Introducing Microsoft's Project xCloud (1 Viewer)

Major Tom

Major Tom

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Microsoft has officially unveiled Project xCloud, its game streaming service.

At E3 2018 in June, head of Xbox Phil Spencer took the Xbox stage to announce Microsoft’s plans for streaming-based games. Concrete details weren’t available at the time, but today’s announcement makes things clearer.

Project xCloud is Microsoft’s plan to put games in front of more people – particularly on mobile – regardless of whether they own an Xbox or a capable PC. Not only that, the streamed games are intended to be at PC and console-level fidelity and speed.

How Microsoft does this is through custom-built hardware at its Azure data centres around the world. This customised blade is capable of “hosting the component parts” of multiple Xbox One consoles. With a beta test scheduled to start in 2019, Microsoft is slowly making the hardware available at its various Azure centres.

Before the public test next year, Microsoft is currently testing Project xCloud on phones and tablets internally. Participants are able to use touch controls or sync an Xbox One controller through Bluetooth. To that end, the company is also working on game-specific touch controls for those who prefer them.

“Developers and researchers at Microsoft Research are creating ways to combat latency through advances in networking topology, and video encoding and decoding,” explained Microsoft.


Though Microsoft’s announcement touches on well-known game streaming problems like latency and fidelity, it does not say exactly how these problems will be addressed beyond just making more servers available to more people. The rumoured hardware-based solution we’ve been hearing about wasn’t mentioned today.

That said, the announcement does promise playable games on 4G connections, as well as 5G in the future. The press release definitely makes it seem like the service will scale up and down depending on the device being used.

“Currently, the test experience is running at 10 megabits per second. Our goal is to deliver high-quality experiences at the lowest possible bitrate that work across the widest possible networks, taking into consideration the uniqueness of every device and network,” the announcement goes on.

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Gromit

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Looks like they're putting four Xboxs into a single server blade. Impressive, but I'd still be concerned about scalability with that.
 
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Major Tom

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Microsoft is seemingly still interested in making a dedicated streaming device to complement its next-gen Scarlett console offering.

Microsoft has reportedly reverted to its original plan for next-gen to release two consoles, except the other one isn’t the less powerful version of Scarlett – that one is dead. No, this is the streaming-only device meant to be the lowest entry point into next-gen.

Nearly a year ago, reports suggested Microsoft will go into the next generation of consoles armed with a traditional box (Scarlett), and another for streaming. Project xCloud had not yet been shown off publicly at that point, so the thinking, at that point, was that game streaming works best with a piece of hardware doing some light lifting.


This may still be the case, because according to a new report from Thurrott’s Brad Sams, the cloud-exclusive Xbox is still in active development. Sams suggests the low-power box will be just capable enough to allow a player to “move around in a virtual environment”, but crucially, game elements like NPCs, interactables, text and even graphics won’t be there.

This is obviously not playable, but the idea is that having movement calculations run locally reduces input lag compared to a 100% streamed game. Though this might make technical sense, it’s hard to imagine the company pushing this hard unless the difference is really perceptible.
 

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