June 3, 2022

ShadowPlay vs. OBS for Gaming

10 min

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You can also try Gecata by Movavi

  • Two-way sound capture
  • No performance loss
  • Hardware acceleration

Shadowplay and OBS are two of the most popular streaming and game capture programs available in the market today. Both the programs are robust and come with their own set of pros and cons. We will discuss ShadowPlay vs. OBS in this article to make a better choice.

Comparison parameter

OBS Studio

ShadowPlay

PerformanceReduced frame rateSmooth performance
CustomizationLimitless customizationLimited options for customization
Audio and video qualityAverage audio and video qualitySuperb audio and video quality
FeaturesLimitless recording, color correction, filters, editing tools, sound adjustment, widgets, alerts, overlaysShare recordings, Twitch live-streaming, social media streaming, 4K recording, 360-degree capturing, instant replay, highlights
PricingFreeFree
EditingProfessional editing toolsNo form of editing is available
File sizeIt takes up less spaceIt takes a massive amount of space
CPU performanceIt uses a lot of CPUAffects only by a little
ReviewsG2 rating
4.6 out of 5 stars, 89 reviews
G2 rating
4.5 out of 5 stars, 16 reviews

What is OBS?

Best for: Unlimited recording

OS: Windows, macOS, Linux

Price: Free

G2 rating: 4.6 out of 5 stars, 89 reviews

Download OBS

OBS stands for Open Broadcaster Software and is one of the most well-known and widespread streaming and game capture programs in the world. It is completely free and open source. It provides users with loads of professional features for capturing video and works great as streaming software, too. It is supported by Linux, Mac, and Windows.

Main features:

  • Unlimited recording time. Audio and video recording time is unlimited in OBS, which is restricted only by the available space on your hard drive. So, get ready to do some house-cleaning before you throw yourself in a 2-hour streaming session.
  • One-click switching between scenes and transitions. Although OBS is known for its range of complex settings and functions, it has one-click solutions, too: easily going back and forth between scenes and transitions is one of them.
  • Advanced editing. Integrated with the program is its own mini editing software, which supports tools like color correction, chroma-key, cropping, sharpening, image masking, and more.
  • Audio mixer. Whether you’re doing streaming or game capture, good-quality audio is crucial for sustaining your audience’s interest and getting new subscribers. OBS provides a user-friendly audio mixer that enables you to mix audio in real-time and also to control extraneous noise in your recordings.
  • Easy set-up. As the software is open source, its configuration possibilities are endless and the process of the configuration itself can be fun: the most recent updates have made the program even easier to use, and OBS supplies users with interesting guides that will make you want to spend time tweaking and combining the program’s numerous plugins to enhance your recording experience.

What is ShadowPlay?

Best for: Easy game broadcasting to Facebook Live, Twitch, etc.

OS: Windows

Price: Free

G2 rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars, 16 reviews

Download ShadowPlay

NVIDIA’s ShadowPlay is solid software for recording games and live streaming. It allows you to record up to 30 minutes of gameplay at up to 1440p resolution and 60 FPS for your recording, although the quality limitations may vary depending on the streaming service you use. Its Broadcast Live feature lets you stream live on Twitch, Facebook, and YouTube. Since the program is hardware accelerated, it turns on automatically when a game is running. The important thing to know, though, is that ShadowPlay works only on NVIDIA-powered graphic cards.

Main features:

  • Instant sharing. Streaming with ShadowPlay is extremely easy, as the program saves you lots of time by allowing you to broadcast directly on YouTube, Twitch, or Facebook.
  • Ansel. This is a feature that comes in a bundle with ShadowPlay and enables you to capture high-resolution screenshots of the highest quality, configure their position and adjust their looks to the last detail as you would do for professionally taken photos. Ansel also lets you make 360-degree in-game shots!
  • GIF creator. This program has a special functionality that enables users to create GIFs without leaving the game and share them instantly on platforms like Google, Facebook, and Imgur.
  • Instant replay. This great feature is ShadowPlay’s standout option: it continually records the last five to twenty minutes of gameplay, so you can always save your triple kills and other highlights by simply pressing Alt + F10. That’s a great solution if you don’t want to save the entire game but would still like to have the opportunity to show off the highlights. And speaking of highlights...
  • ShadowPlay highlights. This is one of the program’s newest features and, although it doesn’t work for all games, the list of supported games is still quite extensive. Basically, it automatically records your best gaming moments and saves them to your hard drive.

