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Shadow Ghost Review: A Promising Cloud PC Gaming Experience
The new Shadow Ghost streaming box is perfect for those who want to play PC games without the hassle.
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I’ve never been much of a PC gamer, preferring the ease of access and convenience of consoles and handhelds. Gaming on a PC, in comparison, has always felt like a last resort to me. While I’ve had great experiences playing on PC, I’ve never really owned a rig powerful enough to run a current-gen game at ultra-high specs.
Why haven’t I upgraded? There’s a certain DIY aspect to PC gaming that I’ve never quite connected to. Finding and purchasing the right graphics card, CPU, RAM, case, etc. is not only expensive but also a time suck. Needless to say, even though I’ve always been curious about the graphical superiority of PC over consoles, I lack the patience or time to beef up my current PC or build a gaming rig from scratch.
Fortunately, the Shadow Ghost, a new streaming box that brings the power of a high-end Windows PC to your home office or living room without any of the hardware, feels specifically made for gamers like me, those who want to play on PC without having to do any of the technical work. I spent a few weeks with the Ghost in February, streaming games like Apex Legends and Anthem , and came away hopeful for the future of this cloud gaming service — even if it does have a few kinks to sort out first.
The Shadow streaming service itself, which can be accessed through the Ghost as well as an app for PC and mobile (think remote desktop connection), gets you a dedicated private server that runs like a powerful Windows gaming rig. With an Nvidia GPU equivalent to the GeForce GTX 1080, 12 GB of RAM, an Intel Core i7 processor, and with 1 Gb/s download speeds, Shadow provides the power you need to play current-gen titles on PC with the graphical uptick.
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Once you log into your Shadow account and connect to the dedicated server, you’re basically running a brand new, cloud-based PC, one that, according to Blade, the French company behind Shadow, is continuously upgraded to meet the requirements of even the most demanding games. That last bit is an enticing proposition, especially for console gamers who expect everything to run accordingly without the hassle of having to upgrade GPUs or RAM or download drivers. It’s the sort of convenience that could very well hook the PC-curious.
From there, you’re free to run whatever gaming platforms you want, whether it be Steam, Origin, GOG Galaxy, or anything else. Shadow runs just like a regular PC, which means you can even use the service for work, browsing the web, or streaming a movie on Netflix . Some might find the fact that Shadow doesn’t run its own customized gaming operating system — or at least something akin to Steam’s Big Picture mode — a bit peculiar, since this box is clearly targeting gamers, but I really like the flexibility of the service. I used it for work, not that running a CMS on a web browser is demanding, and I enjoyed how much faster I was able to run everything.
Further Reading: 35 Games to Play in 2019
Using Shadow on the Ghost, PC, and iOS offers up vastly different experiences. Both the Ghost box and PC app work great. Connecting to and booting up your server mostly feels seamless, although I did encounter a few instances when my server failed to boot or the Ghost didn’t connect to the server at all. That said, you’re able to optimize your experience based on your own internet speed, so you’re unlikely to face much graphical lag or framerate drop while streaming your cloud PC, although there were a few times when the sound stuttered while in a game. There’s also a low-connectivity mode for those who don’t meet the 15 Mb/s recommended minimum internet speed.
Unsurprisingly, streaming on the Shadow Ghost is the way the service was truly meant to be experienced. The box is about as plug-and-play as it gets, with two USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI 2.0 port that supports 4K resolution at 60Hz or 1080p at up to 144hz, audio and ethernet ports, and WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity. Just plug in your keyboard, mouse, monitor, and speakers as you would a regular PC and you’re all set. I found that the box runs best with an ethernet connection, but using WiFi doesn’t feel like too much of a downgrade if you want to use it in your living room.
The Ghost is extremely lightweight, with an aesthetically-pleasing curved shape that sits very well on the corner of your desk or in a TV stand. It’s very compact, perfect for users who want to take the Ghost to their office or coworking space. (I plan to take mine to the Den of Geek office!)
