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NVIDIA GeForce Experience: ShadowPlay. First Impressions.

Manufacturer: NVIDIA

It impresses.

ShadowPlay is NVIDIA's latest addition to their GeForce Experience platform. This feature allows their GPUs, starting with Kepler, to record game footage either locally or stream it online through Twitch.tv (in a later update). It requires Kepler GPUs because it is accelerated by that hardware. The goal is to constantly record game footage without any noticeable impact to performance; that way, the player can keep it running forever and have the opportunity to save moments after they happen.

Also, it is free.

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I know that I have several gaming memories which come unannounced and leave undocumented. A solution like this is very exciting to me. Of course a feature on paper not the same as functional software in the real world. Thankfully, at least in my limited usage, ShadowPlay mostly lives up to its claims. I do not feel its impact on gaming performance. I am comfortable leaving it on at all times. There are issues, however, that I will get to soon.

This first impression is based on my main system running the 331.65 (Beta) GeForce drivers recommended for ShadowPlay.

  • Intel Core i7-3770, 3.4 GHz
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 670
  • 16 GB DDR3 RAM
  • Windows 7 Professional
  • 1920 x 1080 @ 120Hz.
  • 3 TB USB3.0 HDD (~50MB/s file clone).

The two games tested are Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm and Battlefield 3.

Read on to see my thoughts on ShadowPlay, the new Experience on the block.

Note: ShadowPlay should work with any DirectX 9, 10, or 11 fullscreen game. Unfortunately, that also means that gaming in windowed mode is not supported (at least, "Not at this time"). Recording or streaming from OpenGL is not even mentioned at all. You may believe this is a small issue but it immediately excludes two big markets: Minecraft and SteamOS. I hope NVIDIA intends to support it at some point in the future.

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After installing the NVIDIA-provided driver update, it added a "ShadowPlay" button to the top-right corner of GeForce Experience. Clicking it launches a small floating window (screenshot above) where you can adjust capture settings or completely turn it off (it defaults to "off"). "Shadow time", how long your computer automatically records, can be set to a maximum of 20 minutes. For some reason, my PC is limited to 10 minutes.

The top of the window claims 1080p @ 60FPS recording using H.264. You are not forced to play your game at this resolution. The GPU will upscale or downscale your rendered frames to match the capture resolution automatically. Fear not, 1440p-and-up fans, as your monitor will not be defiled by that horrible "1080p" (unless you watch the replay of course). I also believe Starcraft II ran at 120 FPS on my 120Hz monitor (despite capturing 60 FPS).

When you throw the switch, any compatible application will contain a recording indicator in a user-defined corner (or you could hide it entire, default bottom-right). It is very tiny and unobtrusive. When you start to manually record, it fills with a dot of color; when you save, it displays a down arrow to indicate it is uploading to your drive. I very much like the user experience.

I also wondered what would happen if you save "Shadow time" recorded footage two nearby times. As it turns out, the second capture starts at the moment the first save ends. It looks like you could stitch together multiple shadow recordings without any obvious break points. This is, also, a very good thing!

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The video quality is also very good as well. The image is very sharp and would almost convince me that I am not playing a video except for slightly flattened colors. Basically, it looks like live game play with a slightly uncalibrated monitor in Starcraft II. Pay close attention to the shade of orange in my username ("Phopojijo"). Players with decent monitors would know that just does not look right. Then again, from my understanding, orange is annoying to represent especially in the sRGB color space.

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Battlefield 3 footage is more convincing, however, because the sewers were already muted in color. I could see myself not being able to tell the difference between a screenshot and a video frame in a blind test. That is a very good benchmark for quality.

Unfortunately it is not without its downsides (beyond windowed mode and OpenGL). Automatically recorded ("DVR") footage in Battlefield 3, at least on my test setup, contained a few hitches and hiccups. These were not experienced in game which is both good and bad: it did not interrupt my ability to play, but it is also likely a glitch with ShadowPlay and not a co-incidence. I did not experience this in manual mode (although I barely took any footage of that). I also did not experience it in Starcraft II. Then again: Beta software, Beta drivers, first attempt, if there is a problem I am sure NVIDIA can fix it.

If you want to test it yourself, ShadowPlay has been released simultaneous with this article. The time it took you to read this is time you could have been downloading it. Sorry about that. If you are interested, it appears to be a good first release.

You should at least try it if you have a GeForce 650 (and other minimum requirements) or greater.

October 28, 2013 | 07:09 AM - Posted by Branthog

Man, I do not like the idea of encoding on the fly. I want absolute control over my encoding and most software and even hardware solutions for this are miserable. For software, dxtory works pretty damn beautifully. Of course, then you need a couple hundred mbps write-speed on massive drives to avoid dragging down your FPS due to IO bottleneck and many hours of encoding time.

I once had this crazy idea that I was going to start recording everything I ever play, but to produce optimal video quality using h.264 from raw (I won't bother anyone with my whole workflow, in here) into high quality 1080p properly indexed video wound up taking about twelve hours to encode a three or four hour play session. Not counting the time involved in moving data around. And definitely not including the time involved in uploading to youtube (if you want to, which I didn't). Too much to keep up with.

