nVidia Shield TV (Part 1)

When a newly acquired gadget goes wrong, the first thing any inquisitive user will do is scour the Web for disgruntled fellow-sufferers. And of course will always find them. The next step might be to tweet, or otherwise publicly complain: “Product X is a load of shite. Everybody’s had this same problem.”

Watch out for this, because you’ve now fallen into a logical trap. Yes, there are several others out there who’ve run into the same problem with the same product. And, yes, there may well be a conclusion to be drawn from that. But perhaps not the conclusion you are too ready to jump to.


nVidia Shield with remote and games controllerTHE WARNING ABOVE IS mostly a note to myself, and particularly in respect of this nVidia Shield TV device. It was sent to me by nVidia’s PR folks a couple of days ago; I set it up with my Google password, ran the offered software update, and got it working with my Yamaha RX-V679 and the BenQ projector I’m reviewing.

“Working” is perhaps a slightly optimistic term here: although I got a good sense of this Android TV box’s power and scope, the experience was only intermittent, as if I were glimpsing its possibilities though the windows of a slowly passing train.

The HDMI signal wouldn’t hold steady, and the projector kept losing the picture. The smart techies at Yamaha had already explained to me, in conjunction with another display device I’d been reviewing, that as all AVRs relay the HDMI signal rather than feeding it through directly (even if the AVR isn’t set to process the video) there may be third party displays that fail to maintain sync. In case that was what was happening here I cut the RX-V679 out of the loop and HDMI’d directly into the projector. Same problem.

And then, the day after its arrival, the video output from the Shield died completely. The green light that seeps out from under the top triangular slice of the flat, black, crystal-like structure showed me that the thing was powered up. But that was all.

Obviously I immediately indulged in the kind of Web search mentioned in the intro. Oh, yes, this was a known problem. So I wrote my irate, despairing tweet, thought a bit before sending it (never a bad idea, by the way), then scrubbed it and started again, simply sticking to the facts.

Chris Twitter

Within an hour I got a response from nVidia:

nVidia Response Twitter

I opted for the live chat and minutes later I was connected to Sonal on the nVidia Help Desk. Here’s an edited version of the rather long exchange:

Chris Bidmead: Sonal, I have a Shield TV for review here.The HDMI into my Yamaha AVR seemed somewhat flaky – constantly cutting out. Today there now seems to be no output at all from the HDMI. Looks as if I need to do a factory reset (hopefully to restore the HDMI, but in any case to erase my passwords, etc for a RMA). How do I factory reset a blind Shield?

Sonal: So currently you are not getting any display from the shield ?

Chris Bidmead: Nothing at all. I can turn the green light on and off and make it flash, but that’s about the full extent of the entertainment…

Sonal: Okay, for the troubleshooting purpose, please perform the steps as below:

-> Unplug all the cables and keep the device off for good 2-3 minutes.

-> Plug the Power cable, controller through USB (Wired) and Ethernet cable to the ATV. Do not connect HDMI cable.

-> The device will power on. Keep it idle for about 5 minutes and keep tapping A button on the controller. Continue tapping for about a few seconds.

-> Now leave the device is this state without the HDMI cable for good 15 to 20 minutes and plug the HDMI cable.

-> See if the ATV displays any output

Chris Bidmead: ATV? All Terrain Vehicle? Associated Television? Not sure what you mean here?

Sonal: Shield Android TV

There were other ambiguities to be untangled here. In point 3 I wasn’t clear whether “keep it idle for about 5 minutes” and “keep tapping A button” were intended to be sequential or simultaneous activities (can “tapping A button” be described as “keeping it idle”?). And in any case, without any underpinning engineering explanation, the whole procedure falls into the category I’ve come to think of as “magic incantation”. What the hell is actually going on here?

Blow me, though. With Sonal hanging on for me through the entire half-hour operation the outcome was entirely positive:

Chris Bidmead: Yes, that’s got it. How very odd. You’re a star, Sonal. Take the rest of the week off…

Sonal and I exchanged congratulations. We signed off and I set about resuming my review. Within minutes the intermittent HDMI problem returned, however. And it was not long before the nVidia Shield went completely blind again.

My preoccupation now over the next few days will be to attempt to repeat the magical incantation in order to get the video back just long enough to factory reset the machine and thus delete my Google password (and any other private stuff lingering there) so that I can send the dud box back with no security worries. But after multiple tries I’m still stuck with no video output.

A one-off hardware problem? An operating system glitch fixable with a firmware update? Or some global misdesign that suggests we had all better wait for version 2? I have no idea, and neither, apparently, did Sonal. He was unable to explain the magical incantation and was almost equally vague about the bug itself:

Chris Bidmead: So do we know what this bug is about, and why this somewhat bizarre procedure fixes it?

Sonal: Since this is an android device, the device gets locked up and performing a power cycle as above helps to get the device out of that state

Once I get this sadly deficient review sample back to the PR folks who sent it I’ll be looking forward to a replacement that will let me proceed to part 2 of this report. The specs of this thing are terrific, and it seems to have all the makings of a dream set-top box. If we can get it working…

Chris Bidmead

 

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4 Comments

  1. I’m genuinely impressed by the magical procedures that you had to follow to get this thing to spark (fleetingly) into life — and I thought my fictional sorcerer Frank Sampson had a rough time of it! It sounds like a promising device, though, and I look forward to a part 2…

    • Honoured to have a distinguished author on board. That must be Frank, the forensic sorcerer, from your “Gifted” and “Pariah” books. I certainly could do with his help during this extended resurrection ceremony.

      If and/or when I get this thing running again I hope you’ll be back here to rejoin the adventure. Seriously, a working version of this would be a pretty good piece of kit.


      Chris

  2. Can you please describe what exactly you did in this section of fix steps:

    ”The device will power on. Keep it idle for about 5 minutes and keep tapping A button on the controller. Continue tapping for about a few seconds.”

    • Happily I haven’t had to repeat this, Vladislav. So beyond what I wrote here I can’t remember any further details.

      Subsequent firmware updates really should have fixed this, but if you’re having problems with this, get on to nVidia’s support desk. They do a pretty good job.


      Chris

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