Xbox streaming stick: everything we know about Xbox Keystone
Microsoft's elusive Xbox streaming stick is still in the works. But what will the cloud-based console really offer us?
Microsoft’s long-rumored Xbox streaming stick is as enigmatic as it is exciting. The cloud-based box – currently codenamed Xbox Keystone – is an in-development streaming device that could ring in the next wave of console gaming.
Paired with Xbox Game Pass, the streaming device will let you play some of the best Xbox Series X games directly through the cloud without needing to pick up a pricey Xbox Series X or Xbox Series S console. No need to splash out on fancy hardware, just take out a Game Pass subscription, pick up an Xbox controller, buy an Xbox Keystone to plug into your TV and you’re away. The promise of the Xbox Streaming Stick is a simplified, affordable gaming experience.
Should it ever arrive, that is. Rumors of the device have been floating around for the last couple of years, and Microsoft has only spoken publicly about it in the last few months. It’ll be a few years yet before you can get your hands on any kind of Xbox streaming stick and move your gaming experience to the cloud.
Xbox streaming stick release date 📅
Don’t expect the streaming stick to arrive anytime soon. In October 2022, Xbox boss Phil Spencer said the development of Xbox Keystone has effectively been mothballed as the company focuses on expanding its Samsung Xbox streaming app instead. Microsoft had been tinkering away with the device, but it’s on hold for now.
“We instead, back in late spring, pivoted to working with Samsung. We put an app on Samsung TVs that lets you play Xbox games,” Spencer said. “Will we do a streaming device at some point? I suspect we will, but I think it’s years away.”
If you own a 2022 Samsung TV, that’s great news. The native Xbox app lets you stream Xbox Game Pass directly to your television without needing a console, handing you a bumper crop of excellent titles to play. The only hardware you need is a Bluetooth controller capable of connecting to your TV, reducing the financial barrier to current-gen triple-A gaming considerably.
In November, Spencer revealed Microsoft had decided to delay the streaming console because it couldn’t manufacture the device at a viable price point. “It was more expensive than we wanted it to be when we actually built it out with the hardware that we had inside,” Spencer told The Verge. “We decided to focus [the] team’s effort on delivering the smart TV streaming app.”
It’s disappointing news for those of us without a snazzy Samsung TV. It was previously rumored that Microsoft was gearing up to launch the device in 2023, although that always seemed a little optimistic. The Xbox Series X|S only launched in late 2020, and Microsoft will be keen to wring as much value and as many sales as possible from its flagship consoles before it starts supplanting them with a cheaper streaming alternative.
Xbox streaming stick price 💰
Although Microsoft hasn’t released any official pricing information, Spencer has dropped a few hints. In the same interview with The Verge, he said: “I don’t want to announce pricing specifically, but I think you have to be somewhere around $129, $99 for that to make sense in my view.”
Notably, that almost exactly matches the launch price of Stadia. Google’s ill-fated streaming kit – which included a TV streaming dongle, a controller, and a month of Stadia Pro – could be had for $99, or $129 for an additional three-month subscription to Stadia Pro. While Google recently announced the end of Stadia and has started processing refunds, Microsoft will be hoping to swoop into the streaming market and succeed where Google failed. Value for money will be essential to that.
“When you have Series S at $299 – and during the holidays you might see some price promotions – and you obviously have Series X higher, I think in order for a streaming-only box to make sense, the price delta to S has to be pretty significant,” Spencer said. “I want to be able to include a controller in it when we do that.”
He added: “We made some decisions to make it easy. When it is turned on, it looks like an Xbox with the user interface and everything works. Some of the silicon choices we were making at the time of designing just didn’t let us hit the price point that we wanted.”
What does the Xbox streaming stick look like? 👀
We’ve already had a peek at an early iteration of the streaming stick, albeit a fairly blurry one. Back in October, Spencer tweeted a picture of a prototype Xbox Keystone sitting conspicuously on his office shelf. Many had speculated the small, white, Xbox-branded bar was the cloud device before Spencer finally confirmed it was indeed an old model.
“The reason it’s on my shelf is because the team rolled up their sleeves and in nine months they built that thing,” Spencer later told The Verge. “A bunch of us took it home and it worked. It worked really, really well.”
But the Xbox Streaming Stick that eventually releases in a few years’ time will likely look very different. The prototype on display here was created solely for internal testing, so there’s no guarantee a commercial version of the device will look at all similar. If nothing else, we expect Microsoft will want to make it as slim and sleek as possible, possibly aping the simple rectangular designs of the Xbox Series X|S.
What can the Xbox streaming stick do? 🤔
At its core, the Xbox streaming stick will offer a platform for running Xbox Cloud Gaming – Microsoft’s in-development game streaming service that’s included in all Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscriptions. It’ll let you dip into the sizable Xbox Game Pass library to play any game that features cloud support.
There’s a lot to choose from. Heavyweight games like Halo Infinite, Assassin’s Creed Origins, and Yakuza: Like a Dragon are already on the streaming platform, alongside smaller beloved titles like Death’s Door, Dead Cells, and Return to Monkey Island. With more games coming to the service every month, and Xbox first-party titles guaranteed to be available for streaming, Xbox Cloud Gaming could balloon into a very plump library by the time the Xbox streaming stick hits shelves.
For now, though, the service is only capable of streaming at 60fps and 1080p. Come launch, Microsoft may improve it to support 4K streams, much as the bulky Amazon Fire TV Cube does.
Outside of games, it’s possible the device could also support general media and entertainment apps. Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video are all available as apps on the Xbox Series X|S so it’s not out of the question they’ll hop over to the Xbox streaming stick once it launches. Microsoft could try to spin the device as an all-in-one streaming bonanza.
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