Xbox Project xCloud streaming (probably) won't destroy your data cap

Microsoft has debuted Xbox Project xCloud via an at-home trial of its game streaming technology. Serving full-fledged Xbox One titles to Android at low latency, it's the first glimpse of its mobile vision beyond the living room. But when taking the power of the console on the move, what does this mean for data usage?

How Project xCloud game streaming uses data

It's first worth diving into the technicalities of Project xCloud video, despite the work-in-progress nature of the platform in late 2019. As claimed with the show floor demo from E3 2019, the service appears to be utilizing a 720p image. While low for modern console standards, scaling down to the average phone eliminates issues with clarity.

That may fall short of the 4K maximum target of Google Stadia, though it's worth stressing both platforms are yet to see their formal consumer debut. For now, Microsoft is merely targeting fluidity and responsiveness from the outset, compromising resolution. That's the right approach if any – and current hardware leaves space for upgrades without deploying previously rumored 4K server blades.

Focusing on Project xCloud as served today, our time with the service comes via a symmetrical gigabit connection a few miles west of London, down to 300Mbps over 5GHz WiFi. That provides a sturdy backbone for cloud streaming, with ideal proximity and speed overhead.

Tracking 15-minute stints across each of Project xCloud's debut titles, we saw an estimated 590MB average via Android's integrated data-tracking features. That translates to 5.2Mbps or around 2.36GB per hour, with little variation between individual titles. It's an expected result in terms of data usage, not hugely different from your everyday HD video stream.

The results align with YouTube data usage, with its bitrate estimates indicating around 2GB per hour for a 720p 60Hz video feed. However, both services vary based on gameplay and networking scenarios, with fluctuation through scaling and compression.

What Project xCloud means for you (and your data cap)

Sea of Thieves

Sea of Thieves (Image credit: Microsoft)

Game-streaming services are the hot topic of 2019, and while platform-holders remain cautious, it lays the foundations for higher ambitions. However, as its technology becomes a reality, questions arise over data usage.

Xbox Project xCloud has some time until launch, but even out of the gate, Microsoft matches your average streaming data. It's a low-latency video streaming service under the hood, aside from the added input of controls. Like Netflix changed movie consumption, Project xCloud looks to be another avenue to play your games when away from the console.

The impact on data caps is somewhat overblown, though the wild west of internet service providers (ISPs) worldwide will understandably cause challenges for some. Home users with strict data caps won't find a resolution here if already struggling with the modern demands of games and video streaming. Similarly, with 5G on the rise, you'll need to consider the balance of convenience and value for future mobile plans. Whether Project xCloud's data use will negatively impact you engaging with it comes down to your gaming preferences.

Kait executes a Swarm soldier with the Breaker mace

Kait executes a Swarm soldier with the Breaker mace (Image credit: Microsoft)

But as some games surpass 100GB (looking at you Call of Duty: Modern Warfare), there are situations where streaming could cut your usage. For a 100GB title, you'll get over 40 hours of current Project xCloud streaming under that quota, with no need to download meaty content updates too.

Try Project xCloud yourself

Xbox Project xCloud is steadily rolling out its first at-home preview, welcoming applicants via its online registration form. While currently locked down to a small pool of players in the U.S., UK, and Korea, wider availability is set for the months ahead. As Microsoft prepares to bring Xbox Game Streaming to the masses, don't forget to grab the essentials you'll need for preview testing.

Matt Brown

Matt Brown was formerly a Windows Central's Senior Editor, Xbox & PC, at Future. Following over seven years of professional consumer technology and gaming coverage, he’s focused on the world of Microsoft's gaming efforts. You can follow him on Twitter @mattjbrown.

