Google Assistant turns Nvidia Shield TV into a hands-free smart device

Darrell Etherington
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Nvidia Shield TV, the Android TV-powered smart TV streaming box that offers 4K and more, now also includes built-in support for Google Assistant. Nvidia's integration of Google Assistant was first revealed way back in January, but the feature was announced as something that would be coming later. Now it's arriving to Shield devices courtesy of Nvidia's 6.0 software update.

The update also brings always-on hands-free voice activation for Nvidia Shield, which is enabled by way of the Nvidia Shield game controller. This packs in sensitive microphones, which are passively listing for the "OK Google" wake word thanks to the new update. That means you can just say the magic words when nearby those control devices to wake up your Nvidia Shield TV and issue voice commands directly to Assistant, the way you would with a Google Home or with your Pixel smartphone.

You can also trigger Google Assistant using the TV remote, which is the thinner wand that ships with the new, more affordable bundle and along with the game controller in the more expensive options, but you'll have to press the microphone button before saying any commands.

Shield TV already integrated voice commands powered by Google, but now it can bring up information in cards just like Assistant does on your phone; plus, it's contextually aware, and can tell you about stuff that you're watching in many cases. That context awareness also means you can dive deeper into queries, chaining questions without repeating information you've previously shared, so you can ask about Oscar-winning movies from a previous year, and then follow up with questions like "who starred in that one."

All the rest of the Assistant features are here, too, including the ability to check your calendar, or to look at your Google Photos collection – and these obviously work perfectly on the TV, where information can be displayed visually. Plus, you can control smart home devices that already offer Assistant integration.

In future, Samsung SmartThings support will be coming via a SmartThings hardware accessory and the official Samsung app, letting you directly control a range of smart home devices. And of course, you can ask Shield TV to play movies, music and TV shows for you using Assistant, too.

Nvidia isn't saying anything about Spot at this point, the smart mic that it showed off at CES alongside Assistant integration, as a way to distribute voice control for the Shield TV throughout your home. But the 6.0 update that includes Assistant is rolling out today to Shield TV hardware, including both new and old versions (though you'll need the most recent Controller hardware to get the hands-free voice commands). Plus, all new and existing Shield TV owners get a bonus of three months of YouTube Red for free with the update, just for being so special.

Shield TV may now have a 4K rival from Apple in the form of the new Apple TV 4K, but for my money, it's the more flexible offering, and now it also acts a home theater connected Google Home, making it an even better value.