Windows 11 is getting two game-changing Xbox Series X features

With Auto HDR and DirectStorage, PC games are going to look prettier and load faster on Windows 11 when the free software update launches this holiday season.

Game controller illustration on green background

As part of its big Windows 11 reveal, Microsoft announced two major features exclusive to the Xbox Series X/S will be coming to Windows when the new update launches this holiday season.

With Auto HDR and DirectStorage, PC gamers will see significant improvements to graphics and loading times, provided they have the right equipment. The feature additions make a ton of sense when you think about how Microsoft sees gaming: as a universal platform that works on all systems (Xbox or PC).

Old games, new look — Auto HDR is an exclusive Xbox mode that artificially upgrades picture quality to support HDR’s wider range of colors, increased contrast, and brightness. The magic is that it can make older games with outdated graphics that were not created with HDR visuals in mind look sharper and more vibrant, especially on a 4K TV or display. Even newer games can benefit from Auto HDR since not all modern titles support HDR. Picture quality with Auto HDR will vary from game to game, but it’s ostensibly a feature that will improve most games at least a little, if not a lot.

To use Auto HDR on Windows 11, though, users will need an HDR display. In the video below from Digital Foundry, which you will need to watch on an HDR display to see the difference, newer games like Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice look considerably better with Auto HDR turned on.

Goodbye load times — DirectStorage is the other Xbox feature coming to Windows 11; it’s going to significantly reduce loading times. While the use of an NVMe SSD for this feature is a big reason why DirectStorage loads games so quickly, it goes beyond just that. DirectStorage is part of Xbox’s Velocity Architecture, which aims to load games faster thanks to its decompression techniques and near-complete circumvention of the CPU. Instead of using multiple cores of a CPU to process and load games, DirectStorage uses only a portion of the power from a single core. This reduced load on the CPU means games can better use the remaining cores for other tasks such as complicated physics or NPC logic computation.

What’s not clear is if either of these two features will only work on PC games accessed within the Xbox app, which includes Game Pass games. If so, that would limit the features to only a certain number of PC games. I’m hoping that Auto HDR and DirectStorage will be available on games launched from Steam, Epic Games Store, Good Old Games, and others.