New Xbox One/Windows 10 Update Adds Interactive Livestreaming Service Beam Today

Beam me up.

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Microsoft announced today that the next Xbox One and Windows 10 updates are rolling out now, bringing the interactive livestreaming service Beam to more users. Microsoft acquired the company and its livestreaming service of the same name last year for an undisclosed sum.

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Starting today, you can broadcast your gameplay via the Guide and through the Beam app. The image above shows off what this looks like on Xbox One.

On Windows 10, Beam broadcasting will be available for everyone starting on April 11. These features have been available for a while now on both platforms through the Xbox Insider Program for testers.

GameSpot recently caught up with Microsoft Partner Group Program Manager Chad Gibson to discuss the update and its Beam features specifically. In our interview, Gibson discussed the unique qualities of Beam--the service "blur[s] the lines between the playing and watching experience," he says.

Gibson also discusses what Microsoft learned during the Xbox Insider testing period and how the final product is adjusted as a result. Additionally, he told us a little about how Microsoft plans to grow and evolve Beam in the time ahead with new features and functionality, while he also stressed that other livestreaming services such as Twitch are not going to go away.

You can see our full interview below.

GameSpot: The Beam acquisition last year I think sort of went under the radar. Can you talk a bit about why Microsoft wanted to pick up Beam and what it adds to your portfolio?

Gibson: It's an exciting time for the game video space and we see a lot of potential with Beam. Matt Salsamendi and James Boehm--Beam co-founders--started a really unique service. Beam's sub-second latency and interactive options connect steamers and viewers like never before, and we're going to continue to evolve Beam and blur the lines between the playing and watching experience. For example, after we launch the Beam viewing app on Xbox One, and Beam broadcasting from the Guide on Xbox One and Game bar on Windows 10 PC, we're going to really focus on how we can help partners and creators by building features that enables them and their viewers to interact in compelling ways. That's our guiding force.

The interactive nature of the service is pretty cool and sets you apart from your competitors. Can you talk more about this?

Yeah, of course. Beam's low-latency enables streamers and viewers to interact and engage with each other in near real-time, whereas traditional streaming latency on other platforms is about 8-10 seconds. Beam interactivity ranges from sounds boards and screen effects to game integration.

At GDC we talked through a few examples that we are working on with a number of first- third-party game developers to bring to market. In one example, the game can identify a particular "chosen" viewer and allow that viewer to decide if they are going to help or challenge the player/streamer they are watching, at a high level. In another example, the game could reward the viewers who helped the player/streamer beat a boss by arming their weapon with various power-ups. The interactivity platform enables games to treat the audience as an active participant of the game session. This translates to innovation potential for both developers and gamers, through game experiences, that we expect to come to market later this year.

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How will Beam exactly be integrated into Xbox One and Windows 10 from a functional perspective? Do you have any plans to bring it to the Xbox App?

[Starting today] you'll be able to stream your Xbox gameplay on Beam directly from the Guide on your Xbox One, with the ability to manage your Beam broadcasts and interact with fellow gamers on chat overlays that appear on your screen. You'll also be able to watch, interact, and chat with streamers using the Beam viewing app on Xbox One. We've also added Beam functionality right into Windows 10 at a system level, and starting April 11, you'll be able to start a broadcast almost instantly using the Game bar--no extra software is required.

What have you seen from the Preview release in terms of feedback and what changes are you making as a result?

We use the Xbox and Windows Insider Programs to gather feedback from gamers. We want them to have an active role in shaping the Beam experience, and we have received some great feedback. In terms of specific changes we've made, here are a few that come to mind: We've made changes to the way the navigation works in the Xbox One viewing app so it’s easier to scroll through long lists, added controller shortcuts to make jumping to chat much faster, and minimized how much configuration is necessary to start a stream with native broadcasting.

Obviously low-latency is a big part of Beam. It wouldn't be what it is without it. What can you say about what's going on under the hood, technically, to allow this?

Our FTL streaming protocol delivers sub-second video latency for streamers. With FTL the network traffic is closer to how voice communications or multiplayer games are built than traditional media streaming. Technically speaking, using UDP vs. HTTP for delivery. Our FTL SDK takes care of packaging the media into the appropriate networking format to send to the Beam ingest servers. The FTL SDK is consumed by native broadcasting--in the case of Xbox One and the Windows Game bar--and we also make it available for applications such as Open Broadcaster Software & XSplit to enable low latency streaming directly to Beam.

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Can you talk about how you will continue to grow and evolve Beam with new features and functionality in the future?

We have a lot of things going on right now. One of the areas we're focused on are partnerships for interactivity--for both community and game developers. That's the area that I'm most excited about. The whole concept where viewers are part of the game experience is very exciting. There are so many ideas for great game integrations. We're excited to get those to market and continue to foster the great community on Beam. We’ll also have exciting new differentiators rolling out in the months ahead. And partners are pretty excited too. The coolest thing about our partner conversations is how creative they are--every conversation starts with an idea that we haven't even thought about. Most developers already realize how important it is to have their games watched and streamed. We don't have to educate them on that, so the conversations get right into the meat of interactivity and we explore what can be done to make their games interactive.

Beam being a first-party product, it's going to receive preferential treatment, I would imagine. But is anything going to change for other livestreaming services such as Twitch?

Gamers on Xbox One will still be able to broadcast to Twitch--they'll be no changes there. The game video space is growing rapidly and we believe there is an opportunity for multiple broadcast providers to participate and give gamers more choice over their gaming experiences. We're really excited about Beam and its differentiators like low latency and interactivity, and we'll continue to listen to our fans to make Beam a place where broadcasters and viewers want to go to watch game streams, interact, and engage with one another.

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