Seperis (seperis) wrote,
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NVIDIA Shield TV Pro - a dissertation apparently

In between my last post and now, I have a.) thrown out my back again, b.) six days after breaking a tooth and so needed to make a dentist appointment which was c.) the day after I threw out my back.

However, my life is not all disintegrating body and the slow encroachment of insanity:
1.) I now play Animal Crossing with my Switch, and yes, it's worth it.
2.) I got my NVIDIA Shield TV Pro

Due to the first sentence of this entry, all I managed until this week was basic setup, getting streaming up, and my Plex server transferred over. This week, however, I got to finally sit down and pay attention to it as well as actually make my Plex server work correctly.

NVIDIA Shield Android TV

If you're in the market for a premium media streamer, consider the NVIDIA Shield TV, retailing at $149.99 ($129.99 on random sale) or NVIDIA Shield TV Pro, $199.99 on the very rare times it's in stock.

Currently it is not in stock pretty much anywhere (as of right now, could change at literally any second) but it goes in and out of stock at random intervals. Much like the Nintendo Switch, the reason is that whenever a site updates to say they have it, bots buy them immediately and then they're sold for twice to five times their price on Amazon and Ebay.

The story of how I got my Pro (and my Switch for that matter) involve the website NowInStock, SlickDeals alerts, and absolutely normal human behavior that in retrospect isn't odd, worrisome, or alarming.



So here's the thing.

There's a better than average chance that while yes, I did really really really want the Pro and the Switch, I'm not entirely certain that two of those 'really's existed before the bots took a Switch before my very eyes on Best Buy's website--in stock to out of stock in five minutes--while I was still debating if I really wanted to play Animal Crossing that badly, and then less than a day later, on an entirely different site, it happened again with the Shield TV Pro.

Though almost ridiculously unlikely--perhaps one might even say impossible--there also lurks an unsettling suspicion that perhaps--just perhaps--before that terrible twenty four hour period of in-stock/out-of-stock on two items, distgruntlement quickly (perhaps too quickly?) replaced by slowly (maybe mediumly would be more accurate?) escalating rage as google told me what had happened (bots owned by pandemic advantage-taking assholes getting in first and reselling them at inflated prices at ebay and on amazon) followed by a unwavering, methodical stalk of ebay listings of Pros and Switches with impossibly inflated prices for sale and the dawning realization that the overpriced Switch that just went up for twice its retail price may have been (definitely was) the very one I'd been looking at on Best Buy (was totally going to buy right then) and therefore should have been mine (was definitely already mine and they stole it from me personally, how dare they, but I'd show them, oh, I'd show them....)

As I was saying, super unlikely but it's technically not impossible that before--all that above--I was at best only considering maybe buying one of them if it...went on sale someday and not buy both in a seventy-two hour period of strategic refreshing and the use of two computers and my phone and what may or may not have been cackling. The point here is that I beat the bots managed to get the Pro and the Switch, both of which I really really really really wanted, of course. Four 'really's, even.

And I beat those fucking bots. Twice..


Moving on.

I wanted the Shield Pro for one reason: Shield TV was the only streamer whose Plex client app could consistently stream and transcode 4K and Dolby Atmos media, and the Pro model came with the ability to run a Plex Server on it as well as play Plex content. I'm a simple girl with simple needs who Paypal also foolishly issued a shiny new credit card and a separate no-interest credit line less than three months ago and I hadn't really gotten a chance to use.

(No idea what the hell they were thinking, either, but here we are.)

Which is why, to my own shock, I am not starting my review with All the Plex; I'm going to start with what I didn't even care about when I bought it; the media streamer and Android TV box.

The Media Streamer (and Android Box)

The price tag is high for a media steamer, yes, which may be part of the reason why I didn't at any point consider it something that could also play Netflix.

