First Impressions: Project xCloud (Preview)

Posted on October 14, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Cloud, Games with 16 Comments

Microsoft released the first public preview of its coming Project xCloud game streaming service today. Here’s a quick peek at what it’s like.

First up, of course, there are some prerequisites. For the time being, you must be using an Android handset, so I chose the excellent and gaming-class OnePlus 7T for my trial. You will also need to pair an Xbox Wireless Controller to the handset, which is easy enough in Settings, and it’s easier if you use a game clamp to connect that controller to the handset. As you may have seen, I did recently buy such a clamp.

Next, you need to download the Xbox Game Streaming (Preview) app from the Google Play Store. This can be used for a variety of game streaming options, including streaming directly from Xbox One. But if you’re in the Project xCloud preview, you can use it for that: Just sign-in with your Microsoft account and you’re good to go.

Once that’s done, you’re presented with a simple menu with four game choices: Gears 5, Halo 5, Killer Instinct, and Sea of Thieves.

As a shooter fan, I chose Gears 5 for the first test. It took a good 30-45 seconds or more for the game to appear at all, but then it takes a while on Xbox One as well. (In fact, this is a problem with a lot of modern shooters, including Call of Duty.) But once in, the experience is familiar—I’d been playing this game recently anyway—and when I choose the Campaign, I was able to pick it up where I’d left off last time on Xbox or PC.

Performance is surprisingly excellent in the game. I only played for several minutes, but I experienced no lag at all. And Gears is a great choice, since there are lots of heavy action sequences with all kinds of on-screen animation. The graphics quality, likewise, is excellent though I did have to bump up the brightness.

On the phone, the image is stretched with no black bars

There’s an on-screen Xbox button in the top middle, and it works identically to the Xbox button on the controller in that it opens a mini version of the Xbox Guide from console with a subset of the usual choices: Friends, Start a party, Invitations, Achievements (for the current game), and Find someone.

What you don’t get there is a way to end the current game, as is the case on the console. Instead, there is a More menu (“…”) off to the left with Mute, Feedback, and Quit game choices. Seems like that could all be in the Guide.

Next up, I tested Halo 5 briefly. I’d not played this one in a while, but I know it’s a big game—OK, a huge game—so I figured it would be another good test. And sure enough, it took another 30-45 seconds before a game screen even appeared. And then almost as much time again for the game menu to appear.

Here, again, I choose the Campaign and resumed what I assume is a years-old save. And here, again, the graphic fidelity and performance were outstanding. I am really surprised by how well this works.

The issue for me, and for now, is that the size of the screen is tough. But if Project xCloud works this well on a phone, I have no doubt that Microsoft can make it work on a tablet, PC, or smart TV. And that is where it will really shine. Until then … wow. It’s still really impressive, with the one exception being the big load times on admittedly big games. I will keep testing, of course.

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