On March 29th, an update hit the Shadow Alpha client that brought with it a new login process and the Better Colors setting. This setting brings 4:4:4 chroma subsampling to Shadow.
This is my first impressions of the new 4:4:4 color support currently available in the Alpha client of Shadow.
What is 4:4:4 Chroma Subsampling?
If you have watched any of the recent Shadow News, you may know what 4:4:4 is. But, for those that do not entirely understand what this is, hopefully, the explanation I am about to give will help!
We will start with understanding what Chroma Subsampling is. According to RTINGS, "Chroma subsampling is a type of compression that reduces the color information in a signal in favor of luminance data."
The numbers in 4:4:4 each represent something. The first number refers to the sample size, while the following two numbers refer to chroma and luminance.
The chroma subsampling of 4:4:4 means the image you see on your screen is one of which both the chroma and the luminance are being transferred entirely, without any compression loss.
Shadow currently uses 4:2:0 Chroma Subsampling, which shows only a quarter of the chrome that 4:4:4 shows.
Here is an image from RTINGS that better explains each Chroma Subsampling setting.
As you can see, 4:2:0 shows significantly fewer colors and luminance compared to that of 4:4:4.
Another example shared on the Better colors for Shadow incoming! blog post was this.
As you can see on the left side, many texts in certain color combinations are blurry or hard to read. On the right side, the text is more precise and easier to discern.
In the grand scheme of things, 4:4:4 offers a better picture than that of the current 4:2:0.
4:4:4 on Shadow
With the recent update to the Shadow Alpha client, the Better Colors setting has become available.
This setting allows for you to turn on 4:4:4 colors with Shadow. However, currently, it requires the use of Software Decoding, and thus it is a lot more demanding on your system.
With the Better Colors setting, your Shadow will stream with complete, uncompressed chroma coloring instead of the previously compressed colors. You can easily see it in games that had a lot of red text.
For me, it was Final Fantasy XIV. Without 4:4:4, a lot of the red text was blurred out and hard to read. With 4:4:4, the game looks a lot crisper, and the red text is so much easier to read!
Issues while using 4:4:4
Any new feature in Alpha usually has its issues that you have to deal with. For the Better Colors setting, it is a stuttering stream.
By default, I usually have Shadow set to use 70mbps max. Although my Shadow client rarely, if ever, goes above 50mbps, it is good to have the max set for "just in case" scenarios.
However, with 4:4:4 enabled, I was noticing a stutter every second. On my Windows machine, this ended up being because I was also running Shadow in H265 mode. For some reason, H265 and the Better Colors setting did not work together well. Disabling that removed the stutter.
However, on my Linux machine, that only made the issue less frequent, from every .5 seconds to every 1.5 seconds. Still not ideal, and it made Shadow unusable.
I ended up having to adjust my Shadow's bandwidth settings down to 40mbps. Anything above that, and the stutter returns.
I will be checking the bandwidth limitation each time I notice the Alpha client getting an update.
Wrapping it up
For Shadow, the 4:4:4 colors are a necessity. It makes games look even closer to if you were to run the game locally.
4:4:4 is a significant step up and will attract even more people to cloud gaming.
I will be keeping a close eye on 4:4:4. I hope the bandwidth issue I experience gets fixed, but I highly suggest checking it out if you have not. But, do be warned, it is on the Alpha client, and you may run into other issues that you would not experience in the Stable/Beta clients!