Edited by Nataly Bogorad
August 28, 2019
OBS vs. ShadowPlay: Pros and Cons
Two leading streaming and game capture programs on the market are long-time competitors that fight constantly for the same audience. Both are completely free and both have powerful arguments in their favor. Gaming forums are overloaded with threads like “Nvidia ShadowPlay vs OBS” and “OBS vs ShadowPlay”. Which one shows better performance in games? Which one is good for streaming and which one works better on Twitch? For this article, we’ve tried to answer these and other questions by analyzing user feedback and taking a close look at the programs themselves.
But first, let us briefly introduce the two programs and quickly review their settings and the basics of how to use them.
What is 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.
- 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 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?
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. It's 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.
- 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 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.
Nvidia ShadowPlay or OBS?
Now that we know something about both OBS and ShadowPlay, let’s see how they stand up to scrutiny against some key criteria.
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 afterwards, 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.
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.
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 and OBS.
File Size and Format
We’ve already touched on this topic. 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 FFMPEG library as the output format.
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.
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.
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. It is a great choice for streaming as it provides an overlay tool, but it also has really cool game recording feature that you won’t find in OBS: GIF creator, Instant Replay and Highlights. It is easy to share your recordings with ShadowPlay and even create beautiful high-resolution screenshots with the Ansel feature. And if you’re an Nvidia geek, it’s really handy to have all your gaming features, drivers and optimization options in one GeForce Experience application.
On the other hand, 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. It is no accident that it has become so popular: the program is extremely powerful when it comes to editing, configuration and customization, and it will never stop surprising you with new features and plugins.
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 capture gameplay.
- Record webcam and mic as well as your gameplay.
- 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.
The program is so intuitive, you’ll be tweaking the settings and starting recording in minutes.
Go ahead and give it a try!