Xbox One X First Impressions: The 4K Era Arrives

Posted on November 3, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Xbox One with 50 Comments

Xbox One X First Impressions: The 4K Era Arrives

From the look and feel of the console hardware to its software interfaces, the Xbox One X is very much part of the Xbox One family. In fact, at first blush, there’s not really anything that exciting about the device itself, unless of course you were wondering why Microsoft never provided a version of the Xbox One S in black.

And then you play a game in 4K and HDR. And you get it.

Super Lucky’s Tale

To prepare myself for this future, I have also been testing some PC-based video games—Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds, Forza Motorsport 7, Gears of War 4, and a few others—on a monster HP gaming rig with dual NVIDIA GeForce 1080 graphics cards. And this experience has pretty much confirmed my long-held beliefs that the PC still obviously provides the very best visual experiences. But you pay for it. Literally—such PCs are very expensive—and in the complexity that such a gaming rig requires.

The HP and other gaming PCs also provide some potentially interesting capabilities that are still unavailable on the Xbox platform at all, including virtual reality from a variety of providers. Note that the PlayStation 4 gained this capability over a year ago, and that Sony has already sold over one million PlayStation VR kits to customers.

But Microsoft is doing the right thing with the Xbox One X. VR remains a curiosity for most, and even the firm’s Windows 10-based Windows Mixed Reality platform is a bit too expensive, complex, and bulky to be of interest to most consumers, and to most gamers, serious or otherwise.

And unlike its erstwhile competition, the PlayStation 4 Pro, the Xbox One X actually delivers on its 4K gaming promises. And that alone is a miracle of sorts. A game changer, if you will. Something that matters.

What amazes me about the Xbox One X, frankly, is the seamless way in which it catapults Microsoft’s gaming platform forward. It is an Xbox One. It looks, feels, and plays just like its Xbox One S stablemate. It plays the same games. And uses the same controllers. You could swap out one of these consoles for the other, and no one would even notice.

And then you play a game in 4K and HDR. And everything changes.

Assassin’s Creed Origins

Describing this difference is … difficult. Writing that “you’ll just have to take my word on this one” is a bit of a stretch, I know. But showing off the differences visually is likewise difficult. I only have 1080p capture capabilities here at stately Thurrott manor at the moment. The in-game capture capabilities do provide 4K for screenshots, but looking at them, I don’t see the same quality that I see on-screen with my HDR-capable Samsung 4K/UHD smart TV. And the in-game video capture, likewise, is just 1080p as well.

Destiny 2

But I see what I see. And what I see is a stunning level of quality that never ceases to amaze. This is especially true of the titles that have been enhanced for Xbox One X, of course. But it’s noticeable across the board. Every single game I’ve played on this console has been … better. Better visually. Better from a performance standpoint.

And I’ve tried a ton of games. Gears of War 4, Killer Instinct, Super Lucky’s Tale, Forza Motorsport 7, and several others. I’ve also got some pre-orders waiting in the wings, like Call of Duty: WW11 and Star Wars Battlefront II. Both are sitting in my Games list, but neither will launch until their respective launch days. So they taunt me. Oh, do they taunt me.

But here’s a tip: If you select a game in that Games list, you can find out for yourself whether it has 4K/UHD assets available: Just press LB + RB + Menu + Select simultaneously on the controller. If you see “Assets Installed: Xbox-Scorpio,” you’re good to go.

In any event, I expect more movement on the games front in the days ahead, and I’ll keep checking in on my favorite titles to see how things have changed. But a few notes about the games I do have in 4K/UHD today are in order.

Let’s start with Gears of War 4. Along with Forza 7, this is arguably the poster child for visual quality on the Xbox One X here on launch day. And no matter what I think of the game—it’s a bit too derivative of its predecessors, in my opinion—one thing that no one can quibble with is the presentation. This is a gorgeous game on any Xbox One. But on the Xbox One X, it soars.

And you can see it from the moment you launch the game: The characters depicted in each of the opening menus are richly detailed and life-like, and akin to what you’d see on a 4K-capable gaming PC. Here, you can see a comparison of the Gears 4 opening screen on the Xbox One S (on the left) and on the Xbox One X, in 4K (on the right). It looks great on the Xbox One S. But it looks even more amazing on the X.

But those are basically still images. Dive into the campaign and you’ll find that the image quality of game play is striking, and details you’ve never noticed before are suddenly quite obvious. The game benefits from an HDR treatment as well, with rich, lush colors and deep contrasts. It’s gorgeous.

And here, you don’t actually have to take my word for it. Because Gears 4 provides a split-screen display where you can see HDR on the left and no HDR on the right. Nice.

