NVIDIA GeForce Experience ShadowPlay Review

For the longest time, the name FRAPS was synonymous  with recording gameplay. As time progressed, many other screen capture software programs have come along, such as Bandicam, DXTory, and Action!, but FRAPS remained king when it came to accessibility and performance. However, the program came with a cost, in the form of large uncompressed video files (up to 4 gigabytes for a 2 minute video!).

NVIDIA has released a new contender in the screen capture market, its GeForce Shadowplay screen capture software. It claims that, by offloading the process of recording gameplay to the GPU instead of the CPU, it can provide 1080p video recording at 60 frames a second, with a minimal hit on the hardware.  So how does it stack up against the king?

The ShadowPlay Screen Capture software was first introduced in build 290 of the GeForce Experience software. It is compatible from the GeForce GTX650 model up, which utilizes NVIDIA’s new Keplar architecture. It records up to the last 20 minutes in “Shadow Mode” or an unlimited recording time with ShadowPlay’s manual recording mode, and outputs video in 1080p at 50 Mbps in H.264 format. ShadowPlay also supports HD-quality broadcasting to Twitch.tv.

Screenshot 2014-01-16 13.24.46

The user interface is fairly simple and straightforward, with a fair amount of adjustability. You are also able to customize your hotkeys for recording and broadcasting. I would have liked to see you be able to map recording buttons to a controller or button box, it works just fine on a keyboard. There even is support for a webcam feed to go on any corner of the screen you want! You can also set the sounds to just capture gameplay, as well as the ability to include audio from an external microphone.

Now all of this stuff sounds good on paper, but how does it actually run? Well, for that I took the Riley Daytona Prototype to Daytona’s Road Course at night for a real world testing situation. I ran one lap with the car while recording and, to put it simply, I was blown away by how smooth the recording was while driving. I keep my frame rate locked at 84 frames per second, and the recording never dropped below 75, and consistently stayed right at the 82-84 mark! I never really experienced any stutter while driving, and was able to drive without worrying about the recording.

Once I finished the recording, I braced for the worst in terms of file size. I knew the same recording on FRAPS would tip the scales at a over 4 gigabytes. I looked in the folder (which is organized by gaming title in your videos folder by default), and saw the file was only 700 megabytes! I did a half hour recording a few days ago, and even that was just a hair under 10 gigabytes, which was very manageable for a file of that size!

I have tested FRAPS, Bandicam, OBS Broadcaster, and a couple other screen capture software, and I feel that NVIDIA outperforms them as well, however, it does come at a cost. With the technology involved, it requires a GTX650 or higher graphics card, which starts at around $120.

Pros

Minimal FPS loss while recording
Smaller file size than competitors recordings
Default file format H.264 MP4
Can directly stream to Twitch.tv
Simple UI and settings
Does a good job at organizing recorded videos

Cons

Requires a GTX650 or higher graphics card
No screenshot capabilities

Bottom line, if you are working a lot with recording gameplay, be it racing or otherwise, it is extremely tough not to recommend the ShadowPlay software, as right now I feel it is by far the most powerful software to capture gameplay. If you are in the market for a new graphics card as well, getting a card compatible with Shadowplay would be a great investment.