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Microsoft announces Project xCloud game streaming tech

Back at E3, Microsoft announced that not only was it preparing a next-gen console, but the company would also be hoping to tackle game streaming. We weren't expecting to hear more about Microsoft's cloud streaming plans so soon but late last night, Project xCloud was officially announced, aiming to offer a solution for users wanting to stream Xbox games to non-Xbox devices.

Project xCloud will run via Microsoft's Azure servers, which are currently spread out across 54 different locations globally. At first, Microsoft will be focussing on streaming to smartphones and tablets, providing the ability to play with a Bluetooth-enabled Xbox controller, or with a touchscreen overlay. Eventually, other devices should be added to the list, but for now, the 2019 trial tests will take place on mobile devices.

While Project xCloud is being announced now, it still seems to be early days. As Microsoft notes in its blog: “Scaling and building out Project xCloud is a multi-year journey for us. We’ll begin public trials in 2019 so we can learn and scale 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. 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.”

In order to keep compatibility for all existing and future Xbox games, custom hardware has been built for Azure datacenters. Microsoft is in a particularly unique position to tackle this problem, as the company has many years of experience as a platform holder across multiple segments, including cloud, consoles and PC. Still, there are unique challenges with game streaming that Microsoft is aware of: “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.”

So Project xCloud is coming, although it still has some way to go before its ready for prime time. Right now, Microsoft's researchers are looking to combat latency with new networking technology, in addition to tackling issues with video encoding and decoding across devices. The end goal is to make game streaming possible across 4G networks and dynamically scale the system once 5G starts rolling out over the next couple of years.

KitGuru Says: Microsoft's announcement today focusses mainly on the technical side of things. It could be a while before we hear more about when we can get our hands on Project xCloud and test it out for ourselves. Still, this is another sign of the future major publishers are pushing for, with Microsoft joining the likes of Sony, Nintendo, Ubisoft and EA in pushing for cloud streaming to become the norm.

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