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The iOS app is more of a mixed bag. While switching between the Ghost and a mobile device feels seamless — the app logs onto the server surprisingly fast — you’ll still have to navigate a Windows desktop, which isn’t ideal on a smartphone. You may fare better on a tablet. Still, your best bet is to launch your game of choice on a PC or the Ghost before continuing the game on mobile. This is where a dedicated Shadow operating system would have come in handy.
Most of my play time was spent with Apex Legends and Anthem , two graphically impressive online multiplayer games that require a steady connection, and in the case of Apex , precise controls to get the winning kill. There’s no delay in the controls, whether on keyboard and mouse or an Xbox One controller. Commands feel responsive as if you were playing on a local PC, which is impressive considering I was indirectly connected to an online server through another server running in a data center. Besides one or two instances of lag, playing on the Shadow Ghost felt incredibly comfortable.
Graphically, I was able to run both games at an incredibly smooth 1080p 60fps at ultra high settings with very little issue. There was none of the delay or latency that could have made a game of Apex Legends an absolute nightmare. I was unable to test the 4K as my monitor at home isn’t 4K-ready. Take a look at other reviews for info on that. But if you just want to quickly jump into the world of visually impressive and smooth PC games, the Shadow Ghost is an excellent entry point.
Further Reading: 20 Games That Deserve Remakes
The Ghost leaves a little to be desired if you plan to use it purely as a gaming device in your living room. For one thing, unlike the Nvidia Shield or the Steam Link, you’ll still need a keyboard and mouse to log into the Shadow and boot up a game. There’s currently no way to solely use a controller on the device. Yet another way the service could benefit from a gaming-specific Shadow OS.
In terms of price point, a Shadow subscription will set you back $35 per month, not a bad deal if you don’t already own a gaming rig, which might actually be cheaper to upgrade than adopt a cloud PC. But if you’ve always wanted a $2,000 Alienware rig or the equivalent, Shadow is more than worth the investment, especially since it comes with the upgrades you’ll need to keep the specs up to date. At $35, it would take you almost five years to reach the $2,000 cost of a high-end gaming PC.
That said, whether this service is worth it or not will depend on the user. Some gamers don’t need $2,000 worth of tech to enjoy a PC game. For those who want a more standard gaming PC at a $1,000 price point, the Shadow might not be such a great deal.
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My impression is that the Shadow Ghost won’t convert veteran PC gamers any time soon. Again, part of the joy of gaming on a PC is building and upgrading your own rig to your liking. Customization is key, something the Shadow Ghost definitely lacks. But the same can’t be said of the uninitiated, players like myself who want to game on PC without having to worry about keeping their rigs up to date. That’s where the Shadow service and the Ghost will probably find the most success.
Personally, I came away a big fan of the Ghost and look forward to seeing how Blade continues to improve the service. While Shadow is now available in most states, it’s still early days, with more improvements to come as the service continues to roll out around the world. But as a foundation for what could be the future of cloud gaming, Shadow is well on its way.
Users can access Shadow on any desktop PC, laptop, Mac, tablet, smartphone, or smart TV with the dedicated Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android apps. Ghost is now available for $139.95.
John Saavedra is Games Editor at Den of Geek. Read more of his work here . Follow him on Twitter @johnsjr9 .
John Saavedra | @johnsjr9
John Saavedra is the Co-Editor-in-Chief of Den of Geek. He lives in New York City with his two cats.
Shadow Ghost Game Streaming Box
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Blade Shadow Ghost turns your TV into a snappy cloud-gaming PC
This small, stylish box for its cloud service offers device and network connections for a PC-free Windows gaming setup.
It glows from the bottom to indicate it's on.
Blade's Shadow Ghost is a cool little box that lets you use the Shadow desktop-in-the-cloud service with just a TV or monitor. No PC required.
The box that gives you the device and network connections you need to use the Windows-based desktop service. When I tried it out, I kept forgetting I wasn't on a local PC and never found myself shrieking about the speed. I still can't believe I like it so much.
