Nvidia’s Shadowplay Is Always Watching You

By Craig Pearson on October 23rd, 2013 at 11:00 am.

I'm always watching you.
Everybody is Let’s Playing nowadays (I might even do it, you unlucky people) so the new frontier of development is in making the recording and playing back of gaming moments as easy as possible. The best solutions are those that will allow you to retroactively spot yourself being magnificent and then dump the previous moments. It saves you from starting conversations with “That one time…” and them re-enacting a game of Ricochet with condiments and plates. Nvidia’s solution to this is ShadowPlay, a new feature of their Experience software suite that continually records the previous twenty minutes of your gaming, ready to be dumped to a file when you tell it to. There are some caveats, though.

It’s free, but utilizes the on-board H.264 encoder built into GeForce GTX 600 and 700 Series (I think the encoder that’s used to steam to their handheld PC thingy, Shield), so you’ll need some fairly decent and new cards to take advantage of it. Also, using it at maximum rendering will bring about a 5-10% performance hit, but those are tweakable stats. It claims you should get 1920×1080, at 60 frames per second, but in a reasonably-sized file. If you set out to make a video, rather than just reacting to your skills, the program can be set-up to record live as well. Nvidia are even looking towards streaming capabilities for a future update, with Twitch integration.

The program is out on Oct 28th. I might see if I can hunt down a new card and test it out.

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73 Comments »

  1. trueplayer says:

    RIP Fraps.

    • DanMan says:

      Not so fast. That NV Experience thing is a sneaky one. Luring you in with being free, and then cutting off your limbs, so you can’t run from it’s privacy invading true form.

  2. bstard says:

    Do those video’s actually exist now there’s none left to watch them?

    • SomeDuder says:

      Next up – software that watches your Let’s play, posts dumb comments about it on YouTube and then decides it also wants to be a creepy extrovert person that thinks people want to watch it play videogames that they could be playing themselves.

  3. Solidstate89 says:

    You will take a performance hit, but I have a feeling it’s less of a hit than you would take with something like FRAPS.

    • Rao Dao Zao says:

      Aye, if it’s wired straight into the drivers/the hardware then it should be an improvement. But if you have an old card or (heaven forbid) an ATI…

      • ZeDestructor says:

        TBH, Nvidia is only bothering with doing this in-house because literally nobody (to my knowledge) has bothered to make a screen capture tool that uses a GPU encoder of any sort. The closest you could get up until now has been external (expensive) screen-capture hardware, oftentimes dumping data into the same PC since most peopl don’t have multiple desktops.

        AMD and Intel both have (similarly fast) H.264 encoders on their GPUs (Intel dedicated part of their GPU just for a really fast H.264 encoder/decoder bloc since at least the Sandy Bridge CPUs), and there is nothing stopping them from producing competitors or starting up an open-source project or whatever. I for one look forward to the competition.

        That aside, I wonder if t will be possible in the future to use on-board graphics for encoding and leave the GPUs for gaming purposes… I mean, you can have Intel + Nvidia on the same desktop and use the Intel chip purely for encoding right now…

      • Gargenville says:

        Honestly if the mysterious built-in H.264 encoder on Kepler cards can cram realtime 60fps 1920×1080 from raw I’d greatly appreciate a Premiere export plugin utilizing it because even with Quicksync or CUDA through Sorenson a 10 minute video takes an hour to render.

      • SuicideKing says:

        Then it wont work at all, the transcoder in question is Kepler specific.

    • ZeDestructor says:

      There will be a small hit vs running FRAPS in raw dump mode, but a healthy improvement over running FRAPS with a CPU encoder. Besides, it saves a lot of space compared to raw mode FRAPS, so just that would be worth it for a lot of us.

      • TechnicalBen says:

        Yep, I’m hitting my limit on my drives. So tonight is “fraps encoding night” and no extra recording footage for a day or so. I try to only make fun or instructional video though. Not point just videos of me playing. :P

      • NothingFunny says:

        Why would anyone still use crappy FRAPS – it limits games framerate and doesn’t let you chose encoder.
        There are several other capture progs that don’t have these limitations allowing for lag free gaming while capturing at framerate of your choice and writing into many formats, encoding in realtime saving your space.and time.

        • Ragnar says:

          Your “Why do you still use X when there are a lot better programs out there?” comment would be a lot more useful if you specified what those better programs are.

  4. SooSiaal says:

    If only people actually played in “let’s plays” instead of talking nonsense,trying too hard to be funny,screaming and the godawful face cams…

    • Stardreamer says:

      There’s definitely an art to a good demonstration video. If only technology gave talent as well as capability.

    • MobileAssaultDuck says:

      I’d argue that just playing a single-player game while adding none of your own commentary is basically akin to posting someone else’s work on YouTube.

      Good let’s plays are made by the person’s commentary.

