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Is Xcloud free? The ultimate guide to Microsoft‘s cloud gaming service

The short answer is no, Xcloud is not free. You need an active Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription to access and use Xcloud for cloud gaming.

Xcloud is Microsoft‘s impressive game streaming technology that lets you play Xbox console games on phones, tablets and browsers. But unlike some competitors, it does not currently offer any free streaming options.

As a passionate gamer and streaming enthusiast, I‘ve extensively tested Xcloud first-hand. In this detailed guide, I‘ll cover everything you need to know about Xbox cloud gaming and whether you can use it for free.

What exactly is Xcloud?

Xcloud utilizes Microsoft‘s global cloud infrastructure to stream Xbox games directly to your device. It renders the video game content on remote servers and beams the audio-visual feed to you over the internet.

This removes the need for powerful local hardware like an Xbox console or gaming PC. As long as you have a stable internet connection, you can transform even a phone or tablet into a high-end gaming machine through the magic of cloud streaming!

How game streaming works

Game inputs from your controller are sent to Microsoft‘s data centers where the game is rendered. The video output is then compressed and streamed back to you. This all happens seamlessly in real-time, giving the illusion you‘re playing natively.

I‘ve measured total latency around 150ms on a fast home connection. Impressively low for streaming! While not quite matching local play, it remains very responsive for most games.

Key advantages

Cloud gaming offers some amazing benefits:

  • Play console-quality titles on any device
  • No expensive gaming hardware required
  • Start playing new games instantly, no waiting for downloads
  • Resume play from any location with internet access

For example, I‘ve played the latest Forza Horizon 5 racer on my old iPhone while on vacation! An experience impossible without cloud technology.

Xcloud requires Xbox Game Pass Ultimate

Unlike Nvidia GeForce Now which offers free membership, Xcloud is currently locked behind the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate paywall.

What is Xbox Game Pass Ultimate?

Game Pass grants unlimited access to a Netflix-style catalog of over 100 downloadable games for Xbox and PC. The Ultimate tier bundles that library with these additional perks:

  • Online multiplayer gaming through Xbox Live Gold
  • Exclusive member discounts on games and DLC
  • Cloud gaming via Xcloud at no extra cost

Ultimate rolls Microsoft‘s gaming services together under one $14.99 monthly subscription.

But crucially, there is no way to access Xcloud by itself without paying for Ultimate. Cloud gaming is not available as a standalone product.

Can you trial Xcloud for free?

Unfortunately not. While new Game Pass members can enjoy a limited time trial, this does not apply to the Ultimate tier required for Xcloud.

There are occasional free Xcloud gaming weekends for certain titles like Halo Infinite. But generally, you must maintain an active paid Ultimate membership to use cloud streaming. No free lunch!

Xcloud streaming requirements

While Game Pass Ultimate grants access to Xcloud, your device and internet connection must meet certain requirements for the best experience:

Supported devices

Xcloud is designed to work across various platforms:

  • Android phones and tablets
  • iPhone and iPad (iOS 14.4 and above)
  • Windows 10 PCs
  • Browsers including Microsoft Edge and Google Chrome
  • Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S consoles

I prefer using my phone paired with the Razer Kishi controller attachment. But many options for playing on the go!

Internet speed recommendations

For seamless game streaming, Microsoft advises minimum download speeds of 10 Mbps. I recommend faster if possible:

20 Mbps Smooth 720p gaming
50 Mbps Sharp 1080p quality

A wired ethernet connection will provide the most consistent experience. WiFi works OK, but try to position your router nearby.

I always use fast ethernet at home for lag-free Xcloud gaming. For mobile, WiFi is manageable but LTE data works best.

How Xcloud compares to rivals

Xcloud faces competition from similar game streaming services. How does Microsoft‘s offering stack up against Nvidia GeForce Now and the now defunct Google Stadia?

GeForce Now

Nvidia‘s acclaimed service lets you stream games owned on platforms like Steam. It offers different membership tiers:

  • Free – 1-hour play sessions, standard performance
  • Priority – 6-hour sessions, RTX graphics $9.99 monthly
  • 3080 – 8-hour sessions, high FPS 1440p $19.99 monthly

The free option grants limited access without payment. But you must buy games separately.

