This top video shows Tomb Raider in-game benchmark doing its thing. It was recorded with Shadowplay, a new digital toy from the green kids at Nvidia. I’ll undress Shadowplay in sec. But first…

Oct 28th brought new video card drivers from Nvidia. But this is no normal driver package. With the bundle is GeForce Experience 7.1. Those keeping notes will remember GF Experience is the auto-tune application from Nvidia. It quickly analyzes your system hardware and intuitively optimizes game settings to ensure the smoothest gameplay experience by balancing visual fidelity vs. performance. Most PC gamers choose to tune their video cards and in-game settings manually. But Experience makes this a painless endeavor with no guess work for new PC gamers and those on less-than high end hardware.

The long awaited Shadowplay video capture tool is now an integral part of Nvidia’s GeForce Experience included in this week’s latest drivers release (331.65) for GeForce 600 series and 700 series videos cards. It is available FREE as of today and allows those with GTX 650 video cards or higher to use their on-board H.264 encoder to capture gameplay instead of an external capture card or internal 3rd party software.

It works like traditional capture solutions where you hit a pre-assigned hotkey button to begin recording. But it also shadows your gameplay so you never miss a cool moment–even after the fact, conjuring unrecorded gameplay as if by magic. Shadowplay also comes with the added promise of Twitch video streaming integration to be included in a later update.

So while it may seem obvious, let me spell out 6 reason to love Nvidia’s Shadowplay.

1. It’s Free

Nvidia-Shadowplay4

This is most glaringly obvious reason. I’m not really doing an official review on Shadowplay because there’s not a hell of a lot preventing folks from trying it out themselves. You do need a GTX 650 video card or better. So the cry of “Free” is really for existing or potential owners of these GPU solutions. If you own one then download drivers 331.65 from here. If you choose to do a custom installation make sure you opt download GeForce Experience 7.1.

2. Ease of Use

Nvidia-Shadowplay

You’re no Michael Bay just yet. To get it going you need to run GeForce Experience. You will also want to set your hotkeys for starting/stopping recording and a hotkey for saving your Shadowed file. You can also set the location of the recorded file. It’s smart too and creates a separate folder within the designatied directly for each game title recorded. So all your recorded gameplay for say, Crysis 3, WarFrame and Battlefield 3 are all organized. Once everything is set in the preference, a small circular icon will appear at the bottom right of your gameplay screen by default when you begin playing.. But this can also be adjusted to top-left, top-right or bottom left. Finally set

3. Slick Streamlined Feature Set

Shadowplay’s least appealing aspect is its dearth of features. You can only record in 1080p and you cannot set the frame rate of the resulting video file. It records at 60fps or less if your system is not capable of maintaining that speed.

Nvidia-Shadowplay3

You can select between 3 simple modes you want Shadowplay to operate. These are Shadow, Manual and “Shadow & Manual” running in tandem. I’ve been running it in the latter mode. If I forget to begin recording a sequence I know I can always save the last 5-10min of gameplay with a press of a button using the Shadow feature. Shadow mode saves the last 5min of gameplay by default. But this can be pushed to 10min in the “Shadow time: section. Manual works as stated above, where a predetermined hotkey initiates video recording and pressing it again stops the recording. But Shadow mode offers a safety net for absent-minded movie makers and storage space saviors who don’t want waste HDD space recording uninteresting gameplay in the hunt for something cool to happen. It sounds simple and it is. But it’s also a massive game changing feature.

Nvidia-Shadowplay6

Finally you can toggle in-game audio on and off to your preference. You can also set 3 different quality settings. High, Medium and Low correspond to 50Mbp, 22Mbps and 15Mbps.

4. File Type and Size

Nvidia-Shadowplay5

The resulting file type is MP4/MPEG-4. I set the Shadowed gameplay save to 6min. I played a session of WarFrame. Before I closed out the game I pressed NumPad 4 to save the last 6mins of my game. This created a 2GB files in glorious 1080p. In contrast, the immensely popular DxTory using Lagarith Lossless codec YV12 recorded 1:42min of video in 1080p for a resulting file size 7.97GB. That’s 400% larger for a file that has a runtime more than 50% shorter. But not only is it less efficient. The performance of Fraps and the mighty DxTory in particular can’t compete with Shadowplay.

5. Supported Media Players & Tweaks

Nvidia-Shadowplay2

Windows Media Players seems to be the go-to companion suggested by mean green. Yet I’ve seen no issues with VLC media player. To be safe, camp Nvidia mentions “added stutter” and washed out visuals with a lack of contrast have been observed when playing Shadowplay videos with VLC. They are working to improve the former. The latter can be remedied with a quick preferences tweak. Disable “Use hardware YUV -> RGB conversion.” in the Video Settings. It worked to enhance color saturation with my Shadowplay videos in VLC.

6. End Product

Here is a random game of WarFrame during the Gradivus Dilemma event going on right now. It’s a great example due the frantic pacing and multitude of DX11 goodies, PhysX and more. It recorded beautifully. The file was written to a 4TB Seagate traditional platter HDD and its remains butter smooth throughout.

Conclusion

That’s a wrap. Shadowplay is a winner. Making use of the H.264 encoder on all GTX 650 video cards or higher is smart business. You a get great ultra smooth slice of captured gameplay with nearly zero framerate loss while recording. The resulting file plays nice with traditional garden variety video players–most notable of which are Window Media Players, DAUM PotPlayer and VLC (less so for some). Twitch integration is coming. But even before that I would like to see a more flushed-out feature set. A great start would be to allow custom resolutions for captured video files.

Special thanks to Cal627 for the use of his timely video atop this article. Great stuff. Much appreciated Cal627.



Shawn Sanders

 
Shawn loves gadgets, literature, history and games. For 10yrs+ he's straddled both the comic book & video game industries, as a writer, editor, marketing officer & producer. Shawn got his start in tech & games as an editor & Hardware Director for GameRevolution.com. More notable accomplishments include Executive Producer on mobile games Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved & The Shroud.