For hardware (short of a Black Magic Intensity), the best solution I found was the Elgato Game Capture HD . . . which gave the user almost no configuration options (for obvious reasons, since they were bottlenecked by the speed of USB). So you wound up with files that were far too large for the mediocre quality they displayed.

Also, based on the information from the install process, it only handles 1080p. Meh. No 16:10? No native resolutions? Maybe there's an option to increase resolution for manual recording (which also disables the 20 minute time limit). At any rate, it's a step in the right direction for new functionality and better than no options at all, right?

EDIT: Everything says "10 minutes" in my system, too. Also, there are absolutely no configuration options as best I can tell. You do 1080 @ 60fps with h.264. Period. Can't change resolution, fps, audio encoding, etc. You just choose from "high, medium, low". Oh well, it's a start!

October 28, 2013 | 07:50 AM - Posted by BobSaggot (not verified)

win 7 @10min only
win 8 @20min

Kind of obscured in notes, but that is what it says. Why the limit for win 7? no clue.

October 28, 2013 | 08:32 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

There's a limit to how big MPEG-4 files can be on Windows 7 and it's something that's built into the OS. If Scott was on Windows 8, he not only has a 20 min option, but also the option to record for as long as he has drive space available. 4GB is the maximum size for an authored MPEG-4 file, which is also why larger files on Windows 7 become corrupted.

See here, under "Limitations" -> http://mygaming.co.za/news/wp-admin/post.php?post=59353&action=edit

October 28, 2013 | 08:47 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Wrong link, my bad. This is the correct one: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/windows/desktop/dd757763(v=vs.85).aspx

October 28, 2013 | 09:06 AM - Posted by Branthog

That's odd, because I've created plenty of H.264/MP4 files in the hundreds of gigabytes. I don't see any further explanation offered in that article, either. :/

October 29, 2013 | 09:50 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Could Shadowplay just split files over 3.9GB like Fraps does? I have a 3TB disk just for recording, I like to just hit record for an entire gaming session then weed out the good bits from the boring bits.

October 2, 2014 | 01:54 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

The best thing about shadowplay is that you don't have to record like that, just set it to the highest, and whenever something interesting happens, hit the button, and you just have the last 10 minutes to deal with rather than hours and hours of stuff.

October 28, 2013 | 03:42 PM - Posted by mLocke

From what I can tell there's no way to record two audio devices at once. This application has a long ways yet to go.

October 28, 2013 | 09:36 AM - Posted by D1RTYD1Z619

I hope they put a FPS counter like Fraps has. I always like to know what my FPS are when I play.

October 28, 2013 | 12:56 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Why? To me the game is either smooth, or it is not. I don't care to obscure any part of the screen for a fairly inaccurate count of frames.

October 28, 2013 | 03:51 PM - Posted by mLocke

So it has no support for vertical resolutions?

Edit: So I just tried capturing some DoDonPachi in Mame with a 1080x1920 display and the game just froze up on me the moment I tried to record. Loading the video file it generates is just a large black screen.

I also did not notice any way to record two separate audio devices, like if you wanted to record both game audio and microphone audio. It does not record just sound coming from "In-Game" like the menu says but captures everything coming off the default playback device.

Overall it is certainly beta, but at least there are more tools are the market.

October 28, 2013 | 06:57 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I tried to record with ShadowPlay also (GRID and Tomb Raider), but the video seems to repeat each 25th frame or so. I'm using a Intel i5 3570K @ 4.2 GHz and a GTX 670 @ stock (Windows 8.1 64-bit). This happen even when I lower the game details so the graphic card have no problem delivering at least 100 fps. I am using vsync, however; if I disable vsync the video is not smooth at all.

October 28, 2013 | 08:16 PM - Posted by Branden (not verified)

I was excited when I read the news about shadowplay until I found out it won't run on my GTX 580's...

sucks.

October 28, 2013 | 09:59 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I tried it with an mmo game today with extremely high aa settings,etc, and fraps produces spot on quality as what you are playing in the game itself, shadowplay does not produce nowhere near as good as fraps but fraps uses alot more hdd space within the same duration.

I saw the video both the fraps on high and on shadowplay on high, there difference is light and day, fraps quality is exactly as when you played the game, gamma/brightneess,etc is spot on, whereas shadowplay, the brightness/gamma doesnt seems to be off a bit, and if your using high aa,af, it doesnt seem to reproduce properly after recording, but still in beta, got alot of potential, at least doesnt slow the pc down like fraps does, but I am all after Image quality, I would sacrifice IQ over performance any day of the year, alot of pc gamers will say the total opposite, so at this rate, I like fraps alot better because it records EXACTLY the same spot on quality as you were playing the game.

I'll be looking out for more updates on shadowplay.

October 28, 2013 | 10:01 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Re-correction:

I meant the brightness/gamma seems to be off a bit on shadowplay.

I think it depends on what game you are recording on? Or does this make any differences at all?? It shouldn't.

October 29, 2013 | 12:25 AM - Posted by Scott Michaud

Should not depend on the game you're recording.

