Though Microsoft’s xCloud streaming service has limited availability (US, UK and parts of Asia) they have at least made available the console streaming functionality for us all to try out and I’ve been dabbling with it for a couple of weeks now. It’s something that’s not unique to Xbox as other platforms have offered similar products for a while (PlayStation Remote Play especially) but it’s a first here. Unlike xCloud which lets you play games running from specially designed servers that mimic an Xbox, this has your own Xbox console act at the “server”, delivering all the content you already have available on it.
The Xbox One has supported streaming over your local network for a while now through the Xbox app but this new addition, that’s currently part of Insider testing, lets you access your console over the Internet and play your games on the go. I’m testing this out on my Galaxy Note 10+ and the new Android game streaming app which is a little bare bones but does everything needed to get you up and running. Once you have a Bluetooth Xbox One controller connected (you really need to find one of those controller phone mounts too) and set up your console to accept streaming it’s quick to start up and within a minute you’ll see your Xbox’s dashboard.
At this point I have to point out your experience is going to vary a lot with how your system is configured in your home network. I think it’d be best to have your console connected to your modem directly via Ethernet rather than through WiFi as speed really matters here. Still, if you’re able to leverage 5Ghz WiFi speeds it’ll be a lot better experience when cables are not possible. Having your mobile leverage a fast mobile network or 5Ghz WiFi too is also needed. My own set up at home is using WiFi and it does expose the worst the cases when it all goes wrong with the Internet gods, usually when I’m not close enough to my router for 5Ghz and it switches to 2.4Ghx, with slow response times and bad artifacting of the display. I’ve been playing Elite Dangerous with it and when it’s been good I’ve found it letting me play the game nicely with only a minor delay but when it goes wrong the screen is all a mess and trouble ensues.
Even with it working reliably the one major gripe I have is image quality. If you’re playing games that rely on clarity because they leverage text or colours in gameplay it may not be ideal as the image quality takes a hit. Artifacting of the image, like what happens when Netflix or YouTube have network issues and the image starts chunking up, can be a real problem and when it hits I really hate it. Doing my usual space trucking in Elite Dangerous requires me being able to read status text and spot UI guidelines for orbits and plane/star boundaries as well as colour hints using the FSS scanner. It’s not so bad when the network quality is good but even then it’s not something I’d be using regularly as I really prefer the clarity afforded by my TV. A lot of games are designed for sitting in front of a big screen television too so playing on your phone (even one as huge as the huge Galaxy Note 10+) can be a challenge for your eyes.
I am curious though how much the quality might improve via xCloud – having the “console” already at the datacenter may help reduce the network related issues by a third to a half simply from not having your own console as part of the process. Even with the response times improving I really hope that I’d also see a visual improvement too because that’s what will sell me on this being complementary to my current gaming habits. Early days I suppose but I’m certainly not giving up on my home console and television just yet. 🙂