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Microsoft’s xCloud game streaming looks worse on Linux than Windows

Microsoft’s xCloud game streaming takes a dip at a low visual quality setting when running on Linux. The apparent downgrade to the operating system was noted by a Reddit user over the holiday weekend and was confirmed in Ars’ own testing this morning.

To compare how xCloud handles a Linux machine versus a Windows machine, an Edge extension was used to force the browser’s user-agent string to present itself as a Linux browser during testing. went:

  • Windows User-Agent Tested: Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 10.0; Win64; x64) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, eg Gecko) Chrome/103.0.5060.66 Safari/537.36 Edg/103.0.1264.44
  • Linux User-Agent Tested: Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux x86_64) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, eg Gecko) Chrome/102.0.5005.27 Safari/537.36 Edg/102.0.1245.7

The tests were performed on a Windows 10 PC running the latest version of Microsoft Edge (version 103.0.1264.44, 64-bit). All tests were run over a wired Internet connection registering download speeds of 120 Mbps and ~9 ms latency, according to the spot test on

A GIF comparing a corner of the image across two xCloud-streamed sessions, with only the user-agent string changing between them.

The difference in streaming quality can be seen in the gallery above (expand images to full screen for a better view). With Linux user-agent, the edges are usually less sharp and the colors are a bit more washed out. The difference is even more apparent if you zoom in forza Logo and menu text, showing a significant lack of clarity.

What’s going on here?

Interestingly, if you enable “Clarity Boost, an edge-exclusive feature”, the quality degradation seems to go away.[es] Optimal look and feel when playing Xbox games from the cloud, according to Microsoft. That’s great for Linux users who switched to Microsoft Edge when it launched on Linux last November. But Linux users who stick to Firefox, Chrome or other browsers are currently stuck with apparently low streaming quality.

That Linux quality dip has led some to speculate that Microsoft is attempting to reserve the best xCloud streaming performance for Windows machines in an effort to attract more users to its own operating system. But using the Macintosh User-Agent string gives streaming performance similar to that of Windows, which would seem a big omission if that theory were true. Microsoft hasn’t published any sort of “best on Windows”-style marketing to promote xCloud Streaming, which appears to be a key component of trying to attract new Windows users.

(The quality difference may have been a roundabout effort to get Linux users to switch to the Edge browser, where Clarity Boost delivers the best possible quality. But that still wouldn’t fully explain why Windows without Clarity Boost would work on other browsers.) Why users also get better streaming quality than their Linux brethren.)

Others have suggested that the downgrade may simply be a bug caused by Microsoft’s naive parsing of user-agent strings. This is because user-agent strings for the Android browser usually identify themselves as some version of Linux (“Linux; Android 11; HD1905,” for example). Microsoft’s xCloud code can simply look for “Linux” in that string, assuming the user is running Android, then automatically throttles the streaming quality for the Android phone or tablet’s (presumably) reduced screen size.

With Microsoft declining the opportunity to comment to Ars Technica, we’re still mulling over what’s behind this apparent issue. For the time being, though, Linux users who want the best xCloud performance will want to switch to Microsoft Edge with Clarity Boost or at least fake their User-Agent settings to pretend they’re running Windows. .

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