Tech firms have been trying to crack cloud-based computer gaming for well over a decade, but a device has yet to launch that lives up to the demands of gamers, particularly those in the esport community.
Take OnLive, for instance, a cloud-based gaming service that allowed players to stream some of the latest titles to a small wireless console for a monthly subscription. The system seemed revolutionary when it launched in 2010 but a report from The Verge claims that the service was “ahead of its time”. Mismanagement meant that OnLive shut its doors in 2012.
Turn the clocks forward six years and we have a new offering in the cloud-based gaming market, this time from the French tech firm Blade.
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The company’s latest device, a small computer system called the Shadow, underwent trials in France last year. In January, Blade demonstrated the Shadow at the Las Vegas-based Consumer Electronics Show (CES), before launching the product across Europe and a number of US states.
The service gives subscribers access to a high-end gaming PC, which the company says would cost between £1,500 to £2,000 if you wanted to buy one outright. This is accessed through the internet. Users then install their own games onto the cloud-based computer and play them as if the hardware was plugged straight into their monitor.
The only physical device you can buy is the compact Shadow box as the hardware is streamed over your internet connection.
We’ve been trialling the Shadow service over the past few weeks to determine whether it’s time cloud-based gaming was taken seriously.
Once we’d plugged the Shadow box into our monitor and created an account (a short and simple process), we were able to quickly install and play games from our own library. The Shadow system uses the latest version of Microsoft Windows. This means you can install games from various services such as the Steam store, Microsoft store or from a download key.
Each game is incredibly quick to install as the Shadow service provides you with a virtual gigabit (1000 megabits per second) internet connection. To put that into perspective, Wired says the average internet connection in the UK is just 16.5 megabits per second.
You’ll need a relatively stable internet connection in order to stream the games, otherwise you may experience a delay between your inputs and what happens on screen.
We found our Shadow box performed well on most games, including Rise of the Tomb Raider, even though our internet connection was relatively unstable. That’s partly because the box requires a wired ethernet cable to connect to the web, which provides more reliable access to the internet than a wireless connection.
This may disappoint users whose internet router is in a different room to their monitor, but the Shadow box comes with four USB ports so you can attach a wireless dongle.
While the box is the most reliable way of accessing the cloud-based gaming service, you can also stream your games to your portable devices through the Shadow app. This allows you to play your PC games on the move from your smartphone, tablet or laptop, while maintaining the same graphical output as the Shadow box.
In our tests, we found the portable app was a mixed bag. The convenience the app provides is only matched by the popular Nintendo Switch console, but we found the service had more glitches on portable devices compared to the dedicated Shadow box.
This is probably due to the Shadow box having a wired internet connection. Portable devices can only connect to the internet through Wi-Fi, which is noticeably less stable.
There’s no doubt that Blade’s Shadow is by far the best cloud-streaming games service so far. That’s partly down to the stability of the Shadow box itself, as well as the versatility offered by the app for portable devices.
Although a few glitches need to be ironed out, Blade says it will continue to update the service in order to improve stability on weaker internet connections and on the portable app.
If the changes come through swiftly, cloud-based gaming could finally be a viable option for avid video game players.
You can sign up to the Shadow service for £26.95 per month for a one-year subscription, while a three-month subscription costs £32.95 per month. There’s also a rolling monthly subscription of £39.95.
The Shadow box itself can be had for £109.95 or £7.95 per month.
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