Xbox chief hints at TV streaming sticks for xCloud

Microsoft’s head of gaming and Xbox, Phil Spencer, has hinted that the company is planning TV streaming sticks for its xCloud cloud gaming service. In an interview with Stratechery, Spencer discusses the potential for additional tiers of Xbox Game Pass, which could include a free bundled TV stick to play xCloud games.

“I think you’re going to see lower priced hardware as part of our ecosystem when you think about streaming sticks and other things that somebody might want to just go plug into their TV and go play via xCloud,” says Spencer. “You could imagine us even having something that we just included in the Game Pass subscription that gave you an ability to stream xCloud games to your television and buying the controller.”

Spencer also teases the potential for an “Xbox Game Pass Platinum” with guaranteed access to new Xbox hardware. Microsoft has been bundling Xbox subscriptions and hardware together in something called Xbox All Access, which includes access to Xbox Game Pass and the latest Xbox Series X and Series X consoles. It’s a bundle that Spencer is obviously keen to experiment with in the future.

Microsoft’s xCloud service.
Photo by Nick Statt / The Verge

The idea of an Xbox game streaming TV stick isn’t a new one for Microsoft. The software giant was preparing lightweight Xbox streaming devices back in 2016, but it canceled the hardware. Microsoft has been investigating streaming sticks and hardware ever since the company originally demonstrated Halo 4 streaming from the cloud to Windows and Windows Phones all the way back in 2013.

Spencer’s first public mention of Xbox streaming TV sticks implies the hardware could be ready soon, though. Microsoft has so far only bundled xCloud game streaming with its highest Xbox Game Pass Ultimate tier ($14.99 per month). There’s certainly room for additional tiers, and easier access to the service beyond just Android devices.

Microsoft partnered with Samsung earlier this year for xCloud, and it’s only a matter of time before we see the company’s game streaming service appear on Samsung TVs. 2021 could be an interesting year for xCloud, especially as Microsoft is planning to upgrade its server blades to the more capable Xbox Series X hardware. We should also start to see xCloud appear on Facebook Gaming next year.

Microsoft is also working on a web-based iOS solution for xCloud that will debut in early 2021. Spencer confirms our recent report on this iOS workaround in the Stratechery interview, but warns that not being in the App Store is still a challenge for xCloud. “We have a good solution on iOS that I think it’ll be coming kind of early next year, I feel good about the solution that we have,” says Spencer.

Comments

This was always going to be part of the plan and indeed streaming could become an integral part of the console experience too, allowing instant access to demos without a download for example.

Just being able to fire up a browser and start playing is a big plus for Stadia and I would hope xCloud follows suit.

allowing instant access to demos without a download for example.

That’s the model of the promised PS4 we never got.

You must’ve missed where Xcloud, by Phil, is coming to a browser soon.

Having Game Pass be just pre-installed and available on a TV platform like Samsung or LG for a cheaper price will literally change the scope of the market.

I’m not sure just how effective the Stadia like solution of having the controller directly talk to the router is, but having something like Xbox Wireless protocol be built into the TV (as it is in some PCs) would mean you can just pick up any Xbox compatible controller and start playing.

I wont be surprised if we get to see a dedicated xCloud button (much like a Netflix button) in the TV remote.

I don’t think it’s going to shift the market much really. As long as Nintendo & Sony continue to provide gameplay experiences you’ll never have on xCloud & as long as the majority of the US & many other countries still don’t have reliable enough internet, this will just be a niche market. If Microsoft doesn’t ramp up their exclusive content & the global infrastructure of the internet doesn’t improve dramatically, it’s not going to make as much of a dent as hardcore gamers on internet threads think it will.

Right now all it’s really doing is making me wonder why people even need to buy Xbox consoles at all? If they’re going to provide the backend hardware to run these games over the internet & with all of these games being available on PC, the purpose of the Xbox console just diminishes with time. Unlike Nintendo & Sony which are still providing value to their devices with more exclusive content & some streaming options but not putting huge emphasis on it yet.

This could shift the market drastically actually. Most people but a system for all the games not just exclusives. Most people only care about a couple exclusives on a console as it is anyways. If you have a tv or a streaming stick that you already own or can buy at a much cheaper price than the 500 bucks now to play all the other games you will.play tht alone is a game changer. 80% of people will not go buy a $500 console just to play 3-4 games on it when they have access to all the other games they’ll play elsewhere. Exclusives sell right now because it is a choice of where would you rather play all games. If you already had a device that could play 95% of them most people will not dish out that kind of money just for the other 5%. It just isn’t worth it to them. Xbox will change the whole field here. Nintendo is the only one safe from this because they go their own route on things. Sony, stadia and Apple should worry though.

