Digital Foundry vs streaming from Xbox One to Windows 10 – article

With the launch of Windows 10, Microsoft finally has an answer to the streaming options from Valve, Soy and Nintendo: Xbox One Game Streaming. The system uses the Xbox app included in the new operating system, and Xbox One owners can now play console titles on any PC running Windows 10 over their local network. On paper, it looks like an excellent addition to the OS, capable of continuing to play even when the main television is busy. Unfortunately, a number of problems prevent this feature from truly shining in comparison with the competition.

Streaming is simple to set up – just launch the Xbox app and look for the ‘game streaming’ option on the home screen. The first time you try to stream, the app searches your local network for Xbox One’s that can then be selected and used. There is a streaming test available but it does not give any information other than the results ‘yes, it will work’ and ‘no, it will not work’. There is also the option to add the console by IP address in order to support alternative network configurations. In our case, both the main PC and Xbox One were connected via Ehternet to the same router but we also tested the function via Wi-Fi.

The app is easy to use and supports a variety of combinations of controls and accessories without the need for additional configurations. You can either leave the Xbox One pad paired with the console itself or directly connect an Xbox 360 or Xbox One pad to the PC. In the latter case it is also possible to use the microphone input and other similar accessories. The app allows users to monitor bandwidth statistics but at the moment only ‘total bandwidth’ is available: other statistics, such as those relating to latency and lost packets, only show empty spaces if enabled.

Perhaps the most surprising element is the speed of response to inputs. Unable to monitor latency via the app, we filmed our monitor at 120fps and analyzed the difference in controller response with direct connection and streaming with Windows 10. Knowing that the monitor used in the test operates with 23ms of input latency, we could determine that the streaming app causes six additional frames of lag. With footage recorded at 120fps, we have three additional frames and around 50ms of latency. The response is fast but unfortunately also variable.

The real problem with the streaming feature is performance. We were unable to achieve a smooth and stable update: the best quality settings try to operate at 60 frames per second but fail. High settings require around 13-14mbps, medium settings around 6mbps. For most of the testing time, the gaming experience was not as smooth as it should be. Seeing as Steam’s in-home streaming supports up to 30mbps and works perfectly on the same network, it can be said that there are still problems to be solved.

What’s frustrating is that we managed to hit a perfectly stable 60fps during gameplay in some cases. Monitoring bandwidth usage and available network bandwidth found no bottlenecks as the statistics remained similar across all scenarios. You can see this in the Forza 5 video included in our performance analysis: the first 20 seconds are very smooth but the frame-rate degrades quickly. And as far as we know, the limiting factor is not the bandwidth.

We also tried streaming via Wi-Fi using a laptop running Windows 10. In our case, the performance turned out to be almost identical to that of a wired connection. All the same problems encountered in using the desktop PC also occurred with the laptop. Obviously, using a lower resolution screen (1366×768) produces at least a more attractive image: the stream basically goes through a downsampling and reduces the drop in quality due to the compressed video stream.

D4’s muted, flat-shaded colors are perfect for Xbox One Streaming. The very high setting offers image quality equal to that transmitted, with only some of the finer details missing. The high and medium settings still produce acceptable results in terms of image quality. On the other hand, the image resulting from the use of the low level is of low level.Another World’s simpler colors and shapes demonstrate the loss of resolution caused by streaming. Again, the very high quality is comparable to the base image in static sequences. The high and medium values ​​seem almost identical, apart from the more visible compression.Here we see Revelations 2, a game in three dimensions at 1080p. The very high quality provides a very similar image to the output, although some detail is lost during movement due to compression. Dark content like this is a good fit for streaming.Without a doubt the biggest loss in image quality is the one seen in this case with Killer Instint. At all levels of streaming quality settings, with the exception of the maximum, colors appear muted, background detail is lost, and there are macroblocks everywhere. Unfortunately, none of the four quality levels offer a good experience, as the drop in performance and the artifacts that appear in motion make it difficult to play.

This brings us to the picture quality in general. There are three basic quality levels available but even the higher one fails to provide optimum image quality. Resolution is generally lower than expected, no doubt due to an attempt to save bandwidth. The video compression used uses 4: 2: 0 chroma subsampling, and influences color prediction and brilliance; image quality is then further compromised by compression artifacts and macroblocks. The visibility of these defects varies between monitors and users. Streaming gaming on a small-screen Surface tablet masks some of these issues, which are evident on a 32 ” PC monitor.

There is another alternative. Thanks to the skill of a Reddit user, the additional option for very high quality was discovered in the Xbox app. To unlock it, assuming that Windows 10 is installed in the default path C: drive, navigate to the C: Users % USERNAME% AppData Local Packages folder and locate the folder whose name begins with “Microsoft.XboxApp” . From here, open the ‘userconsoledata’ file using Notepad, and set the ‘IsInternalPreview’ variable to ‘true’. Save the file and close it – the new setting will be available in the Xbox app starting the next launch.

The main benefit of the hidden setting appears to be an increase in resolution, now at 1080p, and an increase in usable bandwidth to 20mbps. Unfortunately, the good news ends there, as the defects caused by compression are not eliminated and performance remains variable. The unlocked option is undoubtedly the best but does not solve the most pressing problems. Clearly the system is still inferior to Valve’s one but keep in mind that this option is not officially supported by Microsoft: even if it seems harmless, its unlocking could cause problems currently unknown.

The basic app operates in full screen, with an optional window display mode. Some users report freezing problems with full screen mode but in our case we did not run into problems of this type and we were able to run the app safely with both configurations. The full screen mode simply scales the image to the resolution of the monitor used, in our case 1440p. It would be nice to enable a smaller display mode, at 1: 1 pixels, or at least to be able to force the active window to operate this way.

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We also ran into other hitches in addition to those related to streaming. While the app is simple to use, a number of stability issues required additional measures to be addressed. In one case we did a full reboot of the Xbox One due to console-related causes, and soon after a message informed us that streaming had been disabled in the console options but it wasn’t.

We then had to connect the console to the TV, re-enable the option and try again, and this time the streaming worked. Unfortunately the Xbox was set for 7.1 output while requiring stereo mode in the streaming environment to play audio. After turning off the receiver and TV we no longer heard any sounds from the console via Windows, and switching to ‘uncompressed stereo’ on Xbox caused an error. A simple reboot fixed the problem but it happened a couple of times.

This, coupled with the unstable performance, resulted in a very mixed experience. The result as mentioned is inferior to Steam’s in-home streaming, and Sony’s Remote Play and PS Now also offer more stability at the moment. The system works but not as well as we would like. Reaction to inputs is generally fast, which is very important, but the frame-rate is not at the right levels. 60fps titles regularly drop from this value, and 30fps titles suffer from uneven frame distribution during gameplay. However, we were unable to get a stable experience for extended periods of time.

In conclusion, it is difficult to judge this function. Windows 10 is still in its early days and it is likely that streaming improvements will be made over time. It is also difficult to judge a network solution like this using a small sample. We tried streaming the games over two separate networks, one of which was supported by a relatively high-end router, and the results were similar. Our experience hasn’t been great but that doesn’t mean it can’t be better for others. Since it’s a free feature included in Windows 10, it sure doesn’t hurt to try it, just don’t expect a first-rate experience, at least for now. When it worked, streaming from Xbox One proved the technology is good – let’s just hope Microsoft can fix it and make it work to its full potential.