Genki ShadowCast review: A smart but limited capture card

Genki’s ShadowCast is a dongle-sized video capture card that can provide everything some gamers and streamers need. It’s $45, a relatively low price for a no-nonsense device that allows you to get your console games on your PC. But it has some limitations. The video quality isn’t great, and there’s a noticeable amount of lag when you try to play along with the stream. These compromises come as no surprise, given that the ShadowCast costs a fraction of the price of something more capable, such as Elgato’s HD60 S+.

You can even go a little cheaper than Genki’s $45 if you’re willing to roll the dice for quality control. Last year we covered an affordable (usually between $10 and $30) no-brand HDMI capture card very similar to this one, and maybe the port layout might be more convenient for you. Unlike the ShadowCast, which plugs into an HDMI port and has a USB-C in port on the other end, the cheaper alternative has HDMI in and USB out, so you can just plug in an HDMI cable that you may already have. However, Genki gets the nod, both in terms of build quality and the accompanying software. I’ll go into the last part below.

It’s easy to get the ShadowCast up and running on PC or macOS. It works with any device with an HDMI-out port, so the PS5, Xbox Series X, Nintendo Switch, and some older consoles are covered. That also includes DSLR or mirrorless cameras that you may want to use as a high-end webcam. The ShadowCast, on the other hand, has a USB-C port, which you can connect to your PC with the included 6-foot USB-C-to-C 2.0 cable, or your own C-to-A cable . It also works seamlessly with streaming applications such as OBS Studio. When you use the ShadowCast as an interface to a camera, it works with Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, and other popular video conferencing apps. You may need a dongle if your camera does not have a full size HDMI port. A micro or mini HDMI dongle should get the job done.

When I hooked up the ShadowCast to my Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II camera to use it as a webcam, it worked well, with negligible latency issues. It produces much better colors and clarity than a traditional webcam, although in my case I was only able to get an image via HDMI by lowering the camera’s output resolution to 720p. That could be an issue with my camera, not the ShadowCast, so your camera may be able to output to higher resolutions without any issues.

Visually, the difference between 720p (left) and 1080p (right) is striking, but I prefer the 60fps fidelity of the lower resolution.

The ShadowCast’s specs are competitive for less than $50 recording solutions, and the flaws are generally similar as well. It supports up to 1080p input resolution at 30 frames per second, or a 720p image at a faster 60 frames per second. Both modes offer varying levels of graininess, so this device isn’t for people who want to render all the detailed visual details in PS5 games – or really any game – with a pixel-perfect rendering. Aside from fidelity, I noticed that colors from some sample images and shots look less vibrant and have less contrast than I would see by connecting my console directly to a monitor. Neither flaw is that surprising, given the price.

A slider comparison of image quality, with a 720p model on the left and a 1080p model on the right.

The lag while gaming is another issue. The delay in the incoming video feed is so obvious that it can be game-breaking depending on your preferences. Lag is really only an issue if you’re playing strictly through the feed coming in from the ShadowCast; Most streamers who want to play and stream from a console at the same time use an HDMI splitter and instead play their games on a screen that has a direct connection to their console, avoiding latency. I used the ShadowCast with different cables, as well as USB-C and USB-A ports on two different computers, but the latency issues were the same anyway.

The ShadowCast is a viable but limited option for streamers compared to more expensive options. But it’s more user-friendly than some of the other competitors if you just want to record yourself talking about the gameplay and upload the video to your channel later. Genki makes that easy via the free Arcade app for macOS and Windows 10 machines. Even more impressive, it works also via Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge. Once your console is plugged in, you can record and chat through your microphone during gameplay, and the recording will include both game audio and your voice. You can also take snapshots, which is useful when creating guides for game walkthroughs.

A snapshot from the browser version of Genki Arcade shows the full suite of tools, including voice recording, screenshots, and video recording.

A snapshot from the browser version of Genki Arcade shows the full suite of tools, including voice recording, screenshots, and video recording.

The app on macOS and the browser-based versions offers all of the above features. But on Windows, you can play your games, but you can’t record footage or microphone audio at the moment. The macOS app also runs different types of files than the browser version. On macOS, you get an .mp4 file, but the browser-based version outputs a .webm video file that can be viewed (and converted to .mp4) in VLC Player. It’s not a big deal, but it’s an extra step, as you’ll probably need to convert it to a more compatible video file format before uploading.

Here’s a clip shot with the Genki Arcade software in “Favor Performance” mode, which sets the ShadowCast to 720p at 60 frames per second.

Here’s a clip shot with the Genki Arcade software in “Favor Resolution” mode, which sets the ShadowCast to 1080p at 30 frames per second.

Genki also praises that his app and the ShadowCast should appeal to people who casually use their laptops or desktops as displays for their game consoles. There’s little reason to do this if you have a TV nearby, as you’ll get less latency with a direct connection. This method makes much more sense if you’re in a hotel with just your laptop, for example, or if you don’t have a dedicated TV and the largest screen you have is your desktop all-in-one. If those very specific circumstances describe your situation, this is not a bad way to go.

Whatever your use cases, Genki claims that its Arcade app has less latency than using the ShadowCast as a video source via OBS Studio, when tested on a 2020 base model M1 13-inch MacBook Pro. At the most it says the delay reduction can be up to 50ms but it varies and may be less than that. But on my setup, the reduction in latency with the Arcade app wasn’t too noticeable. Genki told me that latency can be affected by factors such as whether you’re using a laptop that charges rather than battery, and whether your PC’s specs can keep up. In my case, it’s like playing games via cloud streaming over a so-so internet connection. As I mentioned above, that may be a deal breaker for some, or not a concern for others.

If you’re skeptical about the ShadowCast, $45 isn’t that much to gamble, compared to more expensive solutions. I like the accompanying software (including a web-based solution), which simplifies putting your game on a PC or laptop screen. And as a streaming solution, the video quality is usable, as long as capturing high-fidelity footage isn’t essential.

Photography by Cameron Faulkner / The Verge