A "Shadow," as Blade dubs the virtual system the service provides, can be used for anything, but the most obvious mainstream allure of a virtual machine these days is for cloud gaming . Think of the Ghost as a console without any local storage and simple video decoding that can run any Windows game. This is actually the second version of the box, but now it's got a catchy name and most of the kinks worked out.
The Ghost itself costs $140 (£110), while the service runs $35 (£27) per month. All told, it's a pretty good deal. It's not available in Australia yet, but the Ghost's price converts to about AU$205.
Like many competitors , the service is essentially a Windows virtual machine (VM) running on a Windows server within a datacenter; in my case, the server is running a 3.2GHz Xeon E5-2667 V3 with 12GB RAM and a Quadro P5000 with 16GB GDDR5X. It's not cutting-edge gaming performance, but it is roughly in the same league as the GTX 1070 max-Q laptops we've seen recently. Overall performance will depend on the game and your quality settings.
But unlike almost every other cloud gaming system I've seen, it runs well in 1440p and, depending upon the game, even 2160p. And it feels more baked now than it did when we tried it in its early US rollout . It's probably the slickest, too, for a VM. (Gaming-only services such as GeForce Now are obviously more streamlined.)
Though it publicly specs frame-rates of 4K at 60 frames per second (which matches most 60Hz displays and TVs and thus shows fewer artifacts) and 1080p at 144fps, it also does 1440p at 75fps, which is a solid happy medium for a lot of games. The alternative resolutions are also a perk that many competitors don't supply, as most are limited to 1080p.
Ghost provides all the essential connections. However, if you hook up wired devices to the USB ports, it does ruin the look a bit, like a Mac Mini.
The Ghost box connects to a display via HDMI . It has four USB Type-A ports, a headphone jack and an AC adapter input. You connect via gigabit Ethernet or 802.11ac Wi-Fi (aka Wi-Fi 5 ). The overall fit and finish is good -- for a device that feels like it's 3D printed.
It's easy to set up and compact enough to tote from one place to another. Windows recognizes USB devices such as keyboards, mice and an HP Omen Mindframe headset as if they were running locally. (Note that I didn't test chat or streaming functions.)
There's one big problem with the Shadow: Its 256GB Windows partition isn't nearly big enough. You'll need a USB hard drive to swap game installations. I'd like to see the company either increase the base configuration or introduce a tier of service with more space.
The Shadow can also connect to wireless input devices via Bluetooth . The connection isn't really through Windows, though, just through the box itself. It doesn't work while the VM's open, so it's not as convenient as it could be.
There's only one button, for turning it on and off.
Performance on the Shadow side is one thing, but your connection to the internet is another. It doesn't handle latency problems gracefully -- that's when your internet connection sends data packets erratically and is a bigger issue than bandwidth for most people, since it can vary so much from moment to moment. It's hard to diagnose if your network's at fault, because (obviously) you can't launch offline or in safe mode, among other things. And it requires a mouse and keyboard to start up, so disconnecting them to diagnose any USB connection issues isn't an option.
There's a control panel application that displays network statistics and lets you select some basic options. In the US, Blade owns its own servers in data centers around the country (called "co-location"), and it's newer to the US than Europe. At the moment, you can't pick which data center to access; it's all automatic.
The Shadow suffers the same problems as every cloud gaming system I've tried, most notably a compressed tonal range. No matter how good your bandwidth is, the bitrate is never high enough that it doesn't have to compress the video signal, which can result in flatter colors. Some people may not even notice, or they'll notice it less once they're immersed in gameplay.
Aside from selecting the option to automate Windows updates, the rest is in your hands, such as Nvidia driver updates. Restarting during driver updates can be a bit wonky, since that tends to close the Shadow on the first reboot. But it keeps running in the cloud for 90 minutes, which means it's really easy to launch right back into what you were doing.
And when you're not gaming? I've been using it as my primary work system, attached to a monitor. So far it hasn't groaned once under the weight of several browsers' worth of tabs or anything else I've thrown at it.
Updated 1:04 p.m. ET: Blade doesn't lease servers in datacenters as originally stated; it co-locates its own servers in datacenters. In practice, that gives the company more flexibility over the configurations.
