xCloud: what news await us in 2021?

xCloud: what news await us in 2021?


Cloud gaming services are continuing to evolve. Many important companies believe in this new technology with which to reach millions of new potential customers. The advantages promised by cloud gaming are many: immediacy, accessibility and above all ease of use. In fact, it is enough to have a smartphone or tablet to access a vast library of titles at any time and place, which in the past would have required a special game machine. The quality guaranteed by these services is at least equal to that available on classic consoles such as Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X. However, there is still room for improvement and today we want to talk specifically about xCloud, the Microsoft service included in the Game Pass subscription. Ultimate. Through it we can access the entire catalog of video games on the Game Pass (a sort of Netflix of video games), directly from our Android smartphone or tablet. Soon the Redmond company should announce juicy news for their cloud gaming service, so we want to try to anticipate what news awaits us and how xCloud can be improved for Game Pass Ultimate subscribers in 2021.

Free version

Xbox controller associated with an Android smartphone One of the goals of cloud gaming is to reach many new customers, thanks to its extreme accessibility and ease of use. For this reason we believe that the presence of a completely free mode of use may be appreciated. Currently, if you only want to try the xCloud service, you must necessarily subscribe to the Game Pass Ultimate. The initial period costs only € 1, so it is not a big expense to try the service.

Despite the very low price, we still have to enter the details of our credit card and in the future remember to deactivate the renewal of the subscription if it does not satisfy us. This is an operation that many new customers may not want to do, especially the most skeptical public and less inclined to disclose their data for the subscription of new subscriptions. In the minds of consumers, legitimate questions may arise such as: "Will I be able to turn off automatic renewal after the first month?" or "Don't I have to pay another three months at full price afterwards?" . Although the Microsoft site is quite clear on these aspects, providing all the necessary clarifications to the customer, many skeptics may still be "scared" of having to subscribe to a paid subscription.

Offering a completely free trial instead, maybe even as long as two weeks, many could simply sign up for the service and try it out on their Android smartphone or tablet. Subsequently, the user would still remain in the Microsoft databases and the company could then continue their marketing, urging him to subscribe to the Game Pass Ultimate through promotional emails and the like.

Arrival on other platforms

Using the Game Pass Ultimate on numerous devices Previously we have deliberately specified that the service is only available on Android smartphones and tablets. Remaining in the perspective of wanting to reach a greater audience to which to offer the catalog of the Game Pass Ultimate, Microsoft should therefore spread the service on other platforms. Among the most requested there are undoubtedly the Apple devices, in particular the iPhone and the iPad. From this point of view there have been problems related to the App Store regulations, which have already been "tricked" by Google with the Stadia cloud gaming service. Microsoft has therefore decided to take the path marked by the well-known search engine to bring xCloud also to Apple devices through the use of the dedicated web app.

The head of the Xbox division - Phil Spencer has promised the arrival of the Game Pass Ultimate also on other platforms already in the course of 2021. In particular, there was talk of the landing on PC and Smart TV, two categories of truly widespread devices and with an undoubtedly huge potential audience. As for the PC market, the service would allow all those who do not have a real gaming computer to be able to play the entire catalog offered by the Game Pass, without having to invest in expensive hardware components such as currently unavailable video cards. All owners of Smart TVs, on the other hand, will be able to simply download the Xbox application from the official store of the device in order to access the same library mentioned above. So everyone can have a real console in the living room, on par with Xbox Series X, without necessarily having to invest money in the game machine. All you need is a good internet connection and a controller that can be purchased separately for a few tens of euros.

Resolution, latency and waiting times

A part of the xCloud servers built with Xbox One S Finally, let's move on to the more technical aspects related to the cloud gaming service offered by Microsoft. At its announcement, the Redmond company had specified how the servers used to manage the service were made directly with the hardware of the Xbox One S. This solution has allowed hundreds of video games to be fully compatible with the streaming platform, without the intervention of the developers. In fact, since these games are fully functional on Xbox One S consoles, they are also functional in Microsoft servers made with the same hardware. However, we know that the base used is not all that powerful and even if the servers can enjoy scalability in terms of power, they will not be able to overcome some so-called bottlenecks related to the hardware used.

This lack of power of calculation has already been seen in the first beta versions of xCloud and has remained so even in its final version currently available. The service on Android smartphones and tablets offers a resolution of 720p and 60 frames per second, which for mobile devices isn't too bad. In 2021 and generally in the future we expect this resolution and frame-rate to be improved, using more powerful underlying hardware. It would be rather counterproductive to offer a service for 4K (or even 8K) Smart TVs with a base resolution of 720p. Similarly, the most popular PC monitors are still Full HD ones, so you should at least aim to reach this resolution as soon as possible. Microsoft already has a plan in mind to meet these needs: use Xbox Series X hardware in their dedicated xCloud servers. In this way it would maintain the advantages on the compatibility of the software, significantly increasing the computing power offered. This should take place already in the course of 2021, probably precisely to bring the service to the previously mentioned platforms. Unfortunately, the current unavailability of the hardware may have slightly delayed the timing initially foreseen by Microsoft, but we are confident that in the coming months they can solve this particular situation.

Loading xCloud for the launch of a video game Wanting to talk more about possible optimizations for the service, we can mention latency, one of the key elements for the success of cloud gaming. Having a low response time that allows us to interact with the game without particular delays is essential for the gaming experience. Currently the service already enjoys good response times, but could be improved in the future. Speaking instead of waiting times to access the service, even in this case Microsoft could optimize them even more. Access to a video game requires a waiting time that is absolutely not comparable to the download of the entire game and the subsequent start. However, it is not even similar to the much proclaimed "click and play", so even in this case there is room for improvement.

Microsoft should hold an event already at the end of this month to present the news dedicated to the xCloud service. The arrival on Apple platforms is practically taken for granted and perhaps there will also be news regarding the landing on PC and Smart TV. For the latter, however, the service requires more computing power, which may not yet be available on Microsoft servers. Probably the company will only want to give us a taste of what will arrive by the end of the year, releasing instead the web app for iOS and iPadOS as the main novelty.

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