Shadow Cloud Gaming: What You Need to Know

What if you could enjoy PC gaming without having to actually own a powerful desktop? That's the concept behind Shadow, a new cloud service that lets you play high-end PC games from smartphones, tablets, low-end laptops or just about any other gadget that can access the internet.

Credit: Shadow

(Image credit: Shadow)

But can Shadow truly replace the gaming PC? Here's everything you need to know.

What is Shadow?

Shadow is a subscription service that lets you access a fully-functioning gaming PC from the cloud. That means you can, say, play some Fortnite: Battle Royale on your smartphone, or explore Assassin's Creed Origins on a busted old laptop, all at a quality that's comparable to a high-end gaming desktop.

When is Shadow available, and how much does it cost?

Shadow is currently available to customers in California, and is expected to roll out to the rest of the U.S. by summer 2018. The service costs $49.95 for a single month, $39.95 per month for a three-month subscription and $34.95 per month for a 12-month subscription.

What are Shadow's specs?

Your Shadow subscription gives you access to a high-end cloud PC designed to deliver 1080p gameplay at 144Hz or 4K gameplay at 60Hz. Here are the official specs, according to Shadow's website:

  • Processor: Intel Xeon with 8 dedicated threads
  • Graphics: Nvidia GPU (equivalent to Nvidia GTX 1080)
  • Memory: 12GB DDR4
  • Storage: 256GB
  • Internet Connection: 1GB/s

What do I need to use Shadow?

Shadow is designed to work with any device that can run Windows, MacOS or Android (an iOS version of the app is in the pipeline).

The Shadow Box. Credit: Shadow

(Image credit: The Shadow Box. Credit: Shadow)

If you prefer to have a dedicated machine for running the service, Shadow will also be selling a "Shadow box." This compact set-top box features two USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, headphone and mic jacks, an Ethernet port and two DisplayPorts, giving you most of the connection options you'd find on a full-on PC. The Shadow box doesn't have a set release date yet, but will cost $139 to own or $10 per month to rent.

How well does Shadow work?

In our hands-on time with Shadow at CES 2018, we found that games such as The Witcher 3 and Star Wars Battlefront II ran pretty faithfully. However, there were just enough screen tears and moments of input lag to remind us that we were streaming a game from the cloud.

Credit: Tom's Guide

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Other reviewers from CNET and The Verge had similarly mixed results, reporting mostly solid response times but enough bugs and stutters to remain skeptical. CNET's Sean Hollister also noted that you currently need a Shadow box if you want to use the service while chatting with friends.

Is Shadow worth it?

Based on early reports, it seems like Shadow has plenty of kinks to work out before it becomes the de-facto Netflix of PC gaming. And unlike subscription services such as Nvidia's GeForce Now, Shadow requires you to buy and install your own games.

Still, paying a $35 monthly fee could prove to be pretty compelling alternative to plunking down upwards $2,000 on a fancy gaming rig, particularly if you're someone who likes to game on the go. We look forward to putting Shadow through its paces for a full review once it rolls out widely later this year.


Michael Andronico

Mike Andronico is Senior Writer at CNNUnderscored. He was formerly Managing Editor at Tom's Guide, where he wrote extensively on gaming, as well as running the show on the news front. When not at work, you can usually catch him playing Street Fighter, devouring Twitch streams and trying to convince people that Hawkeye is the best Avenger.