Hands-On with Xbox One X

Posted on September 20, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Xbox One with 34 Comments

Hands-On with Xbox One X

I was finally able to get my greedy fingers on Microsoft’s stunning new Xbox One X at a showcase event in New York last week. And I have nothing but good news.

So let me cut the chase. From a performance perspective, the Xbox One X appears to meet Microsoft’s claims. But as important, perhaps, this new console is a natural new member of the Xbox One family. And it’s an obvious upgrade for gamers of all kinds.

Finally getting to experience Xbox One X was like being a kid in a candy store. I spent a few hours that morning, bouncing from gaming station to gaming station, taking it all in. Here it was, for real, Microsoft’s new console. And some of the top games that it will run.

Three new games—Assassin’s Creed: Origins, Cuphead (Cuphead!!!), and Forza Motorsport 7—occupied most of my game-playing time that day, as I suspect each will do in the weeks and months ahead.


But there was more. Games I’d either completed already or played for hours, like Gears of War 4Minecraft, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and Quantum Break, that had been enhanced for Xbox One X.

Gears of War 4 in 4K/UHD

There was new hardware, too. A Forza Horizon 3 Hot Wheels bundle for Xbox One S that had not been announced yet (it has since been). The gorgeous new Xbox One S 1 TB Minecraft Limited Edition bundle, which I want against all reason.

And of course the Xbox One X.

Having previously canceled my trip to Los Angeles for E3, I was eager to finally go hands-on with Xbox One X. I was as eager to speak to someone from Microsoft first-hand about the console’s most burning questions, to understand how and why the Xbox One X is both superior to Sony’s curious half-step to 4K, the PlayStation 4 Pro, and a logical step up for Xbox gamers.

And I like what I heard.

“Xbox One X is the most powerful video game console by 40 percent,” Microsoft senior marketing manager Ryan Moore told me, cutting right to the chase. “This is true 4K gaming, increased frame rates, faster load times, richer textures, HDR, and Dolby Atmos sound. It’s a full fidelity experience.”

In other words, Xbox One X is about more than “just” 4K graphics, it’s the full experience. As Apple stressed for its Apple TV set-top box during its recent press event, HDR (high dynamic range) capabilities also have a dramatic effect on visual quality over a standard dynamic range of colors, and Dolby Atmos creates a 360-degree sound field that needs to be heard to be believed. (Those without such a system can use simulated Dolby Atmos over headphones.)

OK, but what does it all mean? I asked about how Microsoft was approach 4K compared to say, the PS4 Pro, where 4K resolutions in games are fairly rare.

Moore explained that it was opening the full power of the box to developers and allowing them to tailor each title to their needs and goals. The “Xbox One X Enhanced” logo will inform consumers that the game maker took special care to take advantage of unique Xbox One X power and functionality. And that, as of last week, there were over 100 games being enhanced for the new console. (Today, we know that number is now over 130 titles.)

Put simply, all Xbox One games work normally on the new console. (And, of course, all Backwards Compatible Xbox 360—and original Xbox—games work normally as well.) But when it comes to new or existing Xbox One titles, developers have options.

Those games that are never updated for Xbox One X will still run better on the new console thanks to smoother frame rates and faster load times: The performance improvements in Xbox One X will benefit everyone.

Those games that are updated for the new console and know about the new hardware can, of course, offer even better experiences. Some will get a 4K/UHD icon on the packaging to indicate that the resolution has been upped. Some will get an HDR icon. (Some will get both.) Some will get the Full Meal Deal: The Xbox One X Enhanced logo.

But being enhanced for Xbox One X doesn’t necessarily mean 4K all the time. Some developers will opt for perfect frame rates over resolution: Shooters, for example, typically fall into this category. Other developers will prefer to aim for 2160p for the entire game and allow the frame rate to vary according to the complexity of the on-screen display. Some will use some combination of these choices. I could see the single player and multiplayer versions of certain games split the difference, for example. (Call of Duty falls into this category in the sense that single- and multiplayer are essentially two different games anyway.)

Forza Motorsport 7 is the showcase launch title for the Xbox One X,” Moore told me. “This game runs at 4K/UHD and 60 frames per second for the entire experience. The developers knew about the Xbox One X from the beginning and built the title from the ground up to support it. It’s just a killer visual showcase.”

(He’s right about that. In my 30 minutes or so of Forza time, I was blown away by the visual quality. (And by my terrible driving.)

According to Moore—and to a growing body of third-party accounts—developers have found the process of enhancing games for Xbox One X to be incredibly easy. This speaks, I think, to the genius of Microsoft’s Xbox strategy, which has moved from a single hardware platform for the lifetime of a console generation to a family of products that evolves over time, with each offering bringing unique and better new capabilities. (And let’s not forget about the Windows 10 angle, since some games are Xbox Play Anywhere compatible and can be played on PCs too.)

“When we first shipped out the dev kits, game makers were up and running within days,” Moore said. “They’re updated older games to great effect. Halo Wars 2, for example, and Gears of War 4, which went from 1080p to 4K/UHD on the Xbox One X. The differences are really obvious.”

