Xbox Project xCloud game streaming is here — and it's pure magic

Xbox Cloud Gaming
Xbox Cloud Gaming (Image credit: Windows Central)

Xbox Project xCloud is rolling out among its first wave of preview registrants, realizing Microsoft's game-streaming vision on mobile. The tests provide an at-home glimpse of its cloud-backed endeavor, serving low-latency, full-fledged Xbox One games to Android devices. And with a rise in streaming adoption from Google, Sony, and other rivals, Microsoft has a lot to prove to secure success.

But now, with a few hours across its introductory titles, Project xCloud has proven itself an impressive technical showcase. Microsoft's pitch gracefully translates to the average home, potentially even on track as a valid console replacement.

Project xCloud takes Xbox gaming anywhere

Project xCloud serves Xbox One game streaming through a simple Netflix-style app.

Project xCloud serves Xbox One game streaming through a simple Netflix-style app.

While the Project xCloud Preview has only just deployed to public testers, it's our third run-in with Microsoft's game streaming venture. The demo at E3 2019 in Los Angeles and a later London showed an impressive foundation, though within the confines of a closed environment. But this public beta is a crucial milestone, demonstrating how its technology translates into the real world. Now, Project xCloud proves its capability to deliver an authentic living room experience, with a helping hand from the cloud.

Xbox Game Streaming follows a long journey for Microsoft, with reports of internal tests dating back over half a decade. The final setup sees Xbox One-based servers deployed in Microsoft Azure datacenters, enabling remote home access across the globe, and packaged in a dedicated Android application. While currently limited to the U.S., UK, and Korea, availability is set to scale as new Azure regions in time.

A few miles west of London, with a symmetrical gigabit connection, I enter Project xCloud Preview with a fairly optimal setup. That translates to 300 Mbps download and 600 Mbps upload over 5GHz wireless to my Samsung Galaxy Note, but still provides a sturdy backbone for cloud streaming. Colleagues in the U.S. and UK report similar reliability, even with connections less than a fifth of the speed.

Microsoft also has its own set of requirements, at least during tests. Game streaming is compatible with devices sporting Android 6.0 and Bluetooth 4.0 or newer. An Xbox One controller with Bluetooth is required, as touch-based input remains in the pipeline. An Xbox One controller mount is also recommended to keep your screen sturdy, while a connection with at least 10Mbps down keeps gameplay smooth.

Starting off small, with big promises

Killer Instinct, streamed via Xbox Project xCloud Preview for Android.

Killer Instinct, streamed via Xbox Project xCloud Preview for Android.

Microsoft is currently serving a strong lineup of four titles; Gears 5, Halo 5: Guardians, Sea of Thieves, and Killer Instinct. Each of these Microsoft-owned games introduces new challenges for the service, from reactive Killer Instinct combos, Halo twitch gameplay, to the tight window of Gears 5 active reloads. And during our opening hours, Project xCloud effortlessly tames each of these titles, exhibiting consistent low latency and clarity. I've had reservations on whether game streaming is genuinely ready for the masses, but Microsoft may be changing that.

We've experienced a handful of frame hiccups and artifacts over a few hours, although with little impact on the experience. In one case on cellular, signal faltered, and video quality downscaled, seemingly in an attempt to retain fluidity. It'll be interesting to see how Project xCloud handles a broader scope of network environments, both at home and via 4G or 5G in central London.

Project xCloud features a lightweight Xbox Guide menu, featuring basic social features and achievement tracking.

Project xCloud features a lightweight Xbox Guide menu, featuring basic social features and achievement tracking.

Microsoft hosts its services via the dedicated (albeit, currently limited) Xbox Game Streaming app, acting as a portal to Android access. The app packages titles in a sleek Netflix-style format, featuring a simple tap-and-play library, removing granularity of the full Xbox One OS. Wrapped in a sleek modern interface, embracing Microsoft's Fluent Design Language, it parallels the recent Xbox app for Windows 10 and accompanying Xbox Game Bar. While the traditional Xbox Guide menu returns once in-game, it's a stripped-down variant limited to friends, parties, and achievements. Party and game chat both appear clear and functional, though Microsoft automatically mutes your microphone, preserving your privacy (and your teammates' sanity.)

