Not looking to shell out $300 (or more) for a gaming console?
Starting June 30, you won’t need a console at all to play Xbox games. Microsoft has announced a partnership with Samsung to bring the Xbox app to its 2022 Smart TVs. That means if you buy a 2022 model Samsung television, you can play more than a hundred cloud-enabled games on Xbox Game Pass — without a console. Game Pass has often been called the “Netflix of games,” and that comparison’s more accurate now than it’s ever been. The Xbox app will be bundled into Samsung’s proprietary Gaming Hub on its smart TVs, which also includes Nvidia’s GeForce Now and Google Stadia (remember that one?).
The app is compatible with Bluetooth controllers, including the Adaptive Controller and even Sony’s DualSense, introduced for PlayStation 5. Yep, that means you can play Halo Infinite or Forza Horizon 5 with a DualSense now, if that floats your boat. (I’ve done it, it’s weird, but it works just fine!)
“We’re building a platform that can reach billions of players — whether it’s on console, whether it’s on PC, whether it’s through Xbox cloud streaming — where players on any device they want to play on should be able to find the content they want to play,” said Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer said in a post on Xbox Wire.
That all sounds great, but how does it actually play? I’ve only dabbled with Xbox’s cloud offering briefly in the past, testing out Forza Horizon 5 shortly after launch on my parents’ dodgy home wireless network. My results weren’t great — the performance was sluggish and choppy to the point of being downright unplayable. I gave up after a few minutes. So my expectations were pretty modest going into a media demo of the smart TV app ahead of the official reveal.
But after taking four games for a spin on the Xbox app, I came away very impressed. Forza Horizon 5 played brilliantly right from the jump with no discernable input lag. The deserts of Mexico were vividly rendered, free from the wonky textures and pop-in I’d encountered in my earlier attempts to stream the game. Flight Simulator took a while to boot up, but the same is true for the dedicated console version of this massive game. There was one moment that I noticed a split-second stutter while hopping around in the indie platformer Ori and the Will of the Wisps, but it didn’t break the immersion.
“We’re building a platform that can reach billions of players.”
Representatives from Xbox and Samsung tell Inverse they recommend an internet connection of 20mbps to stream games via the app, roughly the same as is required for streaming video in 4k. That seems pretty modest, and obviously there will be variance from user to user depending on how many devices they have connected to their home network.
For what it’s worth, my demo was conducted using hotel wifi, which has a deserved reputation for being pretty lousy, and it worked very well. But will I be able to replicate that easy-peasy experience at my parents’ house next time I visit? That remains to be seen. Much of the success of Xbox’s foray into streaming will depend on how well it works straight out of the box for folks who aren’t especially tech-savvy. It’ll be interesting to see how users respond after the June 30 launch.
I’d also be curious to see side-by-side visual comparisons of games running on the Xbox app alongside Series S and X, but from my demo I’d say the visuals are comparable to the former. I was left with the impression that Forza’s environments didn’t feel quite as sharp as they do on my Series X, but admittedly I was also looking for nits to pick, since there wasn’t much to quibble with in terms of performance.
The pick-up-and-play factor is a major selling point here — pairing a controller is a one-time process — the next time you want to jump into a game, it just works. The in-app UI will be familiar to anyone who’s used an Xbox before. There’s no Quick Resume functionality like on Series S/X, though, so shifting between games on the app isn’t quite as instantaneous. Most players will find the app remarkably polished, and nearly identical to playing on console.
The long view
The Xbox smart TV announcement marks the latest expansions of Xbox’s cloud gaming initiative and its Game Pass monthly subscription offering. While the initial app launch is limited to 2022 Samsung smart TV models, Microsoft will expand its reach to other manufacturers going forward, says Ashley McKissick, Corporate Vice President of Gaming Experiences & Platforms, in another Xbox Wire post from June 9.
“We are bringing the Xbox App to Samsung Smart TVs first, and our intent is to explore other TV partnerships as part of this next evolution in our vision,” McKissick said.
While the partnership is limited in scope for now, the intermediate and long-term impact could be massive. Gaming hardware has long been a loss-leader for console manufacturers. (During the Apple v. Epic trial in May 2021, Xbox’s head of business development Lori Wright said “we sell the consoles at a loss” during her testimony.) What’s more, ongoing supply chain woes have made manufacturing enough consoles to meet demand far more challenging than in years past.
Perhaps most important of all, bringing Xbox to smart TVs reduces one of the biggest barriers to entry for gaming — upfront costs. Currently, the Xbox Series S and Series X are priced at $299 and $499 respectively. That means if you’re planning to get a new TV anyway, you can try out all the stuff on Game Pass for $1 for a month. (Fortnite doesn’t require a Game Pass subscription for access.)
“Our intent is to explore other TV partnerships.”
Of course, a major sticking point — for now — is that you’ll have to buy (or already own) a 2022 Samsung TV, though the Xbox app will be available for all 2022 TV models, not just the fancy-pants OLED stuff. (Representatives from Samsung and Xbox told Inverse they haven’t ruled out making the app available on older Samsung TV models, but noted that it will take time and testing to optimize.)
Like it or lump it, Microsoft has developed a remarkably smart strategy to get Xbox games in front of more potential players. Yes, Xbox the smart TV app is a similar premise to Google’s Stadia or Amazon’s Luna, but Microsoft has every chance to succeed where its big-tech brethren have stumbled. With more than 100 games ranging from big-budget blockbusters to quirky indies, Xbox’s subscription service has a lot to offer a potentially untapped gaming audience.
Suffice to say, those late May reports claiming that “Game Pass burnout” had officially arrived may have been slightly premature.