Moore and I spoke about a few other topics—the new Xbox Dashboard, Mixer, and so on—but my head was spinning, and I wanted to spend some time, alone in a corner, with Microsoft’s new console.

What they had at the showcase event was the final console in Project Scorpio guise, in photo-op worthy locations. And then prototype versions of the Xbox One X, in the final console body, attached to various games. Some games were also being used with Xbox One S, and a few—like Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds—were on Windows 10 PCs.

Xbox One X prototype

Naturally, I went right for the Xbox One X games first. More specifically, Forza Motorsport 7, where I lost the next 30 minutes lapping up—see what I did there?—the game’s various gameplay modes and, more important, its sheer visual brilliance. The thing is, Forza games have always been Xbox showcases, visually, so this was an obvious choice for Xbox One X. But there are moments in the game that are so real, so visually perfect, that it almost defies description. (I assume you can see what I mean by trying out the demo on a 4K/UHD-based PC. That box would be very expensive.)

Gears of War 4 was next: Here, Microsoft was providing four demo sequences that showed of the enhanced title’s new 4K/UHD graphics. So I completed the “Gate Crashers” level, which comes towards the end of the game and is arguably the highlight of the entire experience: You get to pilot a giant mech and take down an army of baddies as you make your way through a town and the surrounding countryside.

I also looked briefly at Rise of the Tomb Raider, which I’ve experienced on both Xbox One and Windows 10. And as you’d expect, it works nicely on Xbox One X, with incredible graphics and, in the sequence I explored, amazing lighting effects.



Oddly, the two other games I found to be the most captivating at the showcase, Cuphead and Assassin’s Creed: Origins were running on Xbox One X. I would have spent more time on the former if I could have, but there was a line due to its popularity. That said, Assassin’s Creed: Origins wasn’t a bad choice, either: I spent about a half hour exploring the beginning of this game and will be getting it (as I will with Cuphead) as soon as its available.

Long story short, the Xbox One X is the real deal based on my admittedly brief time with it last week. But I’ll be getting the console for review and will, of course, but it through its paces. I can’t wait: The Xbox One X looks amazing, and whatever you think of the platform’s place today in the market, it’s clear that Microsoft is doing the right thing.


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Comments (34)

34 responses to “Hands-On with Xbox One X”

  1. Glenn

    Paul how did the controller compare to the Xbox One S and other special order controllers?

  2. EdTittel

    Does Xbox One X run Windows 10 or Windows 10 S? My son needs a new computer, and if he can run Chrome and Google Docs on the Xbox it might make more sense to set him up with an Xbox One X upstairs, while keeping the current Xbox One downstairs. His computing needs are pretty basic: he needs to access homework stuff from his school and teacher websites, be able to browse the Web, run basic graphics and photo stuff (a la IrfanView/Paint), and access local printers. What's your take on that scenario?



    • Ukumio

      In reply to EdTittel:

      Put simply the Xbox One X is not a PC its a gaming device and while it does run Windows 10, its a watered down version with more limitations then Windows 10 S.

      It has a browser, but you need to use a controller (at least for now) in order to use it which makes using it for even the most simple browsing sessions a pain.

      And no, you won't find apps like IrfanView or Paint on the Xbox One X.

      • EdTittel

        In reply to Ukumio:

        Thanks to all who followed up. I'd more or less concluded the same as what Ukumio reports, after conducting additional follow-up research on my own afterward. Then, a quick trip to the MS store (physical, not virtual) and chatting with a friendly salesperson confirmed this. Looks like I'm either going to build him a mid-tier tower system or that we'll purchase him a decent gaming laptop (something like the MSI GS63VR Stealth Pro) and a nice external DP-attached monitor instead.


    • webdev511

      In reply to EdTittel:

      It's its own flavor of Windows 10, so you won't see Chrome on it unless Google publishes Chrome in the Windows Store.

  3. Tony Barrett

    Exactly 40% better? That's not a very good claim is it. Microsoft marketing department need to step in hear, make up a few things, and make those official. Then I'll believe it. ;-)

    Amazingly, by the time this thing launches, the PS4 will be north of 70m sales. Whatever MS hope to achieve with this console (other than being able to claim they can p*ss higher than Sony), the XB will still be second place this generation.

  4. Joe Perito

    Hey Paul,

    Did you notice what model TV or monitor they were using? I've heard rumors that some Microsoft engineers were saying the TCL P series looked and worked fabulous with the X. Just curious, Thanks

  5. Skolvikings

    I'm still happy to play BOTW on my Switch... subpar graphics and all. It's just so much fun.

  6. Matt Goldman

    "I'm 40 percent superior!"

    [bangs chest]

  7. mjw149

    I got a the last minecraft xbox one s in part to save for PC upgrades and play some of the games there - since I share both with my son, I like options and MS is providing them now for PC gamers. I think with Ryzen out I'll probably upgrade this holiday season.

    The new box is almost good enough to trade in for, even with no other difference. Look at that controller!

    Full props to Microsoft for not screwing up Minecraft! Good stewards so far.

