading performance is even more starkly in favor of the SHIELD. The Fire TV Stick 4K requires nearly 5x as long to load graphically-intensive games like Asphalt 9 according to testing.

The Fire TV Stick 4K is no slouch – its quad-core processor and 450 MHz graphics are capable enough for streaming media and lightweight gaming. But it can‘t hold a candle to the raw power and speed of the Tegra X1+ powering the SHIELD TV Stick.

For future-proofing and optimal performance, especially in gaming scenarios, the SHIELD TV Stick is the obvious winner.

Resolution and HDR – Matched 4K HDR Support

With the Fire TV Stick 4K, Amazon matched Roku and Apple TV 4K by adding support for 4K Ultra HD resolution and HDR video. This enabled Fire TV users to finally enjoy Netflix, Prime Video and other services in up to 4K with HDR color and contrast on compatible televisions.

The SHIELD TV Stick follows suit – it can stream 4K video at 60 fps along with support for both major types of high dynamic range: Dolby Vision and HDR10/HDR10+.

Having all content mastered in 4K and HDR available on both streamers is the key. The rest comes down to processor performance when streaming or playing that 4K video.

As we saw earlier, the much faster Tegra X1+ gives the SHIELD TV Stick a smoothness advantage for 4K playback. But both streamers will get the job done for 4K60 streaming and HDR color.

One video capability unique to the SHIELD TV Stick is AI upscaling. NVIDIA‘s proprietary algorithms can enhance HD and Full HD to near 4K resolution in real-time. This leverages the SP‘s AI smarts to make lower resolution content look better on 4K displays.

While both streamers support the latest 4K and HDR standards, the SHIELD TV Stick boasts additional image enhancements through its AI video upscaling.

Audio – Dolby Atmos Support Gives SHIELD The Edge

Audio is often overlooked, but home theater enthusiasts know immersive sound is just as important as the video. Here the SHIELD TV Stick pulls ahead of Amazon‘s offering with support for Dolby Atmos object-based surround sound.

Dolby Atmos enables amazing 360-degree audio with sounds placed precisely around your room. It can literally make it seem as though helicopters or rain are inside your home theater when paired with an Atmos-capable speaker system.

Unfortunately, the Fire TV Stick 4K lacks Dolby Atmos support. You need to upgrade to the pricier Fire TV Cube for Atmos passthrough currently.

The SHIELD TV Stick joins NVIDIA‘s past SHIELD models in providing Dolby Atmos handling out of the box. For home theaters with Atmos speaker setups, the SHIELD is the clear audio winner.

Both streamers support modern audio formats like Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 surround sound. But only SHIELD enables the ultimate immersive Dolby Atmos experience.

Smart TV Features – Contrasting Fire OS and Android TV Approaches

Moving beyond hardware, we come to the battle of streaming platforms between Fire OS and Android TV. Both smart TV operating systems take divergent approaches.

Fire OS feels like an extension of Amazon‘s ecommerce storefront. The home screen shows Amazon content, Channels subscriptions, and video picks front and center. While Netflix and others are available, the UI pushes Amazon Prime Video above all else.

Voice navigation is deeply integrated. Alexa allows searching for titles, actors, genres plus controlling playback entirely via voice. And now profiles allow each family member to have customized content recommendations and watch history.

Android TV on the SHIELD offers a far more neutral streaming platform. Content rows come from whichever apps you prioritize, with no obvious bias towards any provider. Voice via Google Assistant is available but not a primary focus – you need to press the mic button to activate it for searches and commands.

The Fire TV Stick 4K also provides some extra capabilities absent from the SHIELD model. You can use Alexa to view smart home cameras, sync audio across Echo speakers, and voice control IoT devices. There‘s also an AV adapter for older TVs missing HDMI.

Overall, Fire OS narrows while Android TV expands. If Prime Video is your main service, Fire OS offers the smoothest experience through deep integration. Android TV caters to those wanting to treat all streaming services equally.

Gaming – GeForce NOW Sets SHIELD Apart

Gaming remains a key pillar that distinguishes SHIELD from other streamers. The Fire TV Stick 4K focuses solely on media, while the SHIELD TV Stick transforms into a gaming beast thanks to NVIDIA‘s graphics expertise.