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The Shadow Ghost game-streaming box won't replace your PC or console
It's a clear example of why game streaming still has a long way to go..
Blade's Shadow game-streaming service made a big splash when it launched last year. For $35 per month, it brings the power of a gaming PC to almost any device, be it a smartphone or a slim notebook, by streaming gameplay from powerful servers. But what if you wanted to play on a TV without connecting a PC? That's where the Shadow Ghost comes in: It's a sleek, $140 set-top box that lets you bring the service just about anywhere. The Ghost is a major upgrade over the previous Shadow Box: It's smaller and fan-less, and it adds WiFi support. It's exactly the sort of device Blade needs right now, especially as other companies like NVIDIA, Microsoft and even Verizon are exploring game streaming.
Based on my short time with the Shadow Ghost, though, it's clear that the device and service still needs some work. I can excuse buggy software, especially since I was testing the Ghost a bit early, but Blade's core game-streaming technology left a lot to be desired. That's a shame, since I was initially impressed with it last year when I saw games like Street Fighter V and Ghost Recon: Wildlands running across smartphones and a MacBook Pro.
The Shadow Ghost makes an excellent first impression. Its curved design is unique in a world of dull rectangular boxes, as if someone stepped on an early prototype and the company just stuck with the look. There's a large, triangular power button up front, and around the back there are two USB 2.0 ports and a pair of USB 3.0 ports as well as HDMI, headphone and Ethernet connections. With all of those USB options, you should be able to plug in a keyboard and mouse while still having room for other accessories.
And as you'd expect, it also supports Bluetooth, giving you a wireless way to connect plenty of other gear. Altogether, the Ghost has all the connectivity you'd want from a gaming notebook -- the kicker is that it's a simple, fan-less box that uses around 30 times less energy than a desktop (according to Blade).
Setup is pretty simple: Just plug in the power and HDMI connections, connect to Ethernet or WiFi, and sign on to your Shadow account. At first, the Shadow Ghost couldn't see my 5GHz wireless network -- the only one you should dare to use for such a bandwidth-intensive service. Lucky for me, Blade deployed an update shortly afterward that cleared up that issue. You can also connect Bluetooth devices from the Ghost's home screen. It had no trouble recognizing my Logitech Craft keyboard and Xbox One controller, though the latter wasn't actually recognized when I tried to game. I ended up using a SteelSeries Stratus Duo controller, which relies on a USB wireless receiver. (Since the Bluetooth connectivity is controlled from the home screen, you'll unfortunately have to jump out of your Shadow instance every time you want to add a new device.)
Once I logged in, I was presented with a surprise: Cortana and the Windows 10 setup screen. I knew that subscribing to Shadow gives you access to a beefy server (it's powered by an NVIDIA GPU delivering GTX 1080-level performance, 12GB of RAM and an Intel Core i7), but it hadn't occurred to me that you also need to go through the whole first-launch experience. It took around five minutes to reach the Windows desktop, and I was surprised to find that Blade didn't do much to customize the installation. There's a desktop shortcut to change a few settings for the Shadow Ghost, but beyond that I was staring at a typical Windows PC screen.
My first task: Install Steam and download a few titles. I opted for Resident Evil 2 , Hitman 2 and The Witcher 3 . It took around 10 minutes to grab RE2 -- a few minutes to allocate disk space and the rest of the time to download the 23GB game at a steady 50Mbps. Shadow only gives you 256GB of storage (20GB of which is taken up by Windows), which means you'll need to be choosy about which titles you keep around. That's a particularly tough situation when games like Destiny 2 now clock in at more than 81GB. After installing Nier: Automota , in addition to the titles above, I received errors that there wasn't enough disk space to update Resident Evil 2 . I was forced to uninstall Nier just to get my zombie fix on.
Blade says Shadow supports game streaming up to 4K 60Hz, or 1,080p 1,44Hz. The 4K option is better if you care about image fidelity while the latter's higher refresh rate should deliver smoother gameplay. In comparison, NVIDIA's GeForce Now service , which is still in beta, only supports 1080p up to 120Hz. Shadow should have the advantage, though based on my testing NVIDIA's tech delivers an experience closer to a typical console's.
