Author(s): Raghu Gopal
This week, Microsoft announced a new streaming service called Project xCloud. The idea behind the new service is to allow users to play popular video games when and where they feel most comfortable, be that on a console, a computer or a mobile device.
Project xCloud will use Microsoft's Azure cloud, the company's massive cloud computing platform, loading up servers with the component parts of several Xbox One consoles, and using these to run games streamed directly to a device of choice. Gamers will be able to play titles like Halo, Forza Horizon and other classic console and PC big hitters on their PCs, smartphones and tablets.
As with any streaming service, latency is a major concern as Internet infrastructure varies greatly around the globe. The end result will not just depend on Microsoft's technology, but also on each user's Internet connection. Project xCloud will use 4G networks for now and will scale to 5G as the newest networks roll out globally. The test experience currently runs at 10 Mbps.
To exploit Azure for Project xCloud, Microsoft built custom server hardware for the streaming service to enable compatibility with existing and future Xbox games. Company executives say that its experience as a gaming company as well as a cloud platform provides it with the skills and experience to "combat latency". Specifically, it plans to optimise network topology, and video encoding and decoding.
Project xCloud is an intriguing glimpse into the future of "unshackled" gaming, allowing users to experience top console and PC games on a mobile device. The technology to support robust game streaming is advancing and the user experience is getting a boost. Already it's possible for gamers to stream titles from platforms including Sony's PlayStation Now, Nvidia's GeForce Now, Blade's Shadow and Google's Project Stream, which made its debut last week.
Based on our experience with game streaming services, we believe that a reliable cloud-based gaming platform will remain a dream for at least the next three years. The reality is that many popular fighting, racing and action games need millisecond-precise input to deliver a competitive gaming experience. This problem becomes most apparent when trying to play games online through this type of service.
Given Microsoft's efforts to solve many important technical challenges, Project xCloud will be eagerly watched by the gaming community. The first public trials are expected to start in 2019.