Friday, July 31, 2015

Xbox One to Windows 10 Stream - Review

With Windows 10 finally being out, one question a lot of gamers may be asking themselves is "how is the new Xbox App?" Back when the new OS was fully unveiled, Microsoft showed us how Windows 10 and the Xbox One would be integrated together. According to them, we would be able to access our XBO features on our PC, we'd be able to play our XBO through our PC, and we'd also be able to play PC versions of games with players on the XBO version -- a feature only a select few Windows Live games in the past had. All of this sounded great, but the real question was, how well did it work? Well, after spending quite some time testing it out for myself, here's my review.

The Xbox App:

Windows 10 actually comes with two Xbox based apps, with the first one being simply called, well, the "Xbox App." This App is going to be the main one that you use, and it supports the most features. Just as Microsoft had announced, what this one does is basically bring the Xbox Dashboard to your PC, and give you access to all of the major features you would find on an actual Xbox One. You have your news feed (where you can post screen shots, status updates, stalk your friends, etc), you have your standard messenger, you have access to your profile, you can view your Game DVR for your recorded clips, and you can even create Xbox Live parties to chat with friends. Just about anything you could do on your Xbox One, outside of playing XBO games, is here. It eliminates the need to go on the Xbox.com website just to send a message, and it is simple and easy to navigate. There's a lot more too this app though than meets the eye.

Besides doing all of your basics, this is also your gateway to games. If you click on your game list you will actually be given a list of all of your games you have installed. You'll be able to see your Xbox and Xbox Live titles you've downloaded from the Windows Store, and you'll also see non Xbox games -- in my case games like Deus Ex from Steam. It's a nice feature that helps keep all of your games together, and it's also where you'll be going for those cross platform Xbox games that'll be coming out (Fable Legends for example). Microsoft has already said that Xbox Live Gold (the paid for version) will not be required for PC users, so don't be scared of extra charges for using this.

On top of all of this, the Xbox App is also what you'll be using to actually stream your Xbox One to the PC, but I'll be getting into that a little bit later.

Xbox Smartglass:

The second App you'll find on Windows 10 is one many of you may already know and love -- Xbox Smartglass. Just as it was before, Smartglass is a companion App for the Xbox family of consoles that allows you to do many different things. It could be installed on most phones and tablets, and it allowed you to do many different basic actions. You could check messages, you could start game downloads (useful for when you were away from home), and you could even use it to enter in DLC codes and what not. It was a helpful tool, but it's real use actually only came to light when you were sitting in front of your Xbox at home.

Although not all games supported it, the Smartglass App could be used to unlock extras, and access special features in game. For example, if you are playing Dead Rising 3, the App becames your virtual in game phone where you'll get calls and receive extra missions. It also gave you access to a map, and other useful pieces of information which both added to the game's story, and helped you understand it a little better. Of course none of this is required to beat the game, but by not having it you really do miss out on quite a lot. Well, now that it's integrated with Windows 10 that shouldn't be a problem.

The Smartglass App on Windows 10 isn't any different from the tablet, phone, or Windows 8 version -- for the most part that is. It still lets you do all of the things I mentioned above, but what's nice about it is that you can now scale it. Since Apps now run in windows instead of full screen, you can grab it, move it anywhere you want, and expand or shrink it as much as you want. When the App is expanded, it'll look and feel like it's tablet or Windows 8 version, but you can also shrink it down in size and transform it into the phone version. It's a pretty nice feature, and it allows you to put it somewhere on your screen where it isn't taking up a lot of space or getting in the way. Sure, you won't need all of it's features anymore (since you have the Xbox App), but for unlocking extras in game it's great.

Streaming Xbox:

The big feature of Windows 10's Xbox App is actual Xbox Streaming. Once you connect your XBO to your PC, you can then jump right in. Upon launching the stream, the Xbox App will expand to fit your screen, but it'll actually remain in window mode. Because of this, you can freely scale your window to fit your needs, and you can continue to multitask. At this point you can then either plug an Xbox controller into your console, or if you're close enough you can keep it connected to the system itself. There's also extra mouse controls/virtual buttons you can use if you wish, but it's easier to just use a real controller.Also, when you stream your Xbox One, your PC will take over and use it's assets just as your Xbox would use it's own. Your mic, for example, will work as a virtual Kinect for ordering your console around, so you never really lose anything from not being on the actual console. Well, unless you want to play Kinect games...

Once you begin the Xbox Stream, your entire console will be right in front of you. That's really all there is to it actually. What you're seeing is a video, so you don't need high PC specs to run it, and all you need to run it is an okay network connection. Since this goes over local, as long as you have a strong signal with your router, you should be fine. Using a wired connection on PC, and wi-fi on my XBO (connecting to an older model router with 20 mbps), I was able to play at the medium quality. Of course things would be better if I were to just wire my console (which is only a few feet away), but I'm actually fine with it. Even at medium settings, games still look pretty nice, with the only real noticeable downgrade being some flushed out colors, and a little less detail visible. Considering I also prefer to play games in windows mode (which I then shrink) the lack of detail was even less noticeable, and the window was still large enough for me to read in game text and menus. Needless to say this may be more of an issue when the window is on a larger monitor, but again, all you need to do is use a wire.

When it comes to the connection speed, even on medium settings, the stream seems to work almost perfectly. During my time using the App I tested a handful of games, and each and every one of them worked with little to no issues. I played a hectic part in Halo 2, no issues, I ran around killing thousands of Zombies in Dead Rising 3, no problem, and I sped through the city and flew through the air in the crazy fast Sunset Overdrive -- only once did I start to lose my connection, but that was mainly because I was trying to stream to friends over Skype as well. If for some reason the App does disconnect though, it's good to know that it will pause your game for you. Other than that, minor hang ups in the connection will just result in a blurry screen for a second or two, but quickly resolve itself. (Again, this only happened to me when I tried to stream the stream to others here at NGR.)

Overall, both of the Apps work great, and the streaming is just as good as they said it would be. I was actually shocked when I first started it up, but now I can't believe I ever had any doubts. Although I personally cannot see myself using this feature much, as I'd rather play on my massive TV that's only 5 feet away from my desktop, it's something that is really nice to have. For those with a desktop in another room, or a laptop or tablet, this will be perfect for you. It gives you the ability to take your Xbox One with you, and it also means you don't have to tie up the TV to play it. If anything, that may be my main use for it -- watching TV and gaming at the same time.

With that being said, I'd give the service a 10/10. Sure, it's not going to be perfect for everyone, I cannot promise you that, but from my standpoint it works great.

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