Resident Evil 2 was playable in 4K with medium graphics on my LG OLED TV. Unfortunately, the streaming was choppy, there was a noticeable delay when moving my character and the game simply didn't look as sharp as it does on my PC with the same settings. There were ugly jagged lines along the edges of objects (even with a high level of anti-aliasing set up in-game), and panning the screen was jerky and headache-inducing. The erratic performance made it tough to tell if a bullet was actually going to reach a zombie (not ideal when ammo is so scarce) or if my head was about to be chewed off.
Bumping down the resolution to 1,440p made the game run beyond 60 fps, but the buttery smoothness of that frame rate was nowhere to be found. I'm not sure if it was lag from Shadow or my home network, but there was a noticeable difference compared to my gaming rig. And before you blame Shadow Ghost's performance on my 5GHz AC WiFi network, I also ran the game on Shadow's PC client over Ethernet and noticed similar issues, though admittedly to a lesser extent.
Hitman 2 and The Witcher 3 didn't fare much better. Even though they were technically running faster than they would on an Xbox One X or PlayStation 4 Pro, playing them from a far-off server simply felt worse than using those consoles. That's an essential problem for Blade to solve if the Ghost, or its streaming service, has any chance of success. Blade ended up delaying the launch of the Shadow Ghost by about a month, and in that time they've made the streaming performance a bit smoother, though it still can't really compare to a dedicated gaming PC or console.
With gaming hardware becoming cheaper and more capable, asking people to pay $150 for another box plus $35 per month for a worse experience seems insane. I could see gamers using it as a way to play their favorite titles while traveling, but it's still not worth it at that cost. And Blade will definitely have to expand the amount of storage being offered, otherwise you'll end up spending lots of time waiting for games to install.
It's hard to fully judge the Shadow Ghost before its launch, since Blade is continually optimizing the device and its streaming service. But given the way things typically go with online platforms, I expect performance to get even more sluggish once more people jump online. To be clear, I'm not giving up on game streaming yet. But the Shadow Ghost makes it clear how far the industry has left to go.
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Shadow Game Streaming Offers A Powerful Cloud PC, But Is It Any Good?
Caught by your own shadow.
By Michael Higham on March 25, 2019 at 11:26AM PDT
The idea of playing games through a cloud streaming service is trending upward due to the likes of Sony's PSNow, Google Stadia , and Nvidia's GeForce Now. And many signs point to cloud-based gaming being the next big shift in the industry with names like Microsoft and Amazon making moves in this space. Right now, French company Blade has a stake in cloud gaming with its Shadow streaming service and Shadow Ghost set-top box (an improved version of the Shadow Box we reviewed last year ).
Blade has been expanding the reach of its service--it was previously only available in California for US customers, but is now currently available in most states in the US, the UK, Germany, and France. And I spent several hours using Shadow on a MacBook Air and the Shadow Ghost to see if this setup is a viable solution for those looking for a mid/high-end gaming PC.
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Now Playing: Are We Ready For Cloud Gaming? Is It Ready For Us?
How It Works
Any device that runs Windows 7 / 8.1 / 10, macOS 10.10 or later, Android 7.0 Nougat or later, or iOS 11.0 or later can run the Shadow application and essentially turn into a gaming PC (Ubuntu support is currently in beta). You'll also have to pay $35 USD per month--or $30 per month on a year-long commitment--and use an internet connection that's fast and stable enough. This isn't a Netflix-style service, or a parallel to Xbox Game Pass since you're not subscribing for access to games, you're subscribing to a powerful Windows 10 PC.
In a sense, Shadow functions similarly to any other video streaming service since you're simply getting video feed of a PC you're controlling remotely (located at the closest data center to you). As of now, you can set a Shadow stream bit rate to run between 5 Mbps to 70 Mbps which dictates the visual quality of the stream; just be sure you have the proper bandwidth and are aware of any data limitations you may have. Blade recommends having at least a modest 25 Mbps connection and suggests using wired connections for reliability.
