Author(s): Raghu Gopal
Last month, French start-up Blade announced that its Shadow game streaming service will launch in California, thus making its debut in the US. The company has been operating in France since July 2016, where it opened its first data centre. In January 2018, its Shadow service was introduced in the UK, and is also available in Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland. For a flat monthly fee, customers can rent a gaming PC in a data centre nearby.
Founded in 2015, Blade is the latest company trying to make the vision of cloud-based gaming PCs a reality. The concept is certainly enticing: its Shadow app essentially allows any mobile device or computer to run full PC games, be that a Samsung Galaxy phone or an old MacBook Air laptop. Blade is pitching its platform as a way to turn any gadget with a screen and an Internet connection into a speedy gaming rig that can run demanding PC games and fit in a user's pocket.
The Shadow app works by outsourcing all the heavy lifting to Blade's hardware in its data centres, which offers users the experience of playing on a Windows 10 PC with an Nvidia graphics card and an Intel Core i7 processor with 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. Thanks to Nvidia's technology, the app can run graphics in 1080 pixels at 144 Hz or 4K resolution at 60 Hz. The service is available for Windows, macOS and Android devices as well as smart TVs powered by Android TV.
Blade's Shadow isn't the first attempt at building a streaming gaming service. Sony offers its PlayStation Now service for $19.99 a month, letting users stream more than 500 games for PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 on compatible hardware, which now only includes the PlayStation 4 and PCs, after the company discontinued support for older consoles and smart TVs in 2017. To build its presence in the games market, Sony bought two start-ups, Gakai and OnLive, and absorbed their technology and talent into its own streaming division.
Based on our experience with the OnLive streaming service, we believe that the idea of cloud-based gaming will remain a dream for at least the next three years. The reality is that many popular fighting, racing and action games require millisecond-precise input to deliver a competitive gaming experience. This problem becomes most apparent when trying to play games online through this type of service. Even with an excellent Internet connection, latency has a big effect on the gameplay.
Blade has conducted blind tests, comparing the performance of its streaming service with local gaming PCs. It claims that the image quality and latency are indistinguishable between the two. The company says it's able to achieve this performance thanks to its proprietary machine-learning software, which constantly monitors network quality at the cloud distribution centre.
As we haven't tried Blade's game streaming service, we reserve judgment about what impact it will have. Nevertheless, this appears to be a positive development, as the technology inches closer to making this business model more feasible in the near future.
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