It’s going to be interesting to watch you guys get it wrong. Exclusives are what sell consoles. A wide variety of exclusives that target multiple demographics. Yes, one exclusive may sell 5-10 million copies on a console that has 80 million systems sold but not the same 5-10 million people are buying every exclusive. The multitude of variety that Nintendo & Sony bring to their consoles in terms of gameplay experiences you can’t have anywhere else is unmatched by Xbox. N & S provide experiences to different sub-sects of gamers and those niches buy the millions of copies for their niches.

xCloud for one has a VERY small library of games available to stream & likely won’t ever have the exclusives Nintendo or Sony bring to the table. Unless you want to live in a bubble where you never experience the unique gameplay experiences N & S have to offer, you’ll be buying a N or S console.

xCloud has limited appeal especially as the US and other nations struggle to even provide adequate bandwidth for individuals to be able to have a decent stream that isn’t oppressed with lag. You completely ignored that point. The gameplay experience & fidelity will be infinitely superior on a dedicated console for many years. xCloud is a nice theory, it won’t stretch far beyond that. Expect Nintendo & Sony to continue to dominate game and console sales until Microsoft can figure out how to provide more unique gameplay experiences that don’t compromise the quality of the experience for the many of those that don’t have a great internet connection.

Yes, yes, yes, right, it’s not an Apple product, gonna fail!

I’ve mentioned nothing about Apple. What are you talking about?

If new Samsung smart TV’s had XBOX Game Pass app built in, and my controller connected to it, It would be a total home run for MS. That being said – lets get that app on Vizio, LG, etc. Id ditch my Firestick in a heartbeat if there was a Xbox thin client like this. I would assume that it caries the same look and feel as the XBOX OS, and streams games only.

Xbox controllers Series S onwards support Bluetooth, so as long as your TV has Wi-Fi (which it probably does), it likely also has Bluetooth and can connect to the controller directly. The future is pretty cool!

xCloud obviously needs to increase its resolution from 720p to be viable on 4K HDTVs. And hopefully they allow the xCloud Android app to be supported on Android TV. People who already have the new Chromecast or Shield TV have no technical need for Microsoft’s streaming stick.

xCloud obviously needs to increase its resolution from 720p to be viable on 4K HDTVs.

Yeah, that’s happening Q1 next year when they switch server blades to Series X hardware. it’ll then stream at 4k, with a fast SSD.

Yea, it feels like they’ve been waiting to launch PC streaming and TV streaming for Series X blades. We know that they’ve been internally testing PC streaming for a year now, and yet they’ve yet to even acknowledge the possibility.

I do wonder how quickly they’ll get Series X hardware in enough quantities to roll out to servers. Considering Series X is preordered out worldwide and they’re probably prioritizing stock for the retail launch, Q1 may be a bit ambitious. But if they’ve really been planning a cloud-first strategy, perhaps they planned to just produce a lot of hardware this year. Rumors they were going to launch earlier in the year originally could suggest that they had plans (and maybe contracts) in place to really ramp up production this year.

Don’t know, we’ll see haha.

Is there a source for this? I saw people claiming that XSX blades would be deployed for scalability and not quality; i.e. 4x 720p instances per Xbox, as opposed to the current 1:1 user/Xbox ratio.

That’s only because the beta ran on older, One S machines (literally). When it rolls out for real, it’ll be on better hardware.

Count me in for the gaming stick!

It’s already launched and "out for real" and it’s still 720p.

No, it’s still in beta and even indicates as much every time you initiate a game stream. The "out for real" is going to be when they upgrade the blades to XSX hardware, and I would assume fully work out how the subscriptions are going to work.

It’s in open beta right now.

This seemed like an inevitably once they change the existing Xcloud blades from Xbox One S to Series X

That won’t fix the fact that most people have relatively slow internet connections. Input lag & bandwidth constraints are going to hold this console back until more households can be served more reliable internet connections.

service*

As a "regular person" reading this, I’m getting confused with Microsoft’s offerings regarding Xbox. Why would I need to buy an Xbox if I could just get a steaming stick? What is the difference between the Game Pass and xCloud? I always thought Game Pass was like Spotify for the games, but in that case what do you need xCloud for? I don’t mean to sound mean or stupid, I’m just confused (and would be glad if The Verge’s reporting were made a bit more accessible for people who read about Xbox and MS strategy but don’t actively game). Thanks!

As a regular person you don’t need to buy an Xbox if you have good internet and are willing to stream games to your home. The console is there for people who want a physical device in their house to play discs (or downloadable versions of the game in the case of the Series S).

Game Pass and xCloud are essentially the same thing at this point as xCloud is not a stand alone service. It’s bundled into your existing Game Pass Ultimate subscription. xCloud is the name is the streaming service while it was in beta. Once it was released fully to the public it ceased to exist because it was bundled.

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