Microsoft has a lot riding on the Xbox One X and they have more to prove than ever before. I won’t mince words either: the appeal of the Xbox One has always been behind chief rival Sony this entire generation, competing at a loss for one reason or another, whether it’s a lack of compelling exclusives or initially bundled gimmicks like the Kinect.
To answer these criticisms and make good on the bold claim of having “the most powerful console ever”, the Windows company have created a piece of gaming hardware that is an improvement over previous iterations in just about every way. Without question, the Xbox One X is a monster that delivers 4K natively, enriched color palettes via HDR, and better overall performance within a sleeker, downsized package.
Even with all these accolades, Microsoft finds themselves in quite an awkward position. It seems like only yesterday Sony launched their own PlayStation 4 Pro, which carried its own confusing limitations, and Microsoft themselves already promoted pieces of 4K/HDR with the Xbox One S. Neither console made the case for 4K, and with this generation of hardware already in deep, what constitutes the ‘next big thing’ is uncertain, despite what the pressers will have you believe. With that said, let’s take a look at the Xbox One X and its looming potential.
Matte Black and Overclocked
You’re really paying for the hardware before anything else here and it shows. First off, the Xbox One X packs its punch in a package that’s 40 percent leaner than the original (2013) Xbox One and roughly the same dimensions as the slimmer Xbox One S; but this trimming weighs in at a dense at 8.4 pounds. It might be heavier than expected but advanced liquid cooling and a supercharger-inspired centrifugal fan is an optimized benefit. We also like the attractive matte black body and air vents that are now on the sides, coming together in monolithic form.
Connectivity is largely unchanged, apart from the third USB port being repositioned to the bottom-right on the front, and the eject/sync buttons and IR blaster also on the bottom row. The internals feature a newly-refreshed version of the AMD x86 jaguar CPU with 8-cores running at 2.3 GHz, customized Polaris Ellesmere XTL GPU (1172Mhz UC RX 590) good for 6 TFLOPS (teraflops), and 12GB of GDDR5 with 326 GB/s of memory bandwidth.
This is the benchmark console that others will be judged against right now, well…everything except the 1TB HDD storage that is woefully inadequate for 4K-expected gaming. We’re completely disappointed Microsoft went cheap in this area when you factor individual game installs can easily eat up over 100GB by default; those textures don’t come cheap. Again, this wasn’t a surprise as we’ve experienced similar data-chomps with high-end PC games and movies. The overall capacity simply isn’t good enough anymore, and the trend seems to be endemic as the PS4 Pro is equally guilty of this fault, though with Sony’s console it’s relatively easy to install a larger-sized hard drive.
There is no redeemable solution to speak of. The only inelegant option being to pick up a larger external hard drive when individual games quickly eat up space.
Xbox One Games in 4K
The main draw of the Xbox One X is the promise of a 4K/HDR gaming future, which means 4x the pixel-power of the 1080p resolution you’ve been settling for. This is well and good, but the roll-out for “Xbox One X Enhanced” titles at launch is extremely limited considering the lead time Microsoft had to up their ante. Similar to a PS4 Pro, implementation of the new console’s powers will vary, and may not even include 4K bumps, which means some games may ‘only’ see better framerates or HDR color boosts, possibly a slick combo of them all. This will be up to the developers to decide so nothing is guaranteed.
A noticeable issue is that there are no true flagship titles that coincide with the Xbox One X, the biggest games have already come and you’ll have to temper your expectations for everything else in your library. You can see the peak of what the Xbox One X can do in Forza Motorsport 7, which looks gorgeous and plays smooth at 60fps on the PC, and it appears the essence of car porn is faithfully represented on the console to 1:1 effect. Moreso than any other game (right now), this will be the closest you can get, short of building a comparable rig close to a $1K.
Assassin’s Creed: Origins is another stunning title that really cleans up, with everything gained and nothing lost in the process. Visuals are sharpened up and background draw distance are now clean instead of blurred cascades, even the colors exude realism that was never there before. Again, the Xbox One X works its magic on Super Lucky’s Tale, which began life as an Oculus Rift exclusive. Expect sharp textures and lush cartoonish hues, but there were still occasional hitches in framerate. It’s a simple platformer but broad aesthetics help the additions pop with fidelity.
Older titles will vary in what benefits they get, if any. Halo 5 gets an unprecedented upgrade that pushes image quality to its absolute maximum, minute details that went unnoticed are now visible and sticks to unfettered frames and maintaining a full 4K display being one of the best updated examples. Even 1080p performance gets a boost with great texture filtering and recreated geometry complexity, thanks to automatic rendering through supersampling.
However, Gears of War 4 relies on options letting you choose between graphical enhancements for 4K or improved framerate performance, but not both. Meanwhile, Rise of the Tomb Raider is more flexible and offers a combination of choice, which at the very least makes it superior to the PS4 Pro.
Gaming is superb on the Xbox One X, but the hardware is engineered for home entertainment, too. A Ultra HD Blu-ray drive plays compatible media with Dolby Atmos height-dimensional audio and HDR10 (bt.2020) enabled, and can easily stream subscription-based Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Video and more in 4K as long as you’ve got the right subscription. Kudos to Microsoft as the streaming support is actually quite nice, and better than most.
If you were hoping for more apps such as YouTube, and Microsoft’s own videos and OneGuide DVR functions to step into 4K you’ll be disappointed to learn the jury’s still out on that front, an odd omission despite the commitment elsewhere. Fortunately, third-party apps including Plex, Spotify, Amazon Video, Netflix, HBO Go are available for regular viewing.
We’ve seen most of this stuff already on the Xbox One S and little has changed, including flaws. Blu-ray playback remains basic and HDR output has a terrible habit of raising black levels to undesirable levels. Although Microsoft has confirmed a software fix is in the works, omissions like Dolby Vision are on the waiting block.
Gameplay captures and video recording is allowed in 4K but come with their own caveats, meaning you can’t upload them natively over Xbox Live and take up a hell of a lot of storage. An alternative would be to record directly to an external HDD, but even that drive must be formatted to NTFS beforehand.
Ultimately, the Xbox One X is the gaming juggernaut Microsoft promised, offering the most graphically commanding console of this generation. After spending a considerable time with the ‘X’ it really is the definitive machine for third-party gaming short of building a high-end gaming PC — and offers plenty of enhancements for existing and future games. When fully optimized, the expectations are impressive to behold and it proudly shows.
That said, I’d be lying if I said the $499 asking price and overall timing won’t make the Xbox One X a tough sell for the majority. The 4K, HDR, and performance advantages are self-evident, but only if you don’t care about PlayStation exclusives (which is actually a big, big deal). Those already deeply entrenched in the Xbox Ecosystem, or wanting the most agreeable home entertainment array to make that 4K/HDR display and audio setup shine should thoroughly consider upgrading to the Xbox One X at some point in the future. The real question is longevity for hardware refreshes and overall investment.