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Microsoft Makes Cloud Gaming Feasible By Predicting Future

Microsoft's new system might make cloud-based gaming work by predicting the future... kinda.
Posted at 8:50 PM, Aug 23, 2014

Cloud gaming has been a popular fantasy in the industry for quite a few years now — the idea of streaming games from an external server a la Netflix is an attractive alternative to popping in a physical disc.

Unfortunately, the technology is currently running up against severe latency issues — it takes a relatively long time to relay inputs from a gamer to an external server, figure out what happens in the game, and then take the result back to the player. Lag has been a major hindrance in preventing cloud gaming services from really taking off.

Fortunately, researchers from Microsoft say they've found a way around the problem. And all they had to do was learn to predict the future. Sort of.

Microsoft researchers announced Thursday they've developed a "speculative execution system," designed to eliminate the lag issues surrounding cloud gaming by predicting a gamer's inputs before they happen. They're calling it the DeLorean.

 Yup, they mean like this DeLorean. And while Microsoft's new tech can't actually time travel, it can anticipate several of the most likely scenarios in a game moments before they actually happen. 

So when you press the jump button, the DeLorean has a freshly-rendered video of your character jumping all ready to go before the press even registers. 

PCWorld sums it up best, "The idea here is basically to try to anticipate your next actions in a game and to reduce overhead in order to mask the lag."

The researchers tested the DeLorean with older games Doom 3 and Fable 3 — action-heavy titles where even 100 ms of lag can impact the experience. Microsoft reports the DeLorean was able to hide up to 250 ms of latency — and users reportedly couldn't tell the difference between playing locally or via the cloud.

But all those predictive renders come at a high cost — TechCrunch notes that at times DeLorean required 4 times more bandwidth than a normal game. That limits the service to people with a fast internet connection — which means the DeLorean faces the same problem as other cloud-based gaming models: Internet connectivity.

What Microsoft plans to do with Delorean is unclear. It might want it for some kind of "games on demand" feature on the Xbox One. Don't get too excited though — the tech's only been tested with older, lower resolution games. There's no telling how a current-gen game like Titanfall might fare on the service.

Still, the DeLorean research definitely shows that Microsoft's willing to get into the game-streaming business. The Verge writes that DeLorean could make the Xbox One theoretically capable of streaming any Xbox 360 or original Xbox games.

The concept is similar to what Microsoft's rival Sony is already doing with its Playstation Now service, which went into open beta last month. The subscription service allows users to stream Playstation 3 games on newer Sony devices like the PS4 or the Vita.