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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