The Startup Blade relies on cloud-based game streaming as a replacement for your high-end computer at home. Do the French offer serious competition with Shadow to similar services, such as Geforce Now and PS Now? We talked to Emmanuel Freund, one of the company founders, in Paris about lag-free gaming, data protection and annoyance with Bitcoin Miners.
What works very well in film and music, where services such as Netflix, Amazon or Spotify serve millions of customers and have grown into corporations with considerable market power, can only be found in games with a limited streaming offering. Geforce Now by Nvidia, PS Now or offers for unlimited download at Xbox Game Pass or EA Access, offer the possibility to access a limited selection of game content by subscription.
However, all-rounders, such as the games-on-demand platform OnLive, have once again sacked the market. The French startup Blade goes its way and waives. At least for the time being – an offer of games and instead provides the subscriber with a high-end virtual computer for a monthly basic fee.
Rent Instead of Buy
The co-founder of Blade, the Paris-based start-up, is convinced of the concept. A significant advantage is that every customer is assigned their computer with a Windows 10 operating system and does not share the performance of the data center with others. In practice, this means that a subscriber has a computer with a Xenon processor, 12 GB RAM, 256 GB hard disk space and a graphics card that is at least as powerful as a GTX 1080 with 16 GB RAM. Plenty of computing power to allow smooth 4K gaming, even if the hard disk space seems to us to be undersized.
While Blade keeps its hardware and operating system up to date, the user is responsible for installing the games and applications. Besides gaming, you can use the virtual computer in the same way as a home device. Office programs, image editing, music or film streaming: Which software the user wants to use is up to him. At least in most cases, but even more so.
Playing Without Borders
The application in practice is foolproof. The Shadow app allows access to the rental computer via almost any terminal device. Whether on an old notebook, iPad, Mac Book, Android tablet, Internet-capable TV or smartphone, assuming a stable Internet connection, every game can be played in the best quality. If you want to do without your hardware entirely, you can buy or rent a so-called shadow box from Blade. A chic, cube-shaped device with USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports for mouse, keyboard, and other peripherals as well as monitor and network, which replaces a complete computer.
And indeed, when the adventures of the monster butcher Gerald in Witcher 3 run just as smoothly in full 4K resolution on a huge LCD TV as on an iPad or any other compatible end device, the possibilities of use prove impressive. Thanks to optimized encoding algorithms, the video stream from the cloud is transmitted in UHD at up to 60 fps, in lower Full HD resolution at up to 144 fps. And this even with an Internet connection with a moderate 15 Mbit/s, which was throttled to 5 Mbit/s during a test demonstration, without noticeable restrictions in operation. However, we also sat quasi directly next to the French data center of Blade, with considerably further distance to the server parks such low speeds should no longer be accessible to compensate.
A Question of Latency
But download speed is by no means the only factor to consider for frustration-free gaming. Latency is particularly vital in Battle Royale games such as PUBG, shooters or other competitive games. In other words, how quickly communicate with the servers takes place and command input is implemented. If it comes to considerable lags here, it is over with the fair conditions in the matches. Ideally, the distance to the data center should be as short as possible, which is why Blade sets up country-specific centers and connects them via cable.
Anything that could cause latency, including a WiFi connection, should be avoided. The multiplayer capability was tested with pro-gamers, who were presented Street Fighter once with a direct installation on a local computer, as well as via Shadow. No differences could be seen, even for the professionals. And that would be the best sign that the technology works, Emmanuel explains.
Abuse Will Not be Tolerated
Apart from gaming, you can use the rental PC in the cloud for all conceivable purposes. And in principle, there are no restrictions as far as the legal conditions comply. Otherwise, the French will only take a closer look if suspicious user behavior appears. The company will not tolerate setting up their server and generating Bitcoin with a few dozen subscriptions. Besides, logging into the personal account is also possible via a two-stage system in which a confirmation is must via the smartphone. Everything sounds very secure, but personally, we would not store sensitive data in the cloud and would always ensure an up-to-date, local data backup.
In the cheapest version without additional hardware, $420 per year are collected for an individual high-end computer in one of the data centers of the French. And there are no games. But if you don’t want to buy expensive hardware, the rental option is a good choice. Blade takes care of operating system maintenance and necessary hardware upgrades, and if there are any functional problems, a backup copy is installed within a few minutes.
The benefit for gamers strongly depends on the latency. Especially with competitive games like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds or Counter Strike: Global Offensive, lags would be an absolute knockout criterion. During our brief test and review at Blade’s premises, there was nothing technically wrong. Although this is probably also due to the proximity to the data center. So it is better to take out a trial subscription first if you are interested.