Xbox streaming device could start making consoles redundant – here’s why

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The Xbox streaming device has been in the works for quite some time, and if a recent photo is anything to go by, it may come out sooner rather than later. Xbox boss Phil Spencer recently hid a prototype Xbox streaming device for all to see on his Twitter account and gave the world a glimpse of what the long-awaited box could look like.

Between Spencer’s tweet and the long product development cycle, the Xbox streaming device might not be too far off. But when it does arrive, it will raise some interesting – and perhaps troubling – questions about the future of Xbox, both as a console and as an ecosystem.

Over the past few years, Microsoft has grown Xbox Game Pass to the point where it’s almost a viable console replacement on its own. When the Xbox streaming device debuts, Microsoft’s grand experience will essentially reach its apotheosis. With Game Pass’s myriad streaming features, Microsoft is essentially trying to convince consumers that they don’t need an Xbox console for the full Xbox experience, and the Xbox streaming device might just prove that right. ‘company.

The only question is: what happens after that? In a world where cloud gaming is near perfect, what future is there for the traditional video game console?

A keystone concept

xbox gamescom 2022

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Before we dive into the potential implications of the Xbox streaming device, it’s worth noting that this product has been in development for a long time. Spencer hinted at an Xbox streaming device in 2020, and Microsoft confirmed his comments in 2021. Earlier this year, Microsoft explained that the Xbox streaming device — a project called “Keystone” — has gone through several revisions, which perhaps explains why it took so long to get out.

Whether we’re playing shooters, racing games, action games, or RPGs, streaming Xbox titles to a Samsung smart TV seemed almost indistinguishable from playing a downloaded version or streaming it. ‘a disk.

The prototype in Spencer’s photo is likely an outdated version of the device. But honestly, the appearance of the device is not incredibly important. We can safely assume that whether the device is a box or a dongle, whether it’s Wi-Fi only or offers an Ethernet adapter, whether it’s powered by a TV or requires an external adapter, its main purpose is to run the Xbox Game Pass app. And, we can also safely assume that the app will work fine.

This is not pure speculation; we already have a variety of different Xbox Game Pass streaming apps, and they all work at least reasonably well. You can stream Xbox Game Pass games to Android devices and the best TVs with a dedicated app, or to the best iPhones and laptops through a web browser. You can even stream Game Pass titles directly to an Xbox console, saving you the hassle of downloading a game if you just want to try it out or jump into a few multiplayer matches with friends.

Although the streaming technology works better on some platforms than others (and is still technically in beta on many of them), you can play hundreds of Xbox games at least pretty well without having to buy an Xbox or gaming PC.

Perhaps the best proof of concept for an Xbox streaming device is the Xbox Game Pass app on Samsung smart TVs. Tom’s Guide was able to try this app out for ourselves, and it was a near-perfect experience, even on a fairly standard broadband connection. Whether we were playing shooters, racing games, action games or RPGs, streaming Xbox titles seemed almost indistinguishable from playing a downloaded version or disc.

In terms of “streaming Xbox titles to a big screen TV,” the Xbox streaming device seems to have the most DNA in common with the Smart TV app. And since we already know it works, we have every reason to believe that a dedicated device will be just as good. And if so, Microsoft could have the potential to turn game consoles into a boutique market rather than a staple of the consumer electronics industry.

Console costs and benefits

xbox series x review

(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

We don’t want to speculate too much about the Xbox streaming device. We don’t know what apps it will offer, or how much it will cost, or even if the gadget will be any good. But what we can extrapolate from Spencer’s comments is that it will be much cheaper and more accessible than an Xbox Series X ($500) or Xbox Series S ($300). Presumably it won’t be powerful enough to run games on its own, but that won’t be a problem with a robust and compatible Xbox Game Pass app.

Imagine a world where you can play 400 Xbox games for the price of a streaming device and an Xbox Game Pass membership. Suddenly, console gaming feels much less like a pastime for dedicated gamers, and much more like a pastime for anyone with a stable broadband connection.

Now imagine a world where you can play 400 Xbox games (and counting) for the price of a streaming device (maybe $50-100) and an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate membership ($15 per month). Suddenly, console gaming feels much less like a pastime for dedicated gamers, and much more like a pastime for anyone with a stable broadband connection. The same way streaming video services gave us all ersatz movie and TV series collections, cheap cloud gaming devices and subscriptions could democratize gaming – for better or for worse.

Before the release of PS4 and Xbox One, some journalists (including me) wondered if the console market had a future. The advent of mobile gaming, the resurgence of the PC market, and skyrocketing game development costs have given the impression that console gaming may be headed for another 1983 style accident. That didn’t happen, as Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo reminded buyers that consoles always strike the perfect balance between affordability and quality, delivering rich gaming experiences at an acceptable price for a consumer base in the middle class.

However, that was also before cloud gaming significantly existed. While the shutdown of Google Stadia reveals the potential pitfalls of cloud gaming, the technology is already quite mature. It’s also theoretically cheaper and more accessible than consoles or gaming PCs.

Microsoft has repeatedly said it wants to build an ecosystem rather than just sell consoles, and it looks like the company is on the verge of success. There are still a few hurdles to clear, such as the release of the Xbox streaming device and fine-tuning Xbox Cloud Gaming performance, which is currently limited to 1080p and 60 fps. But the one major missing piece of the puzzle is finding a way to allow users to stream games they’ve purchased a la carte, rather than having to rely on a subscription service. And this feature is already in the works.

There will always be an audience that will want dedicated gaming consoles and PCs, just as there will always be an audience that will want physical copies of movies, books, and music albums. But if you really, really don’t need an Xbox console to play Xbox games, how will that affect gamers and the industry around them over the next few years? Will we be able to play what we want, where we want, on any screen we want? Or will we be forever tied to expensive streaming services and mercurial cloud servers?

We can always hope for the first while we prepare for the second.

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