Tech Blog: Xiaomi Mi Box S vs NVIDIA SHIELD TV Android TV Boxes

Yeah, I know, this is an old-school gaming blog, but I needed somewhere to put this, and it's a bit of a ramble, so bear with me. If anyone is cutting the cord, this may come in handy for you.

Juliette and I upgraded our streaming box today to an NVIDIA Shield TV. I had originally purchased a Xiaomi MiBox S as a test case for cutting the cord. I can now compare the two for anyone interested in going for an Android TV box. 

Note that I did NOT go with the $190-$200 SHIELD Pro, which is the high end gaming version of the Shield TV, and comes with double the memory and an extra USB port. I went with the NVIDIA SHIELD TV "base" model, which looks like a cylinder.

Xiaomi Mi Box S


NVIDIA SHIELD TV


Price 

The MiBox S EASILY wins in this category, going for between $64 and $66 on Amazon. The Shield TV goes for $149 on Amazon and at Best Buy, where we bought ours. 

Looks

Again, I have to give the edge to the MiBox, here. It's a very unassuming small, black, square box that sits flat on your shelf, maybe 2.5" - 3" to a side and maybe 1/4" thick. The plugs and ports are all in the back, allowing for easy organization. The SHIELD is a rather large and bulky cylinder about 6" long and a good inch thick. The plug is on one end and the ports on the other, so it's not built to sit on your shelf. It's my assumption that it's supposed to unobtrusively hang behind your TV, which is fine, but I feel like it'll be putting a lot of pressure hanging by the HDMI cable. I'm going to tie it up. 

Verdict: The Mi Box S looks way nicer. The SHIELD TV looks clunky. 

Specs

The Mi Box is powered by a Cortex-A53 Quad-core 64bit and claims 8 GB of internal storage and 2GB DDR3. It has Wi-Fi: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac 2.4GHz/5GHz and Bluetooth: 4.1 (the ability to connect a Bluetooth keyboard is a GODSEND when logging into 20 different streaming services). I am skeptical of the claim of 8 GB of internal storage, because I quickly ran out of storage using the MiBox, not even having enough to upgrade apps, and had to stick a USB stick in the back to expand space. So something inside the Mi Box that wasn't my apps used a whole heck of a lot of that 8 GB. It theoretically shouldn't be the interface because it's a clean Android TV interface. The Mi Box S has one full-size USB port for external storage, which you need to format. It does not support Dolby Atmos. 

The SHIELD TV is run by a Nvidia Tegra X1 processor with a 256-core GPU. It also runs Bluetooth 5, the latest (as of this writing) iteration. It's questionable how much of a measurable benefit that offers, but it is, in fact, an edge. Its other specs (Storage, memory, wi-fi) are identical to the Mi Box, BUT I can say the SHIELD TV gave me no storage space alerts, with no external drive necessary, and with more apps installed. The SHIELD TV has a gigabit ethernet port if you want to plug directly into your router, and it has a microSD slot for expandability instead of a USB port. NVIDIA also offers full Dolby Atmos and Dolby Digital Plus support.

Overall, the microSD vs. USB is a bit of a wash, but the ethernet and the lack of storage issues give the SHIELD the edge.

Verdict: The SHIELD wins, with better storage handling, Atmos support, and Bluetooth 5, though an underlying software update MIGHT fix the storage issues the Mi Box experiences. 

Performance

Right out of the gate, the NVIDIA SHIELD TV seriously outperforms the MiBox S. It's faster and smoother, despite both devices having 2 GB of RAM. I can only assume that has something to do with the processor. NVIDIA is a gaming company, and their processors likely outperform the one in the Mi Box. Again, however, I suspect that there's some issue with the underlying software architecture in the Mi Box that makes it less smooth, despite the fact that the Android TV interface between the two is 100% identical. It's a stock Android TV interface.

Both Run a Standard Android TV Interface

 

It's also worth pointing out that I've had a number of occasions with the Mi Box where I had apps freeze, refuse to start, or crash, and I had to clear caches, re-sign in, and even reboot the box entirely. These weren't odd third-party apps, either. I'm talking things like Dish Anywhere, Sling, Amazon Prime Video, etc. Time will tell if I have similar issues with the SHIELD, but out of the box it's running better, so I suspect those issues, if they exist, will be fewer. 

