What is xCloud? We tested Microsoft's streaming game platform

What is xCloud? We tested Microsoft's streaming game platform. This is our opinion of xCloud in its beta for Android. It is the Microsoft streaming game service that turns our device into a portable Xbox. The best? 

Flat rate for video games, without installation or patches, we can play for 4G and it works really well considering its current state. We tell you about our detailed xCloud impressions... and most importantly, we show you on video with a latency analysis!

It has been available for a few months in other territories, but now is when Microsoft has been encouraged to launch xCloud. It is their new streaming game platform that, in a nutshell, is like putting an Xbox One S on the phone, tablet, Android TV and other platforms in the future.

First of all, we warn you: this is not an xCloud review because the platform is in beta. It is something that shows in some moments, but even so, the system is perfect 99% of the time and we have come across a very good solution to continue the Xbox game on mobile ... or to have an Xbox without counting with the physical console. That being said, let's go with our xCloud review.

What is, in a nutshell, xCloud

Basically, we are going to start telling what it is, although if you are in the world of streaming platforms, you will already know it perfectly. xCloud is the "Microsoft Cloud Console". This means that we do not have to buy an Xbox console to enjoy the service, since everything runs on the company's servers, where there are rooms full of Xbox One S.

At the moment, as we say, it is a beta and Microsoft has wanted to secure the shot and they have opted for the modest system, the One S. This means that the game that we see on the screen of our device runs at a resolution of 720p with the Visual assets and frame rate that that console can handle (which, let's remember, although it came with a little more power compared to the One of 2013, is still far behind Xbox One X).

The key to xCloud is immediacy. We have an application (which we will talk about later) in which we have the games available in the catalog. We chose one... and we played, without waiting for updates, installations or anything like that. It's like watching a series on Netflix: tap and play.

Similar to Stadia, yes, since the concept is the same. The difference is that at Stadia we buy the games... and what Microsoft will do is offer the catalog for a flat fee. At the moment, trying xCloud is free, and you can sign up here.

This is what you need to play xCloud

One of the questions that you have sent us the most through social networks, with the launch of Stadia, was the necessary connection. With this there is always controversy, since you may meet requirements to spare and the service is not going well, or you may be on the edge and be perfect. There are different parameters that influence this, but the cut in the case of xCloud is in the 10 Mbps.

With a modest fiber connection, you should be able to play xCloud without problems. Microsoft marks that download bandwidth as the minimum, although with our tests (and 600 symmetric Mpbs) we anticipate that you need more not only to have a good IQ, but a good gaming experience.

Those of Redmond on their website also indicate that it is recommended to use 5 GHz Wi-Fi networks due to the lower latency of this signal when we are close to the router, but, once again guided by our tests, we have played perfectly both 2.4 GHz network as in 4G. We will see this later.

In addition to meeting the network requirements, we need an Android device for this beta. It can be a tablet or a mobile, and the truth is that the category of it does not matter. 

For our xCloud prints we have used a OnePlus 8 Pr o and an S20 + because they have an internal capture device (not only with a screen capture device), but also a Huawei MediaPad M6 tablet or a mid / low range mobile phone for around 200 euros (They are in embargo, so we can't say what it is). We have played without problem on each device, although obviously AMOLED screens are more enjoyable .

About the controls, Microsoft recommends the Xbox One V2 controller, the one with Bluetooth. We have played with that controller, of course, but also with a Dualshock 4 connected by Bluetooth and with the Stadia controller by cable. The experience is fantastic in all cases, but you must bear in mind that the name of the buttons varies from one controller to another.

Of course, if you use an old remote, maybe you have problems with Bluetooth if it is not 4.0+. We have used phones with Bluetooth 5.0 and 5.1 to minimize latency with the control.

How the app works

The heart of xCloud is its app, called Xbox Game Streaming . As we say, we need an Xbox account to play (the same one that we have in other Microsoft services or that of the console, of course), and as soon as we access the app we have two sections.
On the one hand, Xbox Console Streaming, which allows us to remotely play content that is being played locally on our Xbox (in HobbyConsolas, I explain how it works ). On the other hand, xCloud, for which we do not need any type of hardware.

The truth is that the application is quite simple. We don't see our profile, achievements or friends in the main menu , and we only have a few options to tinker with (like, for example, giving permission for the app to use the data connection).

If we want to see friends, achievements, screenshots, etc., we must go to the mobile Xbox app. What we have in xCloud is, basically, the list of games and, when we click on each of them, an icon to "play". 

After a loading screen (usually about 20-30 seconds, although sometimes there are queues and the maximum we have waited for is one minute), we are already in the game, and now is the time to tell about our experience these days with xCloud.

The xCloud experience, the true Netflix of video games with a very acceptable latency

Let's go with the important one, the how, and at what quality, xCloud is played. The first thing I would like to say is that, as I have already mentioned, I have tested the system on several devices, having the best experience on a tablet. The reason? The subtitles of many games are not suitable for mobile screens, and although this is not Microsoft's fault, it is something to keep in mind.

Also, on any device other than 16: 9 you will fill the mobile screen . The format we use is 19.5: 9, 20: 9, 16:10... so black stripes will be painted on top / bottom or on the sides. This has nothing to do with the size of the screen, but with the aspect ratio.

Something that I liked is that I can change devices without cuts . That is, when we start a game on xCloud, the system synchronizes our save data in the cloud and allows us to enjoy the same save point in the console, in xCoud or in xCloud on another device.

It is a fantastic experience and, although we know that the bulk of users may not take advantage of it, it is something that we believe is necessary to comment (and praise). Now, let's go with the game tests.

