French startup Blade, behind the Shadow cloud PC service, will launch a closed beta for an Oculus Quest app allowing subscribers to play owned SteamVR games from anywhere with a good internet connection.
With Shadow, owners of Facebook’s Oculus Quest standalone headset who don’t own a gaming PC could play games like Half-Life: Alyx by purchasing the game on Steam and paying Blade a monthly fee.
Shadow is a subscription service providing customers remote access to a high end PC in the cloud. It first launched in 2017 in France. Shadow allows users full access to the operating system of the PC, so users can install and use whatever software they want, including games. Better yet, unlike Stadia, users don’t have to re-purchase games they already own on Steam.
In fact, it’s actually already possible to use Shadow to stream Rift & SteamVR games to your Oculus Quest! A patch (available from the developer on SideQuest) for Virtual Desktop allows the app to stream VR instead of just the desktop, and the desktop streamer for Virtual Desktop supports cloud PCs.
Shadow is hoping to streamline this process so it can be used in much the same way as Stadia, while still giving the user the freedom to use the PC if they want to.
There is of course an obvious catch to cloud streamed VR: latency. Oculus Link and Virtual Desktop have more latency than “real” PC VR because it takes time to compress (encode) and decompress (decode) each frame. Frames need to be compressed because USB and WiFi have an order of magnitude lower bandwidth than HDMI or DisplayPort. Shadow adds further to this latency because each frame has to travel across the Internet from Shadow’s premises to your home.
I’m particularly sensitive to latency. When I tested out Shadow + Virtual Desktop on Quest, even with a high end WiFi router I found the delay to be very noticeable, and even when immersed I was unable to get used to it. Some people are able to deal with more latency than others, but if you find yourself getting VR sick we’d recommend picking up a real gaming PC instead of going with Shadow.
Shadow’s pricing has been restructured into a new 3 tier system:
- [Boost] NVIDIA GTX 1080 / 4 Core 2.5Ghz CPU / 12 GB RAM = $15/month
- [Ultra] NVIDIA RTX 2080 / 4 Core CPU / 16 GB RAM = $30/month
- [Infinite] NVIDIA TITAN RTX / 4-6 Core CPU / 32 GB RAM = $50/month
Building out datacenters with gaming PCs takes time, so Shadow is currently heavily backordered in most countries it serves. The base tier is available in most US states, but Europeans will have to wait until June. The higher tiers with RTX are unavailable until 2021 for all but a handful of US states, where it will be available in summer.
Given the most European countries do not have data caps whereas many US ISPs do, this seems like a strange decision from Blade. However, the cost of building the data centers in the US is likely lower.
Startups can reach a pace of innovation that big corporations can’t match, but struggle to deploy their ideas at scale. For this idea to be readily available to all Oculus Quest owners who want it, it may take a giant like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, or even Facebook itself jumping into the ring. Facebook execs have hinted at the need for “a new rendering architecture” to deliver low latency cloud streaming, and acquired a Spanish cloud gaming startup late last year.
If low latency cloud VR can be delivered to consumers this decade, it could eliminate the gulf between mobile and PC power and open up high fidelity PC-based experiences like Half-Life: Alyx to the mainstream. For those who can handle the latency, Shadow brings a glimpse of this future.