Comparatively speaking, media streamers are among the cheapest Way To Get Entertainment On Our TV Not Involving an Antenna. If you wandered with dinosaurs like me and remember Olden Days, a VCR was expensive even on the low end for almost a decade even at Wal-Mart. DVD players and then Bluray players got cheap much faster, but media streamers... you don't even need a separate machine; it can come free on your TV, and I mean TVs under $200 at the last big Amazon sale. You can stream on your tablet or phone, or pick up a FireTV tablet for under $50 to do it on. All you need is an internet connection and if you don't want to pay for your stream service, there are free ones.

When it comes to quality media streamers that require you pay money, the competition isn't exactly light, either; they include:

1.) FireTV 4K Stick, $49.99, and frequently on sale for half that price. Just as importantly, it can easily and without effort gateway you into the cheapest Surround Sound Home Theater possible, which I talked about in this entry; specifically, a Dolby Atmos Home Theater system for as low $179.97 if you buy two Echo Dots and an Echo Sub during one of Amazons extremely frequent sales. That, by the way, is less than the price of one (1) Sonos One speaker. And that price includes the Fire TV 4K stick.

2.) Chromecast Ultra, $69.99; like, half my friends that don't have a Amazon Prime have on of these, and more than a few have both.

3.) Roku Ultra, $79.99 and comes with free headphones; Roku was my gateway drug into media streamers because they gave me a mid-range one free when I signed up for three months of Sling TV.

4.) Apple TV, $179; frankly, this being Apple, that's almost the equivalent of a Wal-Mart low end VCR price circa 1989. I have heard it's awesome, but no idea. When I finally sold my soul, it was to a mega corporation that was technically within my income bracket. Also, after testing our apps on iPhones at work for almost five years, I genuinely want to collect them all and catapult them into the sun along with Apple Headquarters and the literal apple fruit, just to assure the very memory of apples will die. I dream about it sometimes; I'm always so happy until I wake up.

These are just the first and most popular that came into my head by major companies and been around for years. The market is not light on media streamers, is what I'm saying.

The Shield TV is more a premium Android TV box, made for geeks to enjoy and also Plex, which lets face it, is geeky as fuck even though everyone pretends its super consumer grade, whatever. And yeah, it also you can do some streaming, I guess.

The thing is, while I knew theoretically it was an Android TV Box (which I didn't care about) that also played Netflix (which I had like, several things that could do that) and did other things, I--didn't care. At all. I was in this for Plex; the Plex Server you could install on the Pro could stream all my 4K and even Dolby Atmos or at least Dolby 5.1 sound.

So when I did set up, it was all prep for moving my Plex server over, and so I was genuinely shocked when I went ahead and automatically entered my logins for Prime and Netflix--they were right there, why not?--and since I was testing anyway, went ahead and opened Prime to watch a few minutes of one of the shows I'd watched most recently.

(Spoiler: it would be several hours before seperis remembered Plex existed.)

The Shield is many many (many) notches above my FireTV 4K Stick and a mid-rise building above my TV's streaming apps in quality. Not like "oh, this seems better" but stop and stare before hitting back to make sure this wasn't a high-res version I hadn't ever seen before that just appeared.

In the almost three weeks using it and one week actually sitting down to examine it and playing Netflix and Prime through it, there's a considerable increase in overall picture quality and crispness and amazing consistency on most--not all--of the shows I had watched recently enough to make a definite comparison; if 4K is available, I can get it clear and crisp without artifacts, skipping, or loss of speed. If 5.1 sound is available, I get it. I also noticed--though three weeks is no proof over the long term--there's been no buffering, no stuttering, and no stopping.

Among the many many settings I've just started to explore is AI upscaling of non-4K content. I enabled it when I was doing initial setup because why not, but generally, I don't notice a difference on most shows. This--this, I noticed, because I'd been rewatching Leverage on Prime on the FireTV stick, which is why it was my test stream for the Pro. It wasn't just 'huh, I think that looks better'. It was stop and stare at the screen; it was cleaner, crisper, and while no, even it could not fix IMDB's fuckup of the subtitles, man, the picture....

