Xbox Streaming Stick: everything we know so far

While the excitement of opening a new console like the Xbox Series X or PS5 for the first time remains unmatched, the age of the traditional console could be drawing to a close. With cloud gaming going from strength to strength, and Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass Ultimate now integrating the company’s xCloud streaming service, could the next big hardware release from Microsoft be an Xbox Streaming Stick?

We say big, but it could physically be the company’s smallest device yet, with as much in common with a Roku Streaming Stick or Amazon Fire TV Stick than it does an Xbox Series X. But how will this work, when could we see it, and would it be worth waiting for?

Read on for everything we know so far about the rumored Xbox Streaming Stick.

Xbox Streaming Stick: Cut to the chase

  • What is it? A rumored dongle-sized device that streams Xbox games from the cloud
  • When is it out? The device has yet to be officially announced, though Microsoft is known to be working on new Xbox hardware
  • How much would it cost? To be determined, but we’d expect significantly less than even the affordable Xbox Series S, and are hoping for a sub-$100 price tag

Is Microsoft working on an Xbox streaming stick?

Microsoft is indeed working on some sort of streaming-specific device at the moment.

The first part of the puzzle sits with Microsoft’s cloud gaming technology, known as xCloud. Now officially integrated into the Xbox app for smartphones and tablets, as well as being available on PC, an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription lets you stream games instantly from the cloud on mobile and computer devices. 

Xbox Cloud Gaming will also soon become a feature of the regular Xbox console hardware, from the Xbox Series X right down to last-generation Xbox One consoles, allowing players to play the latest, most advanced games via the power of their internet connections no matter how old their device is, and bypass the initial download waits usually required to jump into a game.

At E3 2021, Microsoft revealed its intentions to move beyond its traditional console hardware platforms for its cloud gaming services.

“Xbox is working with global TV manufacturers to embed the Xbox experience directly into internet-connected televisions with no extra hardware required except a controller,” it said in a press release, suggesting TV manufacturers would soon be offering a built-in Xbox app, ready to stream games from the cloud. There’s already precedent for this from Samsung, which offers the Steam Link app on its web connected TV sets.

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(Image credit: Microsoft)

On top of this, and most crucially, Liz Hamren, CVP of gaming experiences & platforms at Xbox, revealed that Xbox is “also developing standalone streaming devices that you can plug into a TV or monitor, so if you have a strong internet connection, you can stream your Xbox experience.” 

For those that can’t get hold of the highly-sought after new consoles, can’t upgrade their TVs to get the new television app, or simply can’t afford the high cost that such devices usually require, this could be an excellent entry point into the Xbox Game Pass ecosystem. Simply free up a HDMI port on your existing TV, plug in the dongle, and you could have access to hundreds of Xbox games through the Game Pass Ultimate subscription.

“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 play 40% more games overall, including games outside their Game Pass subscription. In a recent survey, we found that more than 90% of members said they played a game they would not have otherwise played without Game Pass.”

What can we expect?

The streaming stick market tends to be a race to the bottom in terms of price. Whether you’re looking for a Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire Stick or Roku Streaming Stick, these relatively low-powered dongle devices are sold cheaply as their manufacturers intend to make money back through the content they sell, on-stick.

In the case of the Xbox Streaming Stick, it’d have a built-in money spinner in the form of the Game Pass Ultimate subscription required to access cloud streaming services. Though Microsoft will be keen to reap the slightly bigger margins associated with selling traditional consoles, the low-cost stick hardware could push the lucrative service to people who wouldn’t traditionally splash out on gaming gear. This isn’t taking into account however the potential to bundle in a controller with any streaming stick package.

It could also attract those that turn their noses up at the thought of having a big console box sat underneath their TVs. Streaming sticks tend to be small, USB powered dongles that take up a HDMI port on your TV and measure just a couple of inches long. They’re pretty much hidden from view at all times and, in the case of a proposed Xbox stick, would just require an additional Xbox controller to work. 

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(Image credit: Microsoft)

Streaming sticks are often relatively low powered and, with xCloud currently only targeting 1080p, Full HD streams wouldn’t necessarily need a huge amount of onboard processing power to feel snappy – provided a user’s internet connection was stable and speedy. Xbox could make a larger streaming device, like an Amazon Fire TV Cube or Apple TV 4K, and add the oomph to support 4K streams at a later date. But that would push the price up, and make any streaming device begin to cannibalize the market space the cheaper Xbox Series S currently targets.

There’s a sense that, given consumers already understand the point and usefulness of streaming sticks, Microsoft could get an Xbox Streaming Stick to market relatively quickly. 

But two things could slow it down – Microsoft’s ‘Series’ consoles are still hard to come by, and in high demand. Microsoft will want to maximize sales to that audience first. 

The second hurdle is getting people to buy into the concept of cloud gaming – it was difficult enough to get gamers behind the concept of digital purchases over physical releases, an idea that’s only now beginning to feel like the norm. Cloud gaming has to compete with the fact that if your web speed is running slowly or inconsistently, performance is going to be a choppy mess. 

Xbox’s cloud technology is among the most advanced and stable that we’ve ever seen, but Microsoft will want to feel confident that it’s educated its audience well enough on what to expect – and that broadband market speeds can generally be expected to keep up with the demands of cloud gaming.

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