HDR vs. non-HDR

Killer Instinct is another visual showcase. I’m not a huge fan of fighting games, but this one is reminiscent of the button mashers from the 1990s if that’s your kind of thing. The action is fast and furious and the presentation is bright, colorful, and explosive.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Super Lucky Tales is a delight. It’s a gorgeous 3D platformer that will appeal to all ages, I bet. I’ve spent a surprising amount of time with this game, and it just keeps pulling me back in. Unlike the overrated Cuphead, it’s got great replay value, and players of all skill levels.

And then there’s Forza. Do I even need to mention why Forza 7 Motorsport is special? My wife actually walked in on me this evening and asked why she was watching the world’s longest car chase. I couldn’t put it down.

And I just need to throw this out: I restarted the Halo 3 campaign on this console this week, and I could almost cry from the combination of nostalgia—a fine reminder of why the first three games in this series were so special and so deserving of praise—and my amazement at its clean and colorful graphical upgrade. Folks, Halo 3 is new again. It makes Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remasteredlook muddy and old-fashioned by comparison.

From an ambient noise perspective, Xbox One X is quiet. Like silly, stupid quiet. Like there must be something wrong with this thing quiet. After hours of 4K/HDR gameplay on multiple occasions, I’ve lept off the couch and put my ear next to the console, expecting to hear the tell-tale hiss of a cooling system doing everything it can to ward off a complete meltdown. What I hear is a quiet, restrained hum. My TiVo makes more noise just sitting there not being used. I mean, seriously. Is Microsoft using alien technology in this thing?

Are there are any disappointments?

No, nothing major. I understand why Microsoft bundles a standard Xbox Wireless Controller with the Xbox One X; it’s trying to clearly communicate that the Xbox One X is an Xbox One. I get that. But that controller is cheap-feeling and it somewhat undercuts the otherwise premium nature of its $500 console. It’s like getting a Ferrari with a Toyota Corolla steering wheel.

I’m not suggesting that Microsoft should have bundled an Xbox One Elite Controller with the console—that peripheral is $150 on its own, for starters, plus it’s based on the previous generation controller design—but surely there is a middle-ground to be had. A controller that is more premium than the cheap, plasticky stock controller. Surely.

That controller also isn’t a great way to enjoy media content through apps like Netflix, Hulu, and the like. Microsoft still sells a media remote for the Xbox One, but it’s a few years old and should be replaced. Frankly, you’d be better off with a universal remote like a Logitech Harmony, but this is something Microsoft should address as well.

But that’s about it. From there, it’s all good news. Great news.

If you’ve been using some Xbox One version all along, the Xbox One X is familiar. But it’s easy to set up and use even if you haven’t, and the software interface is identical to that of other Xbox One consoles, with the same excellent and fast Dashboard. And you’ll have a great experience no matter your display. I’ve split my time this past week using it on a 1080p set and a 4K/UHD set that supports HDR, and while the latter is obviously the superior experience, it ran great on both.

The Xbox One X is an Xbox One that makes all of your Xbox One games better. And many of your Xbox 360 games too. Are you kidding me? Are you freaking kidding me?

Looking forward, I will be posting several more articles about the Xbox One X today and over the weekend, along with some short videos I’ve recorded. And I’ll be examining key new Xbox One X features and functionality as move forward.

For now, know this. The Xbox One X is the real thing. It’s not hype, it’s not trickery, and it’s not a baby-step forward. Sony may have rushed out a sort-of 4K console last year, but one could very easily make the case that the Xbox One X is first true 4K console. The first 4K console that matters. And I couldn’t be more excited about the future of this platform.


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Comments (50)

50 responses to “Xbox One X First Impressions: The 4K Era Arrives”

  1. daveevad

    Thanks for the great write up. I'm glad you were able to give the X1X your stamp of approval. I'm so very excited for Tuesday and my Project Scorpio pre-order. I'm also really happy to hear that the ambient fan noise isn't obnoxious! I knew this would be a visual gaming beast but if it sounded like a leaf blower, it would ruin its usability for media consumption. Awesome!

  2. Steve Townend

    Hi Paul, thanks for the review so far. Looking forward to more. Do you know if the Xbox One X supports 4k passthru? I have a SkyQ set top box that outputs 4k to my LG OLED TV. Unfortunately the Xbox One S does not support 4k passthru so have had to connect SkyQ directly to TV when I would rather go through the Xbox.

  3. Bibbit

    We sometimes play Xbox One games on the PC if the TV is in use. How does this work with the new Xbox One X? Does it output in a higher res to the PC?