I tested with Bones, Psyche, and a few random shows as well, and while I definitely know Psyche and Bones look better, it's been too long since I last watched to know exactly how much, just definitely "better, amount unknown"

Interesting note: on the Shield TV, Netflix and Prime don't nag me when I watch too many episodes and ask snottily if I'm still watching (Netflix) or return to the intro page of the current episode and do nothing until I interact or it turns off (Prime). I accidentally streamed all five seasons of Leverage end to end without interruption and Shield's Prime app didn't stop me. 'Accidentally' up until I woke up the next morning circa ep 2-3 of season two, realized Leverage was still playing, I was working from home, sod decided to leave it on and check in every hour to see how long it would let me. That would be first heist to very last, friends.

Netflix, I tested it with--I think Great British Bake-off?--and Child checked out his regular anime. There was no nagging to ask if I'm still watching, though only to about a season and a half there before I remembered hey, I should try out why I bought it, my Plex server. That yes, I'd belatedly finally loaded when the shock wore off (around two-three in the morning) but as work and other stuff interfered, I hadn't had a chance to do more than basic configuration.

The Shield Home screen is fully customizable; you can pick what apps you want to show or get rid of, there's a huge library of apps, games--cut me some slack, for reasons I'll do another entry on, getting the Plex Server running was easy, but getting my media on it--not so much.

I'm actually kind of glad I finally decided to accept reality and get the Shield to run my Plex Server. Otherwise, I never would have ever bought it for just streaming media or Android TV when my FireTV Stick seemed to be doing everything I needed for streaming and Android TV is sort of--something that exists. And I'm saying this after only a week of active work with it, and ninety percent of that was getting my Plex Server up and running. I haven't even really explored advanced features. I mean, I have but I keep finding new ones.

Now, we'll talk about Plex before I get inspired to write some examples and end up playing with the settings until dawn.

Plex, finally

My original reason for this purchase.

Up until now, when Plex was on Watson Server and then my Pi, all of them--servers and TV--hardlined on ethernet to my router, I couldn't reliably stream 4K content and had buffering sometimes even with 1080p. I could unreliably get 5.1 sound but mostly it was 2.1. There was a lot of transcoding going on where it would basically downgrade my stream to make it play. Nothing I did helped, and even after I read the article I linked below on the only thing that would work (I read it last year), I refused to believe it and kept trying.

After so much googling, however, I finally got a clear answer on exactly why I couldn't by sheer work fix it; the problem was both the Plex server and the Plex client apps on most TVs and media streamers.


1.) The Plex Client App

The Plex app on media streamers, gaming consoles, SmartTVs, etc isn't generally developed and maintained by Plex, but by the company--Amazon, for example, on the FireTV--and that means its subject to the limits of the streamer, whatever their developers decide to do/not do, and when/if they felt like updating it when Plex updates, and Plex wasn't necessarily a high priority. Enough people used it that it was worth having the client app, but it's still firmly in geek territory and wouldn't be a deciding factor for most non-geek people. Whereas fa media streamer lives and dies on the ability of the general consumer to access and watch Netflix, Disney+, Sling, Prime, HBO, you get the idea.

As it turns out, the only Plex client app that everyone (in Plex land) consistently said worked perfectly with the server was Plex for Windows, which was made by Plex and you can download on their site. It was the only app that I could almost get what I wanted: it could stream 4K and 7.1 sound, since my laptop could get both, but that meant the only place I could watch my own media in the original resolution was on my laptop or possibly, my phone.

Which brings me to...

2.) The Plex Media Server.



Before I even knew the Shield TV as more than a name, I read this article in Plex support that gave the general outlines of what your Plex machine would need to be able to reliably play/transcode a single 720p, 1080p, or 4K movies.

From the link, to transcode one 4K movie:
4K HDR (50Mbps, 10-bit HEVC) file: 17000 PassMark score (being transcoded to 10Mbps 1080p)
Recommended minimum: Intel Core i7 3.2GHz

And a link to CPU Benchmark so you can compare all the chips at 17000 and above.