OBS vs. ShadowPlay

OBS vs. ShadowPlay: which one is better for gaming? Let’s see how they stand up to scrutiny against some key criteria.

Streaming

Let’s look at streaming with ShadowPlay vs. OBS. Unfortunately, you can’t use Twitch streaming and Shadow Recording at the same time, so if you want to save your streams to post online afterward, you’ll need another program.

Although both ShadowPlay and OBS make great overlays, when it comes to stream customization options, OBS is way ahead of its competitor, as it lets you set up an unlimited number of scenes. The modular “Dock” UI helps you arrange your streaming layout any way you like, and the Multiview function and Studio Mode push your streaming possibilities to the highest level: you almost feel you’re working at a broadcasting company with all the screens and scenes you can tweak and switch between in one click.

Last but not least, ShadowPlay lets you stream only to Twitch, YouTube or Facebook. Now compare this to the OBS’ list of streaming services:

Yes, YouTube seems to be missing from the list. Don’t worry, you can stream on YouTube with OBS:

Read this guide to learn how to stream on YouTube

CPU performance

In spite of what you read on the internet, ShadowPlay does affect game performance, if only by a little. While NVIDIA cites a typical performance decrease of 5%, for more demanding games, this can rise as high as 10%. It is true, though, that if you have a high-end PC you may not notice the difference.

On the other hand, OBS is known to use a significant amount of CPU power while also reducing the frame rate. Nevertheless, the fact that OBS is super customizable gives you the option to lower the pressure on your CPU by tweaking some of the parameters: downscaling the output resolution, lowering the frame rate, changing the encoding preset, etc. To learn more, read the official OBS guide on how to resolve CPU performance and encoding issues while using OBS.

Read the official OBS guide

Sharing and compression

OBS compression settings are definitely more versatile than those of ShadowPlay, as they allow you to compress your files in the program during the encoding process so that they are already compact enough to be uploaded directly to YouTube without having to recompress them. ShadowPlay’s compression is quite limited so the streams, if they are long enough, will still be pretty large.

At the same time, maybe you don’t need to compress your recordings. Knowing that YouTube will still rob you of a significant amount of video quality during the upload, you will want to save as much of it as you can at the encoding stage by applying as little compression as possible. In this case, there is really no big difference between ShadowPlay vs. OBS recordings.

File size and format

We’ve already touched on the topic of NVIDIA ShadowPlay vs. OBS file sizes. Due to OBS’ compression possibilities, you can reduce output file sizes significantly. As for the file format, keep in mind that ShadowPlay uploads all videos in MP4 by default, while OBS can use the GPU’s NVENC hardware encoder chip, which lets you select almost any kind of file/container supported in the FFmpeg library as the output format.

Editing

ShadowPlay, as cool as it is, supports only a limited set of editing features in the most recent addition to the program: the NVIDIA Freestyle game filter. OBS, on the other hand, has built-in editing software that provides advanced editing tools, customizable transitions, and a powerful real-time editing Studio Mode that lets you preview and adjust scenes before you start broadcasting them.

Community

In spite of its popularity, it seems that ShadowPlay still hasn’t found its place in the NVIDIA product line-up because, strictly speaking, it is a part of another product – GeForce Experience, which is an application for NVIDIA graphics cards that enables you to optimize your PC for gaming, get the latest drivers and, yes, also stream and record games. But the site navigation gets quite confusing because all community and support features – FAQ, forums, guides, news – are also gathered under the common GeForce Experience label, so it may be hard to find information relevant to ShadowPlay. Actually, when going through the general GeForce Experience dashboard with all the tabs related to the application, it is challenging to even find ShadowPlay, because its name appears nowhere on the page (Tip: you can still find it by clicking the “Share” tab).