  8. ym73

    I need someone to explain how the green and brown squares pattern for Minecraft edition xbox can be considered gorgeous by anyone. I can appreciate the talent of someone replicating buildings and even cities in minecraft. However, there is nothing gorgeous about anything in minecraft.

  9. daveevad

    Paul, could you provide your take on the fan noise? This (my preordered Scorpio Edition) will be my primary console, set up in the living room, and will see it's fair share of Netflix streaming. I'm hoping that it doesn't sound like a hurricane under my TV.

    Great write-up, Thanks!

  10. Stooks

    So full disclosure I pre-ordered moments after I could on August 20th.

    That said this not really a review or anything new that we did not know about. Especially since you can see in the pictures it is the developer box, which has 24gigs of RAM and is more powerful overall.

    Big question!!! Did you get the model of those monitors? I will not play on a TV after moving to fast, low input lag gaming monitors on my Xbox One S. Going back to a TV is a joke as the controls feel like running in the ocean.

    I am trying to find a 27-30inch 4K monitor with HDR. There are none. My current choice will probably be the LG-27UD69P which is a great 4K, fast, low input lag IPS monitor but it does not have HDR.

    • Ukumio

      In reply to Stooks:

      HDR in monitors at the moment seems to be mostly geared towards people who take pictures or video edit and are therefore expensive.

      I assume within the next year or so we'll see more HDR enabled monitors come out of companies like BenQ who make gaming monitors.

  11. PlaceboHead

    I can't WAIT to upgrade to an X. I have an original X1 with Kinect while my Wife has a X1-S. I won't lie; I was always jealous that she could upscale to 4k and I couldn't. Well, soon, I'll be native [email protected] with ULTRA settings :p

  12. ErichK

    Nice to hear. They needed to get this right, obviously (can there be a more obvious statement?). Probably won't be getting one until I get a 4K TV, though.

  13. IronCondor

    I have an XBOX One S. I just watched a 4K HDR movie on my Sony XBR 4K HDR TV set with Dolby Atmos. Does this just give us 4K at 60hz?

    • Ukumio

      In reply to IronCondor:

      In terms of gaming, it gives developers a lot more juice to work with which means better looking games at higher resolutions and framerates.

      In terms of media consumption...it'll be mostly the same as it is on Xbox One S, you may find that some apps have a slight performance boost but it won't be as noticeable as anything that happens on the gaming side.

  14. mark14milton

    Yeah.... Can't wait :)

  15. Dan

    Nice writeup Paul!

  16. michaelpatricehuber

    Is navigating the menus in the dashboard finally not sluggish anymore?

  17. Rob_Wade

    Let's see....we don't have a 4K television since our satellite service doesn't have 4K programming and, frankly, our current 60" TV is only 2 yrs old; we don't do console games; The Xbox dashboard is horrible and HAS been ever since they gutted the Kinect. I just can't justify spending ANOTHER $500 for a box that adds zero value to our current entertainment needs. Maybe, someday, when 4K televisions drop some more in price, the Xbox One X drops in price and Microsoft actually adds full keyboard, mouse and joystick support no longer requiring us to use this stupid controller to do everything.

    • MikeGalos

      In reply to Rob_Wade:

      So, you're a vegan and you feel a need to post a negative comment on a review of the Arby's Meat Mountain sandwich.

      Got it...

    • Stooks

      In reply to Rob_Wade:

      Price is subjective so I wont comment on that.

      I will say from everything I read, if you are a avid Xbox One gamer and you only have a 1080p tv/monitor you will still get a huge benefit from this console.

      When games are reviewed by Digital Foundry today the Xbox One is almost always found to use dynamic resolution more often and have a lower average resolution compared to the PS4/Pro. It is hardware issue. Lower res/lower frames are common on the Xbox One when games get busy.

      Moving to the X basically gets rid of that and will completely reverse those outcomes in the future. The X will basically sit at the top of those reviews with the best performance. Current games un-patched wont use Dynamic Resolution anymore. They will load faster, run at their top res/fps target, load more assets sooner (draw distance) and get a 16x AF for all games that are not patched. Patched games will be better on 1080p because additional textures will be seen at 1080p and 4k res graphics will be super sampled down to 1080p making the content more detail and sharper at 1080p.

      Google "PS4 Pro on a 1080p screen" and find out what that did for PS4 players. There are some good videos even one from Digigtal foundry that found that with game patches some games gave the most boost at 1080p. The compared the patched version of BF1 on a 4K screen and a 1080p screen and said the 1080p screen users got the best improvement with sharper graphics and way better FPS.

      Price aside of you game now on the Xbox with your 1080p TV you would notice a big difference going to the X.

    • Mike Brady

      In reply to Rob_Wade:

      It's not always about you! :-)

  18. GeekWithKids

    I guess the only question I have is should I upgrade from my XBox One to the One X without a 4K TV?

  19. ndwilder

    I'd hope they finally figured out passive cooling, and a power adapter that doesn't require a fan that eventually fails. More than this, I hope devs can come up with games that are finished before they ship. Fallout 4 still had the same type of bugs New Vegas did. Until the next Borderlands comes out, I don't think I'll be upgrading. Also, did the controllers become ginormous?