As for the set-top box, the Shadow Ghost is a slimmed-down version of Blade's previous hardware offering, the Shadow Box. Aside from the redesign that includes significantly condensed dimensions, Ghost has its ports in a more sensible configuration--they're all neatly positioned on one side of the device and offers one HDMI out instead of two DisplayPort outs. Otherwise, the box serves the same purpose and goes for $140 USD (subscription not included).
Shadow Ghost--the local hardware that can run the service--has the necessary ports for a fully functional PC. This makes Ghost ideal for living room or home theater setups, and if you're not looking to use another compatible device to control your Shadow PC. Regardless of whether you use the application or the Ghost, Shadow presents you with a home menu to configure settings and access your account. From there, you boot your virtual PC and start getting feed of the Windows 10 desktop.
The Ghost itself features two USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, one HDMI out, one 3.5mm audio jack, and an Ethernet port. It's powered by a 5V DC plug and runs completely silent since there are no fans. As far as wireless capabilities, it features dual-band WiFi for up to 400 Mbps and Bluetooth 4.1 support. A keyboard and mouse are required to at least navigate the Ghost's menus and Windows desktop.
When it comes to actual hardware that runs the games you're streaming, Shadow packs some fairly beefy specs. Blade says that it'll upgrade Shadow's specs free of charge in the future, so you'll be getting a better PC for the same price down the road. But for now, this is the PC you'll be working with:
- OS: Windows 10 Home Edition
- CPU: Intel Xeon E5-2678 v3 @ 2.5GHz
- GPU: Nvidia Quadro P5000
- Memory: 12 GB
- Storage: 256 GB QEMU Drive
- Connection Speed: 805 Mbps down, 106 Mbps up, 1 ms latency
One thing jumps out when taking a quick look at the spec sheet; you only get 256 GB of storage space. In the modern era where the latest games can take up well above 50 GB, your Shadow drive will fill up fast. For example, I was only able to have Anthem , Apex Legends , Assassin's Creed Odyssey , and Metro Exodus installed at once with very little room left. Unfortunately, Blade currently doesn't offer any subscription options that grant you more storage space.
This isn't a Netflix-style service, or a parallel to Xbox Game Pass since you're not subscribing for access to games, you're subscribing to a powerful Windows 10 PC.
If it's any consolation, your virtual PC accesses an internet connection that's rated at 805 Mbps down according to Google's own speed test. This makes games incredibly fast to download; Origin and Uplay were all downloading games at around 130 Mbps. In a way, you're getting access to gigabit internet via Shadow. Remember, you're not using your own connection to download games since you're controlling a PC remotely, but keep in mind that you are using your own bandwidth to stream.
It may sound odd that Shadow's cloud-based PCs use Nvidia Quadro P5000 workstation video cards as opposed to the more common GeForce gaming lineup--the rough equivalent would be a GTX 1080 in this case. And the same can be said about having an Intel Xeon E5 instead of the popular Intel Core i7 CPUs. Regardless, these specs make for a very capable gaming rig, if you're not expecting to run 4K with high settings in the latest games at 60 FPS.
Performance And Experience
In terms of performance metrics, I used the Final Fantasy XV benchmark to get a gauge of how the system's Quadro P5000 video card stacks up against more common cards. At 4K using the High settings preset, the FFXV benchmark gave a score of 3132, which roughly translates to an average of 31 FPS. This puts the Quadro P5000 right next to the GTX 1070 Ti and slightly below a GTX 1080 , which are both formidable mid/high-end cards. For an idea of how it can handle 1080p using max settings in a graphically demanding game, we turned to the Assassin's Creed Odyssey benchmark, in which it got an average of 49 FPS.
One big concern when it comes to cloud-based gaming is latency, but you can largely put that to rest. The moment-to-moment gameplay experience using Shadow Ghost is undoubtedly impressive with little to no perceivable input lag. Games like Anthem, which move fast and pack a ton of action at any given moment, played so well that I soon forgot it was being streamed. This means that other games with forgiving windows for timing and less emphasis on speed, such as Assassin's Creed Odyssey, flow smooth and play nearly indistinguishable from a local PC. The level of performance Shadow delivers considering the asking price is quite impressive, but you probably don't want to rely on it for competitive games that move super-fast and emphasize twitch reactions.
