“Game changer” is perhaps one of the most overused phrases in the gaming and consumer technology industries. It’s been misused and abused to the extent to which it has become practically meaningless. What does one do when an actual game-changing consumer tech arrives on the scene?  

How do we describe the importance of the new Nvidia SHIELD? Yes, it’s going to change the way we play games. So we can say it is a game-changer in the very literal sense of the phrase. We could also say it is “disruptive” (yes, another abused tech word) and Nvidia’s biggest move into TV gaming ever. But it would probably help, in the first instance, if we explained a little more about why the technology that powers SHIELD is something both hardcore and casual gamers alike will want to play with. 

Set-top boxes have a bad rep: SHIELD changes this 

When we talk about gaming via set-top TV boxes, many gamers immediately zone out and their eyes glaze over, as the tech to date has a poor reputation when it comes to providing quality interactive entertainment. The popular perception is likely to be that of a cheaply made, poorly designed and low-powered box provided by your cable company to let you watch TV and movies. The Nvidia SHIELD is the exact opposite of all of these things. 

First, powered by Nvidia’s Tegra X1, the SHIELD is the most powerful set-top box you can get. This muscular Android TV box will let you play the best and most-demanding games of all time on your big screen, including legendary titles such as Half Life and Borderlands, and coming later this year to SHIELD, GTA 5 and The Witcher. 

Second, the SHIELD is clearly a premium piece of hardware. The box itself is beautifully designed in a gloss black finish with tastefully understated green lines. This tiny box, which measures a mere 8 inches-by-5 inches-by 1 inch and weighs only 23 ounces (654g) looks decidedly small when compared with the likes of the PS4 or the Xbox One. But its physical size belies its processing power and superior graphical capabilities. 

Great controller, full connectivity, loads of ports

So the SHIELD is both pleasingly powerful and looks the part under your big screen TV in the lounge. It’s a set-top box to be proud of. Plus, the package also includes a solid, console-style controller, with Nvidia not shirking one iota on build quality. You can plug a headset into the SHIELD controller and use the microphone for cool stuff such as Google Voice Search to find your favorite TV shows and movies (more on this later). But for now, let’s focus on the games, because that’s what really matters.

The SHIELD’s Tegra X1 processor features 8 64-bit ARM cores and a 256-core GPU using Nvidia's latest Maxwell architecture. Plus it packs 3GB of memory and has a decent array of ports to link to your TV (via HDMI 2.2), a wired Ethernet connection (should you wish for it) and full 2x2 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. It also has two USB 3.0 ports, a micro-USB 2.0 connection and allows you to pop in a microSD card so you can install as many games as your heart desires. 

And it is exactly those games that will sell SHIELD to gamers. Whether you favor console, PC or mobile gaming right now, SHIELD provides the best of all worlds, delivering some of the best-looking titles you’ve ever seen on an HDTV in full 1080p resolution and at a super-smooth 60 frames per second (fps). Nvidia’s cutting edge tech and state-of-the-art design means the gaming experience on SHIELD is unparalleled and second to none. 

More games, more fun, more entertainment 

The huge library of Android games already available through Google Play will be familiar to anybody rocking an Android smartphone. But what you might not realize, until you plug your SHIELD into your TV and hook it up to your Wi-Fi, is that over 50 critically acclaimed games were reworked and optimized to play better than ever on Nvidia’s new set-top box.

With an array of SHIELD-friendly titles already on offer, including classics such as Broken Age, Tales from the Borderlands and Half-Life: Episode 1, it cannot be stressed enough that Nvidia is offering considerably more than just “Android games on your TV” here. Plus, with tons of AAA-titles in the pipeline for later this year - including revamped SHIELD versions of The Talos Principle, Metal Gear Rising, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel and others – there’s never going to be a shortage of new games to choose from. 

Aside from that library of games available to download, perhaps one of the best features of SHIELD is the access it allows to Nvidia's cloud-based gaming service, GRID. Aptly and correctly described as having a gaming supercomputer in the cloud, GRID is dead easy to use and gives you instant access to a massive (and growing) library of some of the best games ever made, including the likes of Batman: Arkham Origins, Saints Row 4, Bionic Commando and Borderlands, streamed immediately in up to full 1080p HD straight to your TV. Which basically means there’s no real need to spend a fortune on a high-end PC to enjoy the best that gaming has to offer anymore, providing you have a decent enough home broadband connection. 

That’s not to say the hardcore PC gamer isn’t catered for with SHIELD, because if you already have a load of great games installed on a GeForce GTX graphics card-powered gaming rig, Nvidia made it possible for you to stream them directly to your big screen TV via SHIELD, using the company’s GameStream tech, which is already fully compatible with over 200 top PC titles. And SHIELD also provides the option to hook up to a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, for those PC gamers who want the traditional control set-up to get stuck into games such as World of Warcraft, League of Legends and DOTA 2. 

SHIELD is the ultimate all-round entertainment device

It is more than clear Nvidia has gaming fully covered with SHIELD, whether you choose to download your games via Google Play, stream them via GRID or beam them from your own PC to your TV. What SHIELD’s Android TV features also allow is for one of the best all-round entertainment experiences ever designed from a set-top box. 

You can enjoy movies and TV in the best 4K quality video resolution available, with full support for 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound systems for home cinema fans. Access any of the movie streaming services you subscribe to by quickly and easily installing the app and selecting whatever you enjoy watching using Google Voice Search.

Selling for a startlingly low price of $199, it’s genuinely hard to find fault with Nvidia SHIELD. If what you’re after is full fat PC-quality gaming on your TV with tons of additional entertainment on offer for those moments when you feel like putting down the controller for a few hours, that’s exactly what SHIELD delivers.