Microsoft has revealed Windows 11, the next evolution of their ubiquitous computer operating system. Due to release later in 2021 and a free upgrade for Windows 10 users, Windows 11 will be a major visual overhaul of the OS with a centred Start menu and icons, the return of widgets and more. However, it will also bring key features for gamers, lifted from the Xbox Series X|S.
Windows 11 will implement Auto HDR, automatically enhancing games designed for standard dynamic range (SDR) with a wider gamut of colours and brightness range programmatically. Microsoft say that over 1000 games will support Auto HDR at release, including Age of Empires: Definitive Edition, Rocket League, DayZ, and Doom 64. However, it will not be a universal feature, exactly the same as on Xbox consoles, where the algorithms don’t gel well with certain games.
Looking to the future, games designed for Windows 11 will also be able to take advantage of DirectStorage, another key facet of the Xbox Series X|S platform and what Microsoft dubbed the Velocity Architecture. DirectStorage allows graphics cards to draw assets directly from the SSD, bypassing the CPU as a conduit. It will mean reduced initial loading times, but also allow games to stream in many more details on-the-fly,
DirectStorage will be a part of the DirectX 12 Ultimate API, which is already a part of the Xbox Series X|S and will be coming to PC with Windows 11. Per the system requirements, you will need an NVMe SSD to store and run games, though Microsoft don’t specify a particular generation of NVMe. Additionally, you will need a DirectX12 GPU with Shader Model 6.0 support, which boils down to Nvidia’s RTX 2000 and 3000 GPUs, and AMD’s new RNDA 2 6000 series GPUs.
You will be able to pick out compatible computers and hardware by looking for “DirectStorage Optimised” in their specs. It will also be emphasised by developers and publishers when selling you games, I’m sure.
Elsewhere, Microsoft talked up Xbox Game Pass being integrated more fully into Windows 11, with the dedicated Xbox app and Xbox Game Pass available through it. This is fully accessible through Windows 10 already, but Microsoft will be building Xbox Cloud Gaming into the Xbox app, and install the Xbox app by default.
In an effort to make their own ecosystem more appealing to all app developers, Microsoft is overhauling the Microsoft Store. The storefront will allow developers to publish a wider set of executables, so Win32 versions of games can be released on the Windows Store. They are also reducing their take from the store even further, allowing companies to incorporate their own ecommerce platforms to make sales, though this only applies to apps and specifically not for games – then again, Microsoft already dropped their fee from 30% to 15% for apps and 12% for games earlier this year.
Finally, Windows 11 will be able to run Android apps via the Amazon Store, tapping into new app translation technology from Intel that will bring apps like TikTok, Instagram and presumably all manner of Android games to the platform. This is sure to be much better for Windows 11 tablets, as opposed to desktops and laptops without touch screens, but we’ll see.