Microsoft is bringing the power of the Xbox Series X (opens in new tab) to its Project xCloud (opens in new tab) game streaming service in 2021. And xCloud will get a full release as part of Xbox Game Pass later this year.
Sources familiar with Microsoft's xCloud plans told The Verge (opens in new tab) that the cloud-powered game streaming service will come out of beta and be launched as a service that’ll be bundled into Xbox Game Pass. That means you’ll not only be able to download and play selected Xbox games your Xbox One S (opens in new tab) or Xbox One X (opens in new tab), but also be able to stream those games and future Xbox Series X games (opens in new tab) to your smartphone or tablet.
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Project xCloud uses Microsoft’s cloud infrastructure — which is one of the largest in the world — to stream games from dedicated servers to smartphones and tablets using a cellular broadband or Wi-Fi connection. The overall goal is to provide a service that allows games to be streamed to all kinds of hardware, as well as allow Xbox owners to stream games from their own console to other devices.
Currently in its beta form, Project xCloud enables a selection of Xbox games to be streamed to Android phones and tablets; you just need the Xbox Game Streaming app. The service also works on iOS devices (opens in new tab), but due to Apple’s App Store limitation, you can only stream Halo: The Master Chief Collection (opens in new tab).
But come the end of 2020, xCloud looks set for a proper release on Android at least. Given Microsoft will need to negotiate with Apple to get xCloud ship-shape on iOS, it doesn't look likely the game streaming service will get a proper release for iOS devices this year.
When xCloud does launch it’ll use custom servers running hardware based on the Xbox One S. But according to The Verge’s report, those servers will get upgraded in 2021 with the powerful hardware inside the Xbox Series X.
That’s an interesting move, as it’ll mean that you should be able to play Xbox Series X games next year without the need for an actual Xbox Series X console. Furthermore, having the 12 teraflops of Xbox Series X power to bring to bear means that the overall game streaming service could be improved, thanks to faster video encoding.
We’ve tried the beta version of Project xCloud and we’re suitably impressed, particularly as it syncs with our Xbox Game Pass games on both the Xbox One (opens in new tab) and Windows 10. But it’s far from perfect, with some latency and the need for a fast broadband connection for it to work well.
If upgrading the server-side hardware can improve this experience, as well as provide access to next-generation games, Microsoft could create a ‘Netflix-for-gaming’ service that actually succeeds where other services, such as the now-dead OnLive, have failed.