The ShadowCast from Genki is a dongle-size video capture card that might provide all that some gamers and streamers need. It’s $45, a relatively low price for a no-frills device that can get your console games onto your PC. But it has some limitations. The video quality isn’t great, and there’s a noticeable amount of lag if you’re trying to play along with the stream. These compromises aren’t a surprise, considering the ShadowCast costs a fraction of the price of something more capable like Elgato’s HD60 S+.
You can actually go a bit cheaper than Genki’s $45 if you’re willing to roll the dice on quality control. Last year we covered an affordable (between $10 and $30, usually) no-brand HDMI capture card that’s very similar to this one, and perhaps its port arrangement may be more convenient for you. Unlike the ShadowCast, which plugs into an HDMI port and has a USB-C-in port on its other end, the cheaper alternative has HDMI-in and USB-out, so you can just plug in an HDMI cable you may already own. Genki gets the nod, though, both in terms of build quality and its companion software. I’ll get into the latter part below.
It’s easy to get the ShadowCast up and running on PC or macOS. It’ll work with any device with an HDMI-out port, so the PS5, Xbox Series X, Nintendo Switch and some older consoles are covered. That also includes DSLR or mirrorless cameras that you might want to use as a high-end webcam. The ShadowCast has a USB-C port on its other side, which you can connect to your PC with the included six-foot USB-C-to-C 2.0 cable, or your own C-to-A cable. It also works seamlessly with streaming applications like OBS Studio. If you’re using the ShadowCast as an interface for a camera, it’ll work with Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, and other popular video conferencing apps. You might need a dongle if your camera doesn’t have a full-sized HDMI port. A micro or mini HDMI dongle should get the job done.
When I hooked up the ShadowCast to my Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II camera to use it as a webcam, it worked well, with negligible latency issues.. It produces far better colors and clarity than a traditional webcam, though in my case, I could only get an image through HDMI by bumping the camera’s output resolution down to 720p. That may be an issue with my camera, and not the ShadowCast, so your camera may be able to output to higher resolutions without issue.
The ShadowCast’s specs are competitive for sub-$50 capture solutions, and its flaws are generally similar, too. It supports up to 1080p input resolution at 30 frames per second, or a 720p image at a faster 60 frames per second. Both modes offer varying levels of graininess, so this device isn’t for people aiming to show all of the granular visual details in PS5 games — or really any game — with pixel-perfect representation. Fidelity aside, I noticed that colors from some sample images and footage look less vibrant and have less contrast than I’d see by directly connecting my console to a monitor. Neither flaw is that surprising, given the price.
The lag while gaming is another issue. The delay in the incoming video feed is perceivable to the point that it may be game-breaking depending on your preferences. Lag is really only an issue if you’re playing strictly through the feed coming in from the ShadowCast; most streamers who want to play and stream at the same time from a console use an HDMI splitter and instead play their games on a screen that has a direct connection to their console, thus avoiding latency. I used the ShadowCast with other cables, as well as USB-C and USB-A ports on two different computers, but the latency issues were the same no matter what.
The ShadowCast is a viable but limited option for streamers compared to pricier options. But it’s more user-friendly than some other competitors if all you want to do is record yourself talking over gameplay and upload the video to your channel later on. Genki makes that easy to do through its free Arcade app for macOS and Windows 10 machines. More impressively, it works through Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge, too. Once your console is connected, you can hit record and chat through your microphone as you play, and the recording will pick up both game audio and your voice. You can take snapshots, too, which is handy if you’re making guides for game walkthroughs.
The app on macOS and the browser-based versions offer all of the features above. But on Windows, it’ll let you play your games, but you can’t record footage or mic audio currently. The macOS app also outputs different types of files than the browser version. On macOS, you’ll get an .mp4 file, but the browser-based version outputs a .webm video file that’s viewable (and can be converted to .mp4) in VLC Player. It’s not a huge deal, but it’s an extra step, since you’ll likely need to convert it to a more compatible video file format before uploading.
Here’s a clip recorded through the Genki Arcade software in “Favor Performance” mode, which sets the ShadowCast to 720p at 60 frames per second.
Here’s a clip recorded through the Genki Arcade software in “Favor Resolution” mode, which sets the ShadowCast to 1080p at 30 frames per second.
Genki is also touting that its app and the ShadowCast should appeal to people who casually use their laptops or desktops as a display for their game consoles. There’s little reason to do this if you have a nearby TV, since you’ll get less latency with a direct connection. This method makes a lot more sense if you’re in, say, a hotel with just your laptop, or if you don’t own a dedicated TV and the biggest screen you’ve got is your desktop all-in-one. If those highly specific circumstances describe your situation, this isn’t a bad way to go.
Whatever your use cases are, Genki claims that its Arcade app has less latency than if you were to run the ShadowCast as a video source through OBS Studio, when tested on a 2020 base model M1 13-inch MacBook Pro. At most, it says the reduction in latency can be up to 50ms, but that it varies and may be less than that. But on my setup, the reduction in latency with the Arcade app wasn’t too noticeable. Genki told me that latency can be impacted by factors like whether you’re using a laptop that’s being charged versus running off the battery, and whether your PC’s specs can keep up. In my case, it feels similar to playing games via cloud streaming over a so-so internet connection. Like I mentioned above, that might be a deal-breaker for some, or not a concern for others.
If you’re skeptical about the ShadowCast, $45 isn’t that much to gamble, compared to pricier solutions. I like the companion software (including a web-based solution), which simplifies putting your game on a PC or laptop screen. And as a streaming solution, its video quality is serviceable, so long as capturing high-fidelity footage isn’t essential.
Photography by Cameron Faulkner / The Verge