The Xbox Series X includes a Blu-ray player, enabling the ultimate in video quality at the expense of having to deal with physical discs. Because this feature is not included with the smaller Xbox Series S, that means that the Series X—despite its awkward size—is the better Xbox for those looking for a living room entertainment box that can literally do it all.
So, yeah, I did abandon physical media—for videogames, books, music, and video content—year ago. But there’s no denying that those who want the ultimate level of visual quality will want to stick with 4K/HDR Blu-ray discs for the foreseeable future: In one test, I pitted the Ultra HD version of “Mad Max: Fury Road” against the digital download, and it wasn’t even close. Here, for example, you can clearly see a distracting banding effect in the clear blue of the sky in the streaming version of the movie.
But when you switch to Blu-ray, the skies in this same scene are perfectly gradiated and clean, with no banding, and there’s even a pleasant and more obvious film grain effect to the visuals.
That said, you pay a big price for going the Blu-ray route, and not just for the obvious literal reason: For those accustomed to the immediacy of digital media, the slow loading times, ponderous menus, and copy protection notices of Blu-ray is an unwelcome step back into the past. Like a lot of things these days, the digital option is easier but perhaps less refined, and that’s why most find that the correct compromise. But it’s nice that Blu-ray is at least available as an option for those that want it on Xbox Series X.
Curiously, you’ll need to download Microsoft’s middling Blu-ray Player app before you can play Blu-ray or DVD movies. I seem to recall that this was semi-automated in that you’d be prompted to do so when you inserted a compatible disc, but I didn’t see that and just found in the store manually. (The first time I inserted the disc, however, I apparently did so upside down. It’s unclear why this never generated an error message.)
The Blu-ray player can also be used to install games, but I’ve not purchased a single Xbox title on disc since the Xbox 360 and I don’t intend to. Here, I’ll just say that going with a disc-based game comes with only one real nicety over a digital download: You can install a game from disc more quickly than you can via an online download. That said, any modern title will still require you to download updates, and some of those will be humongous and thus time-consuming anyway.
Finally, I should mention that some Xbox Series X customers have already reported reliability issues with the system’s Blu-ray drive that include loud clicking sounds and other issues. I can’t say that I’ve experienced this per se, but when I started the app again to take some screenshots, I did notice that it makes a continual whirring sound that I find distracting. It’s not very loud, but it’s noticeable, and it didn’t happen the previous times I used the app. I’d keep on eye on this, but I’m probably never going to use the drive again.