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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