      If you’re just playing the game and going through the story, you’re ripping off the hard work of the game creator for views. None of your own work has gone into it, you’re just being a vicarious player.

      When you add commentary, now it is both the game and you who are creating the content. It’s your own work in tandem with the work of the developer to create something more than the sum of its parts.

      • DougyM says:

        Depends on the game, if its a corridor shooter then yeah one guys lets play is going to be pretty damn similar to another guys. But if its something open world or randomly generated in nature like the Total War games, Crusader Kings, Minecraft etc. then the game itself warps to the players personality even if they are less than stellar at cracking jokes.

      • Baines says:

        It is a matter of relativity.

        A good commentary can beat a silent Lets Play (depending on what you are after in watching the video), while a silent Lets Play beats a bad commentary.

        And the initial complaint was about a combination of bad commentary and bad play. Not only do you have bad commentary, you have people too engrossed in their commentary and face mugging and the like to actually properly play the game at all. It is a worst of all worlds situation.

    • Gargenville says:

      Different strokes and all that. Personally if I’m interested enough in a game to watch someone silently playing it I’d much rather be playing it myself, so all I watch are entertainment-focused LPs. Granted, actually being entertaining on video is a lot harder than simply being a competent player so naturally the percentage of absolutely horrible videos in this subgenre is far higher than it is in mute or informative LPs. It’s not like I have six hours a night to watch youtube anyway so the narrow selection of good stuff isn’t even a problem to me.

  5. Eukatheude says:

    Why is everyone still using FRAPS? I tried Playclaw a while ago and it was tons better.

    • Bedeage says:

      I can barely tell that you and Megakoresh are sock-puppets for someone involved in creating PlayClaw, good job.

      • mr.ioes says:

        RPS is really doing a bad job at preventing spam. Comments #2, #3 and #4 need to be removed but we all know it’ll never happen.

      • Sheng-ji says:

        Substantiate your accusation or stfu

        • Llewyn says:

          Indeed. A quick google shows both Eukatheudes and Megakoresh are far more active (and constructive) commenters on RPS than Bedeage…

          If you want sock puppets the Nazi Zombie Sniper and War Z articles are the places to go.

          • jrodman says:

            Oh no, the spammers have figured out how to automate being helpful and contributing. We’re doomed!

      • Eukatheude says:

        Er, no. I don’t do LP’s, but i was recommended playclaw lots of time ago. Tried it, saw it didn’t lag when recording, and never used it again because i don’t have much use for it. I don’t even know who made playclaw or who Megakoresh is. I’m not paid to post this stuff, and if you google my name you’ll probably realise that spambots rarely have a youtube channel or steam accounts or whatever. I’ve been reading RPS for about 4 years, mostly lurking, but i think a few readers might have read my name before in the comments.
        So i’d like an apology.
        And what’s wrong with playclaw anyway?

        • airmikee99 says:

          I wouldn’t worry about it. Some people are too obtuse to understand that other people may enjoy/dislike different things, so they accuse anyone with a differing opinion of being a paid representative of what they dislike, and anyone that disagrees with me is a sock puppet for .

    • DarkLiberator says:

      Yeah switched from FRAPS to DXTORY ages ago. Way better and more options to change recording codecs, etc.

  6. Megakoresh says:

    Pretty cool. I doubt it will be better than PlayClaw, anything I have tried so far has been miles worse, but it’s worth a try!

    • Wounder says:

      Err, NVIDIA’s thing-a-ma-bob appears to be free. FRAPS and PlayClaw are nearly $40. That’s… I dunno, a lot of better it doesn’t have to be.

      • Megakoresh says:

        Playclaw is 10$/Year is a subscription program and the best one on the market by far, if you don’t count the capture cards. What Nvidia does looks nice, especially for someone who records a lot, but it’s hardly “free” if you need a 600/700 GPU series to take advantage of this feature. Lucky for me, I do have a 770. But many people don’t. It’s ultimately a way to get people to buy their GPUs, that’s why it’s free to those who have them. If it gets very popular you can be sure they will make a commercial version available to all.

      • Corey Cole says:

        “Free” is rarely worth the price these days. I’ve been socked with really obnoxious adware/malware the last three times I decided to save $30 or $40 by downloading a “free” application from supposedly trusted sites. Of course, I’ve had the same problem with trial versions of commercial programs. Browser search engine hijacking is EVIL.

        An exception is FFMPeg, which I got to trim my Fraps file size to something reasonable. The catch is that it’s really hard to use. But it works really well and does the job.

        Shadow sounds really useful for making game play trailers for Kickstarter and such. It could also be great for game testing. Don’t think of it as being restricted to “Let’s Play” videos.

