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. A cloud-based box – currently codenamed Xbox Keystone – it will function as a plug-in streaming device, and could mark the next step in console gaming.
Paired with Xbox Game Pass, the Xbox streaming stick will let you play some of the best Xbox Series X games directly over the internet using Xbox Cloud Gaming. No need to splash out on an Xbox Series X|S, just subscribe to Game Pass, pick up one of the best Xbox Series X controllers, 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 that bypasses pricey hardware.
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 sessions to the cloud.
If you’re hoping to dip your toe into the Xbox waters a little sooner, you’re best off picking up a traditional home console. Check out our rundown of the Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S to see which of Microsoft’s current-gen systems is right for you.
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.
“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.”
A month later, Spencer revealed Microsoft had decided to delay the streaming console because it couldn’t manufacture the device for a viable retail price. “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.”
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, handing you a bumper pack of excellent games to play without needing to pick up any costly hardware. All you’ll need is a Bluetooth controller capable of connecting to your TV, reducing the financial barrier to current-gen triple-A gaming considerably.
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 from its flagship consoles as possible before it supplants 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 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 its future.
“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.”
When the Xbox Streaming Stick eventually releases in a few years’ time, it 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 be a platform for running Xbox Cloud Gaming, Microsoft’s in-development game streaming service included in all Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscriptions (save some dosh on your membership using our Xbox Game Pass discount code). You’ll be able to 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 first-party Xbox 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, the service is only capable of streaming games at 60fps and 1080p. Microsoft may improve the platform to support 4K streaming by the time it fully launches, but we don’t know for certain. Other cloud-based media boxes, like the bulky Amazon Fire TV Cube, already offer ultra HD streaming.
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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Updated: March 14, 2023