Long story short: the 17,000 PassMark is literally only one of the factors, and it's important but also are a lot of other factors and that's just the chip, not the board, the RAM, etc...basically, I'd have to build an entirely new server that would be dedicated to nothing but Plex. I did several spec sheets and for the first time, even the lure of building it myself wasn't enough. I'd spend about twice what Watson and the Pi together cost me, all it would be able to do was run a Plex server, and all that to get it to play one (1) 4K movie at a time and only if that movie's bitrate wasn't higher than the CPU could handle.

Just doing a mediainfo examination of my library right now said that using the least expensive build, I'd still not be able to play half my 4K media unless I re-encoded it myself below the highest bitrate my CPU could handle, and then there's the audio streams to factor in (Lossless? 7.1? 5.1?). And as everyone knows, minimum recommended just means 'in theory somewhere this worked, good luck with real life', which meant to get a chip guaranteed to work pushed the cost of the CPU alone to more than Watson and the Pi cost or half the price of my last laptop. So no, not going to happen.

Which is when I found this article: [INFO] Plex, 4k, transcoding, and you - aka the rules of 4k. Which confirmed the NVIDIA Shield was my only option, but unfortunately--or maybe fortunately-- I was still sure I'd find a solution that wasn't a stupid expensive server that would barely do the job, then fatalistically decided I didn't care, moved everything to my Pi, and enjoyed adapting Plex to that a lot. And to be fair, except for 4K, it did a fantastic job with 1080p and below.

Then quarantine happened.

I needed more projects--I mean, I needed double my usual number just to start--did the mental health math, and rebudgeted for a full redesign of Watson Server from the ground up. In the spirit of new things and continued sanity, I bought a AMD Ryzen CPU, a board with a M.2 NVME slot to fit my incredibly cool case where I'd finally get to explore neon and water cooling and how those things go together (soon), and when I was done enjoying partitioning, configuring, scrubbing and reinstalling everything several times, and multiple Ubuntu distros drama, I decided to see how the Ryzen chip performed on Handbrake with video encoding, as I'd noticed Watson was a little faster than he used to be.

Note: Yeah. About that.

I can't actually explain how after I finished planning, building, and testing Watson, I completely forgot that 'upgrading' meant more than 'really cool case', 'water cooling in the future', 'weeks of entertainment and configuring', and oh, right, my system benchmarking that yes, I really did do.

I mean, I wrote several spec sheets for Watson before I even planned to upgrade; I design builds just for fun. When I got serious, I did, actually, go through my specs and research. I do actually know not only what a CPU is and what it does, but what I wanted and needed it to do. I went with AMD because I'd always used Intel and I wanted to try something new. I researched the Ryzen chips and I checked their benchmarks. I debated boards and RAM; I have a spreadsheet with comparisons between them with highlighting on important versus don't care parts but like I said, I pretty much always have a spreadsheet on hand with spec builds for servers I want to build one day.

I knew perfectly well Watson's dual core chip was a floundering dinosaur three ice ages past his prime. I know my computer generations; Watson chip was like that great-grandfather who wont stop talking about punching the Kaiser during the Great War and like, lived in caves with Neanderthals and fought mammoth-bears for food or some shit, Gramps is like super old. Watson's old chip's dad used to ride raptors to work every day probably, I don't know his family life. I did some basic stress tests and benchmarks, nothing fancy, but I read the results like a literate human being; it was performing beautifully.

Yet, the next part happened.

I meant to start Handbrake, log out, make some coffee, and check in again in an hour to see how long it would take to encode one of my standard presets: a clean 1080p mkv rip to a 720p mkv with all original audio streams plus an AAC stereo encode for every stream 3.1 and above (so, six audio streams from the rip, plus four AAC streams for the TruHD 7.1, TruHD 5.1, and two Dolby Digital 5.1 Surrounds). Because again, on my TV, the Plex apps would not consistently get the actual audio, transcoding required CPU power the Pi didn't have, but an AAC stereo encode meant I could switch to that audio stream in the Plex app and still have audio on any movie.