  7. mr.ioes says:

    I want to know how it works. Fraps isn’t slowing down your PC because it’s terribly coded. All it does is grabbing the raw video output from your graphics card as far as I know, and that’s simply a ton of data straining your HDD (and somewhat CPU for managing the data transfer). While the encoding is done on the card itself now, it still needs to read and dump the data somewhere. It’s hard to believe that this only costs ~10% of your performance, and then again the question is, what kind of performance is lost? RAM, CPU, HDD?

    Just like with cloud computing, noone asks questions and thinks it will be THE NEXT BIG THING only to forget about it while it’s slowly fading away from their R&D labs. What happened to nVidia Grid? Still not out? Announced a year ago or what? What a fucking surprise.

    ShadowPlay’s hardware solution has an approximate 5-10% performance impact when using the max-quality 50 mbps recording mode Someone please test this.

    • John Mirra says:

      Hardware encoder.

      What FRAPS does (I don’t know really but I think it’s not far from truth):
      1. Waits for rendered frame
      2. Makes screenshot (bitmap, huge but without quality loss)
      3. Sends frame to software encoder (via CPU).
      4. Writes encoded fragment to harddrive.

      What GPU and Shadowplay do (my version, again. I am not a tech specialist):
      1. GPU renders frame
      2. Sends it directly to onboard encoder
      3. Transfer encoded fragment to Shadowplay
      4. Shadowplay writes it to disk.

      Because first 3 steps happen inside of one device, encoding speed is much higher.

      And cloud computing in many cases (like xbone) is just a buzzword.

      • FriendlyFire says:

        It’s probably even faster than that because the hardware encoder has direct access to GPU VRAM, so it could just read back the frame in place (unless it’s too slow to read it before the next one is stored) and only transfer the encoded (much, much smaller) video feed to the CPU which then stores it on the HDD.

  8. Echo says:

    I’ve been using MSI Afterburner to capture video, and I barely notice any impact at all. It’s mainly intended as a GPU overclocking app, but there’s lots of other goodies in there.

    I’ll definitely give this Shadowplay thingie a spin. Cool for random acts of awesomeness you want to save for posterity.

    • John Mirra says:

      Sadly but MSI Afterburner will not support 64-bit applications (dev says so). For now it’s just BF4, but there will be Watch Dogs and other games.

    • airmikee99 says:

      Wow, I’ve been using Afterburner for years because it’s such a great temperature monitoring utility, but I never noticed a recording feature. I’ll have to check it out.

  9. db1331 says:

    I’ve always lamented over all the ridiculous/lucky/freakish kills I got in BF3 but didn’t have recorded. With BF4 just around the corner, I decided I wasn’t going to make that mistake again. I’d been using FRAPS, but I couldn’t even get decent fps while recording BF3 on low. I got a new rig and was then able to record at a constant 60fps on ultra. In the BF4 beta, however, FRAPS would dip me into the 20-40fps range. I did some research and found Dxtory. I downloaded the trial and instantly fell in love. The best thing about it for me is being able to record at a different resolution than I play at. I play at 1920×1200, but record at 720p and 30fps. And there is almost no hit to your fps while recording. I think I lost 5fps when I hit record. The quality is just right for sharing some kills on Youtube with my friends.

  10. Reapy says:

    I wish fraps had a continuous record mode like this. I just don’t have the hard drive space to leave a gaming session on record unless specifically going out to get a few moments. Even then I have to alt tab and delete as I go because it just becomes way too many video files to sort through, or the good clips get lost in it.

    I know us older folks sort of recoil at lets plays but they are pretty popular activities for some people and it seems to only be getting bigger.

    • Moraven says:

      If you have enough bandwidth, Stream your play to twitch. Saves a lot on HDD space.

    • morbiD says:

      Fraps does have that. They call it “loop recording” and you can even configure the length of time of the “buffer” in the options.

      To activate loop recording you have to hold down your “record” keybind for a second or two, rather than just tapping it. This will make the FPS counter go pink to indicate loop recording is active.

      Then when you do something cool that you want to save, you just hit your “record” keybind again and it dumps the last 30 seconds (or whatever period you configured) to a file.

      Edit: I should have said – I think that’s only for registered users, but it’s been in there since 2010.

  11. HybridHalo says:

    Excellent!

    I (foolishly) prematurely bought a GTX7700 in June because I misread their press-release and believed they’d be releasing Shadowplay at the end of June. I’ve been looking forwards to this for ages – chiefly because it’ll allow highlight capture without the need for huge files which require a lot of editing to sort through.

    Edited, as rightly pointed out – I’d referred to an old car rather than a 7 series.

  12. cpy says:

    Shadowplay should’ve been out since this summer but, i guess we have beginning of new waporvare.

    • houldendub says:

      It was given a “it will be out by the end of summer” label. Whereas now we’ve had a dev conference announce this as the beta actually coming out on Friday (28th). Not really vaporware if it’s actually coming out in like, 2 days.

      • cpy says:

        It was comming out in 1 day also in summer, then it got pulled back last minuette.

