Yesterday evening, I had the pleasure to finally get some hands-on time with Project xCloud. As we know, xCloud is a significant focus for the Xbox team and a pillar of their future strategy. But while we’ve seen it on-screen, and heard good things from the development teams, many Xbox gamers are still hesitant to place confidence in the technology given the long history of issues with game streaming. After having some hands on time with the tech, it’s likely time for our mindset to evolve.
My initial questions where related to distance and network requirements as those typically first come to mind when thinking of data streaming. The team informed me that I was connected to San Francisco (while connected from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles) which equates to a distance of about 400 miles. Knowing that it wasn’t connected to a local hub was most impressive and obviously a far better test for what players would experience in the real-world. But more interesting to me, is the fact that in testing right now, they are only requiring download speeds between 7-10mbps to see performance which would be considered “on par” with being on a local machine.
I played two games with two very different gameplay styles in Halo 5 and Hellblade, and did so with an Xbox One controller connected to a smartphone (Samsung S10+). Just as if I were connected at home, they were the full games and as I was playing with an Xbox controller, there was no learning curve outside of getting used to the small screen of course. With Hellblade, I navigated through the options screen (invert for life) and ran through some areas, while in Halo it was more combat focused. In both cases, there was no perceptible lag, stuttering, or latency. As someone that first began gaming on an Atari 2600, the fact that I was playing a game like Halo 5, on a smartphone, while connected to a server hundreds of miles away, truly blew me away.
Now for the demo, there are a few more things to take note of. The games were running in 720p, which according to the team was by design simply due to the size of the screen and E3 environment. According to the team, the same performance can be had at 1080p with the same bandwidth requirements. Also, it was running on a wired connection one day, and wi-fi the next. In speaking with Bill, due to the variations in signal traffic being experienced due to the media presence, they went wired for a time. But generally speaking in everyday scenarios, and in the demo footage you see below, they demo it on wi-fi. Here’s footage of me playing Halo 5.
Particularly funny were the conversations with other members of the Xbox team. Several of them mentioned how they have begun leaving their consoles at home when they travel because they simply use xCloud now; a benefit that I am personally looking forward to extensively.
In talking with the team, there’s a palpable sense of excitement around Project xCloud. While we’ve heard from the Xbox leadership how important xCloud is to the future of Xbox as a brand, it’s particularly reassuring to see the core team responsible for its implementation feel the same way. While there’s hesitation in the community as to the viability of the technology, which I fully understand, it’s time to begin letting go of it. xCloud is real, and it’s spectacular.