Blade’s Shadow Box transforms any screen into a powerful gaming PC.
PC ownership is dead. The future of PCs is subscription-based, just like Netflix.
That’s what Asher Kagan, president and co-founder of Blade, a French cloud-based computer startup, basically told me as he showed off the full-fledged PC version of Rise of the Tomb Raider — detailed 3D graphics and all — running on a phone, tablet, and MacBook Pro.
Founded in 2015, Blade’s philosophy is simple: Kill the PC as you know it. “A revolution is coming to the PC that will replace it with nothing. No hardware, no upkeep,” Kagan says.
Instead of monstrous towers that sit underneath your desk, Kagan sees personal computers migrating to the cloud, accessed through a streaming service for a monthly fee. In other words, just like how you access movies and videos through a media streaming service like Netflix or Hulu.
Shadow, the company’s cloud-based streaming PC service, launched late last year and has racked up over 5,000 users in France. Germany and the UK are next on the launch list, but so, too, is the U.S.
Making its American debut at CES 2018, the Shadow service will first launch in California on Feb. 15. Service availability for the rest of the U.S. is expected by the summer.
Users will have three options for renting their cloud-based PCs: $35 per month for an annual subscription, $40 for a three-month subscription, or $50 for a no-contract monthly subscription. Committing to an annual subscription will save you the most money with a total cost of $420 per year.
Blade’s Shadow cloud PCs aren’t puny Chromebook-power machines — they’re the equivalent of a $2,000 gaming PC with a bleeding-edge 8-core Intel Xeon Core i7 processor with 12GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, and a high-end Nvidia graphics card with 8.2 teraflops of processing power and 16GB of VRAM.
The company didn’t specify which graphics card it’s using in their cloud computers, but the specs put it on par with an Nvidia GTX 1080, which is pretty beefy. That’s enough punch to run games at 1080p resolution at 144Hz or at 4K at 60GHz.
Over our company’s 300+ Mbps Wi-Fi, Kagan streamed the PC version of Rise of the Tomb Raider to several devices to give me a look at how well its Shadow PC and service would perform.
The real test will be when the Shadow service goes live for thousands of users trying to simultaneously access their cloud PCs.
He promised zero lag in performance and, for the most part, the Shadow PC located some couple thousand miles across country in a California-based data center, delivered when streamed to a 15-inch MacBook Pro, and an Android phone and tablet connected to a Bluetooth controller.
Lara Croft and her archeological surroundings looked quite good and the game ran pretty smoothly. Though we had things on a fast Wi-Fi connection, Kagan says its PCs can be streamed with connections as low as 5 Mbps. Granted, you won’t be able to do much gaming on such a slow connection — 15 Mbps is recommended — it should be enough to get most work-related tasks done. Obviously, the faster your internet connection (wired or wireless) is, the better your streaming experience will be. It’s no different than dealing with Netflix when it’s trying to buffer.
The real test, however, will be when the Shadow service goes live for thousands of users trying to simultaneously access their cloud PCs. Will there any peak time lags? That remains to be seen.
Personally, I’m pumped to see how Blade’s cloud PCs handle hardcore work, like video editing. There’s no doubt the computers have the processing power. But could a video producer do their job using an underpowered (but lightweight!) ultrabook instead of needing to lug around a laptop with a discrete graphics card?
The launch of the Shadow streaming service in the U.S. isn’t the only thing Blade’s going to show off at CES.
The company’s also launching a “Shadow box,” a compact geometric-shaped micro-computing box, that’ll let you connect a keyboard, mouse, or game controller up to any display (like your TV) and essentially turn into a PC. Additionally, it can stream the cloud-located Shadow PC to your mobile devices.
The Shadow box will cost $140 full price or you can pay $10 per month to rent it out.
If Blade’s vision with Shadow really is the future of PCs, expect more competitors to leap into the arena. Short-term, Shadow seems great — Blade manages and upgrades your remote PC with the latest and greatest computer components — and you just enjoy the power from your device of choice. But add up the total cost of renting a Shadow PC over the course of five years (the average time most people keep their PCs for) or more and the cost-savings — $2,100 if you subscribe for five years — may not be worth it.
