Microsoft is working on an Xbox Streaming Stick, which is codenamed Keystone, and aims to bring Xbox Game Pass to as many homes as possible.
While the feeling of unboxing a new console like Xbox Series X or PS5 for the first time remains unparalleled, the era of traditional consoles may be coming to an end. With cloud gaming on the rise and Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass Ultimate now integrating the company’s Xbox Cloud Gaming streaming service, the Xbox Streaming Stick looks like the next step.
We say big, but physically it might be the company’s smallest device, which is certainly impressive considering how small the Xbox Series S is. The Xbox Streaming Stick would have a lot more in common with the Roku Streaming Stick or the Amazon Fire TV Stick than the Xbox Series X. But how will it work when we can see it and is it worth the wait?
Xbox Streaming Stick: Get to the point
- What is this? A dongle-sized device that streams Xbox games from the cloud
- when is it coming out? The device has yet to be officially revealed, though rumor has it that Microsoft could release new Xbox hardware by mid-2023.
- How much would it cost? It’s yet to be determined, but we’d expect much less than even the inexpensive Xbox Series S, and we’re hoping for a sub-$100 price tag
Is Microsoft working on an Xbox Streaming Stick?
The first part of the puzzle is about Microsoft’s cloud gaming technology known as Xbox Cloud Gaming. Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, now officially integrated into the Xbox app for smartphones and tablets and also available on PC, lets you instantly stream your games from the cloud to your mobile devices, consoles and PCs.
Xbox Cloud Gaming will also soon become a feature of regular Xbox hardware, from the Xbox Series X all the way up to the latest generation Xbox One consoles, allowing gamers to play the latest, most advanced games through the power of their internet connections no matter how old their device is , and bypass the initial download wait that is usually required to get to the game.
At E3 2021, Microsoft revealed its intentions to move beyond traditional console hardware platforms for cloud gaming services.
“Xbox is working with global TV manufacturers to embed the Xbox experience directly into internet-connected TVs, with no additional hardware other than a controller,” he said in a press release, suggesting that TV manufacturers will soon offer a built-in Xbox app, ready to stream games from the cloud. There is already a precedent with Samsung offering the Steam Link app on their internet-connected TVs.
In addition to most importantly, Liz Hamren, CVP of Games and Platforms at Xbox, revealed that Xbox is “also developing a standalone streaming devices which can be connected to a TV or monitor, so if you have a good internet connection you can stream your Xbox experience.”
For those who can’t get their hands on the much-sought-after new consoles, can’t upgrade their TVs to get the new TV app, or simply can’t afford the high costs such devices typically require, this could be an excellent entry point into the Xbox Game Pass ecosystem . Just free up the HDMI port on your existing TV, plug in the dongle and access hundreds of Xbox games with Game Pass Ultimate.
“We’re doing all this because Game Pass works,” says Hamren. “It works for consumers and it works for publishers. With Game Pass, players spend 20% more time playing games. They play 30% more genres and 40% more games overall, including non-Game Pass games. In a recent survey, we discovered that over 90% of members said they played a game they wouldn’t otherwise play without Game Pass.”
Microsoft has since confirmed that its Xbox Streaming Stick is still in development in May 2022, revealing that its codename is “Keystone”. In response to Windows Center (opens in a new tab) a report that confirms that the device provides an “upgraded HDMI streaming device”, Microsoft issued the following statement:
“Our vision for Xbox Cloud Gaming is unwavering, our goal is to let people play the games they want, on the devices they want, wherever they want. As announced last year, we’ve been working on a game streaming device, codenamed Keystone, that can be connected to any TV or monitor without the need for a console.”
What can we expect?
The streaming stick market is a race to the bottom on price. Whether you’re looking for a Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire Stick, or Roku Streaming Stick, these relatively low-power devices are sold cheap as their manufacturers aim to make their money back with the content they sell on a stick.
For the Xbox Streaming Stick, it would have a built-in money spinner in the form of a Game Pass Ultimate subscription required to access cloud streaming services. While Microsoft will be looking to reap slightly higher margins from traditional console sales, cheap stick hardware could push the lucrative service to people who traditionally wouldn’t splash out on gaming hardware. However, this does not take into account the possibility of including the controller in any streaming package.
It may also attract those who turn their noses up at the thought of placing a large console under the TV. Streaming sticks are usually small, USB-powered dongles that take up the HDMI port on your TV and measure just a few inches long. They are nearly invisible at all times, and in the case of the proposed Xbox stick, would only require an additional Xbox controller to function.
Streaming sticks are often relatively low-powered, and with Xbox Cloud Gaming currently only targeting 1080p, Full HD streams wouldn’t necessarily require massive on-board processing power to feel snappy – provided the user’s internet connection was stable and fast. Xbox could make a bigger streaming box like the Amazon Fire TV Cube or Apple TV 4K, and add oomph to support 4K streams at a later date.
But that would drive up the price and make every streaming device start cannibalizing the market space that the cheaper Xbox Series S is currently targeting. There’s a sense that, given that consumers already understand the purpose and usefulness of streaming sticks, Microsoft can relatively quickly bring the Xbox Streaming Stick to market.
But the obstacle is getting people to embrace the concept of cloud gaming – it’s been hard enough to convince gamers to the concept of digital purchases instead of physical releases, an idea that is only now starting to feel like the norm. Cloud gaming has to contend with the fact that if your network speed is slow or inconsistent, performance will be unstable.
Xbox’s cloud technology is one of the most advanced and stable we’ve ever seen, but Microsoft will want to make sure it educates its audience well enough about what to expect – and that broadband market speeds can generally be expected to keep up with gaming demands in cloud.
When will the Xbox Streaming Stick be released?
Microsoft has not officially revealed when it will release the Xbox Streaming Stick, but there are many rumors circulating. Jeff Grubb of VentureBeat and Tom Warren of The Verge claimed in May 2022 that Microsoft is preparing to launch the device within the next 12 months. This means we could see the streaming dongle hit store shelves as soon as mid-2023.
Considering the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S only released in late 2020, this expected release date is quite surprising. Microsoft will be looking to sell as many Xbox consoles as possible before releasing this cheaper streaming alternative. If the streaming stick is released by next year, it will save many potential customers from having to buy expensive hardware.
According to Grubb and Warren, Microsoft will launch the stick as part of the wider Xbox Everywhere Project, an initiative to expand the reach of Xbox Cloud Gaming to more devices, markets, and players. The idea is to make streaming on Xbox more accessible than ever, giving would-be gamers who would otherwise be put off by the cost of expensive gaming hardware an inexpensive way to jump on board with Xbox Game Pass.
While the 12-month timeframe may seem broad, even this dodgy launch window is best taken with a grain of salt. Microsoft hasn’t officially announced any release window yet, and Xbox boss Phil Spencer has been known to get ahead of himself in the past.
He previously said (opens in a new tab) upcoming Xbox TV app as early as November 2020, suggesting he expected it to arrive within 12 months. Well, it’s been 12 months and we still don’t have a native Xbox app for smart TVs. Let’s hope Xbox Everywhere is a project that finally puts the Xbox streaming app and device in our hands.