Windows 10 week: From DirectX 12 to Xbox streaming: what Windows 10's future holds for gamers


Future of Windows 10 gaming

We can’t blame people for being wary about upgrading their version of Windows. In the past it has been no guarantee of a better experience. Anyone remember Windows Vista?

However, Windows 10 turns from a free to a paid upgrade for certain users on July 29. Simply put, if you’re on Windows 8.1 or Windows 7.1, you would be silly not to make the leap.

Even if you’re on an older version of Windows, the benefits to gamers that Windows 10 brings is worth considering splashing out on a completely new machine. To put it simply, to use anything else is to live in the past, in some fairly literal ways.

Still wedded to Windows 7 or Windows 8? Here’s why it’s time to get on-board with Windows 10.

DirectX 12 is Windows 10 only

Final Fantasy DX12

We’re going to start with the biggie. Windows 10 is the only version of Microsoft’s OS that supports DirectX 12.

It’s easy to think of DirectX as that annoying piece of software you have to update every now and then before you play games, but it’s an essential part of the gaming chain. It is what provides the APIs that give a game access to your graphics hardware.

DirectX provides even deeper access to the GPU than DirectX 11, meaning less overhead and better performance in a like-for-like test.

It also enables a kind of next-gen SLI effect, where two graphics cards are used at the same time. DirectX 12 loosens this up, letting the resources of two completely different cards be used simultaneously.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you can plug in your knackered old GPU into your computer and expect a big boost: that thing won’t support DirectX 12. However, it could mean games start using the GPU integrated into your CPU as an extra little brain for specific lower-level tasks.

Integrated GPUs are nowhere near as bad as they used to be, so it’s nice to think if you have a proper gaming rig, the CPU’s graphics section won’t just be sitting there idle anymore.

This article is part of TechRadar’s Windows 10 week. Microsoft’s latest operating system turns from a free to a paid upgrade on July 29, and we’re looking to answer the question of whether it’s good for you.

DirectX 12 boosted graphics

Ashes of the Singularity

If that all sounds a bit too much like navel-gazing tech speak, how about the improved graphics DirectX 12 will enable? It introduces new shader and rendering techniques that will be particularly useful in upgrading the quality of reflections, fog, smoke and lighting.

You can look as deep as you like into this, way beyond our pay grade, but a lot of it centres around breaking down calculations to a per-pixel level. Not only is this going to make environmental effects look better, it’ll make player interactions with things like smoke easier to model.

These are of course developer tools, not improvements that will suddenly appear in existing games, but will help to define what elevates high-end PC graphics over console visuals. While a version of DirectX 12 is gradually rolling out to the Xbox One, the hope is that it’ll be able to match PS4 performance with version 12, not level-up visuals.

At present the Xbox One often has to use a lower resolution or frame rate than its Sony rival, which has a more powerful GPU and uses the OpenGL API library rather than DirectX.

Upcoming DirectX 12 games

Star Citizen

So far we’ve talked about Windows 10 potential. It can sound like far-off future promise. But where are we going top see it really kick in?

PC-exclusive games will benefit most from a development approach led by DirectX 12. One of the titles to look out for is the already jaw-dropping Star Citizen, perhaps one of the most ambitious games currently in development.

Star Citizen is a space sim and action game, a much more hardcore take on No Man’s Sky’s interstellar exploration.

In an interview with Gaming Nexus, Star Citizen creator Chris Roberts talked a little about DirectX 12 is being used to enhance the game:

“There’s plenty of cool stuff coming up. We’re focusing a lot of our efforts and work on things like fluid sims that we could use for gas clouds, background COMPUTE stuff to allow us to do voxelization of asteroids, and then there’s a bunch of GPU tessellation stuff that we’ve actually been planning for our planetary stuff.”

DirectX 12 is going to make space look a lot nicer.

The other huge PC exclusive to look out for is Mount and Blade 2: Bannerlord. However, developer TaleWorlds Entertainment hasn’t really talked about the role DirectX 12 plays in the game’s visuals.

DirectX 12 support was also patched into Unreal Engine 4 back in late 2015. It was always going to happen, of course, but is another confirmation we’re just waiting for dev to start using more of what DirectX 12 offers.

A few games have already seen very significant performance boost just from DirectX 12 too. For example, it grants strategy game Ashes of the Singularity up to an extra 20fps with an AMD graphics card. AMD’s hardware in particular benefits massively from the improvements of DirectX 12.

Windows 10 lets you record your gaming

Game DVR

There’s much more to Windows 10’s gaming bonuses than just the power of DirectX 12 too. Catching up with the way people share their gaming experiences these days, Microsoft has packed video capture into the OS.

This is part of the Xbox app, called Game DVR. There are a few ways to approach it. The Background Recording feature caches the last 15 seconds to 10 minutes of footage, so you don’t have to worry about manually hitting record during play. There will be a slight performance hit when you use this, though.

Longer “Let’s Play” style video recording is possible too. You simply have to manually start recording rather than just letting this feature silently brew in the background. Pressing Windows + Alt + R starts recording, and while the default max length is an hour you can change that in the Xbox app to two hours if you want.

You can choose the resolution (720p/1080p) and quality (bit-rate) of the recordings, making this much more than the Mickey Mouse take on DVR you might expect for something all-but built into Windows 10.

Audio quality is also customisable (32kbps to 192kbps) and your computer’s mic, if it has one, feed can be recorded too, to let you commentate play with zero editing involved. The only missing part is a picture-in-picture mode that edits together the game feed and webcam footage, for zero-editing YouTube style videos.

Still, for a ‘free’ Windows 10 feature, it’s pretty great.

You can stream games right from an Xbox One

Play Anywhere

Here’s an extra side benefit that, funnily enough, isn’t about PC gamers at all. Windows 10 lets you stream games directly from an Xbox One on the same network thanks to what Microsoft calls Xbox Play Anywhere.

Similar to PS4 Remote Play streaming, you see on your computer monitor what you would see on your TV screen, with your controller inputs transmitted over your network. If you can use a wired connection, or a direct Powerline hook-up, the experience is excellent.

Performance will take a hit if you use Wi-Fi, with more obvious lag, but that’s just something you’ll have to deal with if you can’t handle an Ethernet cable.

This is a smart feature if you live with a partner, or anyone, who doesn’t appreciate staring at the TV as you play Destiny on your Xbox One.

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