Microsoft is testing a new game streaming service called Project xCloud that is designed to work across PCs, consoles and mobile devices, the company said on Monday.
Public trials for Project xCloud would begin in 2019, Microsoft said.
"We are testing Project xCloud today. The test runs on devices (mobile phones, tablets) paired with an Xbox Wireless Controller through Bluetooth, and it is also playable using touch input," said Kareem Choudhry, corporate vice president, gaming cloud.
Scaling and building out Project xCloud is a multi-year journey for Microsoft. Microsoft enabled compatibility with existing and future Xbox games by building out custom hardware for its datacenters. A new customizable blade that can host the component parts of multiple Xbox One consoles was architected, as well as the associated infrastructure supporting it. Microsoft will scale those custom blades in datacenters across Azure regions over time.
Microsoft is already testing Project xCloud today. The test runs on devices (mobile phones, tablets) paired with an Xbox Wireless Controller through Bluetooth, and it is also playable using touch input. The nature of console and PC games often requires controls that are mapped to multiple keys, buttons, sticks and triggers. Microsoft is developing a new, game-specific touch input overlay that provides maximum response in a minimal footprint for players who choose to play without a controller.
Cloud game-streaming is a challenge. Delivering a high-quality experience across a variety of devices must account for different obstacles, such as low-latency video streamed remotely, and support a large, multi-user network. In addition to solving latency, other important considerations are supporting the graphical fidelity and framerates that preserve the artist's original intentions, and the type of input a player has available.
Microsoft says it is well equipped to address the complex challenge of cloud game-streaming. With datacenters in 54 Azure regions and services available in 140 countries, Azure has the scale to deliver a great gaming experience for players worldwide, regardless of their location.
Developers and researchers at Microsoft Research are creating ways to combat latency through advances in networking topology, and video encoding and decoding. Project xCloud will have the capability to make game streaming possible on 4G networks and will dynamically scale to push against the outer limits of what's possible on 5G networks as they roll out globally. Currently, the test experience is running at 10 megabits per second. Microsoft's goal is to deliver high-quality experiences at the lowest possible bitrate that work across the widest possible networks, taking into consideration the uniqueness of every device and network.
Microsoft's service will compete with Google's "Project Stream", a game streaming service that is being tested by the Alphabet unit in partnership with game publisher Ubisoft.
Microsoft's xCloud will also face competition from other popular streaming services including Nvidia's GeForce Now and Sony's PlayStation Now among others.