I did not log off, however. Instead, I stayed and watched a six core, twelve thread processor do in less thirty minutes what took me eight plus hours to do on Watson back in November. I'd originally put my encoding project on pause for Christmas and then because Watson couldn't--literally-run Plex or anything else while I was encoding or eight hours could be stretched to three days for some files.

Me: ...so this is definitely faster.

And so my new project was to pick up where I left off in November and re-encode multiple versions of every movie I had in multiple resolutions with full audio and fallback audio encoding for everything 3.1 and above. I also planned to re-rip several movies from source since some were old enough that I hadn't known what I was doing and left off entire audios streams and even subtitles. Which is one of the reasons I did an informative post on my DW about mediainfo; I used that to survey all my media and spot all the files that seemed to have too few or only one audio streams and/or no subtitle streams. And--inevitably--was once again reminded I couldn't play a single 4K rip of my own movies on the TV.

Which is why one day, after being disgruntled by Switch weirdness, I was looking at the Pro speculatively when bots happened and--here we are.

So when you think about it, it was kind of inevitable


Short version: oh hell yes.

The Shield runs the Plex server like I always dreamed. It can play everything in my library at the highest resolution and audio that my TV and my laptop can do. Last night, I tested it with multiple streams with a friend and one 4K rip and one 720p encode of Oceans 8.

It played the 4K with Dolby Atmos to me on my laptop and also simultaneously--and effortlessly-- transcoded the 720p encode of the same movie for a friend fifteen miles away with no stuttering, no stopping, no buffering. And the transcoding problem, I remind you, is why I flirted with--very briefly--buying a chip that cost half my laptop's price (not including the rest of the hardware needed for a server, God). The Shield not only does better than the chip would have and cost me at least eighty percent less than the CPU, the Shield is also less than half the size of a Playstation and fits on my small wall mounted entertainment center (aka Fancy Shelf that looks cool and I'm scared to put too much weight on and collapse the wall or something. It won't, no, i had this checked its in the studs. I just don't trust it).

There Are Some Issues Though

Now the other parts.

1.) It's more complicated to set up than a Fire TV or Chromecast.

Not because initial setup is hard; it's pretty much effortless, you'll have Netflix, Prime, Disney, Vudu, Sling, whatever, up and running as easily as any other media streamer. This is more--a side effect of the Shield being what it is.

You see, it's ready to interact with the latest TV and sound system to give you the home theater of your dreams. And if you happen to have a 4K TV less than two years old with HDR 2.0 and all the video bells and whistles, you'll be delighted how easy it is. And even some older than two years might be fine.

Some, however...might take some finagling.

Totally random example: If, say, your 4K TV is two and a half years old, you might click on Netflix and after a moment, check Prime and the other streams since there is definitely still color, it's like color if all media was viewed through a soft grey mist. Like being doomed to watch a Snyder film or one with gritty filter for the rest of your life.

The colors are dull, is what I'm saying. Prime, Netflix, Plex, everything.

Now, this is fixable! It's easy! There are instructions! This issue has been thoroughly discussed! It's not complicated!

a.) Using the instructions for your TV model, you may need to go into your TV Settings and change one or two or two items under Video/Display.

b.) After that, you can look on your TV or on the website or google for info on your TV's video specs, then you open the Shield TV Settings and under video/display, there's a glorious list of all the video profiles possible and you just have to find the one that matches, activate it, done! Yes, it really is there!

But.

I say this as someone who loves complicated configuration shit: this isn't complicated, it's not hard, it's boring, breathtakingly so, like watching paint dry on snails who are so slow they may actually have died years ago, but unable to conform that, you have to just keep watching. Not forever. I mean, so they say.

You see, they really do seem to have all the profiles possible, and by that I mean, I really do hope that's true because there are so many holy God. Yes, you could go and research your TV specs and use that to help but--this is the one time it may not be not worth it. Sometimes the official specs are--not entirely accurate (or lying their asses off) and that's the parts of the profile that I didn't have to research to find out what words meant, and I mean, these were words I thought I knew. Apparently I did not. Sure, it might help--but honestly, I'm not betting on it.