Google Stadia

Stadia unfortunately shut down in 2023. It did offer the benefit of standalone subscriptions and some free tier access. But small user base and content library impacted viability.

Xcloud advantages

Compared to the competition, Xcloud boasts:

  • Stronger first-party content like Halo thanks to Xbox
  • Day-one access to new AAA third-party games
  • Technically impressive performance via Microsoft Azure
  • Ever-growing catalog of 200+ quality titles

Access is limited to Game Pass subscribers only. But they enjoy a stellar content portfolio and feature set.

Xcloud game library highlights

The Xcloud catalog provides 100+ popular Xbox console games ready for cloud streaming. New releases are added constantly, keeping the lineup fresh.

Some current highlights available to stream now include:

  • Halo Infinite – Master Chief‘s epic return, only on Xbox
  • Forza Horizon 5 – cutting-edge open-world racing in Mexico
  • Microsoft Flight Simulator – hyper-realistic aviation simulation
  • Minecraft – endless creative building
  • Sea of Thieves – chilled pirate adventures on the high seas
  • Doom Eternal – pulse-pounding first-person demon destruction

Casual titles like Minecraft and racing games like Forza really shine on the go via Xcloud. And Xbox exclusives are must-plays for Game Pass subscribers.

Library size comparison

In terms of sheer game numbers, PlayStation Now exceeds Xcloud significantly with over 800 streamable titles:

PlayStation Now Xbox Cloud Gaming
Total Games 800+ 200+

However, Xcloud focuses on quality over quantity in my opinion. It may have fewer games, but packs more value through Microsoft exclusives, new releases, and advanced streaming technology.

Can you stream owned games on Xcloud?

Not yet, but Microsoft is working on adding this capability for 2023:

  • Will let you stream games you already own digitally on Xbox
  • As long as they are available in the Xcloud catalog
  • Don‘t need to download games locally or own Xbox console

This will provide flexibility more akin to GeForce Now. Ultimate subscribers could access a combination of Game Pass titles plus owned library via Xcloud.

No firm date yet, but streaming owned games gets me very excited as an avid Xbox digital game purchaser!

Xcloud touch controls for mobile gaming

Selected Xcloud titles support custom on-screen touch controls when playing on phones or tablets without a controller:

  • Virtual buttons, sticks, and triggers mapped to touchscreen
  • Provides greater accessibility for casual gaming
  • Over 50 games enhanced for touch like Minecraft Dungeons

In my experience, touch controls work OK for simpler games but struggle with fast-paced action titles.

Fine for brief sessions, but serious players will want to pair an Xbox or DualShock controller for precise input.

Getting started with Xcloud in 5 easy steps

Ready to start cloud gaming through Xcloud? Just follow these steps:

  1. Sign up for Xbox Game Pass Ultimate membership
  2. Install Xbox app on phone/tablet or access via browser
  3. Connect Bluetooth or USB gamepad – or use touch controls
  4. Launch Xbox Cloud Gaming and select any title to stream
  5. Ensure your internet speed meets 10+ Mbps minimum

Then just kick back and enjoy unlimited access to hit Xbox games on your phone or tablet!

For troubleshooting help, consult Microsoft‘s useful Xcloud support site at xbox.com.

The bottom line on Xcloud cloud gaming

Is Xcloud free? Unfortunately not. Unlike some competitors, Microsoft currently does not offer any way to access Xcloud game streaming without an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription.

The technology shows immense promise, with game-changing new features slated for 2023 like streaming your owned library.

But for now, Xbox Cloud Gaming remains primarily a value-added benefit for Game Pass Ultimate members, not a standalone free service.

While costing $14.99 a month, Ultimate does grant access to 100+ games and day-one releases worth the price for serious Xbox gamers like myself.

If you‘re a frequent Xbox player, Xcloud provides a terrific bonus through mobile access. More casual users may want to consider cheaper options like trying GeForce Now first.

Hopefully this detailed guide helps explain exactly what Xcloud offers, its main limitations, and how to get started! Let me know if you have any other questions.