Recently, rumors began to swirl about a new Xbox codename dubbed "Keystone," and we later exclusively revealed exactly what it is.
Keystone is a work-in-progress new Xbox console that focuses on streaming and cloud services, over native gameplay and powerful local hardware. Using Xbox Game Pass Ultimate cloud subscription service, players will be able to access and play Xbox games over the internet, on a box that will be significantly cheaper than either the Xbox Series X or Xbox Series S, or a comparable gaming PC or laptop.
Keystone may be a fair ways off yet, but here's what we know about it so far.
What exactly IS Xbox 'Keystone'?
Keystone is the codename of Microsoft's next Xbox console, set to be another companion to the Xbox Series X or Xbox Series S. Instead of using local computer hardware, Keystone is an entirely streaming-oriented box, and will be significantly smaller than even the Xbox Series S, making it the smallest Xbox console ever.
From what we understand, Keystone will run games entirely via the cloud, using the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate cloud gaming service. As Microsoft continues to ramp up and develop the service, we're reaching a point where Xbox cloud streams essentially feel native on a suitable network environment, although mileage may vary based on your physical location and the quality of your home network. The latest iterations of Xbox Game Pass cloud have essentially almost eliminated latency issues and artifacting on my personal home network, and it stands to reason that by the time Keystone launches, it will be even more powerful and effective at delivering remote gameplay streams.
Size, specs, and features
As a streaming-first console, Keystone will be the smallest Xbox console out there. Microsoft said in a recent statement that the current iteration of Keystone is being shelved; they are instead working on a new version, focusing on developing the OS and other key features that Microsoft feels are necessary to position this against devices like the Stadia Pro Chromecast bundle.
The current iteration of Keystone internally is about an inch thick, and has a square form factor similar to the top of an Xbox Series X shaved off. The final version released to consumers, however, may look fairly different, but this is the kind of small size and sleek design Microsoft is gunning for.
We understand that Keystone will run Xbox Game Pass Ultimate's cloud as its primary gaming platform, although we understand that Microsoft is aiming to have a suite of basic video streaming apps too, such as Netflix, Disney+, and so on. To speculate, since this device will likely be Windows-based in some form, hopefully we could even see Microsoft Movies & TV services on the box, given that Microsoft only has licenses to distribute this content on Windows-based devices.
As for ports and connectivity, you'd have to assume that it'll have standard connectivity for things like USB for headsets and controllers, alongside Ethernet for the added boost to connectivity. I would hope that it'll be future-proofed with Wi-Fi 6 capabilities as well, although Microsoft has previously targeted the more widely available Wi-Fi 5 standard with its existing consoles. Wi-Fi 6 may inflate the price, although more and more devices are gaining this capability as time goes by. At the same time, it may be unnecessary for Keystone to offer a stable 1080p experience as it would most likely be targeting.
Indeed, much of the expectation for Keystone hinges on the state of Xbox Game Pass' cloud array by the time of its launch. Right now, Xbox Cloud Gaming maxes out at 1080p 60 FPS on PC, and 720p 60 FPS on mobile. In a device that was cloud-first, you'd have to wonder whether Microsoft would eventually gun for 4K 60 FPS streams as well, given that some of its competitors are pushing for that right now. Only time will tell.
What games will it have?
We know that Xbox Keystone will be powered by Xbox Game Pass Ultimate first and foremost, giving it access to the full list of games offered by Xbox Game Pass. This represents hundreds of AAA quality games to smaller fun indie titles, with the promise of all of Xbox's exclusives both from Microsoft and Bethesda (and perhaps Activision Blizzard in the future), alongside EA Play. What becomes even more interesting is the possibility of the full-blown Xbox store hitting the service too.
Licensing around games is a tricky business. Given that the Xbox Keystone will technically be an Xbox console, there's a distinct possibility that Microsoft may be able to allow you to buy any digital game from the Xbox store and set it up for streaming on the box, allowing you to purchase and play games outside of the limitations of Xbox Game Pass. While Xbox Cloud Gaming itself requires a subscription owing to its server and bandwidth costs, it could be that Keystone has a larger library available to it than the cloud library on phones and PC, although that is pure speculation as of writing.
I've heard previously that Microsoft plans to eventually offer all digital games you own through Xbox Cloud Gaming, although legal restrictions on the Google Play Store and royalty considerations from platform holders may frustrate the goal. It could be that by the time Keystone launches, this could be how Xbox Game Pass cloud gaming works in general, but we'll have to wait and see.
Either way, there will be hundreds of games available on Keystone, with more flowing into and out of the service as time goes by, with Xbox first-party exclusives remaining available indefinitely. I suspect that even if Microsoft can't get the full Xbox console library on there available to purchase, they may at least build up a separate library of content with its partners that gives players purchasing options outside of the Game Pass library.
How much will it cost?
I suspect that Keystone will target similar price points to that of the Google Stadia Premiere Edition Chromecast bundle, which includes both a HDMI device for your TV, a month of Stadia Pro, and a controller. That would peg it around $99 USD or £99 GBP, alongside the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate cloud subscription, which is $15 per month.
Stadia Pro is cheaper than Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, but doesn't come with the vast library of high-quality games, instead asking users to buy titles outright at anywhere from $20 to $60 a pop. By the time Keystone itself launches, Microsoft may explore offering a cheaper cloud-only Xbox Game Pass subscription service, which is something I've argued they should do in the past.
Keystone will naturally only be available in territories that are active with Xbox Cloud Gaming services: Australia, Austria, Brazil, Belgium, Canada, Czechia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Although more countries may be available by the time it launches.
When will it launch?
Indeed, Microsoft revealed to us that the first iteration of Keystone has been put aside, as Microsoft opted to develop a more advanced version before bringing it fully to market. I've been told that Keystone in its current form works well, and is practically ready to go, but Microsoft wanted to develop a few more unknown features and capabilities before bringing it to market. I suspect this has something to do with media app support, and perhaps broader support for digital sales for games that aren't on Xbox Game Pass itself, but that is pure speculation as of writing.
Keystone was originally gearing up for a launch in 2022, but from what I understand, that could now be pushed back into 2023 as Microsoft iterates and improves upon its feature set. This version of Keystone may be shelved, but Microsoft is not done with the goal of offering a streaming home console.
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Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!
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