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Beta for Microsoft Project xCloud to be Available in October in Select Regions

After continuously testing its Project xCloud streaming gaming service in an internal group, Microsoft is now looking to expand its testing of the service for a broader audience. This will be done via a Beta launch of the service, available at first only for residents in the US and UK (click here, and (South) Korea (click here). The idea is to stress-test the service, since according to Microsoft, "It's time to put Project xCloud to the test in a broader capacity, with a range of gamers, devices, network environments and real-world use-case scenarios, and this is where you come in." There is no end in sight for the Beta: Microsoft wants it to last "until customers are consistently reporting a great, fun experience and the technology meets our internal quality standards."

The only thing that's needed to participate is a Bluetooth Xbox One controller that you can connect to whatever device you want, be it a smartphone, tablet, or other streaming-capable device. The idea here is to test the xCloud service in as broad hardware and network configurations as possible, and it's a Beta, so remember to cool your expectations adequately. You won't be able to play games that are already connected to your account - Microsoft offers a curated selection of titles that includes (for the time being) Halo 5: Guardians, Gears 5, Killer Instinct, and Sea of Thieves.

Waning Popularity: After Peaking, Apex Legends Already Lost 75% of Its Streaming Audience

Apex Legends was somewhat of a sleeper hit, and it was so in many ways. A ninja introduction by EA of the Respawn Entertainment-developed game back in January saw significant interest from the gaming community, who recognized in Respawn the ability to make a great FPS. Taking advantage of the Battle Royale popularity was also a solid move, as was EA's decision to focus marketing efforts not on a long, drawn-out publicity campaign, but instead, on paying renowned Twitch streamers to play and stream their game.

Since gaming (at least when it comes to multiplayer gaming) nowadays has somewhat of a "monkey see, monkey do" dynamic for the general gaming population, this move prompted Apex Legends to the top of the streaming food chain, with a grand total of 40 million hours streamed on its first week alone. Also during its first week, the game achieved a staggering 25 million unique players, doubling that number to 50 million in the first month. However, the cash flow must die out, and as EA stopped paying streamers, so did they move on to other, more proficuous games, such as Fortnite, which has endured the Apex Legends assault in terms of viewers and players. It remains to be seen if EA will double down on the streamer investment it did on the games' launch, or if Respawn Entertainment can churn out meaningful updates and characters that can turn the tide.

Google Announces Stadia Cloud Gaming Service at GDC 2019

We knew this was coming, especially after Google's teaser from earlier this month. Project Stream was a proof-of-concept in collaboration with Ubisoft, to see whether AAA gaming was possible over the internet. Things were smooth most of the time in our own experience, but there remained questions over how the concept would translate over to a finished product, especially with infrastructure challenges on the client side of things. Google's keynote at GDC just wrapped up, and the main focus was Stadia- the now named cloud gaming service borne out of Project Stream.

Stadia is built with instant access in mind. An example demo came in the form of Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed Odyssey, which was used in the public test before. It is integrated with partner YouTube channels such that a trailer for a supported game would have an option to play said game, which would then launch immediately. Stadia is built with support from a wide partner network including AMD, Unity, id Software, and more, with details seen past the break.

Valve Announces Steam Link App for Mobile Game Streaming Anywhere

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Valve had promised continued support to the Steam Link after discontinuing it last year, and most took it to mean basic updates to the hardware device itself at the time. That was 2018, and it is remarkable how the topic of in-house game streaming has come up since. Be it Google's Project Stream which seemingly is leading up to a major announcement by the company at GDC coming up very shortly, or Microsoft introducing their new Wireless Display app for PC game streaming on the XBOX One, as well as bringing its XBOX Live service to mobile platforms on iOS or Android alike, 2019 seems to herald a re-focus into the concept of game streaming whether the infrastructure is ready or not.

Valve for their own part has had their Steam Link be enjoyed by a fairly niche audience, one that shares a more local form of game streaming from a host device to another on the same network. NVIDIA's Shield offered a similar concept, and that too has not really made the news as much as NVIDIA would surely have wanted. This latest news from Valve allows streaming of one's Steam library (games, in particular) to phones, tablets, and TVs with no download or service fees applicable. Interested users can participate in the open beta program by simply downloading the app (Google Play store only for now) or on the Raspberry Pi as has been the case for a few months already. The Steam Link app is compatible with a number of popular Bluetooth controllers, including the Steam Controller, and Valve recommends a 5 GHz network or wired Ethernet for best experience. Looks like the weekend just got busier than I originally planned!

