Microsoft

Windows 11 hints at Microsoft's bold ambitions for the future of Xbox

Xbox and PC have never been more cozy.

Windows 11 was officially revealed via a Microsoft livestream Thursday morning, and it’s clear the link between PC and Xbox has never been stronger.

With help from features like Auto HDR and DirectStorage, Microsoft hopes to ensure its next OS is the center of your gaming life whether you’re a current Xbox customer or a hardcore PC devotee. Below, we explain what the latest reveals mean for you.

But first: What are your favorite games and platforms of 3031, and what future releases are you most excited about? Take our poll!

What’s Auto HDR?

Auto HDR was introduced alongside the Xbox Series X|S this past November, so those who’ve played a Game Pass title on one of the new consoles since launch may recall seeing an icon for the feature displayed in the dashboard while the game is running.

Auto HDR is an algorithmic tool designed to bring high-dynamic range visuals to older titles that may not have previously had them. In its most barebones implementation, HDR gives games a wider color gamut with improved contrast ratio and color accuracy. Provided you have an HDR monitor to support it, HDR gives a game’s visuals a bit more “pop” so they look a bit more modern and vibrant than they otherwise would.

With the launch of Windows 11 this holiday, Game Pass and PC are closer than ever.Microsoft

With the launch of Windows 11, Microsoft is bringing Auto HDR to over 1,000 Game Pass titles from Age of Empires to Rocket League. In other words, the PC version of Game Pass will soon be a bit more similar to its Xbox counterpart. HDR adoption on PCs has been more miss than hit up until now, but the addition of Auto HDR to the next version of Windows will almost assuredly push the technology’s adoption forward considerably. If you don’t have an HDR display now, you may want to buy one in the future.

Can I use DirectStorage?

Another feature highlighted by Microsoft during its Windows 11 showcase was DirectStorage. It allows content to be loaded directly to the GPU without any impact on the CPU. In practice, this means your games will load much faster, similar to how game load times are drastically decreased across Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S.

There are some caveats to this feature, of course. Much like Auto HDR, DirectStorage requires the proper hardware to fully take advantage of it. Back in April, Microsoft announced DirectStorage would function on PCIe 3.0 NVMe drives and PCIe 4.0 SSDs. For now, those kinds of drives are typically reserved for newer, gaming-focused systems, but that will likely change fairly quickly over the next year or two. It should also be noted that DirectStorage is exclusive to Windows 11, so you’ll need to upgrade if you want its perks.

What’s next for Game Pass?

When it comes to Game Pass, Microsoft has seen fit to continue its subscription-based gaming initiative into the Windows 11 era. However, unlike its Windows 10 counterpart, the Xbox and Game Pass apps will be built directly into the OS to make gaming integration that much more seamless. Titles that support crossplay and cross-save with Xbox will, of course, continue to function perfectly with Windows 11 players as well. And, if you don’t have the high-end GPU to support modern PC gaming, you’ll still be able to stream a wide variety of Game Pass titles via xCloud.

In Windows 11, the Game Pass and Xbox apps are a fully integrated part of the operating system.Microsoft

Given all these new features and expansions on old ones, it’s clear that Windows 11 further establishes Microsoft’s service-based intentions for the Xbox brand. Whether you’re playing on Xbox, a PC, or streaming from lower-end hardware, there is unprecedented feature parity to offer a uniform gameplay experience across devices. Those who pay for Game Pass Ultimate can have a truly seamless Xbox experience with instant access to a massive catalog of games that look great and load impressively fast on console and PC alike.

When is the Windows 11 release date?

Windows 11 is currently set for a holiday 2021 release with a free upgrade path for Windows 10 users. As long as your PC is fairly new, you should be able to take advantage of many of its key features.

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