Playing games on the new Xbox app made for TVs feels like a big deal. There’s no console and no hidden HDMI streaming device. Yet, in my brief hands-on demo, games like Halo Infinite and Forza Horizon 5 loaded quickly and — most importantly — they played well with both Xbox and PlayStation 5 wireless controllers. And if you aren’t a Game Pass subscriber, you’ll still be able to jump into Fortnite immediately through the app for free after you sign in with a Microsoft account.
The app aims to provide a console-like experience to people who don’t want the cost and cruft of buying and setting up a console. It lets you pair a Bluetooth headset to hear audio and chat with Xbox friends, and Xbox save data gets synced over the cloud, letting you pick up on the TV where you last left off.
You’ll be able to experience it starting June 30th — that is, if you own a model from one of Samsung’s fleet of 2022 televisions (including the M8 Smart Monitor and non-flagship Smart TVs above model BU8000). The Xbox app is launching first within Samsung’s Gaming Hub, a new section of Samsung’s TV operating system that gives games the center stage alongside media streaming apps.
Microsoft is aiming to deliver native 1080p streaming at 60 frames per second, and Samsung is using upscaling to make the footage look better. Wiring ethernet into your TV is, of course, highly recommended to get the best possible fidelity, but during my demo, the TV that I was playing on was connected to hotel Wi-Fi and doing a pretty good job. If you play wirelessly, Microsoft recommends connecting to a 5GHz router, which most routers are capable of broadcasting.
Compared to my experience using xCloud on my Android phone or browser, the interface seemed to glide around a little more smoothly, and — minor instances of hitching and some noticeable compression aside — it was a perfectly serviceable, yet inherently imperfect experience. It’s never going to be a one-to-one parallel to experiencing the latest games directly from a console that can render native 4K (or close to it), but in the absence of a console, I’d be smitten to use this TV app instead of loading games up on a tablet or phone.
Halo looks, sounds, and plays like Halo. I was able to line up headshots with just enough accuracy. In Forza Horizon 5, I nailed most of the wild turns I took while speeding down the road. What I’m getting at is that this app feels like it should be good enough to serve as the sole avenue for gaming for a lot of people.
The execution is simple and straightforward, but it still feels magical that gaming has arrived at this moment. Microsoft has been gunning to dominate your entertainment center with consoles for 20 years, and for those who want it (and, for now, also own a 2022 Samsung TV), the best of Xbox will soon be available through a TV app.
Photography by Cameron Faulkner / The Verge