Windows 10's Xbox App: More about extending a console than embracing PC gaming

xbox logo

Ever since Microsoft announced its plans to bring the Xbox and PC ecosystems closer together with Windows 10, I've been under the impression that this was more of a play towards giving the console crowd computer-y convenience rather than actually wooing over PC gamers. After a demo of the Windows 10 Xbox App at GDC today, I'm even more convinced.

Except for one truly killer feature.

Print. Screen.

The new Xbox App will finally make it easy to take screenshots and record videos of games without requiring third-party software. Hitting Windows-G while in-game brings up a contextual menu that allows you to take a screenshot, record the last thirty seconds of video to disk, or start a recording—just like the Xbox. Sort of.

You can then access those clips later and do some minor trimming, though there isn't an extensive editing suite or anything. Or you can upload them to YouTube or show them to your Xbox friends or something.

windows 10 steam

The Xbox app will work with any PC game, including Steam titles, as Microsoft's Phil Spencer explained at a Windows 10 event in January.

I wasn't able to confirm what the spec is on those recordings, though I'd assume 1080p and 30 frames per second or 720p at 30fps. Microsoft was also reticent to discuss how heavy a performance hit you'll take from recording, presumably because it's still being optimized.

There's also no Twitch integration yet, though Microsoft said it's being worked on.

And one last feature I'm looking forward to: Microsoft says it's looking into Kinect-style voice commands for the PC. It's the one feature I'd really like to see make it over, especially when it comes to recording. Microsoft told me it would likely take the form of "Cortana, record that" instead of "Xbox, record that" but otherwise stay the same.

Console in computer clothing

But as for the rest of the Xbox App, well, it's obviously designed more to enhance your Xbox experience than your Windows 10 experience. That's no surprise—it is, after all, an Xbox. App.

But as a PC gamer myself, there's just not much about it that interests me. The engineers at Microsoft have redesigned the Xbox's awful space-hungry UI into a more condensed and mouse-functional version that displays your recently played games, activity feed, and friends across three columns. The activity feed particularly benefits from the new layout, seeming more manageable and Facebook-like than the sprawling, sluggish mess that's on the Xbox One.

windows 10 xbox app

Cross-device party chat is also enabled, so you could talk with your buddy playing Forza while you're sitting at your PC, for instance. And they've added some SmartGlass functionality to Windows 10, if that's something you take advantage of.

But overall this is for consoles. Even as an Xbox One owner, there's nothing I saw here aside from the new screenshot/video tools that looked remotely like something I'd use. Microsoft is trying to get you into this ecosystem it's devised where you use the Xbox like Facebook or some other social network, but that's not something I personally want.

Sunset Overdrive on PC! Sort of.

Which brings us to the last big feature: Xbox One-to-PC streaming capabilities. I got the chance for a brief hands-on with Sunset Overdrive running on the Xbox One and streamed to a PC, with both devices Ethernet-cabled together into the same network.

The Microsoft rep I spoke to couldn't tell me what the quality was after arriving at PC, but when I said "720p at 30 frames per second" he said that was probably right. I've followed up with Microsoft to see if they'll confirm.

windows10 stream xbox games

Regardless, the current implementation of Xbox-to-PC streaming isn't nearly as good as Steam Link, my current bar for this type of technology. Over the course of five minutes or so with the game I could tell there was about a quarter second of input latency—playable, but barely.

The Microsoft rep then turned on the TV to show us that the console screen was basically in sync with the PC screen, but I can confirm the input lag was still there. The controller itself was hooked to the PC, which means somewhere between pressing a button, the PC encoding the signal, sending it the Xbox, Xbox decoding and then reacting and re-encoding, and then the Xbox sending a signal back, there's a problem. Obviously the PC is handling decoding the signal from the Xbox just fine, since the output is in sync. It's just the input lag itself that's the issue.

It's still in beta though, as is Windows 10 itself. We'll refrain from passing final judgment until Microsoft launches everything officially.

As for whether we'll ever see PC-to-Xbox streaming, like Steam Link? Microsoft says it's working on it, but it's part of a plan for the future. How distant in the future, I don't know.

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