Reviews

Playing Switch games on your laptop is not worth the crazy lag

The Genki Shadowcast is one of the cheapest ways to play console games on a laptop — but there are some major latency problems that can make play frustrating.

You’d think, in 2021, that playing a game console through your computer would be as easy as doing so on a TV. Somehow it’s not — or at least it wasn’t until Genki’s Shadowcast came along.

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The Shadowcast is an HDMI/video adapter that accomplishes the base functions of a much more expensive capture card, and — probably its biggest selling point — it does so for just a fraction of the cost of alternatives.

Genki

$50

That's all it costs to grab a Shadowcast, adapter included.

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I first came across the Shadowcast — where else — in an Instagram ad. I was wary of Genki’s claims that the tiny device could actually be the easiest way to play Switch games on my laptop’s screen.

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$1.9M

Total raised by early Shadowcast adopters on Kickstarter.

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The Shadowcast is a rare plug-and-play device that’s actually as easy to use as simply plugging it and getting right to the play part of things. There are just two parts included in the box: the Shadowcast itself and a USB-C 2.0 cable.

I mean it’s really that small.

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Okay, there’s actually one other step. It’s an easy one, though. You’ll need the Genki Arcade software to communicate with the Shadowcast; it’s available as a free download for Windows, Mac, or Chrome from Genki’s website.

Half-baked app

This software is by far the least attractive aspect of using the Shadowcast. The app’s main menu is a stock photo of Genki’s devices along with scrolling quotes — some of which are reviews, while others are…random text? I’m not really sure what’s going on here.

Once you plug in your device and turn it on, Genki Arcade becomes the display window for your game. It’s just as minimal now, which can be a little frustrating. There’s no dedicated button for full-screen toggle, for example.

There are only four buttons: Settings, Screenshot, Microphone, and Video Capture. (Seen in the top left corner here.)

Let’s talk about the gameplay itself. If the quality is good enough, the interface can be ignored. I tested the Shadowcast by connecting my MacBook Air (2019) to the Nintendo Switch.

Genki claims the Shadowcast can handle up to 720p at 60 fps or 1080p at 30 fps. For the most part, I found both of these resolutions and frame rates to be accurate. The video stream to my MacBook was steady with very few (if any) frame drops.

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The question of latency is a little more complicated.

Genki claims its proprietary software reduces latency to as low as 0.2ms; this definitely wasn’t the case in my testing. The latency is definitely noticeable — which would not be true at 0.2ms.

(The image below is from the Shadowcast Kickstarter page.)

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My testing focused on two games New Pokémon Snap and Hades, two of my favorites on the Switch. Both are certainly playable through the Shadowcast... with some caveats.

Any game requiring precise button presses will be borderline unplayable with the Shadowcast. New Pokémon Snap isn’t the most precision-focused game, but it does require quick reflexes. I found I sometimes missed my perfectly aligned shot because of the Shadowcast’s added latency.

New Pokémon Snap is a little less fun with latency.

I tried one run in Hades and couldn’t handle the latency. That one’s a no.

Here’s a more pleasing benchmark: Genki Arcade doesn’t hog system resources. My MacBook Air — notoriously bad for gaming — handled the workload just fine.

For the most part, the Shadowcast works — it’s easy to set up and comes at a ludicrously low price. But that low price comes with some major downsides, like a strange UI and noticeable latency problems. If you want a capture card for creating YouTube videos or streaming on Twitch, you should consider something else — even if it doesn’t fit in your pocket.

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