Today as part of the CES 2021 festivities, TV manufacturer LG unveiled a bunch of new television sets, including 42-inch OLEDs to come (or as they should be known, SMOLeds, but I digress). The display manufacturer also announced an interesting tidbit about Google Stadia, giving us a glimpse at the future of streaming services.
Microsoft's mission to reach the world's two billion gamers hinges not on Xbox consoles but on its ability to meet consumers wherever they are. For the most part, this has indicated mobile devices, but really it encompasses everything on the "intelligent edge," from low-end laptops to your smart toaster.
Xbox without a box
LG says Google Stadia will arrive on its smart TVs by the end of 2021, baked in an app, with direct TV connectivity. All you'll need is a Stadia controller and an account, and you'll be able to play titles you've purchased within Google's service. Stadia also offers an HDMI box for use with any existing TV, as well as an Android app to access games on your phone. Stadia's tech is admirable, but the library as it stands right now leaves a lot to be desired, but this almost certainly will not always be the case.
Microsoft has a huge advantage over Google Stadia when it comes to content, with literally thousands of games that could make their way across into Xbox Game Pass at a moment's notice. Microsoft's service is entirely subscription-based, however, whereas Stadia requires you to buy the games outright. However, Stadia Pro has a growing list of free games included in its subscription service.
With Stadia migrating to TVs, possibly beating Xbox to the punch, it opens up another front in the war for your eyeballs. When will Xbox join the fray?
Improving Xbox Game Pass streaming
In the summer of 2020, Microsoft pivoted away from building iOS app versions of Xbox Game Pass, owing to Apple's frustrating store policies. Instead, Microsoft began working on Xbox Game Pass' cloud streaming web stack to bring Project xCloud to web browsers, where Apple's store policies can't block it. Modern TVs support Bluetooth, USB ports, and all the necessary features you would need to bring a streaming gaming service to their displays. Still, there are things Microsoft would need to prioritize before bringing these services to the masses.
Right now, it's quite arguable that Stadia provides a higher-quality streaming service than Xbox Game Pass cloud streaming, if you put aside the content each can now offer. Stadia was built from the ground up for this purpose, whereas Xbox Game Pass cloud streaming is, as of right now, effectively a beta, using repurposed Xbox One S hardware. The servers take a long time to spin up because they're using mechanical HDDs. There's also a limit on the resolution and computation Xbox One S cloud blades can handle, particularly when compared to Stadia. To that end, Microsoft is upgrading the entire Xbox Game Pass streaming service to Xbox Series X hardware this year, which will not only make games load faster, but it should also help them stream better, with superior processing at the server-side.
We've also previously written about how Microsoft's Bethesda acquisition was about more than just content. ZeniMax's tech team is formidable, known for the powerful and optimized id Software engine and the versatile Creation engine that powers the likes of Fallout and Elder Scrolls. A lesser-known fact is that this team was also building out streaming algorithms, dubbed Project Orion. Years ago, Bethesda demonstrated DOOM running remotely at 4K 60, right on stage.
The obvious future
The most obvious partnership would be between Samsung and Microsoft, initially. The duo has already worked plenty to integrate Microsoft's software into Samsung products, with OneDrive replacing Samsung's cloud platform, and Your Phone having an OS-level integration on Galaxy phones. There's every possibility LG and Google have some kind of timed exclusivity period for their effort for cross-marketing, despite the fact GeForce Now is on the way too. Either way, I expect Microsoft and Samsung will work out some form of timed exclusivity period, but it's hard to say for sure. 3
Regardless, the end game is that all best TVs for Xbox Series X, Series S will be able to run these services. Indeed, any device capable of receiving inputs and WiFi will be able to run these services, even Apple's, despite their anti-competitive store practices. You'll theoretically be able to run these services through the smart display panel on your Samsung smart fridge or that potato laptop you haven't used for five years. The age of video game streaming is well and truly here, despite the relatively slow rollout. And in that age, content is king, and Microsoft already has a massive head start.