I’ve got three TV’s in my house and they’ve all got either an NVIDIA Shield TV or an Amazon Fire TV Pendant hooked up to it.
Hands down, these are my two favourite streaming devices.
So between the NVIDIA Shield vs Fire TV…which is better?
That’s a loaded question.
I have a guide to buying an Android TV box, but that assumes you’re looking at a generic box. For this comparison, I’m going to look at each streaming device in a couple of different categories:
- Ease of use
- Price and Value
- Build Quality and Reliability
This way, if you don’t care about one (or more) of these categories, just skip them and scroll down to the ones you do care about.
Everybody’s different, so this should help you decide which is the right device for you.
The specs that matter
I’m going to call this one a tie.
Before you immediately scream “this guy is NUTS” and click away, hear me out.
I’m looking at this from a “streaming only” perspective. The NVIDIA Shield TV has an amazing graphics processor, but it doesn’t do squat if all you’re doing is watching Netflix.
I’ll get to how that affects gaming later, but for now I have to throw it out.
So let’s look at what’s left:
- Both the Fire TV and Shield TV have 4K 60fps playback with HDR10. Neither has Dolby Vision.
- Both the Shield TV and the Fire TV have Dolby Atmos. However, only the Shield TV has DTS:X or DTS-HD.
- Only the NVIDIA Shield TV has an Ethernet port standard.
- Finally the Shield TV has double the storage of the Fire TV in its base model. There’s also a 500 GB PRO version if you want to supercharge your storage. (Note: there’s rumors that the 500 GB version is going away. Personally, I’d prefer to get a 16 GB version and an external hard drive instead)
So why do I say this is a tie?
Simple. You can get an Ethernet adapter for the Fire TV for around $15. Even with that, the Fire TV is a fraction of the cost of a Shield TV.
And Dolby Atmos is becoming the de facto standard for streaming. Audiophiles will disagree, but the simple fact is that more streaming content available in Dolby Atmos than there is in DTS:X.
DTS:X is one of those “nice to have” specs that only a tiny fraction of people will actually end up using.
The storage is the only real distinguishing factor for streamers. If you’re streaming the right way, then you’re using some sort of network accessible storage (NAS) to store your media. Internal storage becomes less important then.
As much as I want to call this a win for NVIDIA, I can’t justify it for the majority of users.
Which is easier to use?
This is going to upset some people.
As much as I love the official Android TV interface, I really hate the Amazon Fire TV interface.
I hate the hoops that Amazon makes me jump through to find something that I want to watch.
It’s not that it’s hard to navigate, but it’s confusing what is free to watch and what I’ll have to pay extra for.
You see, for most streaming devices, there’s a distinction between apps that you have a subscription to (like Netflix) and apps that you rent or buy movies from (like Vudu or Google Play).
Amazon Prime Video doesn’t make that distinction.
Movies that you have to rent or buy are listed right next to movies that you get free as a Prime subscriber. Its confusing sometimes, and more than a bit annoying.
That annoyance aside, the Fire TV does have a pretty slick interface.
In fact, both the Fire TV and the Shield TV have vertical scrolling layouts that are dominated by large icons that are easy to see from a distance. There’s a recommendation section at the top of the screen that will show you suggestions what to watch next.
Both have excellent voice controls that let you search for stuff straight from the remote control. Both have integrations with either of their famous smart home platforms – either Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home.
This section should be a tie…if Amazon would make it a little less confusing to watch content on their own streaming service.
Until that happens, I’m giving the nod to the NVIDIA Shield TV.
Winner: NVIDIA Shield TV
Price and Value
It’s not that the NVIDIA Shield is expensive.
It’s that the Fire TV is a LOT of streaming device for not a lot of money…especially now.
Here’s what it breaks down to:
You can buy two Fire TV’s and a FireStick for the price of an NVIDIA Shield TV.
That’s pretty tough to ignore.
But there’s more, otherwise the Fire TV would be the winner before we even got started.
Amazon decided to lower the price on the already inexpensive Fire TV back in late 2017 all the way down to $69 US. That puts it at the same price as a Roku Streaming Stick+.
For the money, I’d prefer the Fire TV, hands down.
But that’s not the comparison we’re doing today. So let’s look at the Shield TV.
The Shield TV is a premium streaming device married to a pretty decent game console.
It won’t be able to trade punches with an Xbox One or a PlayStation 4, but it can hold it;s own in for most gamers. This is especially true if you’ve got a decent gaming PC and use NVIDIA’s GameStream to stream those games to your living room TV.
When you look at the Shield TV and compare it to other streaming devices in that price range, there’s no contest. It just gives you so much more for the money.
