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Parsec: The Right Replacement for Shadow Fans
If you have the hardware, Parsec provides an even better solution than Shadow, the recently bankrupt cloud gaming PC service.
Though now an already devoted Parsec fan, were you to ask me mere months ago what my suggestion would be for those interested in PC gaming, I would have recommended Shadow, a service based out of France that offered a subscription-based service where you could use high-end gaming hardware. Especially given the semiconductor shortage and the wasteful GPU demand of cryptocurrency, it provided an affordable and effective way to have a quality gaming experience.
Unfortunately, the company went bankrupt and has had to scale back its offerings, including only offering its baseline service to people in the United States. Though this is good enough for a lot of games, it does not bode well for the sustainability of the service, despite the quality of the idea — something I have experienced personally in my own professional life at a company that helped people with hard-to-diagnose medical issues that could not stay afloat.
There is no replacement for what Shadow provided in that regard, but Shadow itself offered other benefits, such as being able to play on a wide range of devices. With it, I was able to treat my baseline MacBook Pro as if it was a high-end gaming PC fairly seamlessly. Other than occasional lag spikes, it just worked.
The best option for such functionality now is Parsec — but it is Bring Your Own Hardware. With it, you can get Shadow-like levels of functionality from your own devices, with optimizations designed to handle the low latency needs of gaming not present in a lot of remote desktop software.
Though I cannot immediately replicate the level of hardware Shadow could provide, if anything, I have had a smoother experience using it with a desktop I have here at home, undoubtedly because of being able to use local networking. Therein is another give and take of this model — your experience is smoother at home, but, without a good internet connection, it is likely to be as good elsewhere. However, if you’re looking to be able to pick up on your Steam games from wherever in the house — as I very much was — it is a great solution.
Overall, though I have had fewer issues and like using Parsec better overall, it does have a few drawbacks. For one, it doesn’t support platforms like iPadOS and iOS yet — though it does support Android. As someone who enjoyed the flexibility of playing on my iPad or Mac, I hope one day Parsec will be able to offer the same.
A smaller complaint, especially since there are rumors that Apple may do away with the TouchBar soon, is that, while Shadow has incredibly robust support for the MacBook TouchBars, it only exists as a black void when using Parsec. However, the thing I used it the most for with Shadow — toggling the mouse lock on and off to get the cursor unstuck — is no longer an issue.
Parsec does offer paid upgrades that enable things like enterprise features or 4:4:4 color support — though even with the free version of Parsec, the colors seem far more accurate than they were on Shadow without 4:4:4, which is only recently available as an experimental feature.
Though there are tradeoffs compared to a service like Shadow, there is simply no better option for a replacement for the convenience it can provide. Though Microsoft is readying the release of cloud PCs soon, the specs are not designed for gaming, likely at least in part to not to distract from Microsoft’s new Xbox Cloud Gaming service. Given how much demand there is for hardware, it is unlikely that such a business model will be viable for smaller companies for some time.
Therefore, I will unequivocally say: if you are looking for a portable way to play PC games well, using Parsec to stream from a device you own, ideally hooked up via ethernet to a good internet connection, is currently your best option — even if it has drawbacks.