Microsoft Reveals Its Ambitious ‘Project xCloud’ Game Streaming Platform

Article By 
Alan Walsh
October 8, 2018

Microsoft Reveals Its Ambitious ‘Project xCloud’ Game Streaming Platform

Article By 
Alan Walsh
October 8, 2018

Microsoft has announced its new global game-streaming technology platform codenamed ‘Project xCloud.’ This service will allow gamers to stream console-quality games to their mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets, when it begins to roll out for public testing in 2019.

The ‘Project xCloud’ initiative is being dubbed as “a multi-year journey” for Microsoft. With its public trials next year, the company will be able to learn and scale the platform with different volumes and locations.

“Our focus is on delivering an amazing added experience to existing Xbox players and on empowering developers to scale to hundreds of millions of new players across devices,” says Kareem Choudhry, Corporate Vice President of the Gaming Cloud at Microsoft. “Our goal with Project xCloud is to deliver a quality experience for all gamers on all devices that’s consistent with the speed and high-fidelity gamers experience and expect on their PCs and consoles.”

Microsoft has enabled Project xCloud compatibility with existing and future Xbox games by building custom hardware for its Azure datacentres worldwide that leverages the company’s years of experience in the console space and with cloud technologies. This includes “a new customizable blade” that Microsoft has architected to host the components of multiple Xbox One consoles, as well as the necessary infrastructure to support it. “We will scale those custom blades in datacentres across Azure regions over time,” Choudhry adds.

 

Internally, Microsoft is already testing Project xCloud today – and has been for some time. It runs on devices like mobile phones and tablets paired with an Xbox One Wireless Controller via Bluetooth. The company has also developed new touch input controls that acts as an overlay on top of the game you’re playing should you choose to not use a standard controller. These touch inputs will adapt based on the game you’re playing. For example, Forza Horizon 4 uses icons for gas, brake and rewind – as well as a horizonal slider for steering, with haptic bump sensations as you reach the mid-point, according to this story from Wired – which you should check out for even more insight into the Project xCloud game-streaming technology.

“Cloud game-streaming is a multi-faceted, complex challenge,” Choudhry explains. “Unlike other forms of digital entertainment, games are interactive experiences that dynamically change based on player input. Delivering a high-quality experience across a variety of devices must account for different obstacles, such as low-latency video streamed remotely, and support a large, multi-user network. In addition to solving latency, other important considerations are supporting the graphical fidelity and framerates that preserve the artist’s original intentions, and the type of input a player has available.”
“Microsoft — with our nearly 40 years of gaming experience starting with PC, as well as our breadth and depth of capabilities from software to hardware and deep experience of being a platform company — is well equipped to address the complex challenge of cloud game-streaming,” he adds. “With datacentres in 54 Azure regions and services available in 140 countries, Azure has the scale to deliver a great gaming experience for players worldwide, regardless of their location.”

Choudhry also mentions that Microsoft’s dedicated Research team is developing ways to combat latency via advances in network topology, as well as video encoding and decoding. Project xCloud will have the capability to make game streaming possible on 4G data networks and will dynamically scale to push against the limits of what’s possible on 5G networks once they begin to roll out globally. 

“Currently, the test experience is running at 10 megabits per second,” Choudhry notes. “Our goal is to deliver high-quality experiences at the lowest possible bitrate that work across the widest possible networks, taking into consideration the uniqueness of every device and network.”

Microsoft understands that it must make it easy for developers to bring their content to Project xCloud. Therefore, developers of the more than 3,000 games available on Xbox One today, and those building new titles for the future, will be able to deploy their titles and dramatically scale access to their games across all devices on Project xCloud with “no additional work.”

 

Some of the titles showcased in the above video running on tablets and mobile devices using the Project xCloud infrastructure include Halo 5: Guardians, Gears of War 4 and Forza Horizon 4, which are some of the latest titles from Microsoft Studios. You can expect to learn more about Project xCloud in 2019 as Microsoft begins its public trials of the platform technology and service.

It’s worth stressing that all this doesn’t mean the console is going away anytime soon. The company is also working on future iterations of its Xbox hardware as it announced at E3 2018, including a family of devices reportedly codenamed ‘Scarlett.’ A release of 2020 or 2021 is currently highly-speculated for these new machines, with a lower-end model allegedly focusing on cloud-streaming with the new Project xCloud service. Of course, if you don’t want to wait until then, the Xbox One X is an excellent, reliable console that delivers incredible 4K visuals and stunning high-performance in the latest and greatest games – with Forza Horizon 4 as the current leading showcase of the platform.

Alan Walsh

Alan is the co-founder and co-owner of FullThrottle Media. As someone who enjoys spending all his free time playing video games, he delivers the latest in news stories, reviews, and feature articles to the website, as well as videos on his YouTube channel and livestreams over on Mixer.