  • Hmm, I wonder how ISPs will handle this though. Even though I have unlimited data, AT&T still "throttles" video down to 480p in most cases. Usually not an issue when I'm on my phone since the size of the device and the fact I use it for background noise. But I'm curious how they will handle the same streaming.
  • Wow, so you're telling me that a system that streams video to your phone uses roughly the same amount of data as a system that streams video to your phone? I'm officially gobsmacked. The data cap issue isn't overblown, at no point in the early talk of xCloud (or Stadia) was 720p discussed, it was discussions about 1080p and 4K. 4K isn't really viable at all outside of WiFi connected devices for most people. Of course if the resolution drops it'll use less data, hell 480p would be even better.
  • On a 6-inch ish screen, 720p is the most you should ever need to play at. The Switch Lite looks great on a 5.5-inch screen at 1080p. And honestly, even on laptop if it's sub-15 inch, I think 720p is fine.
  • Oh, I agree completely, but when you are talking about your average consumer, they think very differently. The resolutions we have on mobile phones are completely unnecessary and yet people still focus on bigger is better. And when the service was actually ADVERTISED as a 1080P streaming service then you have to actually use that as the benchmark for data, which is pushing an extra 50% (roughly) data. I think 4K is unreasonable to expect to run regularly (only on WiFi) but 1080P on the go is not an outrageous expectation. That being said, there is the image conversion factor, while you might think higher resolution is unnecessary, it allows for clarity in text which, when transferring a 50 inch screen down to 6 inches, is incredibly important, there's no point playing a game if you can't read anything.
  • The fact that you are sending inputs to a server and possibly receiving other signals like vibration to the device, one would think it would be a little more than straight video. Also, YouTube isn't exactly the best at saving data while streaming.
  • Yeah, I expect it to be slightly higher, which the article also confirms.
  • I've been using it over wifi and 4g and had very few issues. It's an excellent service given it's in its infancy. Didnt think I'd use it but getting achievements and playing Horde mode on the notch!
  • 720p? What happened to console-quality gaming?
    This is far from what Stadia is promising. They are at 1080p or 4K streaming.
  • 4K game streaming... on a phone? Really?? That's utterly pointless on a phone and on a laptop for instance 1080p streaming makes more sense. Also you need to take into account the upstream and latency, with 1080p and 4k on a phone there is heck load of data to process and those CPU cycles would be best parsing input signals. Unless of course you want to use your phone with oven gloves lol.
  • 1080P would be the expectation most people would have for streaming. 4K is ludicrous, but 1080P isn't unreasonable. You're also assuming people are only going to be streaming on a phone, when plenty will utilise tablets, and maybe laptops. This is only a beta, so I assume that's why it's 720P, but after everything Microsoft talked out the release will definitely have a 1080P focus as a minimum, with reductions if the customer requires. On another note, I currently have a 100GB plan on my mobile, I stream Netflix at SD resolution and use it fairly regularly, a minimum of an hour a day on my work commute, more if I also watch a video at lunch time. in 15 days I have used 33GB. That's at SD, if I was running 720P I'd blow out my data cap before the month is over. This is why, although I absolutely love the idea and really want it to succeed, that I just don't think xCloud and Stadia are right yet, until ISP's start offering more significant mobile data limits.
  • @Sin Ogaris, I am aware the expectations of most people in terms of streaming - the reality is most consumers to do not know what they want from a product or a service until it's defined i.e marketing of Unique selling points and it's functions. With that aside, I did say 1080p makes more sense on laptops lol... therefore I am not assuming anything. I was simply pointing out the fact that most people are already hooked onto the fallacy of streaming 1080p or 4k on a phone without any issues or idea of phsyical limitations. Then again if most people did then there wouldn't be need for sites like Windows Central, Gamers Nexus, Linus Tech Tips, Arstechnica, ZDnet etc. In terms of ISPs offering more significant data limits? Yes, that's possible but it will cost people an moronic amount of money in certain regions
    In terms of affordable phone contracts with significant mobile data limit? I don't see that happening, what will happen is you will get specific "streaming packages" or "add-ons" for game streaming as it becomes another point income generation for ISPs. In the UK for example we already can get unlimited data for £20 a month with unlimited calls and texts. There are certain regions were game streaming will totally take off due to this possibility. Before anyone starts harping about the cost of maintainance of infrastructure and size of the US. I'll ask you this why are you defending a corporation whose sole duty is make as much profit as possible for their shareholders hmm? Also every single aspect of infrastructure or a business has a break even point and if that did not exist the entire concept of profits, investment and business growth is moot.
  • Data is Data. Doesn't matter what it is, so 720p streaming is 2GB/hour. With a typical 1 TB data/month cap, that is approx. 33 GB/day for everything on your ISP connection (not just your gaming session.)
    So, assuming you can use 75% of your data for gaming (big assumption if you have any siblings or tech-savy parents) that will get you 10 hours of gaming/day without smashing your data cap. At 720P-ish.
    Not bad really. BUT is you ALSO have family members who make use of Netflix, Youtube, and/or other services, you could see that cut down a lot, or face some hefty overage charges.
    Once again, the ISPs control your access, and I expect them to complain about game-streaming if it becomes popular and try to put the squeeze on both the vendors (Google, MS) and their clients just like they have done with Netflix.
  • Holy crap, I wish I had 1TB on my mobile plan, you're one lucky bugger.
  • That's not a Mobile Plan. That's a standard Data Cap on a standard Comcast Cable-Internet Service Plan. My whole house runs off of that plan, and some months (whenever new "AAA" games come out for XBox) my usage just squeaks under the 1 TB limit, and we don't do ANY streaming TV at this time. Most months we get around 650GB of usage/month. That is with 3 XBoxes (2 - 1X and a 1s) and 3 laptops, and 1 desktop and 3 phones in the house all using that internet connection. My mobile plan (AT&T) is only 2 GB/month, but since we all use WiFi for just about everything (and nobody plays mobile games) we hardly touch that.
  • > But as some games surpass 100GB (looking at you Call of Duty: Modern Warfare), there are
    > situations where streaming could cut your usage. For a 100GB title, you'll get over 40 hours
    > of current Project xCloud streaming under that quota, with no need to download meaty
    > content updates too.
    Interesting scenario...