My few frustrations with Project xCloud bear testament to Microsoft's successful technology, stemming from the challenges of mobile. Translating an Xbox One title intended a 50-inch TV to a 6-inch phone was never going to be easy, resulting in small interfaces, aiming quirks, and generally reduced awareness. Microsoft looks to address this via "Cloud Aware" tools, where developers can adapt titles to smaller screens, and could prove crucial to improving that user experience. For now, keep those glasses on and get ready for eye strain.

Initializing the stream, loading a game, and getting started also takes considerable time. Project xCloud also utilizes session caching, similar to how Xbox One has saved instances, keeping titles active for a few minutes when closing the app. It provides flexibility to jump between phone tasks, but won't save your sessions over time. It lacks that sense of readability expected from mobile, which would encourage drop-in and drop-out play.

Halo 5: Guardians, streamed via Xbox Project xCloud Preview for Android.

Halo 5: Guardians, streamed via Xbox Project xCloud Preview for Android.

As Microsoft readies to take game streaming global, its initial preview proves one crucial takeaway: Xbox Game Streaming is here, and it's changing the game. Work remains on securing its games portfolio, and better expanding its supporting features. But as for that raw technology, it's truly something.

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 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.

  • Was that multi-player KI I saw playing? How was the lag in relation to the SP version? I realize fighting games don't add much noticble lag to the game usually so it may be hard to tell. I have yet to get my email, probably because I have a LG V30 and was forced to hit "other" in the sign up.
  • Aye, Dan and Matt were playing multiplayer KI entirely in the cloud. Weird times. I need this thing in Germany asap. T-T
  • Surface Duo........... Can't wait.. Kinda
  • Good for split screen coop I think...
  • The only problem is now when you throw your controller, you're also throwing your $1000 phone :(
  • I stopped throwing controllers when I started paying my own money for them. 😜
  • Jumped into Halo 5 last night. Game was unplayable, it was too sluggish, and somewhat laggy. Then switched to Gears 5, jumped right in Ranked Gnashers only, and was amazingly surprized how well it played. Ping was 31. Biggest issue was the screen was way too small for shooter games. Game was fluid, and controller input was reasonable with very minimal lag. I think the game loaded almost quicker than with my Xbox X. Will try Killer Instinct tonight which I think will play better. I think some games will just not be playable on 5" screens without a magnifying glass no matter how good the streaming is. I don't think this platform will be good for shooters, or anything that requires precision. Racing games could work, if not competitive, and possible RPG's if you could modify inventory management for tiny screens (back in the day, I could see myself playing Diablo 2 or 3, end game content, when all that was left was the endless grind).
  • Everything you are saying I can certainly see happening. Sometimes I find playing on a 13 inch laptop too small for shooters, I can only imagine holding the controller at a normal distance with a 5 to 6 inch screen.
  • Which phone has a kickstand? But yes, you don’t have to attach your phone to a controller. It’s just Bluetooth after all. I can’t attach my phone very well because all the buttons get in the way.
  • I think I have seen a phone with an actual kickstand advertised or talked about once. Although I'm sure he means a case that has one built in.
  • I loved the kickstand on my Nokia N900....ah yes...Maemo 5 and hacked Android goodness.
  • I'm interested to hear from those who are currently in preview, what phones you're using because I feel that specific factors ease testing partners and I'd like to FastTrack my participation is I have to get another phone I will!
  • I don't have any definitive information, so this is pure speculation. Microsoft has worked closely with Samsung in the past, and has announced a partnership on XCloud with T-Mobile. People with high-end Samsungs on T-Mobile are likely getting priority.
  • I got a second verification through Xbox AND TMO last night for a LGV30, but still not an invite. This was just verifying my phone number, but not the device. Maybe I'm close?
