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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Comments (39)

39 responses to “Xbox One X Review: Game Changer”

  1. Win74ever

    You need to take better photos.

  2. Waethorn

    I'm surprised nobody is mentioning the growing list of YouTube videos where people are reporting these all over the world where they die within 48 hours of delivery. Not even a RROD to tell you - just no power.

  3. MutualCore

    Funny no one here is willing to talk about power-gate, as in you can't plug an XBox One X into a power strip.

  4. Tony Barrett

    Let's just say, nobody *needs* an Xbox or even PS4. Only gamers will be even remotely interested. I have 4k everything, and certainly don't need one. If I was even remotely interested in gaming, I'd do it on a PC. It used to be, if you wanted to game, you need some sort of console or decent PC - now a smartphone is 'good enough' for 98% of the population.

  5. Daekar

    50 second load times? Good Lord...

  6. Scott Hunter

    Thanks for the review, Paul.

    As an XB1S owner that recently upgraded to XB1X, I was very curious about load times -- especially since I have an external (USB 3.0) SSD drive for additional storage. This YouTube video has exactly what I was looking for!

    (search YouTube for hogarth ssd hdd)

    Long-story short: The internal storage vs external SSD on the XB1X is nearly identical, but ever so slightly in favor of the SSD. The internal drive on the XB1S lags horribly behind an external SSD on the same machine. All of these tests were completed with non-4K assets to keep the comparisons in-line.

    Otherwise, it does sound like the XB1X loads 4K games faster than the XB1S with non-4K assets, so it's a net gain on both accounts. Would we love to see XB1X noticeably faster with higher-rez assets? Of course. But I think the next step is for game designers to modify how games are loaded and cached.

    • MikeCerm

      In reply to ScottMitchell:

      It's pretty clear that loading times are one area where the CPU is the bottleneck. The CPU in the One X is about 10% faster than the One S, and that difference is reflected in the load times. People talk about how the CPU in the Xbox One (and PS4) is not the best, but people don't realize just how bad the situation really is. The Jaguar CPU was a low-end CPU *4 years ago* -- most comparable to the Atom processors of the day in terms of performance. It has twice as many cores as Atom did back then, but each core is very slow, even by 2013 standards. Intel's Apollo Lake CPUs, the slowest Intel chips you can buy, are about 50% faster than the CPU in the One X. Modern ARM processors (A72 or Snapdragon 835) are a good deal faster as well.

      • Waethorn

        In reply to MikeCerm:

        Jaguar is an older architecture, but AMD boosted it and scaled it to 8 cores for consoles. Avoton is still a supported processor configuration for Atom-based servers. It is also 8 cores and based on the older Bay Trail architecture. There hasn't been a Cherry Trail server-grade upgrade from Intel.

    • Jester

      In reply to ScottMitchell:

      A user on Reddit put a SSD inside the XB1X and didn't see a huge difference either.

      • Scott Hunter

        In reply to Jester:

        Interesting, right? Either the included HDD has great caching (maybe a hybrid HDD), or the internal interface is bottlenecked below what the SSD is capable of -- thus putting it in-line with the HDD in terms of actual usable performance.

  7. michaelpatricehuber

    Has anyone tried the Xbox One X with an external SSD drive?

    • SRLRacing

      In reply to michaelpatricehuber:

      I doubt it would be much different from what I have read when hooking up an SSD to a regular Xbox. You can expect about 200MB/s or 2X a typical external drive. That being said if I had an external SSD I would totally test it. Not that I am too fussed about the load times. Once you are in the game it really doesn't matter for performance.

    • jrickel96

      In reply to michaelpatricehuber:

      Yes. Load times improve by 20% on the low end and nearly 80% on the high end. Most of the time it's about a 40% improvement in load times. So something that currently takes a minute will likely take only 30-35 seconds.

    • cawoodstock

      In reply to michaelpatricehuber:

      I echo that I would love to know how much an external ssd would improve load times.

  8. asarathy

    Yeah, I got an S to go with my 4k HDR TV this summer when the price of the X was announced. The price difference is just too hard to justify right now. But I will definitely pick up an X, but either when Microsoft offers a trade in one the One or the price drops. I

  9. Michael Rivers

    Microsoft may have embarrassed Sony with the Xbox One X, but with Nintendo selling 2/3 of all video game hardware last month, they have embarrassed both Sony and Microsoft with a console much less powerful.

    Also, flowchart isn't a verb.

    • Pargon

      In reply to Michael Rivers:

      Chart - VERB

      1. make a map of (an area).

