The Nvidia Shield is an Android TV box, but it’s much more than that. While the handful of other devices running on Android TV stick closely to the standard Google-prescribed feature set, Nvidia has added a plethora of gaming and streaming features to the Shield. The Shield has been bundled with the Plex streaming app since launch, but now the Shield is learning a new trick. The Shield 3.2 update adds the ability to run a full Plex media server on the box.
Plex, for those who are not aware, is a piece of software that lets you stream your video files over your local network or the internet from a central media storage box. It can handle virtually any video file, presumably ones you’ve obtained from legal sources, but we’re not here to judge. Plex actually transcodes your videos in real time, then streams them to your chosen screen. Thus, it supports just about any type of video on any screen.
Plex relies upon two components to get this done: a media server and a streaming client that actually displays the video. Prior to the new Shield update, the hardware could only play video from your media server like any other Android device. Now, it can actually be the media server. The base model Shield costs $200, but it only has 16GB of included storage. The $300 Shield bumps that to 500GB. However, both models support expandable storage via microSD cards and USB ports for external hard drives. The Android 6.0 build running on Shield also supports adoptable storage, so you can treat external storage as internal to make managing files easier.
This is a cool feature because in the past heavy Plex users would have to build reasonably powerful media servers to make their libraries streamable — transcoding does take some horsepower. Some people simply use their main computer as a Plex server, but it has to remain online all the time to work. Plex says the Shield implementation is possible thanks to the powerful hardware Nvidia used. The Shield is based on the Tegra X1 SoC, a quad-core 64-bit ARM chip with a 256-core Maxwell GPU. It has support for hardware-accelerated video transcoding in H.264, MPEG2, and HEVC. That’s just what you need for Plex.
The $300 Shield is now the cheapest way to get a usable Plex box up and running. Even if you don’t buy expandable storage, 500GB is a good amount of space to get started. The Plex update also includes the ability to manage your Shield’s storage over a local network using your computer. That’ll be great for loading video onto the server. Nvidia hasn’t specified the release date for the 3.2 update, but it shouldn’t be more than a week or two. Basic Plex streaming over your network is supported free, but some features like remote streaming and offline caching require a $40 yearly Plex Pass subscription.