Xbox One X Review: Game Changer

Posted on November 21, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Xbox One with 39 Comments

Xbox One X Review: Game Changer

With the Xbox One X, Microsoft has seized the leadership position in video game consoles and embarrassed Sony’s half-hearted efforts. The Xbox One X is the real deal, a true 4K console that makes all of your games look and play better, no matter which type of display you use.

The Xbox One X is also the latest and best proof-point for Microsoft’s broader gaming strategy. With this device, the software giant now provides a scalable family of video game solutions that meet every need and price point. And its hardware coexists with an incredible array of services—like Xbox Live Gold, Xbox Game Pass, Xbox Play Anywhere, and Mixer—which together put this ecosystem over the top.

From a positioning standpoint, Xbox One X sits at the apex of Microsoft’s gaming hardware. To say that it is “just” an Xbox One diminishes the central value of the console, which is that it is 100 percent compatible with all Xbox One (and Backward Compatible Xbox 360 and original Xbox) games and with all Xbox One hardware peripherals. But it isn’t just an Xbox One. It’s the most powerful video game console that this world has ever seen.

What that means is that Xbox One X offers enough horsepower to offer a range of 4K gaming capabilities, up to and including true 4K resolution (3,840 x 2,160 pixels) with HDR (high dynamic range), running at a full 60 fps. Depending on the complexity of the game, you may see lower resolutions (1080p) combined with fast frame rates (60 fps) or higher resolutions (4K and, soon, 1440p) combined with more traditional console frame rates (30 fps).

But no matter: What you see is going to look awesome. And that’s true up and down the quality stack, which can include Xbox One games that have been specifically enhanced for Xbox One X, or Xbox One, Xbox 360, or original Xbox games that have not: Every game you play on the Xbox One X will offer a superior experience of some kind, when compared to playing that same game on an Xbox One S or original Xbox One.

Microsoft can explain why the Xbox One X is “40 percent more powerful than any other console”—read: PlayStation 4 Pro—and that explanation involves such specs as a GPU that delivers 6 Teraflops of power with 326 GBps of memory bandwidth and a custom 8-core CPU clocked at 2.3 GHz. Like many of you,I bet, I only barely understand all that, so no worries. What you really need to know is that the Xbox One X is a monster. And that Microsoft’s performance claims aren’t just accurate, they’re possibly understated.

What I mean by this is that Sony delivered it’s own 4K console, the PS4 Pro, a year ago, but that product only provided a half-step to the 4K future. And it was widely panned for not being a big enough leap over the normal PS4, or over the Xbox One S, which also offers 4K and HDR entertainment experiences, plus full support for 4K/UHD/HDR Blu-ray movies, functionality that is missing from the PlayStation world. For some reason.

The Xbox One X, meanwhile, has been met by a collective cheer from a video game industry that has become so jaded by hyperbole that they almost forgot how to react when Microsoft actually delivered on its promises. Even Digital Foundry, which was granted early access to the Xbox One X in part because of their Sony leanings, has given the new console its blessing.

For my purposes, testing the Xbox One X side-by-side with an Xbox One S is easy—and fun—enough, though Microsoft makes it a little tedious with the duplicate sign-ins. And I’ve tested a wide range of games, though I admit to focusing largely on those that have been specifically enhanced for Xbox One X. Especially Call of Duty: WWII. Which is incredible.

Graphically, there is no comparison, though you will realize the most obvious benefits by investing in a TV that provides both 4K and HDR capabilities. I have such a set, a 55-inch Samsung SUHD, though I also tested the Xbox One X for about a week on my normal gaming display, a 27-inch Samsung 1080p TV.

Playing Call of Duty: WWII on the 4K set, the Xbox One X delivers an immersive and graphically rich experience. But after finishing the campaign, I have focused on multiplayer, usually the Hardcore Team Deathmatch mode that I prefer. And it occurred to me that this game must run its multiplayer modes at lower resolutions and quality levels to accommodate all of the spontaneous, live action. Perhaps the game looks similar, graphically, on the Xbox One S.

Nope. Had I never experienced Call of Duty: WWII on the Xbox One X, it’s likely that I would have no issues at all with this game on a lesser Xbox One console. But the differences are astonishing, and easily seen. Colors are muted. The resolution is lower. The performance gets jittery.

I spent far too much time taking in-game screenshots on Xbox One S and then trying to duplicate them as closely as possible on Xbox One X. But the work paid off, I think, and a few examples will help drive home the point.

Here’s the opening scene to the Aachen multiplayer map. As you can see, the Xbox One S display, on the left, is more muted and far less detailed than that of the Xbox One X, on the right. Look at the sleeve detail, the gun, or the car for obvious differences.

Same thing with Carentan: The waving grass is more well-defined and detailed on Xbox One X, on the right.

The differences are as pronounced in the single player campaign, too, of course. Here, I only took a few shots, but only a few were needed. The difference, again, was obvious. And this shot from the Battle of the Bulge level is nicely representative.

It’s not just the one game, of course: I’m just using Call of Duty: WWII as an obvious example. But as I noted previously, every game you play on Xbox One X will be better in some way, and often dramatically. Assassins Creed Origins is a revelation on Xbox One X, with bright, punchy colors and a stirring presentation. That’s a new game. But even the decade-old Halo 3 is reborn on Xbox One X, with remastered graphics and sound. It looks like a brand-new game.