  • I’m using a Red Magic 3 so I’m pretty sure phone choice isn’t an issue.
  • Still haven't received my email. :'(
  • About 175 years away with Australias current Internet connections.....
  • First things first on WiFi, YOU MUST be on 5ghz. If you are on 2.4 expect things to be choppy. Even streaming locally on your home network 2.4 is unreliable, so via rhe cloud it isn't going to be good. Once you have made sure you have forced 5ghz WiFi then you are in business. I'm on a galaxy note 8 so the screen size is larger than most and I have excellent eyesight. The games are not optimised for small screens but still the experience is great. I played Halo 5 mainly but also tested the other games and it was a very good experience. Of course for serious, online competitive gaming you will be at a disadvantage on a small screen versus someone on a large 60hz Gsync 4k display. I think streaming is hear to stay based on this initial test but cant see it replacing 4k large screen gaming anytime soon. It would have been excellent to test a driving game such as forza horizon 4, also looking forward to testing the home console streaming when it comes out not just xcloud but finally, the chance to play Xbox on the go on a mobile device is long overdue! Not tested it on 4G yet however but suspect it will only be properly playable on a fast WiFi Internet connection or 5G.
  • When I said Stadia was DOA. I was right. All over people confirm Stadia has big issues with lag. On the very first day of Xcloud in people's homes, reports are staggering. Youtibers, website personnel are all saying how brilliantly Xcloud works. And even for competitive Gears 5, Halo 5 or KI online. It works and it's here. The reason we waited for this is MS were makokg sure it worked. And work it does.
  • Be interested to see how good/bad Stadia is in the final release. Fortunately I have ordered one, you know, so you guys don’t have to ;-)
  • I think that's just one of the hurdles Stadia has. It seriously needs to get lag gone. And it needs first party content. With MS now having 15 first party studios. And all of their games available free on Gamepass day they launch. It's going to be a seriously hard sell to choose Stadia of Xcloud. I just don't see it. It would seem running through a browser like Stadia does is not a good decision. It seems to be having all the usual browser issues. They should have made a dedicated app/software for it.
  • How bad is the battery drain?
  • It's similar to streaming video constantly - although we'll have more tests coming soon
  • Will there be a MS first party phone/tablet mount?
  • Yep! Coming soon, Microsoft has told us later this month, potentially.
  • Are console's days numbered? Are data caps going to be the last hurdle?
  • nope lol game streaming is a great new technology but so many people dont have fast Wifi so unfortunately still having powerful hardware is going to be a selling point for a while now. This game streaming stuff has been around for a while but it wont wipe out dedicated hardware anytime soon lol
  • There is tests on youtube with the public beta that shows 40mb download speed runs playing gears 5 in a competitive online game absolutely perfectly. I have 500mb download speed unlimited. So I'm good. Hahahah
  • I have a feeling that there will be some deals with ISPs for allowances on data usage for different gaming services. TMO already allows free data for certain Video and Audio streaming services. ATT does the same for their video. I can't see this replacing hardware for at least 5 years (I'm thinking 10), but who knows how fast this could happen. At this point I'm just looking forward to the day that I can play the same games on my console that I can resume playing with a light PC remotely. XPA is pretty close for the titles that support it, but one still needs a $600+ laptop to enjoy them.
  • I haven't even thought about mobile data. Personally this sort of service will be great on say an Android TV. Or Apple TV with IOS. It may even appeal. And get Playstation gamers to have a look as they don't have to buy a console to try next Gen Xbox Exclusives. Want to play Playgrounds Fable reboot? Xcloud. Want to play Ninja Theories new AAA story game next Gen? Xcloud. Halo Infinite? Xcloud. The Initiatives new game? Xcloud. If any gane that any of the 15 first party studios make takes your fancy. Xcloud. Xcloud and Gamepass is a great alternative for those who don't or can't own 2 consoles.