Sat. Feb 4th, 2023

[Update, 8/13: Turns out some enterprising tweakers found a “very high” quality setting hidden deep in the Xbox app, which we proceeded to try out ourselves. Simply put, the setting makes a world of difference. It reduces artifacting and gets us very close to a 1:1 replica of the direct Xbox One signal, so long as users have either a very powerful WiFi router (which we used) or a direct ethernet connection. Also, that setting doesn’t eliminate any of the occasional stutters we’d previously encountered. But should your setup be compatible, you’ll want to make the tweak and enjoy the benefits post-haste.]

Original story: During Windows 8 verification, Microsoft clearly failed to endear its operating system to PC gamers. Most importantly, Windows 8’s root-level Windows Store, and its obscure messages about how it could co-exist with other gaming software, was so bad that it kindled a fire under Gabe Newell’s ass to create an all-new, competitive operating system built on Steam. .

It’s been a long time since Microsoft was seen as an all-time winner in the “keep PC gamers happy” department. Sure, DirectX laid the groundwork for headache-free, high-end gaming we’ve enjoyed for over a decade – when was the last time you had to adjust IRQ and DMA settings for your sound card, for example? But those are some long laurels to pin your reputation to at this point. Today, Microsoft is better known to PC gamers for Games For Windows, the Windows Store, and the obscure Xbox Games On Windows initiative from 2012. What have you been up to for PC gamers lately, Microsoft?

Windows 10 brings with it two major initiatives that aim to turn things around at this point. The first is DirectX 12, whose performance improvements, processor multi-threading optimizations, and Windows 10 exclusivity will be explored very soon in another article on Ars. The second, which this article will focus on, is deeper Xbox integration than any Windows, through a major app and new features connecting console and PC players on the online gaming service. Because Microsoft has confused people about Xbox features on computers in the past, we spent a little over a week playing around with the RTM version of Windows 10 to answer every Xbox-specific question you might have.

The Xbox app

Every retail version of Windows 10 comes with a pre-installed Xbox app, and as long as you have a Microsoft account (the free account you’ve probably used to access other Microsoft services), you can “silver” a free Xbox Live become a member and use every basic function in the app. However, you’d better be online as both the online and offline features of the app require an internet connection to function.

If you create a brand new Xbox profile through the app, the service automatically generates a new Xbox Live “gamertag” – your nickname that you see in every online Xbox Live game – with randomly chosen words and numbers, which we found confusing. Changing that auto-generated name requires diving through some obscure menus, making this a brusque introduction to the world of Xbox for newcomers, especially if they don’t realize they only have 30 days to change the name for free.

[Update: Since a reader asked, we’d like to clarify that you can use a totally separate Microsoft/Xbox account within the Xbox app than whatever you used to log into Windows itself.]

Once you’re signed in with an Xbox account, the app, like other Xbox SmartGlass apps before it, includes a number of rudimentary features that gamers can use to keep track of standard Xbox Live features: namely profile editing, messaging, achievement lists, and friends’ recent activities. There’s also a OneGuide tab that works just like its SmartGlass counterpart, meaning TV viewers can browse lists on their smaller Windows 10 screen while watching shows on their larger Xbox One screen (provided their Xbox One is connected to an antenna or cable box, that is).

Oddly, the Xbox app doesn’t support customizing the service’s “avatar” characters; instead, interested gamers are directed to the Windows Store to download a separate, free Xbox Avatars app. That app offers most of the same clothing and face options that the Xbox 360 and Xbox One apps already offer, but if users want to add new avatar modes, they’re directed to a web-based store full of free and paid options. Which requires re-logging into your Windows account, and even worse, users cannot download free avatar items without entering credit card information (which is not the case on any Xbox console). Not a good sign…

We’ll talk in depth about the Xbox app’s two biggest features, Game DVR and Connect, later in this article, leaving two other tabs. One of them, the Store tab, is pretty puzzling, as it links to an external web browser store that’s almost fully loaded with smartphone-focused games. Asphalt 8, Crossy Road, Sonic Dash, Jetpack Joyride: it’s a wasteland of mobile Windows software, as opposed to a crowded, Steam-like service.

The other tab, “My Games,” appears for new Windows 10 users with nothing more than the years-old Microsoft Solitaire Collection on the list. (You’d be forgiven for missing his Windows 8 debut, which Kyle Orland slogged through in 2012; what was once an optional Windows Store download now comes on every version of Windows 10, complete with miserable, at subscription-based microtransactions.) We will probably have to wait for the retail launch of games like Fable legends– which will eventually launch simultaneously on PC and Xbox One and enjoy cross-platform multiplayer – to see substantial changes to the Xbox “shop” option in Windows 10.

Thankfully, that tab has a prominent “Add a game from your PC” option, but clicking that will load a list of almost every .EXE file on your PC – with the glaring exception of all the games in your Steam library . Even worse, there’s no search or browse button, so players can’t tell the Xbox app to look for those Steam games’ files or any other potentially missing games. The My Games tab will at least find and list games with gateways like EA’s Origin and Blizzard’s Battle.net, and loading such games through the Xbox app will call up their respective gateway apps on the way to loading the games themselves. But if you were hoping for a one-stop interface for all your favorite games, the current Xbox app isn’t it. We can only hope that there will be a “browse” button on the My Games tab so that we can find our games ourselves.

Xbox One streaming

How about some good Xbox on Windows 10 news? We’re happy to report that the coolest feature, Xbox One streaming to Windows 10 PCs, worked pretty well in our own testing. It is advertised as a way for gamers to take their Windows 10 devices around the house and still access Xbox One content. Does Daddy keep the TV full? Bring a laptop into the bedroom, log into the same Wi-Fi network as your Xbox One console, and you can still shoot aliens in the face.

The option required a surprisingly minimal amount of setup. We already had an Xbox One that was enrolled in the console’s “preview” dashboard program, meaning it was already compatible with Windows 10 streaming. As long as both our Windows 10 device and console were connected to the same wired or wireless router, the Windows 10 Xbox app was able to find the console immediately. Once that was done, we told our Xbox One to stream to our Windows 10 PC, and then saw a full screen stream of whatever was on our Xbox One system.

The biggest catch was that we couldn’t control Xbox One content on the PC if we didn’t have a controller plugged in, either on the Xbox One console (assuming we were within wired or wireless range of that console) or on our computer . Microsoft sadly hasn’t ushered in a new era of mouse and keyboard control in its console games, but it did make a very, very welcome concession: you can finally use an Xbox 360 controller on Xbox One. As long as your X360 pad has a way to connect to a PC and stream the console through the Windows 10 Xbox app, the older pad will enjoy near-perfect compatibility (just lacking rumble support). Considering how many 360 pads we have laying around, this is a great way to get those pads working again, especially for insane eight-player bench games like IDARB.

The app has three unclear quality settings – low, medium, and high – and we managed to run the app on the high setting with minimal stutter on both a wired connection and a 5 GHz wireless connection. To keep the stutter at bay on a 2.4 GHz wireless setting, we ticked the medium setting. But as long as we played offline games, lag and unresponsive controls were absolutely acceptable.

By akfire1

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