Last year Microsoft announced Project xCloud, a new game streaming service that aims to let you play big-name games on whichever device you want, whenever you want.
Project xCloud aims to leverage Microsoft’s existing data centers across the globe by loading up servers with the component parts of multiple Xbox One consoles, and using these to run the games streamed directly to your mobile device of choice - tablet, smartphone, whatever.
While the project is currently still small scale, with Microsoft employees testing the service, the company promises it will scale out across 54 Azure regions (with data centers in some 140 countries) when the system is honed and ready.
According to Microsoft, Project xCloud can already stream 3,500 games – with another 1,900 games potential titles on their way.
We got our hands on Microsoft Project xCloud at E3 2019, here's what we thought.
Project xCloud design and setup
It's hard to describe the design of something that is cloud-based, particularly when the real-life iteration of xCloud will differ from device to device. What's even harder to describe is a service that Microsoft is still remaining tight-lipped about. While some details have been shared, the specifics of how Project xCloud is running, future plans and a release date are all pretty hush hush.
However we did learn that public beta testing will begin in October 2019, with Microsoft to reveal how to take part at a later date.
For now though, we got our hands on the service during Microsoft's E3 2019 showcase and tried two particular AAA titles: Resident Evil 7 Biohazard and Forza Horizon 4.
Both setups were attached the Xbox's new Elite Pro 2 controller by a phone controller mount and were streaming to a Samsung S10 - currently Project xCloud only supports Android devices running Android 6.0 Marshmallow or newer.
The Xbox controller is bulky, almost too much so to be paired with a device that's meant to be easily portable. While it feels premium and weighty, we can't imagine it's something that could easily be popped in your pocket while on the move. You may be able to use the service without a controller but our gut feeling is that touch controls would be far too fiddly for some of these top tier games.
Luckily, all Microsoft controllers work with xCloud and the company is working with third parties to support more controllers. Hopefully something a bit smaller and lightweight.
Project xCloud latency and performance
Both games ran surprisingly smoothly, considering we were playing in the packed Microsoft Theatre. We experienced no latency issues or delays with controller input, the image was crisp and essentially the same as on any console. We were told the service was currently running on 10bm/s, while optimal performance recommended to be between 7-10mb/s. Not only that, but apparently the service has been known to work on as low as 4mb/s - though the quality isn't ideal.
According to Microsoft there is definitely a threshold for latency, but what exactly that is wasn't disclosed. We were simply told that "smoothness matters most" and that's what the company is focusing on right now.
Performance was in no way an issue. Whether that's due to the service only running on a few phones at that particular time is questionable and we are speculative on whether 10mb/s is actually the optimal setting. Perhaps for certain games, but each developer has its own experience expectations - so while 10mb/s may work great for one game, it could be a car crash for another.
In addition if, like me, you haven't got the best eyesight then you may struggle seeing the phone screen menus and smaller text aspects - particular as the resolution typically sits at 720p.
We were impressed by Microsoft Project xCloud, however there are small quality-of-life issues that need ironed out such as text size, a bulky controller and the introduction of iOS support. That being said, these are all things we expect will come up during public beta.
Whether xCloud will hold up when servers are under more stress is another aspect to take into consideration but so far xCloud seems to have the edge of its competitors (namely Google Stadia) when it comes to latency and performance.
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