The French start-up Blade, the company behind Shadow, launches a new decoder to access its cloud game service – Shadow Ghost. I play with this device for a few weeks and here is my comment.
Shadow Ghost is a tiny box that does not do much. The real magic is happening in a data center near you. When you sign up for Shadow, you do not even need to get a box. You can simply subscribe to the service without a hardware device and use the business applications instead.
Shadow is a cloud computing service for gamers. For $ 35 a month, you can access a gaming computer in a data center and interact with that computer. For now, Shadow offers 8 threads on an Intel Xeon 2620 processor, a more or less powerful Nvidia Quadro P5000 GPU and a Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 processor, 12 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage. You can possibly get more storage with an additional subscription. It's a full instance of Windows 10 and you can do whatever you want with it.
Most subscribers now access Shadow using one of the company's applications running Windows, MacOS or Linux. You can also connect to your virtual machine from your iOS or Android phone or tablet. And now, you can also buy the Shadow Ghost if you want to use the service on a TV or without a computer.
I used Shadow for the first time at the beginning of the service, in early 2017. My first experience with this service even seemed magical. Thanks to my high-speed fiber optic connection, I could play demanding games on a laptop. The best part was that the laptop fan would remain silent.
But it was not perfect. Nvidia driver updates sometimes failed. Otherwise, your virtual machine would become completely inaccessible without the help of the customer support team.
In other words, the concept was great but the service was not there yet.
Things have changed dramatically after years of iterations on applications, streaming engine, infrastructure and even GPUs in data centers. Blade co-founder and CEO Emmanuel Freund said the service has been working properly for only a few months.
Not surprisingly, these technical improvements resulted in fewer unsubscribes, more referrals and more subscriptions. In July 2018, the start-up had 20,000 subscribers. Now there are 65,000 subscribers. Demand is even stronger, but the company is struggling to keep pace with the new machines in data centers.
Shadow is currently available in France, the United States, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland and parts of the country. The company simply can not accept customers from around the world because they have to live near a data center with Shadow servers.
Play with the ghost of the shadow
The original Shadow box was a little awkward. You could hear the fan, you had to rely on the dongles to pair a Bluetooth device or connect to a Wi-Fi network and there was no HDMI port – only DisplayPort. Internally, Blade asked if the company needed another box.
In 2017, it was too difficult to explain the product without some kind of physical device – you can replace a PC tower with a small box. But now that players understand the benefits of cloud gaming, there is no reason to force you to buy a box.
And yet, the shadow ghost can be a useful little device in some cases. For example, although the company has released an Android TV application and is testing a new application for Apple TV, the current configuration of your TV may not be compatible with Shadow. Or maybe you mainly use a laptop and would you like to create a desktop with a screen, a keyboard, a mouse and a ghost ghost?
Everything has been improved. It is now a fanless device that consumes less than 5 watts when it is turned 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 were finally integrated into the device.
When you start the device, you get a menu to connect to a Wi-Fi network or control your Bluetooth devices. You can also change some broadcast settings, such as in the Launcher.
When you press the start button, the video stream starts and you get the impression that you are using a Windows computer. Steam's Big Picture mode offers a convenient configuration for couch games. I had no problem playing demanding games, such as Hitman 2. It works perfectly with a Wi-Fi connection and a Bluetooth controller.
Using Shadow Ghost, it's like using the Shadow app on a computer. It is therefore difficult to say whether you need the ghost ghost or not. It depends on your home configuration and how you plan to use the service.
Last summer, Blade had planned to manufacture 5,000 units. But now that the user base has increased significantly, this first batch could disappear in no time. It is available from today for $ 140.
A rush to gold
Cloud gaming is a hot space right now. While some companies have been experimenting with this concept for some time (Nvidia, Sony), it seems that everyone is working on a new service of some kind. Maybe the next Xbox will be on streaming a game from a data center. Maybe Amazon will offer a cloud game library as part of your Amazon Prime subscription.
Emmanuel Freund thinks this could be an opportunity for Shadow. Everyone will talk about cloud games if Apple and Google announce new services. But the startup has years of experience in the field and has striven to compensate for the latency and speed of the internet.
However, it will be more difficult to compete on the content. Game publishers and console manufacturers could start publishing exclusive titles on their cloud-based services. That's why Blade thinks of new gaming experiences and exclusive content that would make Shadow more than a technical service.