Shadow and PlayStation Now are two of the best cloud gaming services around, though they cater to far different audiences. PlayStation is a simple, inexpensive cloud gaming platform that integrates perfectly with the PS4. Shadow, on the other hand, offers no-compromise performance, though at a high price.
In this Shadow vs PlayStation Now comparison, we’re going to find out which is the better option. Over a series of seven rounds, the two will go toe-to-toe in game support, platform support, performance, ease of use and more.
We’ll occasionally bring in other cloud gaming services for context, but this comparison is mostly focused on our two competitors. If you want to see how they perform against the rest of the market, be sure to read our Shadow review and PlayStation Now review.
Setting Up a Fight: PlayStation Now vs Shadow
We have Shadow and PlayStation Now queued up to go head-to-head over a series of rounds. There are seven rounds we’ll be comparing them in, and each is worth a point. At the end, we’ll tally the points and declare a winner.
There’s a lot of wiggle room in this format, though. Our goal is to not only compare the two, but also to provide context on why one service may win a round over another. Some rounds can’t be summarized by simply awarding a point. Because of that, we recommend reading through each round to get an idea of which is the better service for you.
As is the case with any comparison, there’s some back and forth between competitors. For example, Shadow is more expensive than PlayStation Now, but it comes with the features and performance to justify that price. Similarly, PlayStation Now includes a full library of games out of the gate, whereas you’ll need to buy them individually with Shadow.
There isn’t always a concrete answer. That said, we’ve tested both services from signup to streaming, and in this comparison, we’re going to outline which is better based on that experience.
1. Game Library
Shadow and PlayStation Now have very different approaches to their library of games. Shadow, as we’ll get into below, offers a full Windows 10 desktop, allowing you to install any game that could normally run on Windows. PlayStation Now, on the other hand, has a fixed library of games, offering slightly more than 800 titles. That’s not the end of the story, though.
Because Shadow functions like a normal Windows machine, you’ll need to purchase games on Steam, Uplay or the Epic Games Store to play them in the cloud. The same goes for DRM-free games from platforms like GOG. With PlayStation, though, you have access to the full library of games for free.
Similar to Project xCloud, you’re not only buying a cloud gaming subscription with PlayStation Now, but also a full library of games (read our Project xCloud review, as well as our Shadow vs Project xCloud piece). That library includes newer games like Control and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, as well as old PlayStation favorites like Uncharted 3 and Bloodborne.
This round is tough, as we’re comparing two radically different approaches to stocking the virtual game shelves. PlayStation Now provides a free, curated list of games, featuring major multi-platform titles as well as PlayStation exclusives. Shadow, on the other hand, has a much greater breadth of games, but you’ll need to pay for them.
Unfortunately, this round comes down to preference. If you like PlayStation exclusives and want to jump in on the action right away, PlayStation Now is undoubtedly the better choice. That said, because of the sheer amount of content available on Shadow, we’re giving it the win this round.
Shadow is one of the most expensive cloud gaming platforms out there, which is confusing compared to PlayStation Now, seeing as you’ll need to buy your own games. Despite the high price tag, Shadow makes the cost worth it with unrelenting streaming quality and a list of features that other competitors can’t keep up with.
When it comes down to dimes and pennies, though, PlayStation Now has the edge. With a monthly subscription of $10 and an annual subscription of $60, PlayStation Now might be the cheapest way to play games in the cloud (unless you go for GeForce Now’s limited free plan). That subscription buys you access to more than 800 games, too. Take a look at our GeForce Now vs PlayStation Now piece.
With Shadow, you’re left spending a minimum of $12 per month if you sign up for a year, and up to $50 per month if you purchase its highest monthly tiered plan. Granted, the extra cost comes with benefits. For example, the Infinite plan offers real-time ray tracing and 4K resolution. PS Now has simulated lighting and is locked to 720p.
All things equal, we’d give the win to Shadow. The service is more expensive, though it comes with the specs to match its price tag. However, all things are not equal. PlayStation Now comes with games, and you’ll need to buy them separately with Shadow. If you’re starting from scratch, that could mean a few hundred dollars out of the gate.
In that context, PlayStation Now looks much more impressive, allowing you to quickly jump into a long list of games without having to hunt down a deal or pay full price — though you could use one of our best VPN for PS4 picks to do that. That said, you don’t actually own games with PlayStation Now. Titles often leave the service as new ones are added, meaning your backlog is constantly shifting.