  4. Cactushead

    Looks like the Xbox One X Enhanced update for Rise of the Tomb Raider is currently downloading, it is 31.44Gb in size - just in time for Tuesday.

    UPDATE: It says Assets installed for Xbox-Scorpio :D

  5. Jules Wombat

    I will come back when Microsoft have integrated Cortana Voice and tethered Hololens. Until then this is minor needle movement stuff. A big missed opportunity.

  6. jwpear

    Which 4K HDR TV's are decent for Xbox One X games and media apps? I've been looking at the 4K HDR upgrade in our gaming/movie room, but as I'm researching them, I'm finding that many reviews of the HDR feature are somewhat poor because the display isn't bright enough.

    Any recommendation? Any sites that are decent for honest TV reviews? I've read the Consumer Reports reviews and a few others on the web. I've also gone into my local Best Buy and just looked at them. I think that's one of the worst ways to evaluate them. They're tweaked to look super bright and the ambient lighting is nothing like you'd have at home.

    Part of my problem is that I'm not willing to spend $2000+ on a TV. I'd really prefer $1000 and under. I don't watch TV or play games enough to warrant that kind of money. I have kids to put through college and retirement to save for.

    My thought was, get the 4K HDR TV this Christmas season and enjoy 4K movies with the Xbox One S. Then maybe next fall, we'll spring for the Xbox One X. Appreciate any thoughts.

  7. Skolvikings

    Best two games I've played this year are Horizon Zero Dawn and Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Neither game was 4K and while I'm sure they would have been incredibly stunning in 4K, it didn't matter. That I played HZD on my original PS4 on my Vizio 4K television was just fine. The game was fantastic.

    My point is that 4K is awesome and I applaud Microsoft for making the first truly 4K console. But graphics are rarely game changers. Games are the game changers. Awesome, fun to play games, even if they're on the "lowly" Nintendo Switch or the original PS4.

    • Stooks

      In reply to Skolvikings:

      I play BF1 on the PS4. It is a fantastic game.

      A friend of mine that I play with upgraded from the PS4 to a PS4 Pro and from a 24inch 1080p gaming monitor to a 28inch 4K gaming monitor. The game look and plays night and day better over the base PS4 base model. It feels like a new game. I have played in on a high end PC as well and graphically there is not much difference from the PS4 Pro version and the PC version.

      I imagine is will be fantastic on the Xbox One X when it is patched and I have no doubt that under the Digital Foundry microscope/review it will look as good or better than the PS4 Pro and run at higher/smoother FPS.

      Graphics don't make a game, but a great game is even greater with better more fluid graphics.

  8. Travis

    Paul I am eagerly awaiting to hear how COD WWII is on the one x.

  9. MutualCore

    The 4K/30fps console due to gimped CPU, sad!

  10. connor5

    The Xbox One X is an Xbox One that makes all of your Xbox One games better.


  11. ChuckOp

    "stately Thurrott manor"

    Nice shoutout.

  12. Mike Brady

    Wow! If Paul says this thing is quiet, then it must be silent for us normals. Paul's the guy who thinks that micro sd cards are too loud.

  13. Jason Honingford

    So it's pre-4K at 30FPS for gaming. Can it play video at 4K/60Hz? h.265 files? What's the max you get when you try to watch YouTube? Are any blurays doing 60FPS?

  14. truerock

    Well, Paul is not explaining what he is seeing correctly.

    This is difficult to explain - but I'll give a synopsis of the issue just so individuals can research this if they really want to understand it.

    When 4k televisions first came out, no one would buy them because they couldn't see any difference between 4k and 1080p.

    When HDR was added to the new 4k televisions, individuals started to feel like they could tell a difference. This helped the sale of 4k televisions.

    Then Samsung and others added a feature Samsung calls MR240. This provides a pseudo-refresh-rate of 240 fps. A lot of people hate it because it makes video seem "too real". I've watched some old black-and-white "Andy of Mayberry" (aka The Andy Griffith Show) episodes from the 1960s on a Samsung KS8000 and it was a bizarre experience of watching 50 year old TV shows that appeared hyper-realistic. MR240 does not always have that effect - I do not know why.

    I'm positive that what Paul is experiencing is not 4k - but a combination of HDR and MR240.


