Microsoft has teamed-up with Duke University to develop a new tool which reduces the bandwidth required for game streaming by over 80% in some initial tests. Many players have attempted cloud gaming to various degrees of success, but no-one has yet cracked it.
Streaming games from the cloud is more difficult than video streaming primarily because every second counts, and a couple of seconds lag can be detrimental to gameplay. Streaming games from local hardware isn’t such an issue due to fast and reliable wireless speeds – as Microsoft plans from the Xbox One to Windows 10 devices.
The new tool is dubbed ‘Kahawai’ which is Hawaiian for “stream” and uses a technique called collaborative rendering to split processes between the cloud and your devices hardware, cutting the bandwidth required to play high-end games. Using Doom 3 as an example, the Kahawai tool managed to cut the bandwidth required to stream the game over a 1MB line by over 80%, without any cuts in visual quality.
When the Xbox One was announced, Microsoft made a big deal about its cloud-based capabilities and design but little has come of it since. The company’s research into reducing bandwidth requirements to as little as possible shows they haven’t given-up on the idea and in-fact it could be more important than ever…
Ever since Microsoft’s latest console has launched, a lot of the media focus has been on the resolution with most titles running at 900p rather than the 1080p often achieved by Sony’s PlayStation 4. Of course this tends to push Sony’s hardware, and there is sometimes the trade-off of less-stable frame rates due to pushing more pixels.
Taking one recent example, CD Projekt’s The Witcher 3 drops below the 30fps mark on PS4 in certain scenes which is below what is considered the minimum. In contrast, the Xbox One stays above 30fps albeit at a lower resolution. Neither is ideal, gamers want a consistent 1080p resolution at 60 frames per second.
The task of quickly generating fine-grained details – such as subtle changes in texture and shading at speeds of 60 frames per second – is still left to the remote server. But collaborative rendering lets the mobile device generate a rough sketch of each frame, or a few high-detail sketches of select frames, while the remote server fills in the gaps.
Few developers have taken advantage of the cloud in their games due to the lack of constant internet speed and availability – something which Microsoft was criticised for with their initial “always on” plan with the Xbox One which could have incentivised more developers to implement such functionality.
Some titles – such as Forza and Titanfall – have scratched the surface of what is possible through placing AI and weather generation in the cloud. It is expected the upcoming ‘Crackdown 3’ will be used as a showcase for the cloud in gaming, as we’ve already been shown in a demo what effect it can have on increasing performance…
And the best news? In performance trials with 50 hardcore gamers who spend an average of two hours a day playing video games, players reached similar scores with both techniques, with no difference in response times.
Are you looking forward to seeing how developers will harness the cloud? Let us know in the comments.