Like the previous round, this one is largely based on personal preference. If you already have a library of Steam games, Shadow is the better option, even with its higher-than-average price tag. That said, there’s no denying that PlayStation Now is cheaper and, furthermore, includes a lot of great games right away.
PlayStation Now is fairly limited in terms of features, restricting its functionality to the platforms it’s available on. Shadow is much more realized, taking the existing features of Windows and allowing you to experience them in the cloud. Again, we’re talking about a different approach. That said, Shadow has a more clear-cut leg up this round.
With Steam, you can use only Windows 10 — and not a stripped down version of Windows 10 — and nothing more (read our Vortex review for that). With Shadow, you’re free to download the browser you want, watch YouTube videos, customize the Windows desktop and, of course, visit Cloudwards.net.
However, the fact that Shadow offers Windows has some practical applications for gaming. You can install and play any game that would normally run on a PC. Unlike other cloud gaming services, which restrict your game choices to certain DRM platforms, Shadow supports everything.
Furthermore, there aren’t digital rights issues with Shadow. For example, if Google Stadia goes bust, your games are lost with the service (read our Google Stadia review). The same isn’t true for Shadow. Because purchases are made with Steam and the like, you’ll still have access to your games even if you cancel your Shadow subscription. Read our Google Stadia vs Shadow comparison.
PlayStation Now’s features are more centered around what it can’t do rather than what it can. As we’ll get into with the “platform support” round, the service is only available on PS4 and PC, the latter of which provides a subpar experience. Furthermore, you can only use a DualShock 4 with PS Now. There’s no support for other controllers or keyboard and mouse.
Worse than that, you may have to queue for games depending on demand. Sony says in its PS Now FAQ that “it’s impossible to guess how long you will be waiting” to play any particular game. As we pointed out in our review, that’s like saying you can’t watch new episodes of Black Mirror on Netflix until other users have.
Shadow and PlayStation Now have different approaches in how they’re run, which makes Shadow the clear winner for this section. PlayStation Now simply has too many limitations, whereas Shadow provides all of the flexibility of Windows.
From game support to features to pricing, PlayStation Now has put up a solid fight against Shadow. However, it all comes down to performance, and on that front, PS Now falls behind. We tested three games on each, with Shadow running Doom, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Cuphead. Similarly, we booted up Doom, Mighty No. 9 and Bloodborne on PlayStation Now.
Starting with PlayStation Now, we were able to immediately load games during a weekday afternoon (PS Now sometimes requires queuing). Everything felt responsive, though the occasional streaming artifact quickly broke the illusion. Furthermore, we experienced a lot of input lag.
Input lag seems to be a greater issue on more demanding titles. For instance, our character in Doom lagged just a bit, while we experienced little to no lag in Mighty No. 9. For fast-paced games like Doom, that trailing is too much. PlayStation Now has improved a lot in its performance, but not enough to be on the level of Shadow.
Speaking of which, Shadow offers a near one-to-one experience from a local PC. During our testing, we never ran into any stuttering or input lag. That’s because Shadow offers a full Windows computer. Instead of streaming large files from an enterprise server, Shadow has all of your game files localized to your remote desktop.
The greatest issue we encountered was some occasional lag in Windows, but nothing that impacts the gameplay experience. Furthermore, Shadow offers up to 4K resolution without any problems. PS Now, on the other hand, is limited to 720p. Although that’s not the end of the world on a full HD display, the 720p PS Now stream looks horrid in 4K.
There’s really no contest this round. It’s similar to comparing a PS4 to a PC. Sure, the PS4 is an impressive system for the market it’s aimed at, but it’s nothing compared to a dedicated gaming PC. In much the same way, PS Now is an impressive, novel service, but it doesn’t reach near the heights of Shadow.
5. Platform Support
Platform support is a big issue with PlayStation Now. Currently, you can stream PlayStation Now titles on your PS4 and PC, and that’s it. Furthermore, you’ll need a PS4 controller to play on PC. PlayStation Now doesn’t support keyboard and mouse controls.
Contrasted with Shadow, the problem is clear. Shadow offers clients for Windows, macOS, Android, iOS and Linux, with smart TV apps coming in the near future. Shadow is more expensive, but it fulfills the promise of playing your favorite games no matter what device you’re on. PlayStation Now doesn’t.
