An Ambitious Glimpse Into Gaming’s Future

With the recent demise of Google’s Stadia, cloud game streaming has taken a bit of a hit in 2022. While Stadia had some very impressive streaming technology, Google decided to pull the plug on its minimal-hardware gaming service last month. That doesn’t exactly stop competitor Microsoft from continuing to innovate with its comparable Xbox Cloud Gaming beta.

You can currently stream Game Pass titles on mobile devices such as tablets and phones, and now perhaps most excitingly, on several of Samsung’s latest Neo QLED TVs. I specifically tested the 65-inch QN95B and imagine my surprise when I booted up the Gaming Hub from the screen and saw both an Xbox app and a Stadia app sitting side by side. Obviously, the Stadia app is now a digital paperweight. An Amazon Luna app is also present, but is anyone actually gaming on that service?

Pairing a wireless Xbox controller with the QN95B is very easy, and through some sort of voodoo magic, a gamepad is all you need to play Xbox games on the TV. This is the first charm of cloud streaming integration: no need for a real Xbox console. All the gaming is pumped to the screen remotely, and the lack of extras like an HDMI cable and AC cord for a dedicated game box results in a glorious lack of clutter.

Unsurprisingly, the Xbox Samsung app works just like any smartphone. You log in with your account and if you have paid the correct subscription fee to your Microsoft overlords you will be presented with a nice selection of games that can be played over the internet. Picking one will take you to the now infamous green missile loading screen, which lasts no more than a few seconds. Suddenly you’re playing a game through your TV with no local hardware in sight.

The madness of that particular moment makes this leap in technology very cool. If you had told me twenty years ago that one day I wouldn’t even need a console to play console games in my living room, I would have accused you of gaming witchcraft. Unfortunately, the actual experience of gaming over the cloud is a decidedly less magical undertaking.

First, the resolution is still locked to 1080p, which is a travesty on a powerful 4K display like the QN95B. Additionally (and probably most importantly) there remains an annoying input lag. It’s not terribleper say, but more noticeable in nervous shooters like Halo Infinite and outsiders. Plugging in an Ethernet cable helps a little, but not much. Over 5GHz Wi-Fi, gaming is what I would call usable, especially for lower stakes titles like Psychonauts 2.

After trying out the cloud streaming, I plugged in my Xbox Series X and was blown away by the huge difference in quality, and expectedly because of the powerful local hardware and a fast HDMI connection. Even the audio went beyond the TV’s built-in Xbox app. And it goes without saying that even when using a wireless Xbox controller over a real Xbox, the input lag was practically non-existent.

So, where is this quirky new game feature? I’d say somewhere between sheer necessity and impressive novelty, and that’s how I see cloud gaming in general, and it’s not Samsung’s fault. Until Microsoft ups the streaming resolution to 4K and somehow eliminates the controller lag, I don’t understand why you would choose the cloud over using real hardware. Unless you can somehow afford an expensive television, but not an expensive Xbox. That’s a pretty narrow market to target.

Even then, I really like that ambition of this sort of thing and it’s fun to think about where this technology will be in five or ten years. I envision an eventual world where consoles are a thing of the past and we all stream our games through our TVs, but in terms of quality experiences, I think that remarkable day is still a long way off.

Otherwise, the QN95B is a incredible Screen. I’m so glad Samsung has brought back an even slimmer One Connect box with this model, which fits right behind the screen on the included metal stand. Local gaming on this TV looks absolutely gorgeous and the black levels, while not perfect, are pretty excellent.

The only thing I don’t care about is how the built-in speakers rattle the plastic housing of the TV at certain frequencies, and quite annoying. This issue is completely circumvented if you plug in a separate soundbar (something I’d recommend with just about any panel you buy), but it was a disappointing revelation nonetheless.

Again, you can’t really go wrong with a solid QLED in 2022. Just don’t expect the cloud gaming integration to change your mind about where to play your Game Pass titles.

Disclaimer: Samsung has provided a review unit for coverage purposes.

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