Big tech companies rule the cloud gaming space, but smaller enterprises are dipping their toes into this relatively new market as well. A French startup with a bright idea has developed streaming service Shadow to compete with the likes of Google, Sony, and Microsoft. While it’ll take a lot to overthrow these giants, Shadow has one ace in the hole, and it’s an inventive one.
Companies these days are spreading the gospel of cloud gaming, but most gamers aren’t convinced just yet. The idea is alluring: games are running in a data center and can be streamed to any screen without the need to purchase separate hardware. This new venture comes with new problems, like input lag – the time it takes for a player to press a button and see the resulting action on the screen. And what about game ownership once you cancel a subscription? It’s a murky market right now, one that even Google hasn’t cracked fully yet going by the silence surrounding Stadia, the game streaming service that launched late last year.
Shadow offers an interesting alternative. With this service, you don’t get access to a selection of games, but an entire game PC running Windows 10. You don’t actually receive the physical hardware. Instead, the PC is situated in a location chosen by Shadow and you just merely get to control it remotely. You can do everything you would normally do on a personal computer: edit video or audio, watch clips of cats on YouTube, or install the Epic Games Store. Shadow won’t judge and actually can’t judge: the encrypted connection between your device of choice and the Shadow PC ensures that what you do remains a private matter.
Gaming at the speed of light
Shadow promises a modern game PC that can be streamed to pretty much every device that came out in the last decade. As long as your Windows, macOS or Ubuntu PC has an ancient dual-core processor with 2 GB of work memory and 8 GB disk space, you’re set. Tablets and smartphones need at least Android 5.0 Lollipop or iOS 11.0. Of course, a more modern device is always better.
While your system of choice can theoretically be a device from 2009, your internet connection has to be more modern than that. For an optimal experience, Shadow recommends a stable connection that downloads 35 megabit per second. If your internet connection isn’t up to those standards, you could use an H.265 codec on a PC not older than five years. In that case, 15 megabit per second should suffice. Wired internet is, of course, a huge plus. With a 4G connection, you’re also set, but the average data bundle will last you only minutes, figuratively speaking, when using Shadow. With an optimal connection, you can reach a quality of 144 frames per second in Full HD or 60 fps in 4K.
If you’re salivating at those numbers, hold your horses. Our system came with an Intel Xeon 2667 processor and Nvidia Quadro P5000, roughly comparable to an Intel Core i7-4930K and Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080, with added 12 GB of random access memory and 255 GB of storage. In other words: a Shadow PC is a high quality, modern game PC, but taxing games like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey won’t run in 4K and 60 fps. Having a 144Hz screen is nice and all, but we didn’t manage to run Counter-Strike: Global Offensive in 144 fps, even on its lowest settings.
Impressive, but costly
All marketing fluff aside, when judging the Shadow PC for what it does, we’re pretty impressed. Of course, the difference between Shadow and our high-end gaming PC is significant enough. The high resolution of the streaming service isn’t as sharp, the sound not as clear, the high refresh rate not as fluent and the response of our inputs not as snappy as the real deal. We also noticed a subtle but irritating delay in sound. Some game genres suffer more from this delay than others, and it differs per game and session. In Civilization 6 we hardly noticed it and in CS: GO it’s only noticeable when paying attention. In PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, however, it caused a great deal of auditory confusion.
But the simple use of the Shadow-application makes it very easy to switch between your PC and the cloud. Devices like microphones require some extra tinkering to make them work, but overall everything is plug-and-play. The concept has taken huge leaps in the past five years, compared to the slow control of the mouse and the aggressive compression of games we experienced when using OnLive. Despite their flaws, services like Shadow can offer a tempting alternative for gamers that don’t want to spend money every few years for the latest hardware.
On the subject of money, there are multiple subscriptions to choose from on the Shadow website. If you want to pay once a month, you can choose between paying $14.99, $29.99 or $49.99 a month. The cheapest option simulates a GTX 1080 GPU and lets you play in Full HD, while the other two options simulate an RTX 2080 and Titan RTX respectively, both good for 4K gaming with ray tracing. By signing up for a year, you can save up to $10 a month.
We hope Shadow becomes a huge success. The concept of a streaming service that offers you a powerful game pc is enticing. You can play all the games that come out and you don’t lose those games when you end the subscription. As far as we’re concerned, the freedom that comes with this is a great alternative to the more restricted experiences the competition offers. The current price model, however, makes it tempting to save up the money and buy an actual system every three years instead. Hopefully, with more success come cheaper options to try out the service. The potential is there.