However, localizing PlayStation Now has its benefits, namely in that you can download some games to your PS4. Even so, cloud gaming is all about gaming without the need for sophisticated hardware or a huge screen. That’s Shadow’s wheelhouse, providing a similar experience no matter if you’re playing on your laptop or your phone.
6. Ease of Use
When it comes to ease of use, there isn’t much to talk about with Shadow, so long as you know your way around the Windows desktop. Signing up for the service is painless, and after a short hour wait, you’ll be able to access your remote machine.
Otherwise, your only other interactions with Shadow will be launching your remote machine and using the prebound hotkeys to end your session.
PlayStation Now is much more complex, especially on PC. We recommend signing up on your PS4 and handling everything there because the sales funnel on the desktop is half baked, at best. After signing up for an account on desktop, you’ll need to find a download link somewhere else on Sony’s site. On PS4, the PS Now app is installed by default.
The PS4 experience is very similar to the PS4’s OS, showing games in a Netflix-esque format. We’re more concerned about the PC experience. In an attempt to mirror the interface seen on consoles, the PC PS Now app shows a similar tile-like interface. It’s really laggy, though, especially if you’re using a keyboard and mouse.
There are some other minor issues, too. For example, you’re never asked to sign in; the app just launches into the game selection screen right away. Furthermore, there isn’t a search bar, so you’ll have to scroll through the long list of games to find the one you want.
All of these issues leave the PlayStation Now PC app feeling like a companion tool to the PS4’s implementation, nothing more.
Even worse, you have to manually sync your saves between the PC version of PS Now and the console version, and even then, not all games support cross-play between the two platforms. PlayStation Now is very much a PS4 streaming service that sometimes — if you’re lucky — works on PC.
Shadow, on the other hand, is a fully fledged cloud gaming service that allows you to experience the same titles on your phone, desktop and TV. There isn’t much to talk about when it comes to Shadow’s ease of use, but in the context of PlayStation Now, that’s a good thing. It simply works, no matter what platform you’re on.
Shadow and PlayStation Now have wildly different definitions of “coverage.” Starting with Shadow, it is only available in the U.S., and even then, not all states are fully supported.
On the other hand, PS Now is available in a long list of countries, including Austria, Canada, Finland, Denmark, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the U.S. and the UK.
PlayStation Now has a much wider spread, but that’s likely because it’s piggybacking on the existing PlayStation Network infrastructure. Although there’s no way to know for sure, the PS Now FAQ suggests that some servers out of the PSN’s network are working as PS Now servers. However, it doesn’t seem like enough of them are.
Given that players may need to queue, there are likely too few servers to handle the demand, which is all the more infuriating considering those servers are only streaming games at 720p. Shadow has a smaller network, but it supports those within its network much better.
Shadow is officially available in all 48 of the U.S. continental states. However, it’s only considered “live” in 38 of those states.
The other 10 — Washington, Utah, Wyoming, Arizona, Idaho, Colorado, Montana, Alabama, Georgia and Florida — are considered “exploration mode” states. That means, due to a variety of factors, including terrain and infrastructure, Shadow may have some problems in those areas.
If you’re in a live state, Shadow is an easy win this round. There’s no queueing, the servers can handle a much more demanding workload and you’re more likely to have a server close to you geographically.
However, PlayStation Now supports a wider range of locations, even if those locations aren’t as well supported as the U.S. is with Shadow. Because of that, we’re giving PS Now the win this round.
8. Final Thoughts
Out of our seven rounds, Shadow has five wins to PlayStation Now’s two. Although it sounds like a landslide for Shadow, we encountered similar scores in our Shadow vs GeForce Now matchup. It’s not that PlayStation Now is a bad service, but rather that Shadow is just leagues ahead of the rest of the market.
Although Shadow is more powerful and flexible than PlayStation Now, there are reasons to stick with Sony’s offering. If you’re a PS4 fan, PlayStation Now is an excellent service. The game streaming aspect is lackluster, but the ability to download and play more than 300 games (with another 500 or so in the cloud) locally is worth the cost of a subscription alone.
Do you agree that Shadow is the winner, or is PlayStation Now a better option? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below and, as always, thanks for reading.