OBS, not being a sub-product but a self-contained project and positioning itself as such, has no such problems. What is more, the fact that OBS is completely open-source is an incredibly community-encouraging factor. It has an API that allows users to create their own unique plugins, and OBS is very attentive to the opinions of its users: their Feature Request functionality works really well and ensures the program develops constantly in the direction set by the same people that actively use it. This experience has led to the creation of more than 20 plugins, including for countdown and TeamSpeak implementation, server ping measuring, and more. With such a community, even the seeming complexity of the program is no longer a big problem.

File recording

ShadowPlay demands more space in comparison to OBS in the hard drive. It permits users to re-encode the recorded files as required. Users can also upload the recorded collections to YouTube directly. OBS is also a nice option as it compresses files for faster processing. OBS is a better option for longer sessions.

Customization

OBS offers an extensive customization option with lots of sources, transitions, and plus-ins. You can also enjoy one-click switching for smooth transitions. The UI of OBS will let you set up an unlimited number of scenes without any kind of restriction. But the list of customizations is quite limited in ShadowPlay.

Summary

Before you opt for ShadowPlay or OBS, you need to be sure of certain things.

  • Usability: Ensure that the program is simple and easy to use.
  • Features: Lookout for the features that you need the most. You can check the program website for more information.
  • Reviews: It is always a great thing to check the ratings and user reviews.
  • Support: The program that you choose should provide proper customer support.

In conclusion, we can say that the choice between ShadowPlay and OBS depends entirely on your needs. If you have an NVIDIA graphic card and don’t want to record your gameplay while streaming at the same time, but just need a simple tool with a cool interface, go for ShadowPlay. If you’re a professional streamer and you want to add a custom look to your streaming layout, if you know exactly what you want from your streams and recordings and have no problem figuring out the tech specs and encoding settings related to the process, definitely give OBS a try.

Gecata by Movavi: A simple, reliable alternative

OBS and ShadowPlay are great, but maybe you don’t need as many options as the first one, or you don’t have an NVIDIA card to benefit from the second. If this is you, we invite you to try Gecata by Movavi, an easy-to-use program that has all the key functions you need to stream and capture gameplay.

  • Record webcam and mic as well as your gameplay.
  • Stream on Twitch or any other platform.
  • Turn on Game mode so the program starts recording automatically as soon as you launch the game.
  • Save screenshots in one click and set the desired FPS and bitrate.
  • Capture separate audio streams so you can edit them differently and mix them as you like.
  • Add overlays to control the frame rate, system bit count, and file size of your recording in real-time.
  • Edit and convert recorded videos with a video manager.

The program is so intuitive, you’ll be tweaking the settings and starting recording in minutes.

Go ahead and give it a try!

Ben Jacklin

Ben is a writer from the UK with qualifications in Media and Music Technology, he specialises in software reviews and tutorials. Ben has been blogging about media and tech subjects since he was a teenager from his base in the East of England.

Gecata by Movavi

Simple and solid game recorder and streaming program

Frequently asked questions

Is ShadowPlay better than OBS?

If you decide whether to choose OBS or ShadowPlay, check out usability and features before opting for one. There are various types of programs available today that come with their own set of unique features.

Does ShadowPlay lower FPS?

Yes, you might notice a negligible drop in frame rate. It is especially the case if you use features like instant replay, live stream, or other extra features.

Is ShadowPlay free?

Yes, ShadowPlay is free to use as it is an open-source program.

Can ShadowPlay record 4K?

ShadowPlay can record 4K at 60 fps even if you do not use a 4K monitor. The set bitrate is 130 Mbps with the quality set to custom.