Cloud game streaming could be the next big thing in the video game industry. Large tech companies believe that consumers are ready to ditch gaming PCs that need to be constantly updated and perhaps even dedicated game consoles. The appeal of game streaming is understandable, as it allows you to scale up as games get more demanding without purchasing new hardware.
It’s too early to tell if game streaming really will change the face of the industry, but we’ll probably find out when Google Stadia and Microsoft’s Project xCloud arrive later this year. In the meantime, two streaming services are already out in front of the competition: Nvidia GeForce Now and Blade’s Shadow. So the question is: Which service wins in the Nvidia GeForce Now vs. Shadow battle?
We examined their strengths and weaknesses across a number of categories. While it’s probably wise to wait for other competitors to come to market before you jump aboard the game streaming train, GeForce Now and Shadow figure to be major players in this burgeoning race.
Platform support is a key factor in deciding which streaming service to go with. GeForce Now and Shadow each have multiple options, but they aren’t the same.
For GeForce Now, you can stream using a PC, Mac, or Nvidia Shield device. PC users need to be running a 64-bit version of Windows 7 or better, have a dual-core x86 CPU with 2.0GHz or better, 4GB of RAM, and DirectX9 or better. You also need a graphics card, but Intel HD Graphics 2000 or better works. It also works with GeForce (600 series and up) and AMD graphics cards (Radeon HD 3000 and up).
GeForce Now on Mac requires macOS 10.10, but otherwise, it works with most Apple computers released since 2008. If you’ve bought a computer within the last decade — Mac or PC — there’s a good chance you meet the required specs. If your wireless router doesn’t have a 5GHz, you’ll need an ethernet adapter for Macbooks without a dedicated port (such as Macbook Airs).
Shadow wins the platform battle, as it lets you stream on PC, Mac, Android, iOS, and Ubuntu. Shadow’s listed requirements are essentially all operating system-related, as you need to have relatively recent software updates to access the application. If your device can be updated to the required software version, you can most likely use Shadow.
- PC: Windows 7/8.1/10 64-bit
- Mac: macOS 10.10 or later
- Android: 7.0 Nougat or later
- iPhone/iPad: iOS 11.0 or later
- Ubuntu 18.04
Shadow also has an optional piece of hardware, the Shadow Ghost, that lets you stream on your TV. Shadow Ghost costs $150 and comes equipped with: two USB ports, an Ethernet jack, an HDMI port, 3.5mm audio jack, Wi-Fi access and Bluetooth 4.1.
Another important component in deciding which streaming service to use is control methods. Shadow and GeForce Now, like most prospective streaming services, each have numerous options.
When playing on PC and Mac with either service, you can use Xbox One, PS4, and wired USB controllers. Basically, any controller you can get to work with your computer, will work here. You can also use mouse and keyboard if you’d like. With Android and iOS on Shadow, you can use controllers that are compatible with your devices.
Next up is the quality of the stream. This is almost undoubtedly the most important aspect to consider. Streaming services will live and die on stream quality. No one will want to pay for streaming services that regularly underperform or offer subpar experiences across the board.
As both Shadow and GeForce Now are available now in differing capacities, we already know how they fare. Each is well-regarded in terms of latency and input lag. Both streaming services do the heavy lifting at data centers, allowing you to play at high settings without owning a high-end PC. But the upper threshold of qualities picture qualities differs between the two services.
Shadow tops out at 4K and 60 frames per second and 60Hz. Running in 1080p, you can get 60fps and a 144Hz refresh rate. Shadow has been optimized to run games at these benchmarks with a home internet connection speed of 15 Mbps.
GeForce Now tops out at 1080p and 60 frames per second, but you have to have at least a 25 Mbps connection and be using a 5GHz wireless router or ethernet connection. If you only get 15 Mbps at home, you’re capped at 720p and 60 frames per second. While GeForce Now isn’t as impressive sounding as Shadow, it does have an Ultra Streaming mode for some games that doubles the frames per second to 120.
It’s important to note that Shadow has officially been released, whereas GeForce Now is still in beta. GeForce Now’s stream quality could go up by the time it fully launches to the public. For instance, Nvidia announced earlier this year that it is developing 4K rendering for wireless VR and AR streaming through the platform. Additionally, Nvidia is working with HTC to let users eventually stream with 5G.
Since modern cloud streaming is still in its infancy, neither of these services are perfect. A quick Google search for each service brings up praises from some users and complaints from others. Your experience could very well vary widely, with regards to framerate and overall performance.
GeForce Now and Shadow handle game libraries in a similar fashion. That is, they aren’t services for buying games. To stream games through both services, you first need to buy them from digital storefronts.
GeForce Now has a library of more than 500 supported games from Steam, Uplay, and Blizzard’s Battle.net. More games are added each week. A full list of supported games can be found here. Some of the highlights include recent AAA hits such as Metro Exodus and Rage 2, and sprawling open world titles like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
Shadow works a bit differently. You still have to own the games, but the library isn’t restricted to a set list of games. With Shadow, you gain access to a high-powered Windows 10 computer. In fact, when you first start it up, you set up Windows as usual. Then
Nvidia GeForce Now is bare bones in terms of features. At least in beta form. Booting up the app on PC or Mac will automatically perform a sweep of your library to see if you have games that can be added to GeForce Now to play. You can browse GeForce Now’s library of games and click to purchase from the trio of supported storefronts. Mac gamers benefit the most from GeForce Now, as you do not have to run Bootcamp or Parallels to run Windows games. GeForce Now imposes four-hour limits to each session in beta, but you can simply start a new session when your current one ends.
Shadow’s feature set is probably the most unique and customizable of all streaming services both available today and on the horizon. That’s because it’s more of a cloud computing service with a gaming bent than a strict game streaming service. As mentioned, you gain access to a high-end Windows 10 virtual machine, which means you can choose which apps to install (including non-gaming apps, if you want).
The downside of gaining access to a Virtual Machine is that you have to actually download the games, and you only get 256GB of storage. This won’t hold many AAA games at once. However, Shadow’s virtual machine gets blazing fast 1GB/s download speeds, so deleting and downloading new games won’t take long at all. Shadow has apps for each platform that are used to access the cloud computing service.
Pricing and availability
Nvidia GeForce Now is currently in beta, with no release date announced. The beta program is free, though the waitlist to join reportedly includes one million people already. Nvidia hasn’t discussed the payment model in over a year, but Nvidia previously said it would charge $25 per 20 hours of streaming time. That could get pricey quick if you use the service a lot. Or it could wind up being a decent deal. It all depends on your gaming habits.
Shadow has two payment models. If you sign up for an annual plan, your monthly cost is $25/month ($300/year). If you go month-to-month, that rate balloons to $35/month ($420/year). Before you lock into a plan, you can try Shadow for ten days for $10. Shadow is currently available in 38 states across the country and will eventually be available nationwide.