I was able to stay competitive throughout my few hours with Apex Legends using Shadow, but hitches in the streaming feed were a lot more noticeable by nature of the game's speed and style. It rarely tripped me up, but having a stutter during an intense high-stakes firefight is less than ideal, which happens more frequently when using a wireless connection. I connected to a a WiFi network that had a 200 Mbps download speed and 5 ms latency reading, but hitches tended to happen at regular intervals and bogged down my experience in Apex Legends. It's readily apparent in audio; if you listen to a steady, sustained sound effect such as a waterfall in Anthem or simply listen to a song, you'll easily pick up on this issue.
Another concern that some may have about cloud-based gaming is video compression; the loss of image quality from a streamed feed. You can probably pick up on compression when reading text or looking at smaller, more detailed objects in a game world, even at the highest bit rate of 70 Mbps. But loss in video quality largely goes unnoticed when you're in the heat of the moment or entirely focused on what's happening in the game you're playing.
The Ghost itself had a few of its own issues. My Xbox One controller and USB headset would only be recognized when plugged into the two USB 3.0 ports. The 3.5mm audio jack was inconsistent in sending audio and would occasionally deliver no sound. A restart of the Ghost itself would often resolve the problem, but it's certainly frustrating. I also experienced hard crashes on two separate occasions that had the Ghost revert to a command prompt screen that stated "Error: No calibratable device found." It was solved by unplugged the power source before starting it up again, but another inconvenience nonetheless.
If anything, Shadow showcases where gaming can go and where gaming hardware could fit into that future and makes that readily available in a competent form.
Using Shadow to turn my modest MacBook Air from 2015 into a decent rig by today's standards is more than just a novelty--it's a convenient, adequate way to play games in the presence of any viable internet connection. For the most part, the compact Shadow Ghost box proved to be a practical way to use the service in the absence of a device that can conveniently hook up to TVs and monitors. And regardless of however you use Shadow, you're putting very little stress on your local hardware and consuming relatively less power since, again, you're only streaming.
Blade further proves that cloud-based gaming is a viable option for the near future with its Shadow service. It's already impressive in many cases, especially when it comes to nearly imperceptible input lag and limited video compression on high-speed internet connections. When it comes to the Shadow Ghost set-top box, it decently fills the void for those who have no other means of running the service via Ethernet or conveniently for bigger screens.
It's not without its faults, however. Minor technical hiccups are bound to show up with the Ghost, but the lack of storage space and noticeable hitches in fast-moving games on a wireless connection prevent Shadow from being the best option for PC gaming. Shadow may be the right solution for the right person, though. For those who don't have much interest in playing competitive games dependent on quick reactions and don't concern themselves with pixel-perfect fidelity, it would suffice.
The most cost-effective way to get into Shadow is through a year-long subscription of $30 a month ($360 a year) when using a device with the application. Adding the Ghost to that puts it up to $500 for the initial year. You dictate (and own) what you play instead of being limited to what a service would offer, and that means having to buy games yourself. But as these technologies grow in capability and availability, how important it is to maintain an up-to-date PC at home is something you'll have to consider. If anything, Shadow showcases where gaming can go and where gaming hardware could fit into that future and makes that readily available in a competent form.
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The Shadow Ghost turns cloud gaming into a seamless experience
French startup Blade, the company behind Shadow , is launching a new set-top box to access its cloud gaming service — the Shadow Ghost. I’ve been playing with the device for a couple of weeks and here’s my review.
The Shadow Ghost is a tiny little box that doesn’t do much. The true magic happens in a data center near your home. When you sign up to Shadow, you don’t even have to get a box. You can simply subscribe to the service without any hardware device and use the company’s apps instead.
