Microsoft is launching a public preview of Project xCloud — its video game streaming service — in the UK next month, with Vodafone signed up as a local technical partner.
While cloud-based game streaming — an emerging threat to the console business — is still in its infancy and suffering from issues of laggy performance, Microsoft hopes the advent of 5G will change this. (Vodafone launched 5G on July 3).
Gamers testing the preview (anyone can sign up here) will be able to play Halo 5: Guardians, new release Gears 5, Killer Instinct, and online adventure Sea of Thieves. The game library will grow as the preview progresses, Microsoft said,
The xCloud preview is launching in the US, UK and South Korea simultaneously.
While Vodafone is the technical partner and will be working with Microsoft to feed performance data back to Redmond, gamers can sign up on any carrier.
Users will pair their chosen platform (TV, smartphone, PC, etc.) with an Xbox wireless controller via a Bluetooth connection and simply stream the video game content, eliminating the need for high performance hardware.
The hardware doing the heavy lifting will be housed in Microsoft datacentres that have been specially customised to run Project xCloud. The datacentre racks will contain customisable blades made up of component parts of Xbox One consoles, Microsoft’s current console gaming hardware offering.
Kareem Choudhry, Microsoft’s VP for Project xCloud wrote: “Public preview is a critical phase in our multi-year ambition to deliver game streaming globally at the scale and quality of experience that the gaming community deserves and expects.
“It’s time to put Project xCloud to the test in a broader capacity, with a range of gamers, devices, network environments and real-world use-case scenarios.”
Vodafone Project xCloud
Users will need a smart device capable of running Android 6.0 or higher and Bluetooth 4.0, along with a Bluetooth-enabled Xbox One wireless controller.
Currently a Xbox One S 1TB with Gears of War 5 is selling for £249, while the more upscale and robust Xbox One X 1TB is selling for £449. While game streaming would hit this hardware market for Microsoft, it believes that the reach gained by making game streaming viable across devices would easily mitigate it.
More seasoned gamers may shy away from these types of videogame streaming services until the technology is more proven. The main issue lies with latency: Netflix-style video streams get away with a lot of hidden packet delays that the user doesn’t see, but in the quick fire environment of online games, waiting for the acknowledgement from a distant datacentre that you pressed X will take out the immediate agency that videogames are known for. In competitive matches you can live or die according to the whims of a frame rate.
Stepping in from stage left, meanwhile is Stadia — Google’s videogame streaming service due for release in November. Google says its service, delivered via a controller and dongle combo, will be able to stream games at 4K resolution and 60 frames a second. Either way the videogames industry is moving to the cloud and the announcement today is a significant step forward.