Image and audio quality in front of the console

That said, the feeling in almost all games is to have... well, the Xbox One S on mobile. On the TV I have an Xbox One X, with a much higher image quality than xCloud can offer, but on the mobile screen, being smaller, there are games that are quite successful.

Fighting, 2D platforms, shooters or adventures look great, and although we see the distance drawn seams, shadows and textures, they are enjoyed just like on the console.

There are games, like Forza Horizon or Devil May Cry 5, for example, in which it shows a lot. In Sea of ​​Thieves we also notice a big jump, but it must be borne in mind that they are examples of games very well optimized to take advantage of Xbox One X, so the version of One S is far behind. In others, like Yakuza or Ori (where only the resolution changes, basically) the jump is much less noticeable.

Even so, even where the jump is most noticeable, I have enjoyed playing on the platform, since the system works very well in almost any genre. Ah! The audio quality is good. Every once in a while there is some jerking, but generally, it keeps the type.

Latency with Wi-Fi, with 4G and comparative with Stadia

More than image quality, what matters in these first bars of the streaming game is ... how comfortable we feel with the controller in our hands . Logically, we are very used to there being no latency problems between our orders and the character's movement, but locally it is something immediate and streaming depends on more factors.
  • We receive the image of the game.
  • We give the movement order (for example).
  • That is sent over the Internet to the server (Azure, in this case).
  • It is processed.

The signal is returned to us with the movement according to our order.

All this in milliseconds, where any delay significantly affects our perception of the game. When I reviewed Stadia, I emphasized that the experience on the Pixel 3a XL and PC was fantastic, but on Chromecast Destiny 2 was unplayable. That has been improving these months, which shows us that companies are working conscientiously on improving response and latency.

In short, the experience of playing Wi-Fi both 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz with my line has been very good in almost all games. The shooters are perfectly enjoyable, the adventure games and 2D platforms are perfect and the fighting ones, curiously, also go quite well.

You have already seen it. Latency depends on the game, but the conclusion is clear: in Halo 5 we find a more even latency between local gaming, xCloud over Wi-Fi and xCloud over 4G. This speaks highly of the Microsoft game's netcode. However, in Destiny 2 there is an interesting difference. 

We can play perfectly, but that, you have to get used to. Ah! We have analyzed the xCloud latency recording at 240 ms, so keep in mind that the difference in ms is +/- 5 ms.

The xCloud latency is higher than what we have in the local system , so the first two or three minutes of each game you have to "change the chip" and accustom your brain and fingers to that higher latency, but it is nothing traumatic nor, I repeat, that prevents us from enjoying the game. Also, it is not always the same. In Halo 5, for example, we always have the same latency on consoles, but on mobile there are times that we have more or less.

Data consumption and experience with a 4G network

Can we play 4G? Yes, but things change a little. For starters, we should note that consumption is not modest at all. In Halo 3, with half an hour of game we have added practically 1 GB consumed, so we are talking about around 2-2.5 GB of consumption per hour of game, quite far from what Stadia consumes (which goes above of the 4.5 GB per hour of game in the maximum quality in the mobile). Keep in mind, though, that the signal is 720p, so you have to see what happens when they decide to increase the resolution.

In order to play with data, we must activate the corresponding option in the Game Streaming application, and the truth is that our experience has been good, but far from what we get with Wi-Fi. This is logical because the speed and latency of each of the signals is not even close. 

The games are perfectly playable, but the ones that are regulated by Wi-Fi (driving) are added, now, yes, the fighting ones. It is normal considering that they are games in which we need a "pixel perfect" many times to perform an action, so latency is key. 

Image quality suffers at times and we see a sweep of the image. xCloud is tailored to try to keep the satisfying gaming experience above image quality, and is appreciated. Is it playable? 

Yes, perfectly, and the good thing is that this ensures that we can play as if it were a laptop, since we are not limited to the walls of our home and the coverage of Wi-Fi, although MIcrosoft must be polishing, too, experience with mobile networks.

Catalog that complies and will be expanded thanks to Game Pass

The catalog is something very important and, in fact, something that is weighing heavily on Stadia due to the lack of games and, above all, new games. Little by little, Google is getting down to business, but it is evident that they lack a way to go. 

xCloud is a system that is nourished by games that are currently in Game Pass . At the moment, we have about 100 games in the service and MIcrosoft has confirmed that they will soon integrate Game Pass.

These games are accessed through a flat fee, so you don't have to buy the titles individually. This feature is shared with PS Now, the equivalent to xCloud, but currently only available for Windows 10 and PS4.

Many games are comfortable to play, but there are interfaces that are made for larger screens ...

It has taken xCloud to reach our territory, but it appears that Microsoft is doing things slowly and with good handwriting. Those of Redmond have shown us in these xCloud prints that they have a very powerful weapon for the future of video games.

Flat rate to access a generous and rich catalog of games of all genres that we can enjoy without installation, without patches and without having the console. It is the Netflix of video games and, for the moment, it is something that has been shown to us being only on Android. 

I can start the game on the Xbox and follow it, from the same point, on xCloud on Android, something that we will do later on PC and iOS devices. Also, although it does not work satisfactorily on the Fire TV Stick, Shield or Xiaomi MI BOx S, two Android TV systems, xCloud is doing quite well.

There are things to improve, such as resolution or latency in some games , but with a beta, the future is very, very promising. Beyond latency (which is there) and lower image quality than the latest consoles, I am left with the experience that my partner wants to see something on TV (on Disney +, pulling bandwidth) while I continue with my game on mobile.

Yes, it is what WiiU or PS Vita did with the remote Play, but here you could do it even if you did not have a physical console at home . And that's great.

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