Cloud gaming services offer a theoretically attractive value proposition. Instead of paying a significant amount of money for a local PC, why not pay less money (amounts vary depending on the service) and theoretically stream titles you want to play to a smaller living room box or via an app or service?
We’ve seen a number of takes on this concept from various companies. The Blade Shadow Ghost game-streaming box is a follow-up to the Blade Shadow gaming service. This $ 140 box connects you to a cloud PC, where you have access to eight threads. The exact CPU in use is not clear; Techcrunch reports a Xeon E5-2620, which is a Sandy Bridge CPU. A reddit thread posted by the company lists the clock speeds on their parts, implying that this is actually a Xeon E5-2620v2 (Ivy Bridge) and that the company is testing either an E5-2667v3 or v4 based on its clock speed statements.
The GPU in question is a Quadro P5000. It’s not clear why Shadow is using Quadro rather than GeForce, but it may have something to do with Nvidia’s ToS changes last year that prohibited the use of GeForce cards in data centers, including VM instances. Unlike in other services, which merely stream the games, you have access to a full PC installation via Shadow Ghost, with a Windows 10 desktop and a Steam installation to work with. Available storage is only 256GB, which is extremely low in 2019. With some of that space taken up by Windows, you could be looking at a 2-3 game maximum depending on what you play.
Your Mileage Will Vary
Reviews of the product are notably varied, and that’s a significant problem for a product like this. Because everyone’s connection to the internet is different (as is latency to the nearest set of servers), the biggest single question for a cloud gaming service is whether it can provide consistent performance. Everything else, even visual fidelity, takes a back seat to this question. If the game doesn’t maintain a playable frame rate that lets you respond to what’s happening on-screen, nothing else is going to solve the problem. And Shadow Ghost, based on the various reviews we’ve seen, doesn’t hit the mark in a noticeably better manner than its competitors.
Cnet, for example, claims that Shadow Ghost turns your TV into a “snappy cloud-gaming PC.” It claims that 1440p is rock solid and 4K works well depending on the game. Engadget reports problems in both 4K and 1440p, even when playing in wired Ethernet mode on a PC using just Shadow’s client software. Hitman 2 and The Witcher 3 both had significant problems, according to Engadget.
IGN split the difference between these two as far as playability at 1080p and 4K, but writes:
Playing over Wi-Fi, things get even murkier. While the Ghost has a solid Wi-Fi chip inside its tiny body, that doesn’t guarantee you a playable experience. Connecting to my own home Wi-Fi actually worked reasonably well, while streaming games at my father-in-law’s house—which boasted the same 100 megabit internet connection—was straight up unplayable, even standing right next to the router. Remember, even if a speed test tells you you’re getting fast internet, Wi-Fi is full of latency and other hiccups that can hamper your streaming experience, and some networks will be more reliable than others. So the whole “pick up and play anywhere” idea kind of falls flat on its face unless you can wire up directly via Ethernet.
The question of whether its worth $ 35/month for such intrinsically variable performance is its own issue. That’s a high fee to pay for what amounts to an unstable cloud service with unknown performance, and while the underlying hardware provided isn’t bad, multiple reviews mention latency spikes and various hiccups while using the service. If the point of cloud gaming is to provide an indistinguishable-from-desktop experience, Blade doesn’t seem to have delivered it here. You can cancel your $ 35 monthly service at any time and pick it back up when you want, which does at least make the system more flexible, but I’m not convinced there’s much value to be gained here until the network experience is fundamentally more stable than it currently is.
Ultimately, the biggest problem with the Shadow Ghost is that you can’t know if it’ll work well until you buy it and try one. There’s definitely a niche for these kinds of products, but the inability to know whether you fit into it in advance is a reason to be cautious of the product.