But it’s really tough to compare it to the Fire TV at a third of the cost, based solely on it’s performance as a streaming device. The Fire TV still ends up taking this one.
Winner: Amazon Fire TV
What I hate most about the Fire TV has more to do with Amazon than the device itself.
If you haven’t been following, Google and Amazon have been fighting for years. Amazon won’t sell Google devices. Google won’t allow the Play Store on Amazon’s devices. Recently, they pulled YouTube as well.
This pissing contest with Google is only hurting their customers, and Amazon is getting the short end of the stick.
Out of the box, the NVIDIA Shield TV will do everything that the Fire TV will do. But really, the only thing it was missing was Amazon Prime Video in 4K. It already had everything else.
The Fire TV on the other hand is missing a lot more.
Without YouTube and the Google Play Store, this is an easy win for the Shield TV.
Winner: NVIDIA Shield TV
OK…I know I said I’d look at this from a streaming point of view, but you can’t really talk about the NVIDIA Shield TV without talking about gaming.
I mean, they call it “the streamer for gamers!”
This is where the whole NVIDIA Shield vs Fire TV fight just isn’t fair.
The Fire TV is designed to be platform for Amazon’s streaming service. There are a decent number of console-type games available, but games are largely an afterthought.
The Shield TV on the other hand was designed as a game console first and a streaming device second. NVIDIA saw the direction that Microsoft was going with the Xbox One when it was released (more streaming/less gaming) and thought they could do better.
It turns out they were right.
Winner: NVIDIA Shield TV
Build quality & reliability
I wouldn’t expect to find any major problems with build quality or reliability with either of these devices.
It’s not like Amazon or NVIDIA are little companies. They both put a LOT of R&D and marketing money behind these two devices.
And it shows.
That’s not to say that they don’t have their little quirks. The NVIDIA Shield TV sometimes has issues with controller’s losing connection (it’s only happened to me once and it was a fairly easy fix). The Amazon Fire TV has some quirks with TV and monitor compatibility, but that’s something they’re fixing with firmware updates as they occur.
All in all, there’s nothing that comes up as a red flag when I look at either device.
Intangibles: Everything else that matters
Speed: The Shield TV is faster, without a doubt. Menu’s are snappier and apps will load a couple of seconds faster. But it’s not something you’re really going to notice unless you switch between one streaming device and another. The Fire TV doesn’t feel slow, but when you put the two side by side, the difference is noticeable.
Software updates: The NVIDIA Shield TV gets fairly frequent updates through NVIDIA called the SHIELD Experience. These updates can bring anything from upgraded versions of the Android OS to bug fixes or even new available apps. The Fire TV does get updated as well, but not with the frequency of the SHIELD TV.
Number of apps: Amazon has around six thousand apps in the Amazon App Store that will work on the Fire TV. Android TV, by contrast, only has a select few apps that appear in the Google Play Store. However, both devices have the ability to get access to thousands more through the Aptoide TV app store.
Security: Both use custom versions of the Android operating system – whether it’s the official Android TV OS in the NVIDIA Shield TV or Amazon’s Fire TV OS. Both have native VPN apps from several major services. I’ve covered how to set up my preferred VPN provider, IPVanish on NVIDIA Shield TV and my thoughts on the IPVanish Fire TV app in two separate articles.
Accessories: The Fire TV has a ton more accessories that you can buy for it. Things like the Ethernet adapter I mentioned earlier, mounts, Koral Case remote skins and the FireCable Plus USB power adapter. The NVIDIA Shield doesn’t have anywhere near that many options. They’ve got a few stand and mount options available, but that’s about it.
Home control: Both have excellent integration with smart home systems. It’s a time saver for me to be able to have Google turn on my living room TV and start playing YouTube videos without picking up a remote. But these two devices don’t really play well with the other’s systems. For example, most of my house has Google Home integrations, but I’ve got a ceiling fan that uses Alexa instead. I can’t control that fan from any of my Google devices. If you’re setting up a smart home and want integration with your streaming device, you should definitely take that into consideration.
Winner: Depends on what matters to you
NVIDIA Shield vs Fire TV: Which should you buy?
I think that the Amazon Fire TV Pendant is a good enough choice for Prime subscribers who are looking to keep their costs to an absolute minimum. Or as a backup streaming device, like it is for me.
For those of us who want a streaming device that can grow with your home theater system then the NVIDIA Shield TV is the obvious choice.
The Shield TV is faster, gets software updates much more regularly and has access to more content without going through the hassle of sideloading apps. The interface is snappy and you never feel like you’re waiting around for an app to load. If you’ve got kids in the house, there are enough games that you may not even need a more expensive gaming console.
It’s pricey, but the NVIDIA Shield is best streaming device out there right now.