Everything we know about Microsoft's streaming Xbox stick plans

The Xbox-maker keeps hinting at a cloud-only microconsole, but you probably won't see it at E3 2021.

Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Dan Ackerman
2 min read

Xbox Cloud Gaming on a laptop. 

Sean Booker/CNET

Despite what some headline writers would have you believe, Microsoft has not suddenly announced a new Xbox streaming stick. In a pre-E3 streamed briefing for journalists, Microsoft's Xbox head Phil Spencer, CEO Satya Nadella and other Microsoft execs talked more generally about the plans for getting more Xbox games in front of more people in new and different ways. 

My colleague Ian Sherr broke down what was said about streaming devices in the briefing:

Now, Microsoft is planning to bring its Xbox software and games to those types of devices. Without providing further details, Microsoft said it's working with internet-connected TV makers "to embed the Xbox experience" into them, with no extra hardware required other than a controller. Microsoft also said it's building its own "streaming devices" for TVs and monitors. At the same time, Microsoft is investing further in its Xbox Games Pass subscription service, offering people ways to buy its Xbox on monthly instalment plans too.

The streaming Xbox Cloud Gaming beta (formerly known as xCloud), is currently available to some Xbox Game Pass subscribers. It's the latest in many attempts over the past decade to divorce the game experience from specific game hardware, dating back to early pioneer OnLive. Other current players include Nvidia GeForce Now, Google Stadia, Amazon Luna and Sony's PlayStation Now. 

Read more: Xbox Cloud Gaming beta hands-on: How to play Xbox games on your iPad or laptop

Most of these services, including Xbox Cloud Gaming, are available on almost any device with a compatible web browser that can connect to a Bluetooth controller. That includes phones, tablets, laptops and some streaming content boxes, like the Google Chromecast for Stadia. 


Xbox Cloud Gaming on an iPad. 

Dan Ackerman/CNET

This isn't the first time something like this has been attempted. Sony's long-running cloud gaming service, PS Now, was available via some Bravia TVs as far back as 2014. Sony also created its own streaming microconsole, called PlayStation TV, which played Vita games, but also streamed games directly from the PS Now service. The PSTV device was discontinued after two years, but PS Now remains an active service

Read more: 5 reasons cloud gaming isn't doing it for me -- yet

No specific smart TV apps or partner brands for Xbox Cloud Gaming have been announced yet, but adding that feature could be as simple as adding a streaming video app like Netflix. Likewise, there are no specific details about a streaming game stick or Roku-like device, although this could be a Microsoft-branded device or produced in partnership with another device-maker. 

Much more from Microsoft and Xbox is expected at the company's E3 2021 media event, being streamed on June 13, although the focus is likely to be upcoming games such as Halo Infinite and Starfield.

Watch this: E3 2021 Preview: Xbox, Nintendo, Bethesda and more