Microsoft announced a lot today regarding the “future of gaming” for its Xbox cloud gaming platform. There’s plenty of good news for anyone who is even a little bit curious about venturing into the cloud and likes the Xbox library of game titles. Perhaps the most exciting news is that Xbox Cloud Gaming is coming to (some) Samsung smart TVs.
Xbox Game Pass will be available on Samsung smart TVs as an app beginning on June 30. It’ll be available in 27 countries and will offer access to Xbox’s library of games via the cloud. These include Fortnite, which you can play without a subscription. But throw a few coins Microsoft’s way, and you’ll get access to the likes of Flight Simulator and, to my heart’s delight, both Morrowind and Skyrim.
Microsoft said that its intent after the launch is “to explore other TV partnerships as part of this next evolution.” That could help light a fire under other cloud gaming suites, like Google Stadia, Amazon Luna, and Nvidia GeForce Now.
I’ve been playing around with Amazon Luna and Google Stadia for the past few months and recently logged into Xbox Game Pass in anticipation of this announcement. Cloud gaming isn’t a perfect stand-in for a locally-owned console, but there are upsides. For instance, if you want to try out a game to know what your friends are talking about, you can pop in for an hour or two without spending the extra cash to buy the title outright.
You can access Game Pass through the Gaming Hub on your Samsung smart TV. It’s essentially a landing page within the TV’s software that lets you scroll through what you’ve recently played, trending games, and games you might want to play at another time.
Before you can play a game, you need a compatible controller. Xbox Game Pass works with nearly any Bluetooth controller, including Microsoft’s Xbox controller and even the Sony DualSense controller — helpful if you happen to own a PS5. Game Pass on the smart TV will also let you engage in voice chat for multiplayer and cross-platform games.
I got to try out Xbox Game Pass on several Samsung smart TVs in a demonstration put together by both companies. I played through a few minutes of Forza 5 before realising I hate racing games, then popped into PIKUNIKU. I trolled everyone by starting a new Skyrim campaign, because 700 hours in my original playthrough wasn’t enough. I didn’t get past the opening cart scene, but I was impressed at how quickly I could zoom through the different titles. Of course, Skyrim took some time on the loading screen before the game started up, but it was much faster than what I’ve experienced playing locally on my Windows laptop.
That’s the other reason you might want to try out cloud gaming: it doesn’t require you to have access to particular hardware to get things going. Rather than investing in a console outright, you can bring home a Samsung smart TV you found on sale at your local brick and mortar, grab a Bluetooth controller, and then sign up for the service to start playing.
Samsung said its smart TV software has been optimised for Xbox Game Pass. Once you start playing, the TV switches into Game Mode to help with the picture quality and to reduce the overall latency of the streamed experience. I had no idea any of this was happening behind the scenes while playing games at the test event.
However, this was a very controlled cloud gaming environment. Samsung and Microsoft set it up in a venue tuned for these demonstrations. I’m more curious to see how the general populace, which isn’t paying for Gigabit internet, will fare with streaming games. Even in my home, where my internet speeds are around 1 Gbps, I run into loading times and buffering when gaming through Xbox’s competitors. It happened to me just this weekend as I was playing Elder Scrolls Online through Google Stadia.
I like the idea of Xbox Game Pass coming directly to the TV OS, but it’s a wonder if that means we’ll have to wait a little longer for the heavily-rumoured gaming dongle. You can only play Xbox Game Pass on Xbox consoles, Android, iPhone, Windows machines, and now select Samsung TVs. But if you don’t have any of these — say you have set-top boxes from Roku or Amazon instead or your TV is made by LG or another competitor — you still won’t have access to Xbox’s cloud gaming service.
The new Samsung Gaming Hub is coming to select Samsung Smart TVs, including the Neo QLED 8K, Neo QLED 4K, QLEDs, and 2022 Smart Monitor Series. If you have one of these Samsung smart TVs and you’re curious to try out Game Pass Ultimate, you can sign up now, though it won’t be available to play until the June 30th launch. After that, you’ll be able to launch the app from Samsung’s Gaming Hub on your TV.