Hardware Review: Shadow Ghost
This tiny glowing device could be your next gaming PC. At least, that’s what the folks behind Shadow, the cloud gaming service by Blade are hoping. The Shadow Ghost is a completely revamped hardware box, capable of working with a regular set of peripherals and monitor to pump out a high-quality gaming experience. And surprisingly, for the most part, it’s like a little slice of witchcraft.
As you’d expect, the Ghost requires a Shadow service subscription to hook into. It also requires a hefty broadband connection - anything from 10mbps at the low end to 70mbps for crispy visuals. We’ve reviewed the service previously and found it to be incredibly responsive.
But there’s a bigger question: with Shadow clients already available for laptops, smartphones and tablets, what niche does the Shadow Ghost fill? Aside from replacing a gaming rig entirely, this passively-cooled puck could work in the den or living room, and a smart choice in box contents might make it suitable for gaming on the road.
- Shadow Ghost unit
- 100-240V power supply unit (including adaptors for a range of socket types)
- HDMI cable
- Instruction manual
- HDMI 2.0 (4K UHD 60Hz, 1080p 144Hz)
- WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac dual band
- Bluetooth 4.1
- Gigabit Ethernet
- 2x USB 3.0
- 2x USB 2.0
- 3.5mm / 1/8” headphones jack
- Passive (fanless) cooling
- Dimensions: 182mm x 123mm x 50mm / 7.2” x 4.8” x 2”
- Weight: 190g / 6.7oz
- Price: £109.95 / $119.95 (requires Shadow service subscription)
As a unit, the Shadow Ghost is a compact minicomputer that’s incredibly low power, requiring just 5 watts to run. It means that the whole thing is passively cooled and only gets slightly warm, even after extended use. You’d hardly know it’s working apart from the red LED underneath (alas, no RGB).
The entire shell is made from a matte-finish plastic that can be a bit of a fingerprint magnet, but the geodesic underbody and swooping lid have more in common with a sports stadium than cloud gaming. Round the back, Ghost’s port selection is much like you’d find on any games console. And yes, that means bulky USB devices are going to be a pain.
We tested the Shadow Ghost in a number of configurations using a range of monitors, accessories and networks, so that we could get an idea of how the device would perform in typical MMO gaming conditions. We also used an Xbox One controller paired via Bluetooth to use with games that supported it.
On the games side, we tested with Elder Scrolls Online, Guild Wars 2, and Final Fantasy XIV. These are all games that we’ve used on Shadow previously without issue, and so weren’t expecting any compatibility issues.
Setup was simple and straightforward. The first time we powered it on, the Shadow Ghost asked for our WiFi credentials, downloaded a firmware update, and launched into the familiar Shadow interface. Once updated, we were able to log in with our standard Shadow credentials and connect to that remote gaming machine.
Within minutes, the familiar Shadow windows desktop was displayed and we were ready to game. Both keyboard and mouse worked with no noticeable latency when hooked up over USB, and audio over HDMI worked without issue. We were also able to plug a pair of headphones into the 3.5mm jack for audio. Resolution and refresh rates weren’t an issue - the Ghost handled it all.
And it all actually works. If it wasn’t for the oceans of desk space I now found myself enjoying, it was possible to forget that I was no longer using a local PC. Instead, everything I saw was being piped at high speed from a box somewhere in Paris. I was still using the same mechanical keyboard and same MMO mouse; all that had changed was the hardware box.
Ghost in the Shell
Even so, our testing did throw up a couple of issues. The main one was wifi-related; streaming 4K UHD continually with minimal buffering requires a stable connection. If the Ghost was located in a separate room to the WiFi router, the stream would occasionally drop in quality or audio would briefly drop. An easy fix was to use a wifi bridge to provide the Ghost with a wired connection, which is worth bearing in mind if you live in a dense urban area crowded with wireless networks. It’s also likely that mesh networks will also provide better coverage.
We also had intermittent problems using a USB headset with the Shadow Ghost, and the device would sometimes not be detected in Windows. The same problem occurred when using USB speakers, which is why we fell back on using HDMI audio and the 3.5mm jack.
There’s also room for improvement on the user interface. Every time we reconnected to the Shadow service we also had to enter our credentials, instead of being able to store a token for future use. It also wasn’t possible to navigate the menu system using a paired controller, meaning that a keyboard and mouse always needed to be within reach.
But then again, the Ghost is experiencing rapid development. Shadow offers two firmware versions, including a beta track that might offer bug fixes and new features at the risk of instability. Being able to select, download and instal this directly from the interface is a huge bonus.
Weighing the same as a smartphone and about as big as the average paperback book, it’s surprising to think that the Shadow Ghost can act as a gateway to a fully specced gaming PC. Despite some early issues, this device is likely to be ideal for those looking to take PC gaming into the living room, or who want to use their favourite peripherals without having a bulky desktop eating up space. And, due to its size and flexible power adaptor, it could end up sneaking into luggage as a hotel gaming option.
There are some limitations, with multi-monitor support being the big one (Shadow has a plan for that too). But, at £110 / $120, the Ghost is cheaper than the cheapest Windows 10 laptop, plugs into a 4K TV and plays PC games at high settings. The Shadow service subscription comes in at £26.95 / $34.95 a month for 12 months.
Is it time to wave goodbye to the gaming PC completely? That’s a little less certain, especially for hardware aficionados that enjoy building high-spec rigs, or for those who struggle to get a decent internet connection. But for those of us who just want to game and already have a strong pipe to the web, the Shadow Ghost has to be a solid contender.