The stellar GeForce NOW integration lets SHIELD users stream over 100 AAA games like Fortnite, God of War and Cyberpunk 2077 in up to 4K HDR at 60 fps. This rivals or beats gaming performance on Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 consoles.

And SHIELD‘s Tegra X1+ gives it power to spare. Even graphically intense games like Apex Legends run effortlessly on the streamer.

By comparison, the Fire TV Stick 4K can only manage much simpler, casual games. Any graphics-heavy titles are completely unplayable on Amazon‘s underpowered streamer.

The SHIELD also supports over 5000 Android games on Google Play, including exclusive titles like Fortnite. And it works with popular emulators to enable old school Nintendo, PlayStation and arcade game play.

It‘s not even close here – for serious living room gaming, the SHIELD TV Stick is in a different league compared to any Fire TV product. NVIDIA built the SHIELD specifically for gaming scenarios, while Amazon focuses the Fire line purely on media.

Remote – Feature-Packed But Familiar Remotes

NVIDIA revamped the SHIELD remote to better match the streamlined design of the SHIELD TV Stick. The new remote packs some nice upgrades but retains a similar button layout and feel.

The remote uses USB-C for easy recharging rather than disposable batteries. Motion-activated backlit buttons light up when you pick up the remote, and there are dedicated shortcuts for major apps like Netflix and Prime Video.

Voice control via Google Assistant is available at the press of a button, but the remote lacks Alexa-style hands-free voice support. An integrated lost remote finder and IR blaster for TV control round out the features.

Amazon‘s 3rd generation Alexa Voice Remote bundled with the Fire TV Stick 4K has some parallel capabilities like app shortcuts, backlit buttons and built-in Alexa for voice control.

But there‘s no rechargeable battery or motion sensors here – you need to press a button to trigger the backlight. And Alexa allows complete hands-free interaction which Google Assistant lacks.

Both controllers feel well-built, with the new SHIELD remote having a bit more heft and premium finish. But the Fire TV remote‘s shape may be slightly more ergonomic for extended use.

Overall, the remotes are a close match in design and everyday usability. The new SHIELD model holds a small edge for its charging convenience and slick motion-activated lighting.

Pricing and Value – Huge Cost Delta Between Streamers

Here is where reality sets in – the SHIELD TV Stick carries a giant price premium over Amazon‘s streamer. The NVIDIA offering retails for $150, compared to just $40 for a Fire TV Stick 4K during frequent discounts.

At nearly 4 times the price, why the massive difference? It comes down to the advanced components required for the SHIELD‘s class-leading performance. That Tegra X1+ processor, ample RAM, Beats audio hardware, and streamlined design drive up manufacturing costs.

The Fire TV Stick 4K manages solid 4K streaming and Alexa voice features using a budget MediaTek chipset and minimalist hardware. It‘s built to hit an aggressive sub-$50 price target.

However, during the 2019 holiday season, the SHIELD TV did see steep discounts bringing it closer to $100. If NVIDIA follows a similar trajectory for the SHIELD TV Stick, the pricing disparity to Fire TV could narrow in the next 6-12 months.

For now the delta remains huge, and the Fire TV Stick 4K provides incredible value. But for shoppers who want the very best performance and future-proofing, the SHIELD TV Stick brings unmatched capabilities to the compact streaming category.

Verdict – Dominant Tech but High Cost of Entry

The NVIDIA SHIELD TV Stick is an impressive technical achievement, packing features and power unseen in streaming devices this size. Its gaming prowess and Dolby Atmos support give the SHIELD unique advantages over Amazon‘s streamer.

But the 4-5x cost over the equally compact Fire TV Stick 4K gives pause. For Prime members happy with 1080p and casual gaming, Amazon‘s "good enough" streamer is likely sufficient.

Power users willing to pay up will appreciate the SHIELD‘s snappy response, graphic-intensive gaming, Dolby Atmos audio, AI upscaling, console-style form factor and support for the latest standards. Not to mention access to GeForce NOW‘s AAA games library and Google Play‘s expanding selection of Android titles.

If gaming isn‘t a priority, the SHIELD seems overkill. But this little dynamo stands in a class of its own for living room players looking to level up their experience.

At $150 the SHIELD TV Stick commands a premium price. But like past SHIELD models, it could see aggressive holiday promotions making that power far more affordable. For couch gamers seeking big performance in a small package, the SHIELD TV Stick brings a world of possibilities beyond any Fire TV product.

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