    As I was writing the above comments - I froze and realized I had a Samsung KS8000 sitting next to me on the floor - because my wife was remodeling the family room. So, I hooked the Samsung KS8000 to my PC which I had built in 2012:

    Windows 10 Pro 64-bit

    System Board: Intel Extreme DZ77GA-70K Panther Point

    CPU:     Intel     Core i7-3770K Ivy Bridge (4 cores, 3.5Ghz)

    Memory:     Corsair     Dominator GT 16GB (4GB X 4)

    SSD:     Intel     Cherryville 520 240GB

    HDD:     Western Digital Caviar Black 2TB 7200RPM

    Blu-Ray Drive: Lite-On     12X BD-R

    DVD/CD Drive: Lite-On     24X DVD+R, 3D playback

    Power Supply: Corsair     Professional Series Gold 750W

    Video Display: Samsung 27" LCD Monitor P2770H

    Video Card: EVGA     Geforce GTX 690

    Keyboard:    Microsoft Wired Keyboard 600

    Mouse:     Microsoft Comfort Mouse 4500

    Case:      Corsair Carbide 300R

    I started running various software in 4K:

    Windows 10

    Microsoft Outlook

    Microsoft Office


    World of Warcraft

    Fallout 4

    Bioshock 2

    Grand Theft Auto 4

    Half Life 2

    Call of Duty 2


    Also I ran a suite of 4k/60fps videos I keep for testing. Using VLC I could run 4k/60fps videos up to 15Mbps and anything with more bandwidth than that would stall. The limiting factor is HDMI 1.4a which is what my EVGA nVidia Geforce GTX 690 supports.

    None of my tests really impressed me that much. I'm thinking I'm going to stay with my 2012 PC that supports 1080p and ignore 4k for the immediate future.

    And then I remembered the test I had run using 1960s "The Andy Griffith Show" that had blown me away when I first bought the Samsung KS8000. I fired up VLC and ran some old "Andy Griffith Show" videos, and... nothing. Just plain old video quality like you always see. Where was the hyper-realistic effect from Samsung MR240? I looked at the Samsung TV settings and MR240 was grayed out and not selectable. WTF?

    So... I decide to recreate my original test that had blown me away with hyper-realism. I copied an Andy Griffith Show video to a USB drive and stuck the USB drive directly into the Samsung TV. I changed the KS8000's input from PC to USB Flash Drive and was immediately blown away be the hyper-realism of MR240,

    So, botom line:

    4k is no big deal.

    HDR is a small improvement but not anything to make me want to drop a few thousand dollars on a new 4K PC.

    MR240 is mind blowing. If the entertainment world can give me 240fps then I'm ready to drop mega bucks on new entertainment systems. 4k at 240fps will require HDMI 2.1 (or the DisplayPort or USB equivalent).

  15. Craig Luecke

    Super Lucky Tales was that one Oculus Rift game at launch that while gorgeous and fun made me soooooo motion sick. I don't see the need to turn a platformer into a VR game. The cameras and motion make the games uncomfortable. Good to see the port to the console. Great game.

    What Paul stated is what I'm experiencing. XBOX One X is making everything I own ... better.

    I walked into a Best Buy yesterday and there are literally piles and piles of 4K sets. Everywhere. Now mind you many do hot have HDR and that is key.

    Great post.

  16. annashetty

    If Paul says this thing is quiet, then it must be silent for us normals. Paul's the guy who thinks that micro sd cards are too loud. I was very impressed by this post, this site has always been pleasant news. cool math games 

  17. rextillerson

    The Xbox One X is an Xbox One that makes all of your Xbox One games better.

    hp driver

  18. Martin Pelletier

    Hello Paul,

    How about the fan noise, is it worse than the xBox One S?

    • Michael Rivers

      In reply to MartinusV2:

      It's right in the article. Paul's unit is very quiet. Eurogamer describes their unit as "eerily quiet." However, I read another review that said that their unit was pretty loud, louder than an Xbox One S. Eurogamer says that each individual motherboard is matched to each processor, so maybe it's down to luck. I've read that PS4 Pros are like that; some are loud, some are very quiet.

      • TheJoeFin

        In reply to Michael Rivers:

        I recall seeing that Tom Warren said that if you keep it in a tight space like a stereo cabinet and the air can't circulate well then it can get loud. But that is just how most consoles would work too I'd guess.

  19. JudaZuk

    Really nice review.. and please don't take this the wrong way Paul ... the fact that you, who often bash Microsoft on a regular basis (many times the deserve it , some times i feel they don't) are positive to this console ..that say a lot of how amazing this console seems to be.

    It is not a fanboy review, it is an honest review, since I know who made it , and that is a good thing :)

  20. mmcpher

    Santa is already bringing the Xbox One X; now he's going to have to find room in his bag for a 4k HDR TV.

  21. Salvador Jesús Romero Castellano

    Does the controller support Bluetooth for PC connection, like the X-Box One S one?