        • houldendub says:

          Generally though it’s not common to have a dev/press conference detailing specifically when it’s coming out, how it’s being released, and alongside 2 other pretty substantial announcements (Gsync and 780Ti).

          Plus they literally never actually gave a release date before, only a release window. Hardly vapourware as well if it’s being showed off again.

    • SuicideKing says:

      They postponed it because they realised that most people won’t be able to use the M2TS file format, and had to enable the files to be encoded as mp4.

  13. strangeloup says:

    In the shadowplay, acting out your own death, knowing no more.

  14. slerbal says:

    Awesome – that is a really handy feature and I’m definitely going to give it a bash!

  15. greenbananas says:

    So I guess people actually watch those things, huh? I’ve now half a mind to make a hour and a half podcast entirely consisting of me describing a movie I watched.

    • DatonKallandor says:

      If you wanna know what the Let’s Play genre can do when done well, you should check out Research Indicates’ Trespasser playthrough. A voice made for history channel voiceovers, in-depth analysis and historical background information and just plain competent play.

      Generally speaking if an LP comes from the Something Awful forums you’ve got a good chance at a quality product, so if Research Indicates has wet your appetites, check there.

  16. Moraven says:

    I like to use Xsplit due to the versatility and FRAPS tends to be inconsistent and run into crashes. XSplit overlays and the ability to stream are great. I just want them to have better audio settings so that Virtual Audio Cable is not required.

  17. SuicideKing says:

    Yes, it’s the same one that compresses video for the Shield. Though i’d caution against saying that it’s a “feature of the GTX 600/700 series” because it’s more about Kepler than the series (and some of the 600 series cards are re-brands, especially laptop GPUs).

  18. Wedge says:

    With the new consoles integrating this kind of stuff, I think it’s a good idea to have a simple option for this kind of stuff on PCs. Unfortunately it’s just another nVidia exclusive, but I guess having things non-standard is the blessing and the curse of PC.

  19. HisDivineOrder says:

    nVidia always seems to be about one step ahead of AMD in getting features out that people want. nVidia didn’t want to do a closed API, which is why they skipped a Mantle idea and instead implemented the nV API to build onto DX and OpenGL. TrueAudio looks extremely limited in its appeal.

    But G-sync is a thing that we all need like immediately. Shadowplay is something that the next gen consoles are going to have, so it’s great that nVidia is building that into their cards, too. They led the way with Geforce Experience and streaming, even if they’ve misstepped by having the streaming limited to ONLY a SHIELD device instead of any device with an nVidia GPU (including other HTPC’s).

    I really wish AMD would get on the ball and provide some real competition.

  20. CMaster says:

    “them re-enacting a game of Ricochet with condiments and plates”

    That sounds… smashy.

  21. engion3 says:

    Wow this is pretty awesome. I’ve always been a die hard amd guy but with this and gsync it just seems like Nvidia is putting way more time into R&D. I have no complaints of my 7970 but would enjoy downloading something other than hotfixes on the occasion.

  22. PixelsDontMove says:

    As I’m about to start recording a few videos for YouTube to see how people respond to my voice (if it is usable in commenting, tutorials, vlogging etc.), getting better at the language and the fact that I just spoiled myself with a 770, this might be interesting for me:) Let’s wait and see. Maybe I should post a video about the beta.

  23. nimbulan says:

    If Shadowplay can:
    1) prevent game/video stuttering while recording and
    2) eliminate the need to use windowed mode to get recording software to work in certain games
    then it has already won. Since this is built into the video driver I am very hopeful that this is the case.

  24. silver722 says:

    Google is paying 80$ per hour! Work for few hours and have more time with friends & family! On tuesday I got a great new Land Rover Range Rover from having earned $4151 this last four weeks. Its the most-financialy rewarding I’ve had. It sounds unbelievable but you wont forgive yourself if you don’t check it out http://goo.gl/w7ceUX

  25. racccoon says:

    I always love Nvidia product never not had anything but their cards in my system. I do not like the Experience thing, when ask for feedback on it, I said delete it, its annoying, it streams, it self updates, it spys, and is another crazy tweeker machine of your bandwidth, adding to the numerous idiotic company developer tools that are all joining this line of interruption in our lifes. Its nonsense and unnecessary to add further drama to what is just a simple thing! why follow steam and those others who just want you to load another tool that does a job that we didn’t need doing as we can do it anyway. We have PC’s for us to enjoy and use like a mechanic would with a engine, we like to tinker not be told to use a tool that only does and cause another thing for us to wait on, what we did in the past was manual operation, WOW, this achieved all these goals from game loads etc to anything simple and with ease. Please stop making our lifes a fucking pain and stop trying to look into our movements and lifes.

  26. drewski says:

    Twenty minutes? That’s not enough time for a decent Spelunky run!

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