      Could flowchart not be used as a verb? Seems like splitting hairs. Been a while since English class and underlining the nouns, verbs, etc....but could 'flow' not be an adverb to the verb, 'chart'? Maybe just need to be spaced 'flow chart'

    • ndwilder

      In reply to Michael Rivers:

      If you know what someone means when they say something, they accomplished their goal. However, there is at least one spelling mistake you could point out instead: "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."

  10. Noel

    I bought a Scorpio Edition X. Should have been day one but Amazon. I'm using it on a 2 year old LG 1080pTV. Loving the results so far and when I do decide to upgrade my telly I'll be ready to go.

  11. Peter Hultqvist

    You should apply auto leveling to the photos before presenting them. The brightness/contrast difference hides any other differences.

    • MikeCerm

      In reply to Phuor:

      Those aren't photos, they're screenshots captured from the output of the console. Editing out the differences would be counter productive. The brightness/contract is the whole point of HDR -- the bright parts are brighter, dark parts are darker, with more detail in both the highlights and the shadows. The pictures show that. Look at the pictures on the right, and see those dark areas. Those areas that look almost black are just grey and lacking in contrast on the left. You can also see better textures on things if you look, but the increased contrast of HDR seems to be amped up on the X.

      I'm kind of surprised by the results, because I know that the One S can support HDR in some games. Maybe CoD WWII only does HDR on One X.

  12. TOMillr

    Unfortunately, even the third iteration of the Xbox One platform still does not support HDMI-CEC - which even the old PS3 could do back in the day. Lack of such basic functionality means no buy from me :-/

    • TOMillr

      In reply to jwpear:

      The problem in using an old-fashioned IR-blaster method like that is having to manually switch the HDMI inputs as well:

      The Xbox can turn on the TV and AVR by sending out an IR signal.

      But I then have to pick up my TV remote to chance the HDMI input on the TV. I then need to switch over to the AVR's remote to change the HDMI input on the AVR as well.

      By that point, the AVR will sometimes automatically switch back the HDMI channel to the TV input, because it is not detecting any active HDMI input source (i.e. the Xbox One without the proper HDMI-CEC signal) and instead sets the TV as the active sound input. Hence I have to manually switch back the HDMI input of the AVR to my Xbox once again.

      All this, just because the Xbox One platform doesn't adhere to the HDMI-CEC standards like almost every other home video component (Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, Chromecast, Apple TV or even a lowly Rasberry Pie) on the market.

      If it did use CEC, the Xbox would just send out a wake-up command to my TV and AVR, which will turn on and automatically switch both devices to the correct HDMI input. As a bonus, I could use my regular TV remote to control both the AVRs audio and move through the Xbox interface as well.

    • Scott Hunter

      In reply to TOMillr:

      That's unfortunate AND probably should be supported (I'd never heard of it, to be honest), but in this case a deal-breaker for you is likely a complete unknown to the majority of folks buying a consumer-level entertainment console.

      I guess we all have our "must haves" and "would like to haves" when buying certain devices. Personally, (like Paul stated) I would like to see Microsoft improve the quality of the Xbox One controllers. They've gone from amazing and wonderful (X360-era) to creaky and cheap (XB1-era). But it is what it is. They work decently enough.

      • TOMillr

        In reply to ScottMitchell:

        The problem with HDMI-CEC is that, although an official standard and part of the HDMI spec, many tv manufactures call it something else (for example Anynet+, Bravia Sync or Simplink on Samsung, Bravia and LG TVs respectively).

        Still, there are some folks out there who have asked MS to implement this for a while now:

        Xbox Uservoice

        If you have a CEC-capable device like Apple TV or Playstation hooked up to a tv AND an AVR, it can automatically power on all connected devices AND also automatically switch all devices to the right HDMI input.

        As a bonus, you can use you regular TV remote to control those connected device as well using the CEC protocol.

        You can even add CEC functionality to a regular PC with a cheap add-on like the one made by Pulse Eight.

        • Scott Hunter

          In reply to TOMillr:

          Nothing is quite as much fun as a "standard" that gets named differently by every vendor out there. If you're hoping to confuse consumers, though, that's the way to do it! ;)

  13. summersk59

    I'm new to the whole gaming console thing, I'm not really into games but would like to give it a try. I'm also no spring chicken, retired and have enough money to enjoy the finer things in life. I'm a computer geek at heart and enjoy technology, so anything new has a sense of fun and enjoyment. I've started with a couple of games, forza 7, not that great at it We did rent a movie the other day, "Dunkirk", the detail even on a 1080p 3 yr old TV in comparison to the Roku is very noticeable. Especially when my wife can notice the different, that gotta be good!