So unless your career is in Video Tech Shit As Relates to TVs and Screens (and Lying TV Making Corporations), it's probably a matter of simply starting at the top and trying every one or--if you're incredibly lucky--your googling sent you to where someone who has your TV model already fixed this. Again, not hard at all, and very likely if your TV is from a major retailer it's going to be fairly fast, but the older your TV and the less billions the company that made it is worth, the farther down the list you'll have to go.

Of course, this may not be a problem for you! Just--its' possible.

2.) It's Origins as a Geek Machine Are Kind of Obvious

The thing is, this is an attraction for me in this case, one that I didn't even know I wanted, but even among ultra geeks, we all have spots where we want simple, consumer grade, not requiring us to do more than hit obvious buttons or choose from a very few very obvious, pre-selected options and call it a day. Sometimes, you want to build a murderbot with proximity awareness, but sometimes, Amazon has a sale and you get a Roomba, strap a nerf gun to it, and call it good. Sure, you have to pretend you don't secretly love your much cleaner carpet and floors, that it's really all about the nerf gun and irony, but it's a cute, low-effort robot that also cleans. Dude, I get you; when we were kids, we all wanted a robot best friend. Roomba is pretty close, even though it won't scare all the mean kids and make them pay for making fun of me some hypothetical child. It's late--noon, I mean, early. Something.

Moving on.

The problem is, if some visiting friend hacked your roomba and suddenly you had access to the firmware and could edit or replace it with your own custom configurations, fuck clean floors; you'd be mathing up how many kitchen knives would fit on it or training your furry pet army while making them tiny velcro boots like, yesterday. We're geeks; if we're careful and avoid temptation, we can mimic normal, but one roomba firmware hack and hello cat army, a mild case of scruvy, and a somewhat alarming drop in sanity conditions in our homes that some might characterize as 'incompatible with human life' and then it's all dramatic hazmat suits and a potential ripped from the headlines made for tv movie based on a true story.

We're geeks; it happens.

(I genuinely anticipate and am terrified of the day I buy a house and therefore must buy all my own major appliances, because yes, they will inevitably be wifi enabled and honest to God, I don't know how long it will be before I try to hack my goddamn oven to flash it with something open source that I can edit at will with a command line option and scripting capability. It will be glorious, at least until I die of food poisoning from a badly programmed fridge or my kitchen appliances revolt, declares themselves autonomous beings, and execute me for sentient being rights violations dating from the day I put fish in the microwave and forgot it for three days.

I'm a geek; it happens.

Don't buy smart major appliances, you say? Tell me not to breathe; it's not about 'want' but 'must'. I don't want to in the traditional sense, but I will because that's what's going to happen when I'm in that store. I'll be asking for wifi specs while significantly lowering my credit score and googling how to flash a refrigerator before the delivery guy finishes hooking it up (the oven and washer/dryer guys haven't even arrive yet). Will I have any idea what I'm doing? No, of course not; not even a guess, my dude. And that won't stop me? That has literally not once in my entire life so much as slowed me down; in fact, you might say it's an inducement to continue my education.)

Anyway.

It's not that the Shield isn't almost basic consumer-level now; the veneer is almost complete. If you're not a geek, you might not even notice and wouldn't care. There's maybe one or two things the average consumer might need to google about (like the color thing, but it's not really that common).

However, if you have any geek tendencies that like to come out at random....I was googling how to enable ssh this week (you have to jailbreak it, which I am not ashamed to say I bookmarked, just you know, no reason) and there are settings in there and capabilities that make my fingers itch. Again, the only reason I cared this existed was the Plex server; I spent an hour the other doing nothing but going through all the menus in the settings and did it again two days ago when I accidentally found something new.

Yeah, I'm having a blast. Posted at Dreamwidth: https://seperis.dreamwidth.org/1078101.html. | You can reply here or there. | comment count unavailable comments
Tags: handbrake, jenn's life, my relationship with electronics, plex
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