Hands On With Microsoft's Project XCloud: Putting Cellular Cloud Gaming To The Test
PCWorld|December 2019
Microsoft’s Project xCloud will never surpass a local console, or a PC. But for passing time while stuck in a hotel lobby, dentist’s office, or airport, it’s not bad.
Mark Hachman

When Microsoft began calling for people to test its Project xCloud cloud gaming service last month, I was skeptical of how it would perform over the toughest stress test you can throw at it: a cellular connection. That’s why I was surprised at how well it works.

I’ve been trying the Project xCloud beta off and on for more than a week now. Keep in mind that Microsoft is actually testing two betas at the moment: Xbox Console Streaming, where you’re streaming games you own from your Xbox to a mobile phone or tablet; and Project xCloud, which takes a pre-selected batch of four games and allows you to play them over a wireless connection. I’ve tested only the latter, though the former is now live for Xbox Insiders (go.pcworld.com/xbin).

LET’S PAUSE TO TALK ABOUT LAG

In both cases, a pleasurable gaming experience boils down to one factor: latency, or the time it takes for you to react to a given scene and input a controller movement or button press, and for the game to respond accordingly.

On a “local” console or PC, that latency or lag is almost nothing. Though some professional gamers will use wired mice to minimize the lag that can occur between the wireless connections on a PC, lag is rarely noticeable on single-player games if you’re running on an up-to-date machine. It becomes somewhat worse if you’re playing a multiplayer match online, even if you’re on a high-speed wired connection. OnLive, which pioneered cloud gaming before flaming out, succeeded technically (go.pcworld.com/oliv) but failed as a business operation (go. pcworld.com/fail).

It becomes even more pronounced if you’re playing games remotely, over a wireless connection. Microsoft implemented game streaming on Windows 10 (go. pcworld.com/gs15) in 2015, where you could take a Windows PC and play games streamed to it from a console elsewhere in your home, over a wireless connection. (Xbox Console Streaming is essentially an extension of this.) Over a wireless LAN, lag increases even further.

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