Last week Microsoft presented to the world a unified ecosystem from the television down to a smartphone with Windows 10. We knew this was coming, hence the name change to Windows Central and our expanding Xbox coverage.
With Microsoft's unification, they revealed that the Xbox One is a part of their long-term vision, and the Xbox brand will stay in Seattle despite continuous rumors of it being spun off. So, for those of you that tend to ignore Xbox news, I'm here to show why you shouldn't automatically dismiss and instead embrace it.
Xbox on Windows 10
The Xbox app on Windows 10 is nothing like the current SmartGlass app we have on Windows 8.1. The current app almost acts as a companion to your Xbox One, as where the upcoming Xbox app gives you and Xbox experience on your PC. However, the new app does take all of the old features of SmartGlass and improves upon them. Remotely downloading games and apps, watching your friend's clips, and controlling your Xbox are all still there.
This is why it should be of no surprise to learn that the Xbox app will supplant SmartGlass for users on Windows 10.
But this new app is intended for more than that. Via the app, you can now voice chat with your friends from your PC or tablet to any friend on their Xbox One. This ability means that no matter where you are, you can chat with any of your Xbox Live friends to discuss game strategies or just talk about the latest football scores (Go Seahawks!). However, Microsoft didn't stop here.
Have you ever been in a heated multiplayer match only to have your significant other nag you to give up the TV so they could watch the latest episode of Grey's Anatomy? Well, with the Xbox app on Windows 10 Microsoft has solved this problem twofold.
The first way is by cross-platform gaming. Cross-platform gaming has been exceedingly rare for video game consoles. What it does, is allow for someone on an Xbox One to play against someone who is playing the same game on their PC.
We know for a fact the Microsoft has experimented with this in the past e.g. Gears of War, but they ended up scrapping it after realizing PC players had an unfair advantage with their keyboards. It will be interesting if this problem persists (especially for shooting games) or if Microsoft has since found a way to curb the advantage.
One strategy Microsoft is considering is to limit matches between consoles and PCs based on your preference. In other words, if you do not want to play against the keyboard 'master race', then you can option them out.
Game streaming is the second way that Microsoft has found a way to fix the problem I stated above. What they have done, is figured out a way to stream a game being played on your Xbox One to your PC via Wi-Fi. However, this only works with the Xbox One turned on. That being said, it is still a massive if not game-changing feature. The PlayStation 4 already has a feature just like this, but it is limited to streaming to a PS Vita or PlayStation TV.
Even though Sony launched this functionality first, Microsoft has an advantage coming out of the gate. Desktops, laptops, tablets: just about every household has at least one of these devices in their home. Phil Spencer has also gone on record saying that Microsoft is working hard to make game-streaming available from PC to your Xbox One. This feature would be epic especially if it were compatible with Steam games or even Origin.
The unanswered questions
Despite Microsoft revealing some surprising new features, there are still some issues that need to be answered, especially with game-streaming. The biggest question that I have for game streaming is if it will be compatible with HoloLens. I mean imagine being able to take your game with you literally wherever you want to go (in your home, of course).
Other significant questions about the feature are purely related to specs. What resolution is it capable of streaming? What kind of Wi-Fi connection do you need in order to stream (the system uses UDP transport)? I'm sure most of us will be able to stream games no problem, but issues related to these questions could be troublesome for some users.
In terms of resolution, 720p at 30 FPS and 1080p at 60 FPS are all possible with the Xbox One game streaming. The system appears to dynamically adjust resolution and FPS based on available bandwidth. Users will also be likely to override this setting, as Microsoft is keen on giving users a choice.
We have been told that controllers are not necessary to play the games on the PC, as the game will map to the keyboard. How exactly that happens (and how well it works) remains to be seen.
Now as for cross-platform play there are some things that need to be answered for that as well. Will games be discounted or be cross-buy if you buy it for one system? I mean wouldn't it be awesome to buy Halo 5 and then be able to buy it for your PC for a cheaper (if not free) price?
But the biggest question to me revolves around indie developers (as usual). Will all developers be able to take advantage of these new functionalities and not just games that Microsoft has published? Imagine how many new developers would look to create for the Xbox One. Most indie games are usually developed for the PC first. Knowing how close the relationship is between Windows 10 and Xbox one would make an easy choice if I'm a developer looking to port to a console.
We have heard from Microsoft that all that is needed is for publishers to agree to enable streaming with no added coded. Adding coded may be required later as the system grows, but for now, it looks like streaming will be easy to implement.
Microsoft is expected to talk more about the correlation between Windows 10 and Xbox at GDC 2015, so hopefully we get some of those answers then.
This section is more geared toward us Windows Phone users. We have been left out of the conversation when it comes to how our phones will engage with the Xbox One, at least so far. However, with the unification with Windows 10 there has to be some news for us somewhere down the line.
Since apps can run on all three platforms (Xbox One, Phone, PC) with Windows 10, it's not a far-fetched to think that we can stream a game from our console to our phone. Microsoft is already showing that this is possible by allowing users of its TV Tuner to stream TV from the Xbox One to their Windows Phone.
And since game streaming is practically the Xbox One casting its screen to a PC via Wi-Fi, why would it be hard for you to cast your Windows 10 phone's screen to your Xbox One? I mean imagine being able to take a movie you're watching via an app on your phone and casting it on your 50-inch television. Or even being able to play Asphalt 8: Airborne or Subway Surfers on your TV.
For now, Microsoft has told us that game streaming to Windows Phone is possible, but they need to do a lot more testing and investigating. All sorts of different issues crop up with phones, such as battery life, processor performance, and bottlenecks with the stream.
Also Cortana. Amazon just released the Echo, which pretty much just sits in your house and answers your questions about news and weather and listens to your music commands. Cortana, although still in beta, is way more mature than this product simply because she has a stronger foundation that is Windows and Bing.
Imagine if Cortana was on the Xbox One with the power of Kinect. She could instantly answer any question you have without you reaching for your Windows device. But here's the real humdinger. Cortana has a notebook which has all of your personal information in reach. You could easily set an appointment via your Xbox or ask Cortana to read you your daily glance while you are preparing for work in the morning. All in all, Cortana would be more than welcomed into my house due to all of the advantages she could offer.
Without knowing what plans Microsoft has for our phones and the Xbox one, we can only speculate. However, one thing is for sure, and this is that the possibilities are endless. It has been a bumpy ride for Microsoft to get where it is now with unifying Windows, but it seems as if the bruises were worth it. Microsoft took Windows beyond the PC with Windows Phone and now it plans to do it again with the Xbox One.
So my word of advice to every Windows and Windows Phone user out there that ignores the Xbox One, is to start paying attention. It is Microsoft's living room hub that goes beyond gaming. You will soon be able to play your favorite Windows app (such as the Windows Central app) on your television. And manipulate it via your PC or Phone.
The Xbox One is here to stay and with Windows 10 it solidifies itself as an integral part of the entire Windows experience that shouldn't be missed.
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