That said, I thought nobody would ever prefer renting their $1,000 iPhones, or cars, or movies, and yet here we are. Maybe Kagan’s right, and ownership is dead. I hate to say such a cliché, but only time will tell whether it’ll be the Netflix for PCs or end up like the failed OnLive game streaming service.
When you start researching video streaming devices, the first ones you’ll find will likely be Apple TV, Google Chromecast and Amazon Fire TV. Between those three there’s a decent price range, so your search can just stop there, right?
Wrong. While the most popular video streaming devices out there will likely be a good fit for many users, there are other options you should look at.
Perhaps you’re looking for more versatility? Maybe you’re a power user that wants something extremely tweakable? Are you looking for a cheap PlayStation alternative? Or you’re just looking for the cheapest possible option out there that also does 4K?
We’ve rounded up some of the lesser-known video streaming devices out there to ease your search.
China’s Xiaomi has a reputation for delivering solid products with top-notch specs for an impossibly low price. The company has done it with nearly every gadget you can think of — from smartphones to smart TVs to scooters, and with the Xiaomi Mi Box, it entered the video streaming space as well.
And yes, for the features it offers — Android TV 6.0, 4K streaming, HDR video support, DTS/Dolby Digital Plus support and a Bluetooth voice remote — the Mi Box is pretty darn cheap at $69. Add to that the elegant, simple, Apple-like design, and you get a pretty sweet deal.
Since the device is Android TV-based, you get a ton of apps, including Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, Vevo, Vudu Plex, and Google Play Movies & TV. Google Cast is built in, so you’ll be able to send content to your TV from phones, laptops, tablets and more.
The specs are decent: quad-core Cortex-A53 CPU, MALI 450 GPU 2GB of RAM, 8GB of flash storage (expandable via a USB port). And this is where you might find chinks in Mi Box’s armor: While these specs are decent, especially for the price, some users might want more powerful innards to power 4K playback.
Starting at $179, the Nvidia Shield is one of the most expensive video streaming devices, but hear us out. This device is an absolute powerhouse, with an Nvidia Tegra X1 processor, 3GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, which should be enough for smooth 4K playback. It also supports HDR playback, Dolby Atmos/DTS-X audio, and comes with a remote, Gigabit Ethernet, two USB 3.0 jacks, and an HDMI 2.0 jack. It runs Android TV, meaning you get the Google software experience and all the nice apps that go with it.
But besides being a great media-streaming machine, the Shield’s greatest strength is that it’s also a game console. Add $20 to the base price and you get a game controller (for $299 you also get 500GB of storage instead of 16GB). So what can you do with all that? Play games, of course! For $7.99 per month, you can subscribe to GeForce Now, which lets you play Android titles such as Outlast 2, Obduction, and The Surge as you would with a GTX 1080 GPU, and stream them to your big screen.
Obviously, you do not need this device if you only want a media streaming device, and that’s perfectly fine. But if price is no issue, and you’re not a big fan of Apple TV, the Nvidia Shield is pretty powerful, and one of the most versatile media streaming devices you’ll find.
Roku sells quite a few video streaming devices, so you’ll be forgiven if you’ve overlooked the Roku Express. Its specs are nothing special: You get 720p or 1080p resolution, a single HDMI jack, a remote… and that’s about it.
But where Roku Express wins is the price. At just $29.99, it’s the cheapest option out there (outside of no-name devices from China), and for the price, you also get a remote and an HDMI cable, so you’re ready to go pretty much as soon as you bring it home. It’s the perfect option for someone that’s just not sure whether she needs a media streaming device in their life, or as a secondary device for your bedroom.
Supported apps include the usual suspects: Netflix, Amazon, Spotify, and Google Play Movies & TV, among others.
If you want all the latest bells and whistles, such as 4K resolution and HDR support, you can also check Roku’s most powerful video streaming device, the Roku Ultra. You’ll have to dish out three times the money, as it costs $99, but it’s still a pretty fair price for what you get.
Unlike the other devices in this list, Minix doesn’t have a big brand behind it, but it does have a pretty big following. This is because its video streaming devices are actually much more than that — they’re pretty powerful little computers with impressive specs and a plethora of connectors.
