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NVIDIA Shield TV vs. Apple TV 4K: Which should you buy?

Spoiler: The specs don't matter as much as which platform you live in and which streaming services you use.

There are now more ways to watch television than ever. The same was true last year and the year before that. And it'll be true next year as well.

That's the good news. The bad news is that the streaming landscape is as complicated as ever. Which hardware should you get? (That depends.) Does the TV matter? (Yes.) Which streaming service do you need? (That depends, too.) How much money will you save? (Well...)

Two of the biggest players in the platform game are Apple and Google. And both have excellent options when it comes to streaming content. Apple's got the Apple TV, of course, which finally handles 4K resolution. Google's best Android TV box continues to be the NVIDIA Shield TV.

So which should you get? Let's break it down.

OK, so the specs do matter a little

For the most part, NVIDIA Shield TV and Apple TV 4K do the same things in the same ways. They suck in digital signals, process them and stuff, and spit 'em out onto your TV. And for the most part, there's a fair amount of parity in the specs. Same UHD resolution. Same starting price. Each has a remote control and does Wi-Fi and Ethernet and basic things like that. Great.

Category Apple TV NVIDIA Shield TV
Processor Apple A10X NVIDIA Tegra X1
Storage 16GB 32GB
External storage No Yes
4K resolution Yes Yes
HDR10 Yes Yes
Dolby Atmos Not yet Yes
Dolby Vision Yes No
DTS-X No Yes
Price $179 at Apple $179 at NVIDIA

Here's what stands out to me: Apple has twice as much storage built in. Maybe that's a thing for you, maybe it's not. I don't load up a ton of apps on either my Shield TV or Apple TV, so that's not a huge deal for me. And in any case, you can plug an external hard drive (I use a little thumb drive, actually) into the Shield TV and pretty much never worry about running out of space. Apple TV doesn't do that.

The bigger deal for folks may be in those two Dolby lines. Dolby Atmos is a fancy audio thing that makes multi-channel audio sound better. Dolby Vision is a fancy video thing that makes HDR content look better. If you worry about getting the absolute best audio and video experiences you can possibly get, you'll want to pay attention to those lines. (You'll also need to pay attention to where the content you're viewing is coming from, and on which display you're ultimately watching all this stuff anyway, but that's another thing for another time.)

Me? I just can't quite bring myself to worry about those things. Because ultimately, I have no idea if what I'm watching is using HDR or AtomoVision or whatever. Can I tell a difference in some sort of side-by-side test? Sure. But that's not how I watch TV at home.

So, yeah. This is important stuff, but maybe not quite a deal-breaker for me just yet. Feel free to disagree.

Platform is what's important

No, for me the bigger deal between Apple TV 4K and the NVIDIA Shield TV comes down to content and the services I'm using.

The good news is that streaming services are pretty much ubiquitous at this point. Things like PlayStation Vue, or Sling, or Hulu, or DirecTV or whatever are available on Android TV, and available on Apple's TV OS. Amazon is coming to Apple TV, and it's been available on the Shield TV for as long as I can remember.

In fact, the only real discrepancy for me (again, what you want to watch and how you want to watch it may vary) is that there's no HD Homerun app for Apple TV, and you have use something like InstaTV Pro or (free) or Channels ($25). On Android TV, over-the-air services can take advantage of Android's excellent Live TV app, which bundles multiple live video services together.

But even that doesn't change the fact that Apple content isn't available on Android TV. So that may well sway your decision, and I wouldn't blame you in the slightest.

So which should I get? Apple TV 4K or NVIDIA Shield 4K?

It's decision time! Here's how I'd approach things:

  • If you only use Google content: If Google Play is where you buy your videos and stuff, get NVIDIA Shield TV. It's great, and it'll serve you well.
  • If you only use Apple content: If iTunes is where your stuff lives, you'll need an Apple TV 4K, for the obvious reasons. It'll also work just fine, especially now that this new version does 4K and HDR.
  • If you're in a mixed household: If you've got a mix of Apple and Android in your house and you can pick just a single box, it should be Apple TV 4K. In addition to doing all the Apple stuff, you also can do a good bit of the Android content. You can use the Google Play Movies app on your iPhone and AirPlay movies to Apple TV. You can use apps like AllCast to send music and pictures and anything else to your Apple TV.

So that's how I'd approach it. If specs are what matters to you, choose accordingly. If platform is more important, it's easy to make the right call, too. And if it's a matter of choice and keeping everyone at home happy, Apple TV 4K is the answer.

Apple TV 4K $179   NVIDIA Shield TV $179

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