NVIDIA has Two – not One – new SHIELD TV products in the works
If you’re looking to cut the cord, you’ll want to start by buying a dedicated media streamer. Among Android TV set-top-boxes, the NVIDIA SHIELD TV is the undisputed king unless you’re on a really tight budget. With its Tegra X1 SoC, the SHIELD is quite capable of handling even the most advanced media streaming applications. The use of the Tegra has also allowed NVIDIA to upgrade the SHIELD from Android 5.1 Lollipop all the way to Android 9 Pie. Although NVIDIA’s continued software support is commendable, the company still has a few areas it can improve upon. That’s why users were ecstatic when news broke of a possible 2019 SHIELD TV refresh. However, what you may have likely missed out on is the fact that NVIDIA has not one, but two new SHIELD TV products in the works.
The Need for a New SHIELD TV in 2019
If you ask existing owners, you’ll likely hear nothing but praise for the SHIELD Android TV. Dig a little deeper on online forums, and you will find a few complaints: The processor is old or the controller is faulty. Both of these complaints have some merit, which is why we’re not too surprised that NVIDIA is seemingly responding with a refreshed SHIELD Android TV. After all, the company already released an updated set-top-box in 2017 that came in a smaller package and with a redesigned SHIELD Controller and slightly tweaked SHIELD Remote. It’s the perfect time for NVIDIA to release yet another refresh to its SHIELD TV, even though its internals will mostly be the same as the original product from 2015.
NVIDIA’s Tegra X1 SoC was first shipped in products sold in 2015. Manufactured on a 20nm process, the Tegra X1 features 4 ARM Cortex-A57 CPU cores and 4 ARM Cortex-A53 CPU cores, so in terms of raw CPU performance, it’s far outclassed by modern smartphone SoCs like the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855. The X1’s Maxwell-based GPU, however, is still fairly competitive, and NVIDIA’s collaboration with AAA game publishers led to the porting of several console-quality games not seen on mobile devices. Compared to the SoCs found on most smartphones, though, the Tegra X1 is much larger and more power-hungry, which is why Nintendo, NVIDIA’s main customer for the X1, is re-releasing the Switch with a revised version of the X1. The updated Nintendo Switch boasts about 2 extra hours of battery life, largely thanks to a process shrink. EuroGamer did a decent analysis of t210b01, the model name for the revised Tegra X1, and how it delivers better performance and battery life over the current t210 Tegra X1 SoC.
Google Play Console listing for “mdarcy,” widely believed to be a refresh of the 2017 SHIELD TV.
Kernel source code shows that “mdarcy” is based on the t210b01 Tegra X1 SoC
Although a slight performance improvement is welcome, the improvement in battery life serves no utility for a set-top-box like the SHIELD Android TV. Still, there’s good evidence that NVIDIA is refreshing the 2017 SHIELD this year anyway. A listing appeared on the Google Play Console’s Device Catalog for a new NVIDIA SHIELD TV device code-named “mdarcy.” At the time the listing went live, the 2015 and 2017 SHIELD TVs were both on Android 8.0 Oreo, while this new listing was for a product certified to run Android 9 Pie. Furthermore, “mdarcy” is believed to derive from “mariko” + “darcy” where “mariko” is the code-name for the revised Tegra X1 while “darcy” is the code-name for the 2017 SHIELD TV. Kernel source code links “mdarcy” to the new t210b01 X1 revision, as shown above. Lastly, NVIDIA recently updated the FCC certification for the 2017 SHIELD by filing a Class II Permissive Change, suggesting refreshed hardware is on the way. Unless NVIDIA changes its mind at the last minute, there’s a good chance we’ll see a 2019 NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV with a new SHIELD Controller and SHIELD Remote. But that’s definitely not all we’ll be seeing.
The Real (New) SHIELD TV
In late July, NVIDIA’s FCC filing for a SHIELD TV product with model name P3430 went live and was widely believed by the press to pertain to the rumored 2017 SHIELD TV refresh. A few eagle-eyed observers noted that since the FCC listing for the 2017 device (with model name P2897) was updated, this P3430 model name must refer to an entirely new product. Indeed, one might speculate that the new product will come in a smaller form factor based on the label diagrams submitted to the FCC, but there’s not much else in terms of concrete evidence to support that specific claim.
Left: The label diagram for the revised NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV.
Right: The label diagram for the rumored new SHIELD TV product.
The FCC filing isn’t our only evidence that NVIDIA has a distinctly new SHIELD product in the works. In fact, there’s substantial evidence for a new SHIELD product code-named “sif” in both kernel source code and NVIDIA’s SHIELD Experience software.
Meet “sif” – The New SHIELD
In SHIELD Experience 8.0, you’ll find references to “sif” in the lkm_loader script file for Linux loadable kernel modules alongside “foster” and “darcy.” You’ll also see “sif” in NVIDIA apps like NvIRTuner under the string-array “sbmEnabledDevices,” a list of devices that support NVIDIA’s mobile remote app. Another string-array with “sif” in it can be found in NVIDIA’s TvSettings app under the name “shield_sku_key.” Notice that these string-arrays also list “mdarcy” as a distinct model along with “foster” and “darcy,” the 2015 and 2017 SHIELD TV models, respectively. Unlike “mdarcy,” “sif” has yet to be referenced in the TegraOTA app, so it’s possible we’ll see the refreshed SHIELD TV before the new model launches.
Left: Since “foster,” “darcy,” and “sif” don’t support cameras, none of these camera modules are loaded. This logic is likely for the Jetson TX1.
Middle: shield_sku_key string-array from TvSettings.
Right: sbmEnabledDevices string-array from NvIRTuner.
More code in the lkm_loader script suggests that “sif” won’t have TV Tuner support and won’t have a USB port, the latter of which is corroborated by kernel source code. “Sif” is also expected to have SD card support, judging by further kernel source code evidence. The board ID is mentioned as P3425, which is close to the device ID listed on the FCC (P3430). Finally, the device tree shows that “sif” will have the t210b01 variant of the Tegra X1 like “mdarcy” and the new Nintendo Switch.
That’s all the public evidence that I managed to gather from kernel source code and analysis of SHIELD Experience 8.0. I cannot comment on the speculation about sif’s form factor, but if NVIDIA plans on releasing a smaller device that’s possibly fanless, then it would make sense for it to have the revised, more power-efficient Tegra X1 on board. Since both “mdarcy” and “sif” have passed through the FCC, we should be getting close to the official launch date(s) for both — again, assuming neither gets canceled like the Tegra X1-based SHIELD Tablet or second-gen SHIELD Portable did.
Thanks to PNF Software for providing us a license to use JEB Decompiler, a professional-grade reverse engineering tool for Android applications.
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