As impressive, the Xbox One X is as quiet as a church mouse, and notably quieter than the Xbox One S it replaced in my home. I’ve played 4K games all day many times and it has never interrupted the experience with loud fan noise, a constant problem with every gaming laptop I’ve ever used. My TiVO DVR makes more sound when idle than Xbox One X does at full load. That’s a huge win.

From a design perspective, the Xbox One X is understated and, in a surprise for an Xbox console, small. The matte black device is very reminiscent of the white Xbox One X from a form factor perspective. But it’s even smaller, though not by much, and looks more at home with your other AV equipment.

In a nice touch, you can stand the Xbox One X on its side without needing a stand, as with the Xbox One S. It seems stable enough to me, though you can buy an optional stand if you’re worried about that. (Those who preordered the Project Scorpio edition got a free stand in the box.)

Reliability has been excellent over about a month of usage. Less anecdotally, there are precious few reports of isseus with this console out in the world. But I’ll be keeping my eye on this, of course.

There are a three minor disappointments with the Xbox One X, or perhaps four if you consider the $500 price tag to be onerous. I don’t, in the sense that you get what you pay for. But the premium price of this console plays a role in my three other complaints.

First, the controller is a low-rent, plastic affair. It’s almost an embarrassment compared to Microsoft’s excellent Xbox One Elite Controller, which I normally use. I’m not suggesting that Microsoft should bundle the $150 Elite controller with Xbox One X. But surely there is a quality middle-ground between the controller it does include and that higher-end offering. That middle ground should include a microphone of some kind, given that Microsoft just killed off Kinect.

Second, the load times do not meet Microsoft’s claims, and I’m a bit surprised that the firm doesn’t provide faster storage for Xbox One X.

Consider Forza Motorsport 7, which is as notable for its addictive game play and stellar graphical presentation as it is for its glacially-slow load times. On Xbox One S, it takes Forza 7 almost 50 seconds to boot up to the first interactive screen. Xbox One X? An imperceptibly different 47 seconds. And a sample free play track took an incredible 1:15 to load on Xbox One S. The same track loaded in 1:03 on Xbox One X, again, not much different.

Some games are a bit faster to load on Xbox One X. Gears of War 4 boots to its menu in about 57 second on Xbox One S and in about 50 seconds on Xbox One X, for example. And Cuphead boots to its own menu in about 26 seconds on Xbox One S and about 20 seconds on Xbox One X. Put simply, you’ll reap huge graphical benefits from the Xbox One X, but there’s little real-world difference in disk speed.

Third, the Xbox One X comes with only 1 TB of storage, and it’s not user-replaceable, as was the case with the first two Xbox 360 models. (Xbox One and Xbox One S are similarly handicapped.) So you’re expected to increase the storage with external USB 3-based hard drives instead. This is inelegant, and I wish there was a way to add a drive internally or at least swap out the stock hard drive with a bigger unit. You can store roughly 15 to 18 games in that 1 TB of storage, given the size of 4K assets.

Some may be disappointed that Xbox One X, like Xbox One generally, lacks a virtual reality (VR) solution. I don’t personally see this as an issue, but given the moves that Microsoft has made with Windows Mixed Reality this holiday season, one can logically expect Xbox One to follow suit in a year. It’s fair to point out that Sony brought VR to PlayStation 4 last year, and that the firm has already sold over a million units. So there’s one check in the PS4 column, I guess.

So. Should you get an Xbox One X?

It’s not hard to flowchart. If you have a 4K/HDR set and an original Xbox One (or an older Xbox)—and can afford it—you need to get an Xbox One X. This is the final piece of your 4K journey, and it will provide superior 4K gaming and entertainment experiences for years to come. It’s a no-brainer.

If you have a 4K/HDR set and an Xbox One S, things are a bit more complicated. Here, I would recommend waiting until at least late 2018, when the pricing will have come down, perhaps dramatically. Obviously, hard core gamers are free to ignore this advice: You know what you want.

If you have a 1080p or 1440p set, things are likewise nuanced. Those with previous generation Xbox One or Xbox One S consoles should stay put: A 4K/HDR TV would be a much better investment at this point, and if you do have an Xbox One S, you can utilize its excellent 4K/HDR entertainment capabilities and think about the next console in a year or so.

If you don’t have any Xbox One or a 4K/HDR set, get an Xbox One S. This console is a tremendous value at $250, half the price of an Xbox One X, and you’d have a hard time finding one without at least a few free games. And it will be even cheaper over the Black Friday period, so you can save more then, too. The nice thing about Xbox One S is that everything—your games and apps, and your hardware peripherals—will all work whenever you do decide to later upgrade to Xbox One X.

Yes, you should get an Xbox One X. It’s just a matter of timing.

With the Xbox One X, Microsoft has come through on its 4K gaming promises. This console delivers the quality and performance that any gamer would require, and it is backed by a software library that is impressive, varied, and deep. Despite a few minor issues and a high initial price, this console is highly recommended, and without reservation. You know you want it.


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