NVIDIA Partners with OBS for GeForce Optimization and RTX Encoder

We saw a glimpse of this at the NVIDIA suite during CES 2019, with a beta version coming out shortly after. NVIDIA and OBS (Open Broadcaster Software) have since brought out the full release of a new OBS Studio, version 23.0.1, that adds improved support for NVIDIA GeForce cards. In particular, their latest and greatest RTX lineup, including the new desktop RTX 2060 as well as the mobile and Max-Q variants, will see an FPS impact drop by as much as 66% according to NVIDIA's internal testing. Some example results are seen below, with games such as Fortnite, PUBG, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 - Blackout, and Apex Legends seeing a frame rate boost by up to 48% compared to x264 Fast, and 27% compared to x264 Very Fast.

Given this is a result of NVENC, NVIDIA's hardware encoder, in place, older GeForce GPUs (GTX 600-series and newer that support NVENC) will also see some benefits. GeForce RTX GPUs just get to enjoy a bit more- up to 15% more, in fact, in efficiency as far as bitrate consumption for the same graphical fidelity. NVIDIA effectively says that "GeForce RTX GPUs can stream with superior image quality compared to x264 Fast, and on par with x264 Medium", thus putting in a strong case for single-PC gaming and streaming, as opposed to having a dedicated streaming PC. They have even put out a video to go over the enhancements, which will no doubt interest game streamers on the PC platform.

Valve Says Goodbye to Steam Link But Will Continue to Offer Support

Valve seemed to have the ambition to become a hardware company when he launched peripherals like his Steam Link and its Steam Controller. The scope of these products has been limited, and now the company reports that "the supply of physical Steam Link hardware devices is sold out in Europe and almost sold out in the US". Valve has discontinued the product, although the company will continue to offer support for the Steam Link.

The idea was (and still is) really nice: any decent PC or laptop can be converted into a video game and even video content server, allowing the user to enjoy those experiences on much less powerful devices through an Ethernet or a good wireless connection. They started supporting Linux and Windows desktop and laptops, but Steam Link made it possible to stream video games to Android devices (Apple rejected the application for iOS) and Samsung Smart TVs. The product, announced in 2015, therefore says goodbye, although surely those who already have it will be able to continue enjoying it for a long time.

Streamlabs Partners with Intel to Offer Integrated PC Plaforms Optimized for Live Streaming

I'm pretty sure many of our readers devote part of their time not only to enjoy video games, but also to broadcast their games via YouTube, Twitch, Mixer or some other alternative. Live Streaming has become a phenomenon for users, but also for hardware & software developers. Suddenly a new, juicy cake appears on the market, and everyone wants a piece.

That's precisely what Streamlabs, developer of Streamlabs OBS is announcing. This free broadcasting app offers more options and a faster and easier startup for beginners than the original solution, OBS (Open Broadcast Software). The company has teamed up with Intel to develop PCs specially dedicated to live streaming. They won't be alone, as they've also partnered with Shuttle, SimplyNUC, ZOTAC and Acer. All of them will join forces to offer hardware solutions with Streamlabs OBS (which by the way, is still in beta stage) and various optimizations for this field already pre-installed.

Microsoft's xCloud is a Push Towards Game Streaming Future, Powered by AMD

Microsoft has announced their xCloud initiative, a game streaming effort that looks to bridge the gap between local and stream-based gaming. xCloud is looking to bring true, platform-agnostic gaming with much lower bandwidth requirements due to a number of technologies being researched and worked on by Microsoft. Chief among these are low-latency networking, encoding, and decoding advances - all crucial parts of the puzzle for solving latency and poor image quality issues. xCloud aims to allow for "high-quality experiences at the lowest possible bitrates that work across the widest possible networks" - with 4G and 5G support. For now, the test version of xCloud only requires a minimum 10 Mbps connection, which is already very impressive in abstract - though of course it would require more info on the rendering specs being delivered to the recipient's system for deeper analysis.

One big takeaway here is that this xCloud initiative is fully powered by AMD's own hardware - as it should be. Using AMD custom hardware such as that found within Microsoft's Xbox consoles takes away the work and investment in building even more emulation capabilities on a server level, which would only add additional overhead to the streaming service. By using AMD's own custom hardware, Microsoft circumvents this issue - but entrenches itself even more on AMD's own product portfolio, both now and in the foreseeable future.

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