Genki ShadowCast review: a clever but limited capture card

Genki’s ShadowCast is a dongle-sized video capture card that can give some gamers and streamers everything they need. At $45, it’s a relatively low price for a clutter-free device that can bring console games to your PC. However, there are some limitations. The video quality is poor and there is a significant delay when trying to play with the stream. This compromise is not surprising given that the ShadowCast’s price is part of the price of a more capable product like Elgato’s HD60 S+.

If you’re willing to roll the dice for quality control, you can actually go for a little less than the Genki’s $45. Last year we dealt with inexpensive (usually $10-30) unbranded HDMI capture cards that are very similar to this one, perhaps with a more convenient port arrangement. Unlike the ShadowCast, which plugs into an HDMI port and has a USB-C input port on the other end, a cheaper alternative has an HDMI input and USB output, so just plug in the HDMI cable you already own. But Genki nods in terms of build quality and accompanying software. We’ll get to the second half below.

You can easily launch and run ShadowCast on your PC or macOS. It works with any device that has an HDMI output port, so it works for PS5, Xbox Series X, Nintendo Switch, and some older consoles. This also includes DSLR or mirrorless cameras that can be used as high-end webcams. On the other side of the ShadowCast is a USB-C port, so you can connect it to a PC using the included 6-foot USB-C-to-C 2.0 cable or its own C-to-A cable. It also works seamlessly with streaming applications like OBS Studio. When using ShadowCast as your camera interface, it works with Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, and other popular video conferencing apps. If your camera does not have a full-size HDMI port, you may need a dongle. A micro or mini HDMI dongle should do the job.

When I connected the ShadowCast to my Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II camera and used it as a webcam, it worked so well that the lag issues were negligible. In this case, I lowered the camera’s output resolution to 720p so I could only get the image over HDMI. It may be an issue with my camera and not with ShadowCast, so your camera can output at a higher resolution without any issues.

The difference between 720p (left) and 1080p (right) is visually noticeable, but I prefer the lower resolution 60fps fidelity.

ShadowCast’s specs are competitive for a capture solution under $50, and the flaws are generally similar. Supports input resolutions up to 1080p at 30 frames per second or 720p images at faster 60 frames per second. Both mods offer different levels of roughness, so this device is not for PS5 games or for those who want to show all the fine visual details in pixel-perfect representation in every game. Fidelity aside, I found the colors in some of the sample images and footage to be less vivid and less contrast than when I had the console connected directly to a monitor. None of the flaws are so surprising given the price.

Image quality slider comparison of left 720p model and right 1080p model.

In-game lag is another issue. The lag in the incoming video feed can be detected to the point where it breaks the game, depending on your preferences. Lag is only an issue if you play strictly through the incoming feed from ShadowCast. Most streamers who want to simultaneously play and stream on the console avoid latency by using an HDMI splitter and instead playing the game on a screen connected directly to the console. I used the ShadowCast with different cables and the USB-C and USB-A ports on two different computers, but the lag issues were the same no matter what.

ShadowCast is a viable but limited option for streamers compared to the more expensive options. However, it is more user-friendly than other competitors by simply recording yourself talking about gameplay and uploading a video to your channel later. Genki makes it easy with its free arcade app for macOS and Windows 10 machines. More impressively, it also works with Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge. When the console is connected, you can record and chat through the microphone as you play, and the recording captures both game audio and voice. You can also take snapshots, which is convenient when creating a guide for guiding the game.

Snapshots taken from the browser version of Genki Arcade show the full suite of tools including voice recording, screenshots and video recording.

Snapshots taken from the browser version of Genki Arcade show the full suite of tools including voice recording, screenshots and video recording.

The app and browser-based versions of macOS provide all of the above features. However, you can play games on Windows, but currently cannot record footage or microphone audio. macOS apps also output different types of files than browser versions. On macOS you can get .mp4 files, but the browser-based version outputs .webm video files that can be viewed (and converted to .mp4) in VLC player. It’s not a big deal, but it’s an extra step as you may need to convert it to a more compatible video file format before uploading.

Here is a clip recorded via Genki Arcade software in “Favor Performance” mode, with ShadowCast set to 720p at 60 frames per second.

Here’s a clip recorded via Genki Arcade software in “Favor Resolution” mode, with ShadowCast set to 1080p at 30 frames per second.

Genki is also touting the app and ShadowCast should appeal to those who use a laptop or desktop lightly as a display for a game console. There’s little reason to do this if you have a TV nearby, as a direct connection reduces latency. This method is much more suitable if you are in a hotel with only a laptop or if you don’t have a dedicated TV and your biggest screen is a desktop all-in-one. If these very specific circumstances describe your situation, this is not a bad idea.

Whatever the use case, Genki claims that the arcade app has lower latency when tested on a base 2020 model M1 13-inch MacBook Pro than when running ShadowCast as a video source via OBS Studio. At best, latency reductions of up to 50ms are possible, but under some circumstances it may be less. However, the latency reduction for arcade apps in my setup wasn’t very noticeable. Genki said latency can be affected by factors such as whether you’re using a laptop that’s charging, whether your battery is draining, and whether your PC can keep up with specs. In my case, it’s kind of like playing a game via cloud streaming over an internet connection. As mentioned above, it may be a deal breaker for some and not a concern for others.

If you’re skeptical of ShadowCast, $45 isn’t a lot to gamble on compared to more expensive solutions. I love companion software (including web-based solutions) that makes it easy to play games on my PC or laptop screen. As a streaming solution, video quality is serviceable, unless capturing high-definition footage is essential.

Photo: Cameron Faulkner / The Verge

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