My guess is, since ShadowPlay automatically records to H.264 and FRAPS records uncompressed, the H.264 conversion changes the color space slightly.

Some colour palettes may fair better than others... which is why it seems "game dependent" when really it is just scene dependent. Ex: Battlefield 3 in the sewers screenshot.

By the way, I think the commenting system allows edits if you register a user account with PCPer.com

October 28, 2013 | 10:55 PM - Posted by Kurt (not verified)

As an alternative to Fraps or Afterburner, I am loving ShadowPlay.

I just recorded 50 minutes of F1 2013 gameplay - FPS never dipped below 120, the quality is excellent (I'd say at least 95% of in-game), and the file size turned out to be a measly 18.2 GBs.

By comparison, recording the same thing with Fraps would have resulted in a 150-200 GB video, 90 FPS in-game while recording, and only marginally better quality.

October 29, 2013 | 02:35 AM - Posted by Daniel Nielsen (not verified)

i will just stick with DXtory and Fraps.

October 29, 2013 | 03:51 AM - Posted by TwinShadowx (not verified)

you Can use MSI afterburner to record as well its free and you can select screen resolution, quality, and encoding just FYI the encoding is CPU base

October 30, 2013 | 12:06 PM - Posted by Anon (not verified)

I've been using Afterburner/Quicksync & OBS/QS for a little bit now. Although it's great, the quality didn't touch ShadowPlay for me. Who knows if QS can be tweaked for a noticeable quality increase, but I'm really impressed with how the ShadowPlay's recordings looked. Hopefully they give us some more options (windowed) soon and get this Twitch thing going.

November 2, 2013 | 05:14 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Yes, but as you said the encoding in MSI afterburner is CPU dependent and demanding while ShadowPlay is not. ShadowPlay, when they fix those BETA quirks, will be the best recording and streaming software, since it uses the encoding unit on the new Nvidia cards.

October 29, 2013 | 02:50 PM - Posted by Halokon (not verified)

Whilst in the few tests I've done, Shadowplay is pretty good and a decent start, the limits on Fullscreen only, and only some games (Cloudberry Kingdom, for instance, didn't work at all) won't win me away from Mirillis Action for a while at least. Action allows use of Intel's Quick Syn, which on a CPU that allows it, makes recording practically resource-free and compresses as it goes, which has been a winner for me.

tl;dr ShadowPlay is good and I look forward to it being better, but it has a ways to go.

October 29, 2013 | 05:29 PM - Posted by Johnny Rook (not verified)

LOVED IT! JUST LOVED IT!

I spent pretty much all my spare time today, playing, testing and recording with Shadowplay and is awesome! Finally, I can record my Metro: Last Light gameplay on Very High Sets & Tessellation, SSAA 2x, PhysX ON and still don't dip under 40FPS in my reference GTX 780 clocked @ 1150MHz.

November 2, 2013 | 08:31 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

No offense, but although FRAPS may cost money, I got much smoother recording rates through it than using the Shadowplay...

The average rate of my recordings was 43fps using Shadowplay, and 58fps using Fraps when rendering the same gameplay and cutscenes in Max Payne 3.

No offense, but NVIDIA need to do much better than this to prove this software useful.

November 2, 2013 | 05:31 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

That's not true, FRAPS uses CPU while ShadowPlay uses the dedicated encoding unit on your 600-700 series GTX card.

April 17, 2014 | 08:40 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

No offense, but my statement was true. I used Fraps and Shadowplay to record and Fraps gave me a much smoother and better recorded video.

I used Sony Vegas to verify that the FRAPS video had more fps recorded than the Shadowplay video.

Granted that now NVidia may have worked out a few tweaks, but it took them a few months to do so.

November 4, 2013 | 01:26 PM - Posted by Anentropia (not verified)

I won't (yet) use because: not a single option regarding resolution or FPS

the current Windows MovieMaker (2012) has more options than that buildin..

to top it of: it wants to record in 1080p despite i'm on a 5:4 monitor @ max1280x1024, so I can't even record in 1080p in theory..
I can play in 1280x960, so its the (formerly youtube supported) aspect ratio 4:3 but not in even 720p (unless I can change resolution in shift2 just for the replay, so without having to restart shift)
and the interpolation for such a weird resolution-difference would make the video look poor, despite its high nominal resolution...
The FPS-"interpolition from 60 to the (youtube supported) 25FPS not even spoken

November 17, 2013 | 08:52 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

You people are dumb as shit. It's amazing!!!!! No program ever do this, first off using your cpu to encode while playing is a dumb shit move. I give shadow playa 10, amazing quality and gpu encoding at that. Idiots hah!

December 6, 2013 | 03:57 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Does this work only on Nvidias's GeForce GTX 600 series (or higher) GPUs or on other producers' same named GPUs too? I mean if I had for example an MSI GeForce GTX 660 GPU, would ShadowPlay work on it?

December 6, 2013 | 08:36 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

my pc card wont support shadow play but its loaded the ddl file for it i want to disable it but it wont let me can you tell me how as you fail to inform people on your site how to do this

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