The company’s U9-H came out in 2017, but it’s still one of the best options for media streaming in Minix’s range. It’s got an octa-core, 64-bit, AmLogic S912 processor, a Mali-820 MP3 GPU, 2GB of RAM, and 16GB of storage. It’s also got a serious array of output connectors: HDMI 2.0, 3.5mm audio, optical audio, Gigabit Ethernet, and three USB 2.0 ports. Add to that a microSD card reader and you’ll see that adding some serious storage to this baby is no issue.
Its predecessor, Minix U1, had a pretty big software shortcoming, as it ran on now very dated Android 5 Lollipop. Minix U9-H remedied this by switching to the next version, Android 6 Marshmallow, which makes it a lot more future-proof.
If you opt for a Minix, know that setting things up isn’t as easy on most other streaming devices — for example, installing something as common as Netflix can be a chore. But if you know your way around Android, you should be fine.
The Minix Neo U9-H can be had on Amazon for $159.90.
Evanpo’s hexagonal box, the awkwardly named Evanpo T95Z Plus, probably offers the best bang for the buck in terms of sheer specs. It comes in several variants, and the most powerful one sports an octa-core processor (same one as the Minix U9-H), 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, Android 7.1, a remote, and a wireless keyboard — and you get all that for $104.99.
The T95Z Plus can play 4K videos at 60fps, which should result in a very smooth picture. It also has both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth support, meaning you can connect all sorts of peripherals to it. And did we mention the wireless, full-sized keyboard? No more fidgeting five seconds per letter on a numerical keyboard.
On the connectivity side, you get two USB 2.0 ports, a HDMI port, optical port and a Gigabit Ethernet port.
The biggest downsides of Evanpo are that it’s a lesser-known brand and that sometimes, getting everything to work as you want might be a more complex than, say, plugging an Amazon stick into your TV. But you’ll be rewarded with a myriad options that very few devices on the market offer.
“The biggest question around MoviePass and its $10-per-month unlimited subscription has never been whether it’s a good deal. It’s whether—or how long—it can possibly last. But there’s another monthly moviegoing plan that has largely dodged those existential doubts. In fact, in some parts of the world, it even makes money. Imagine that.
That company is Sinemia, an awkwardly named subscription plan that launched in Istanbul in 2014, spread to the UK not long after, and touched down in the US just a few months ago. In broad strokes, it’s the same idea as MoviePass: Pay a monthly rate, get movie tickets. But the differences between the two matter, both for your own wallet and the future of moviegoing.
On the Cheap
MoviePass, as you likely know by now, lets you purchase one movie ticket, every day, for $10 per month. (It also now offers a plan with an iHeartRadio trial bundled in, but the action’s at the all-you-can-watch buffet.) For that same $10, Sinemia offers you … two movie tickets…”
“With so much controversy swirling around the advertising-driven business models typified by Facebook and Google, and the increasing rigors of regulations like GDPR, it’s no wonder the blockchain world is starting to whet its appetite at the prospect of paying users for attention with crypto assets.
Now a company involved in the production of Hollywood blockbusters featuring the likes of James Franco, Selena Gomez, Alec Baldwin, Heidi Klum and Al Pacino is backing a new startup to reward viewers in this manner.
Hollywood producer Andrea Iervolino (best known for backing the James Franco film “In Dubious Battle” based on the novel by the Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck) has decided to enter the fray by launching a new blockchain platform called TaTaTu. The startup’s aim is to bring a social, crypto economy to the entertainment industry.
Iervolino says the platform allows users to get rewarded for the content they watch and share with others through the use of crypto tokens. Of course, whether it can actually pull that off remains to be seen. Many other startups are trying to play in this space. But where Iervolino might just have an edge is in his Hollywood connections.
The idea is that the TaTaTu token can also be used by advertisers to run their ads on the platform. Organizations will also be able to earn tokens by uploading content to the platform. The more content an organization brings to the platform, the more revenue they earn. TaTaTu aims to show ads to viewers and will even share advertising revenues with them in return for their attention.
But it doesn’t stop there. Users are supposed to invite their friends via their social media to join TaTaTu, and then watch and create videos that can be shared with friends, chat with other members and share the content they like. TaTaTu will give its users the possibility to be rewarded for their social entertainment activity. TaTaTu plans not only movies and videos, but also music, sports and…”