While both offer a 4K upscaling function, the one on the Mi Box S is absolutely abysmal. It makes everything on the screen so bright it's an eyesore, and utterly ruins the color balance. The SHIELD's upscaling function, on the other hand, is aces all around: crisp and clear. That's only an issue, though, if you use upscaling, and many people don't. 

In addition, while both are currently running Android 9, the Mi Box S will not run the current version of Hulu. You'll need to install a downloader app and sideload a 2-generation old version of Hulu if you want to watch that service. The SHIELD TV, in my experience so far, has no problems at all with Hulu. Both devices run the new NBC Peacock, which is something the Amazon Fire doesn't do out of the box (though you can sideload Peacock onto the Fire stick--I've done that on the one we have upstairs).  

Despite claims to the contrary on several sites, I was able to get 4K HDR and/or HDX resolution on Netflix, Vudu, and a number of other services, so yes, you can get Netflix 4K through both of these devices. 

Sadly, neither one will run the TV Guide App (even sideloaded), which is utterly bemusing to me. That app comes in very useful to me as my TV doesn't have a built in guide for broadcast TV. I have yet to find a workaround for this--I was able to sideload the app to the Mi Box, but it had zero functionality. Again, a minor issue that only affects those who want a broadcast guide, and it affects BOTH devices. 

What about Android gaming? Well, put simply, NVIDIA is a gaming company. They're built for Android gaming. While the SHIELD TV won't handle some of the more advanced games out there (that's what the $200 PRO version is for), it will game, and do it pretty well. I cannot recommend trying to game with the Mi Box, and in fact, I'd bet that many games wouldn't even be supported on the Mi Box. 

Verdict: The SHIELD TV wins hands down in terms of performance. It supports Hulu and works smoother and faster than the Mi Box S. The 4K upscaling is also worlds better. It's built to game. 

Remote Control and Peripherals

Both devices come with a dedicated remote. On both devices, I was able to turn on and turn off my TV and box with just the streaming remote. On the SHIELD, it also activates my surround sound system, which the Mi Box did not do. In fairness, however, this all COULD be the way I have my system set up to pass through the surround sound system. 

Both have Bluetooth connectivity and can accept Bluetooth devices. For me that means a keyboard; for many that will mean a game controller as well. Once again, I don't recommend trying to game with the Mi Box; the experience I would expect to be abysmal, and that's if the games you want will run on it at all. 

As for the remotes, the SHIELD also wins out. To say the Mi Box remote is bare bones is the understatement of the millennia. It has a select button and scroller, a Netflix Button, and a "Live" button that launches the stock Android "Live Channels" app, which I suspect few people will use that much (It basically lets you load up the channels you like from several different apps into one space. It seems useful except that so few apps are actually supported on it--I was only able to get Pluto to work reliably). It also has an app drawer button, a home button, and a back button as well as a power button and volume buttons. It's got the basic "Hey Google" microphone voice button as well. That's it. You can see a picture above. 

The SHIELD remote, on the other hand, is quite nice. It feels better in the hand, and the buttons light up when you pick it up--a very nice touch. It has the app drawer button and power button at the top, the select and scroller button in the middle, the back and home buttons, and volume buttons. Its also got the Netflix button and "Hey Google" microphone button. 

It also has additional play, pause, fast forward, and rewind buttons, which the Mi Box doesn't have. 

If there's a down side to the SHIELD remote it's that it has a goofy triangular shape. I'm not sure what the thinking was behind that, but I'd have preferred a good old fashioned flat remote. Again, you can see a picture above. Another issue with the SHIELD is that it took me awhile to figure out how to get the battery cover off--there's no instructions for this, and if you look at it, it doesn't even look like there IS a battery cover. I had to look it up here to find the instructions

Verdict: Despite a wonky shape and battery cover, the SHIELD has a much nicer remote control that feels better in hand, lights up when you lift it, and has play, pause, FF, and Rwd buttons that are missing from the Mi Box remote, which gives you instead a largely worthless "Live" button. 

Final Word

In the end, this really comes down to what you want out of your streaming box. I used the Xiaomi Mi Box S for a good few months every day and had few real problems with it. Those issues I did were nuisances, though not being able to run the current Hulu app was a major annoyance. As a budget basic Android TV box for entry level cord cutters, it's really nice and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it. I did have the storage issue, but USB thumb drives are crazy cheap these days so that added maybe a couple bucks to the cost. 

The NVIDIA SHIELD TV, however, is a marked and noticeable improvement in almost every way except looks. Is it a $70 improvement? That's hard to say, as it's subjective. For me it was absolutely worth it. 

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