Here is everything you need to know about the Xbox cloud games service, including what devices are compatible and how to play it right now.
What is Project xCloud?
It is a streaming service, in that all games are hosted on remote servers and live gameplay video is sent to a compatible device over the internet. In return, controller codes are sent in the other direction so, for all intents and purposes, it feels like you are playing a game loaded on the device itself, whether it be a smart TV, PC, tablet or smartphone.
It is not a new idea; PlayStation Now has been available on PS4 consoles for several years; Nvidia launched the full GeForce Now service in early 2020; and xCloud's major rival, Google's Stadia, launched in November 2019. However, Microsoft believes it has a distinct advantage over the others as it can leaverage its vast library of over 3,000 Xbox and PC games.
It also has one of the largest network of data centres around the world.
This, combined with the company's Azure cloud server network, will ensure that game requests can be served locally rather than across continents, potentially reducing latency by shortening the distance between the end user and the data centre.
Latency is the enemy of cloud gaming, often adding many milliseconds between button presses and actions performed on screen. And, while that doesn't sound like much, milliseconds are vital when it comes to gaming. Say you press the button to shoot an onrushing enemy, a few milliseconds of latency can be the difference between hitting them and not. Or, in a driving game such as Forza Horizon 4, the difference between successfully drifting around a corner or ending up wrapped around a tree.
Does that mean my Xbox One or other games console will be defunct?
Project xCloud is not designed to replace existing or future games consoles. Instead, it runs parallel to the company's machines, offering many of the same games and even allowing for save games to be picked up and continued no matter which device you use: mobile, console or even PC.
As it will be available as part of the company's Xbox Game Pass Ultimate membership scheme, which also includes over 200 games to download to the Xbox One, 100 games for PC and Xbox Live Gold, it is seen very much as an extension to Xbox One gaming and, eventually, Xbox Series X too.
Essentially, xCloud will be the way for you to carry-on your Xbox experience on a portable device, whether you are at home or out and about.
What games are available?
When it launches, xCloud will host more than 100 Xbox games that are also available on Game Pass - including current and archive titles from its vast catalogue.
Later, once the Xbox Series X has launched, it could include next-gen versions of games too. The host servers will be capable of running them and as you are only receiving a video stream anyway, you don't need to have any special processing power to run them.
When and where will I be able to use Project xCloud?
Project xCloud will fully launch on 15 September 2020, for Android devices exclusively, although it should expand to more platforms over time. This follows a year of preview availability.
That preview is still running, and is currently available in Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, UK and the US.
That focus on Android at launch isn't altogether surprising. The public preview is mainly for Android devices, for one. Xbox did launch a version for iOS but it is very limited at present, and Apple's app rules are seemingly more stringent than Google's.
The preview requires a phone or tablet running Android 6.0 or greater and with Bluetooth 4.0 at least, a Microsoft account and a Bluetooth-enabled Xbox One Wireless Controller. Xbox also recommends you acquire a phone mount for the controller, unless you are playing using a tablet.
The mount is reasonably inexpensive, however. We've found a pack of three of them for just £9.99 on Amazon.co.uk, for example. We don't know if that will all be required for the full launch, as yet.
How much does xCloud cost?
The Project xCloud preview is free to access for all invitees. And, once launched it will continue to be free to all those with an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription.
Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, the all-you-can-eat digital download service for Xbox One and Windows 10, is £10.99 per month.
What devices work with xCloud?
At launch xCloud will only work with Android devices, meaning tablets or smartphones. However, as we've mentioned, this could easily spread to include more platforms over time.
Since the release of iOS 13, Xbox One controllers work on iPhone and iPad, as well as Android devices through Bluetooth, even if xCloud won't at launch.
In terms of other controllers and controls, Microsoft has said that on-screen touch controls could be developed for games, so that's one way of providing the experience on other devices too, but we're not that keen on the idea of trying to navigate through a hardcore session of Doom Eternal using touch.
The company is dabbling with its own Nintendo Switch-style clip-on controller concepts, as detailed in a filed patent and leaked internal document, so they might be available to smartphone and tablet owners in future.
There are currently no plans that we know of for xCloud to be available on Android TV boxes or other streaming devices or Smart TVs (which is a shame).
What is Xbox Console Streaming?
As well as xCloud, Xbox Console Streaming is available in public preview too.
Using the same technology, gamers can use their own Xbox One consoles as an xCloud server and therefore stream their own games to a portable device.
PlayStation offers something similar in the form of PS4 Remote Play, but Xbox Console Streaming is different as you aren't restricted to having to be on the same home network, you can also stream over a mobile data connection.
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You can find out more about it here.