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Microsoft Project xCloud vs. Google Project Stream: Which game-stream service is for you?

With the next generation of game streaming on the horizon, Microsoft and Google are leading the pack. While Google's Project Stream is already available to test, the cross-platform promises of xCloud shouldn't be ignored.

The dawn of game streaming

Streaming is set to be the next big thing in gaming, with top firms already expressing interest in the technology. Connectivity is constantly improving and these services aim to mobilize your game collection across the devices you own. Comparable moves have redefined the music and video industries, with parallel forecasts set for games.

Project xCloud is Microsoft's long-rumored Xbox game streaming platform, in development under its Gaming Cloud Division. With Xbox One a fortified platform for millions, Redmond hopes the shift will expand offerings beyond the living room. Google's rival Project Stream is also underway, which current aims to bring full-fledged AAA PC games to its Chrome browser.

Project xCloudProject Stream
Release dateTrial in 2019Trial out now
Known platformsXbox, PCs, phones, tabletsChrome for Windows, macOS X, Chrome OS, Linux
InputsController and touch screenMouse and keyboard, controller
Network requirementsUnknown25Mbps download
Maximum outputUnknown1080p at 60 FPS
Minimum number of expected games61

Google Project Stream recently received a surprise unveiling, paired with a demo of the technology in action. Public trials for the service have since opened, allowing U.S. testers to get hands-on with Assassin's Creed Odyssey for free. All you need is Google Chrome for desktop and a minimum 25Mbps download speed. While far from final, Google appears confident enough to show off its generally strong image quality and low latency.

Project xCloud is also still in development, though reports of testing date back to 2013. For now, Microsoft is driving the service's mobile angle for use on phones and tablets. There are promising foundations but we simply don't know how Project xCloud will fare against competitors. Details are thin, aside from a planned rollout in 2019.

The future is bright

Microsoft has a well-established history in cloud technologies, following its success with the Azure platform. The backbone of Project xCloud is built on custom Xbox One consoles, with Microsoft deploying server blades each comprised of stripped-down Xbox One S components. Using the service connects to regional xCloud servers, streaming live gameplay to your device.

Microsoft is currently driving the service's mobile angle, with apps expected for PCs, tablets, and phones. With the help of 5G in coming years, Microsoft hopes to fully mobilize its existing Xbox platform. And with rumors of a new console family under Project Scarlett, Microsoft is expected to deliver a low-cost console designed for streaming too.

Project Stream is seemingly focused on PC gaming, streaming to Windows, macOS, Chrome OS, and Linux versions of Google Chrome. There's no mention of a mobile offshoot, but given Google's dominance in the mobile space, it would be foolish to overlook an Android rollout.

Google is also no stranger to these technologies, with its own cloud platform and host of online tools. Between its huge search engine, advertising platform, and a suite of services, it's well-positioned among consumers and enterprise. Rumors of a new Google-designed console, codenamed "Yeti" may also tie into its gaming ambitions.

Which games can you play?

In Microsoft's announcement of Project xCloud, it touched on the seamless onboarding process for existing Xbox One titles. Leveraging a strong existing console library, developers will have the ability to opt-in for the service, deploying titles with "no additional work."

Microsoft has discussed several major Xbox One games headed to xCloud, including Forza, Halo, Gears of War, and other first-party franchises. Rockstar Games' upcoming Red Dead Redemption 2 has also been named.

Google remains more conservative with its Project Stream lineup, likely working on partnerships with major game publishers today. Ubisoft is already onboard, serving its newly-released Assassin's Creed: Odyssey for trials. It's currently unclear how games arrive on Project Stream and what incentives will draw developers.

Is Project xCloud or Project Stream for you?

Game streaming still has a long way to go, with Google and Microsoft yet to deliver full services. Both technologies are established on strong foundations, yet Project Stream is the current leader, with working code in public hands today. Microsoft will need to keep up with major players while ensuring its stands out with its offering.

In short, Project Stream currently offers a pure PC gaming experience, comparable to mid-range gaming rigs. Microsoft is yet to deliver Project xCloud, but Xbox One gamers should keep an eye out. In the meantime, Xbox gamers shouldn't overlook the existing Netflix-style service, Xbox Game Pass.

Matt Brown is 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.