  22. Tony Barrett

    I still think MS are doing this to get one over on Sony, but whatever. It's an expensive console that's going to have pretty limited appeal due to cost. It only makes sense *if* you're a hardened gamer who already has an investment in Xbox, *if* you already have a 4k TV that's large enough to see 4k detail on (otherwise 1080P is where it's at for the other 90%). The jury is out as to whether it can do 4k natively on many games - it likely still won't have the power. Yes, on paper it's more powerful than the PS4 Pro, but it depends how developers use that power. There are still almost no AAA exclusives, with MS falling back to the usual Forza/Halo annual updates.

    Let's wait and see what happens. Sony will be watching closely, and I'm pretty sure they won't sit back and do nothing.

  23. irfaanwahid

    After a long time I've seen Paul getting so excited about a device, are you freaking kidding me?!

    Good article Paul, would love to see more on Xbox One X from you. Is Destiny 2 enhanced for 4K?

    • chaad_losan

      In reply to irfaanwahid:

      Destiny 2 is Enhanced for 4k. But they are purposely limiting the FPS to 30. Because Sony told activision too. Since Sony has the "we have exclusive crap with destiny 2 that you don't have on the XBOX ONE X or PC. Because we (Sony) paid Activision an obscene amount of money which they gladly took. Sorry But the XBOX One X CANNOT perform better than our half baked PS 4 PRO. So you'll just have to live with 30 FPS. Unless you get it on the PC then you can play at any FPS as long as you have the money to pony up for the high end graphics cards to play D2 at 4k/60 FPS." So Thank you Sony/Activision for purposely gimping the XBOX ONE X just to try to hide the fact that the PS 4 PRO is such a half baked disaster. Two Thumbs up!

  24. chasbo

    Hopefully at some point you can write about the media capabilities of this thing. I would love to replace various media devices (4K blu-Ray player, etc.) down to one of these if possible (and play some beautiful games!).

  25. dontbe evil

    now I can complete my 4k/dolby atmos home theatre setup

  26. pecosbob04

    Anyone besides me think the guy in the GOW 4 picture looks like SJ?

  27. Bats

    Uh oh. Paul Thurrott is declaring another Game Changer! We'll see if this new Game Changer moves the needle for Microsoft.

    Lol... Paul is so funny. It kinda reminds me of those TV and movie characters where they suffer from some form of short term amnesia.

    • feedtheshark

      In reply to Bats:

      To be one of the few that agree with you, but I think people over-estimate the number of people who care about 4k gaming. Casual gamers are happy with phone games, hipsters like retro-games with retro-graphics, 4k might look nicer if you know what you're looking for, but after 5 minutes of gaming I doubt most people notice or care. MS need more exclusives to move the needle.

      • MutualCore

        In reply to feedtheshark:

        I can't imagine the sheer delusion it takes to prefer phone games over real games on PC/Console.

        • SvenJ

          In reply to MutualCore: Really? Not needing or wanting, or having the time to invest in 'hard-core' gaming makes you delusional? I think it just makes you mainstream. 'Gamers' are a distinct class of folks. Certainly they would never prefer a phone game, but then you could declare they weren't actually 'gamers'.

          • MutualCore

            In reply to SvenJ:

            Because real gamers invest in higher end equipment like 5.1 audio systems, elite controllers, Turtle Beach headsets, etc... Spending $2.99 on a phone game does not qualify.

  28. Nadawan

    Oh Santa, I've been good and I want this naughty console with a matching 4K HDR display.

    • monkeyboy

      In reply to Nadawan:

      Why? There is no reason to buy another HD display. 1080p is just fine for 99% of content watchers out there. Heck, I still watch old DVDs and even VHS tapes because pixel-perfect accuracy doesn't make something automatically better. No matter how many pixels they show you of The Force Awakens, it's going to be an underwhelming and cookie-cutter ripoff of Star Wars on VHS. Not only that, but what good does 4K do if games aren't at 60fps with heavy shadows, lighting, and particle effects? You can upsample anything to 4K easily enough, but there's no way the XBox One X can chug out 60fps 4K visuals on even a decade old game like Crysis on Ultra even if it wanted to.

  29. MoopMeep

    i wonder how sony will respond. I’d personally be interested in a ps4 pro if a price drop occurs. Maybe same price but larger dsk options?

    • PeteB

      In reply to MoopMeep:

      Respond to what? X is DOA without firstparty exclusives. Sony keeps selling 3 1/2 PS4s for every Xbone per usual.

      They'll probably discount the Pro on BF though. I'm waiting for that

  30. agariogames

    Your idea is very good. It coincides with my point of view. Looking forward to reading more of your posts