Shadow is a cloud computing service for gamers. For $35 per month, you can access a gaming PC in a data center and interact with this computer. Right now, Shadow gives you eight threads on an Intel Xeon 2620 processor, an Nvidia Quadro P5000 GPU that performs more or less as well as an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080, 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. You can optionally get more storage with an extra subscription. It’s a full Windows 10 instance and you can do whatever you want with it.
Most subscribers now access Shadow using one of the company’s apps on Windows, macOS or Linux. You also can connect to your virtual machine from your iOS or Android phone or tablet. And now, you can buy the Shadow Ghost if you want to use the service on a TV or without a computer.
I first used Shadow during the early days of the service back in early 2017. My first experience of the service felt like magic. Thanks to my high-speed fiber connection, I could play demanding games on a laptop. The best part was that the laptop fan would remain silent.
But it wasn’t perfect. Nvidia driver updates failed sometimes. Or your virtual machine would become completely unaccessible without some help from the customer support team.
In other words, the concept was great, but the service wasn’t there yet.
Things have changed quite drastically after years of iteration on the apps, the streaming engine, the infrastructure and even the GPUs in the data centers. Blade co-founder and CEO Emmanuel Freund told me that the service has been working fine for just a few months.
It’s no surprise that those technical improvements have led to less churn, more referrals and more subscriptions. In July 2018, the startup had 20,000 subscribers. Now there are 65,000 subscribers. There’s even more demand, but the company has had a hard time keeping up with new machines in data centers.
Shadow is currently available in France, the U.K., Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland and parts of the U.S. The company simply can’t accept customers from anywhere in the world because they need to live near a data center with Shadow servers.
Playing with the Shadow Ghost
The original Shadow box was a bit clunky. You could hear the fan, you had to rely on dongles if you wanted to pair a Bluetooth device or connect to a Wi-Fi network and there was no HDMI port — only DisplayPort. Internally, Blade has been debating whether the company needs another box.
In 2017, it was too hard to explain the product without some sort of physical device — you can replace a PC tower with a tiny box. But now that gamers understand the benefits of cloud gaming, there’s no reason to force you to buy a box.
And yet, the Shadow Ghost can be a useful little device in some cases. For instance, while the company has released an Android TV app and is testing a new app for the Apple TV, your current TV setup might not be compatible with Shadow. Or maybe you primarily use a laptop and you want to create a desktop PC setup with a display, a keyboard, a mouse and a Shadow Ghost.
Everything has been improved. It is now a fanless device that consumes less than 5W when it’s on. It has an Ethernet port, two USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, an audio jack and a single HDMI port. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi have finally been integrated in the device.
When you boot up the device, you get a menu to connect to a Wi-Fi network or control your Bluetooth devices. You also can change some streaming settings, like in the app launcher.
Once you press the start button, the video stream starts and it feels like you’re using a Windows computer. With Steam’s Big Picture mode, you get a convenient setup for couch gaming. I had no issue playing demanding games, such as Hitman 2. It works perfectly fine with a Wi-Fi connection and a Bluetooth controller.
Using the Shadow Ghost feels just like using the Shadow app on a computer. So it’s hard to say whether you need the Shadow Ghost or not. It depends on your setup at home and how you plan to use the service.
Last summer, Blade planned to manufacture 5,000 units. But now that the user base has grown significantly, that first batch could disappear in no time. It is available starting today for $140.
A gold rush
Cloud gaming is a hot space right now. While some companies have been experimenting with this concept for a while (Nvidia, Sony), it feels like everyone is working on a new service of some sort. Maybe the next Xbox is going to be about streaming a game from a data center. Maybe Amazon will offer a game library in the cloud as part of your Amazon Prime subscription.
Emmanuel Freund believes that it could be an opportunity for Shadow. Everybody is going to talk about cloud gaming if Apple and Google announce new services. But the startup has years of experiences in the space and has tried hard to compensate when it comes to latency and internet speeds.
It’s going to be harder to compete on content though. Game publishers and console manufacturers could start releasing exclusive titles on their cloud gaming services. That’s why Blade is thinking about new gaming experiences and exclusive content that would make Shadow more than a technical service.
(Controller for scale)