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Microsoft Research teams up with Duke University to cut cloud gaming bandwidth requirements

The team composed of scientists from Duke University and Microsoft Researched have dubbed the tool "Kahawai", which is the Hawaiian for stream. Game streaming enables users to play graphically intensive games over the internet, rather than running the games natively. In theory, you could enjoy high-end games like The Witcher 3 on a device like the Surface RT.

Companies like OnLive have tried to capitalize early on the notion of all-you-can-eat video game streaming, but problems inherent with cloud gaming stifled the start-up leading to its closure earlier this year. I tried OnLive's trial and it was miles off the mark in terms of viability. When it takes 3+ seconds for your controller inputs to register on the server and feedback to your screen, the vast majority of games become unplayable.

Internet speeds aren't the only problem. Many ISPs enforce monthly bandwidth caps, particularly when it comes to mobile plans. Considering portable devices would benefit the most from cloud streaming, bandwidth requirements present a significant problem for enticing users to sign up to any potential service.

Microsoft is aware of these problems, and have been working to reduce the amount of bandwidth necessary to create a viable streaming service for some time. These latest findings by Microsoft Research and Duke University offer a glimpse at the future.

Using a technique called "collaborative rendering", the researchers have managed to split processes between the cloud and your devices hardware, cutting the bandwidth required to play high-end games. Services like OnLive fed the entire game from their own servers, but Microsoft's new Kahawai tool allows your phone or tablet's GPU to produce portions of the graphics.

The task of quickly generating fine-grained details -- such as subtle changes in texture and shading at speeds of 60 frames per second -- is still left to the remote server. But collaborative rendering lets the mobile device generate a rough sketch of each frame, or a few high-detail sketches of select frames, while the remote server fills in the gaps.

Using Doom 3 as an example, the Kahawai tool managed to cut the bandwidth required to stream the game over a 1MB line by over 80%, without any cuts in visual quality.

Microsoft is reported to have shown Halo 4 running on a Windows Phone via the cloud before, so its clear that the company has its eyes on this sort of technology. It's fairly safe to assume that we're heading for a digital future, but exactly how soon could be anyone's guess. What do you think?

Source: Duke University

Jez Corden
Jez Corden

Jez Corden is a Senior Editor for 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!

32 Comments
  • Cool one. I'll search and read further about the argument.
    I didn't know the existence of cloud gaming.
  • halo 4 on a windows phone!
  • Halo 4 on Windows Phone?! Nice!
  • Sony is now the only people doing this
  • NVIDIA is rolling their service out soon too.
  • NVidia has has GRID running for while. I've been using it on a Shield tablet, which it's my understanding that only device that it worked on. I don't recall it working on the Shield portable.
  • Sony has an "exclusive" Android app. That same app can be ported to most Android phones. Microsoft has Windows 10 on any PC/laptop/tablet that can stream just as well.
  • Not yet it doesn't.
  • Think your confusing remote play, to I think it's called play now.
    Xbox win 10 streaming is totally different than cloud streaming. So MS doesn't currently have anything like this, only in the research labs, which may never see the light of day.
  • Sony, NVIDIA, Square Enix and Microsoft eventually.
  • This would be beyond brilliant! As most broadband upload speeds are generally around a meg (unless your on fibre). I would love to be able stream games off my xbox / central server over the internet on my phone got unlimited data :P.
  • Did they hire Pied Piper from the show Silicon Valley?
  • Well it Definitely Wasn't Hooli!!!! LOL
  • Hopefully Pied Piper, and not Hooli!
  • Fully digital, aiming Sony to go that road first since they already R&D for PS5 with Digital in mind.
  • Could be good, but with particularly intensive titles I feel like you would still need at least a half decent machine, depending on how much gets streamed and how much is handled on our end.
  • Nothing but decoding(h264) is handled locally. It's not augmenting, it's 100% streaming tech.
  • @NaNoo123, thats not actually true, what the paper is describing is a technique where the game is rendered in parallel between the client (at low quality settings) and on the server (high quality settings), and what is streamed to the client is the diff that needs to be applied to make the low quality version look like the high quality image. A lot of the bandwidth savings vs conventional streaming come from not needing to send full keyframes over the wire as the locally rendered version is used as the keyframe instead. Its a pretty interesting read: http://www.cs.duke.edu/~lpcox/mobi093f-cuervoA.pdf  
  • you may be right, I'll double check this one also, thought it was the paper I read last week or so. They have so many research papers hard to remember which is which lol.
  • Maybe I don't get the way 3D games work nowadays, I know that high res textures were always a massive storage hog. However I'm unsure as to whether a basic GPU could handle the huge texture maps games are using nowadays this allowing them to live client side.
    Like I said I'm not too sure of what aspect really pushes the GPU (other than obviously effects, tesselation, FSAA and the like the "post processing", if you will).
  • high-res textures make a large part of the GPUs fail. Filling the VRAM is normally my bottleneck in games, apart from 1 graphical effect; antialiasing (MXAA) just kills your performance (and it also uses a lot of VRAM in addition to the textures)
  • Bandwith was never the bottlenock for this technology.   Latency is. And you'll never fix it, short of building a server in every city.   And even then, it will only work with non-VR systems (due to the excessively low latency requirements of VR tech), which is hilarious, because VR is by default far more computationally intense than ordinary games and would profit more from remote rendering.   Considering that VR will kick off another performance arm's race, remote rendering will become a moot point soon enough. In five years our watches will run Star Citizen and Supreme Commander.
  • If you read the white paper for this, it is about latency, bandwidth is very much the secondary concern. This is a different research project than I thought. Latency is still a big concern for this one. They need to merge the different projects now lol
  • Collaborative rendering puts things like wireframes on your phones GPU, and streams effects and textures from the cloud instead. Input latency is reduced using their methods as well, etc.
  • I predicted Microsoft would do hybrid rendering, using both the cloud and the local device... not only does this make 4k gaming on the Xbox One a reality, it also beats anything Sony could ever offer hands down!
  • And most importantly, it continues to entice you to buy new hardware.
  • There was a digital game rental service year ago in Canada I liked the idea but was as expensive as going to blocbuster. Eventually I believe was bought by videotron.
  • Didn't TELUS have one?? I am sure I they did years ago.
  • So hopefully in the near future you will be able to stream your old Xbox 360 games on your Xbox One.
  • I just got a 25mbps line... Bring it on lol
  • Sonys play now service has big bandwidth issues. They bought gaikai. And its not worked to well.
    Reality is Sony are a country mile behind Microsoft in the cloud space. On VR. It will not take off for at least another 15 years. Morpheus will flop harder than wii u. I know first hand from playing 16 different games on oculus rift. It was fun for awhile, but even on battlefield 4 I wanted to go back to tv screen. The problem is I wanted to run and jump and duck and shoot. And could not do any of that. No 360 degree look. Either. The problem is the limitations of oculus and Morpheus are what actually destroys the reality bit even more so than just playing on your tv. I will wait 15 years.
  • What's the point of playing a kb+mouse game on a touch screen? They better wait for proper vr headsets, so you can pair a vr headset and a Xbox one controller to your phone and stream a game from Xbox\PC, that may have some value if it doesn't add more than 100ms delay