Smaller, sleeker and more compact than the original, Microsoft’s latest Xbox One X is the most powerful gaming console you can get your hands on right now. Actually, calling it a gaming console is doing the device a grave injustice, as it is the only console capable of native 4K resolution gaming and content playback, beating out the competition, as well as the performance of some gaming rigs, but at a fraction of the price.
So what’s with all the fuss with an incremental upgrade of a game console? Unlike phones that sees brands such as Apple and Samsung come up with new models each year, but packed with small upgrades in terms of hardware and features, game consoles have never been launched this way.
Aside from making the consoles smaller along the way, the likes of Sony’s PlayStation, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, and Microsoft’s Xbox and Xbox 360 used the same reference hardware from day one. Consoles have never changed between generations, simply because game developers had to have a way to make new games for the same unchanging console, or miss out on a group of players who never bought a new console. The only time a console changed was if the development of games got too advanced, and the hardware needed a massive upgrade.
The catch? Games meant for one generation of consoles were rarely compatible with the next generation of more advanced consoles. In other words, buy a new console and kiss your old games goodbye,
Aside from more advanced games, another problem faced by console makers was when technology outpaced the capabilities of a standard console. For one thing, gamers aren’t used to using outdated technology. The Xbox 360 only had a DVD drive even though Blu-ray content was all the rage. It’s the same case with the latest ultra high definition 4K content that the original Xbox One and PlayStation 4 were not equipped to handle.
In comes the incremental upgrade, and then some.
The good news is that while the hardware has changed with the new Xbox One X, the software, or games, still plays the same way, much like how you can upgrade to a newer more powerful Android phone or iPhone, but still make use of the same apps from the store.
Microsoft has gone on record to say that all games for the Xbox One will work on any Xbox One console, be it the original, the S or the X, except that some games will look way better. For 4K games, owners will be made to download the 4K content pack. For example, Microsoft’s very own Forza series has its own content pack for the racing series. With the latest Forza Motorsport 7, the game clocks in at roughly 100GB for the 4K version, which is massive.
But considering that the 4K PC version is around 95GB, that’s the price of ultra-high definition. The end results are better graphics, from the tiniest of details, such as better lighting, sharper textures, and even heat shimmer for when your race car is on the asphalt under the hot sun.
Under Games and Apps, there’s a new option to select Xbox One X Enhanced Games. This is when the games you have have been upgraded to perform better under the new console. One would naturally assume that for a new console, the list of enhanced games would be rather short, but there are currently over 50 games that perform better on the Xbox One X, with another 50 in development. And the list can be found here.
So how does Microsoft do it? The company has made a rather unprecedented move of making games from its previous console, the Xbox 360, compatible with the Xbox One and now, improved for the Xbox One X. Classics such as Halo 3, Assassin’s Creed, Fallout 3, and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion contain improvements that drive up on-screen pixels by up to nine times more. Some games even have 10-bit colour depth, and new HDR (High Dynamic Range) support.
And all of these look amazing on the new 2017 Samsung 4K TV I tested the console on. Frame rates have improved, while improved textures deliver a sharper in-game experience. So we know that original Xbox 360 games look better, but do they perform better? Games, like the console, definitely do boot up faster here, though the difference in times in counted by the single digit seconds, and don’t really amount to anything substantial. The load times it takes to start a game still takes a few seconds, and any performance enhancement won’t make up for the fact that it was designed for a console from the previous decade.
Does that matter to gamers? To be honest, Microsoft stopped targeting just gamers a long time ago, and while some might point to the change in the company’s reach, in trying to woo more than just gamers as the reason why it lost to Sony, there is no denying that the Xbox One X is an attractive device.
While the PS4 Pro does have some native 4K games, most of their 4K games are done through checkerboarding, of upscaling content to 4K render high resolution images. Meanwhile, the One X has a native 4K Blu-ray drive, that handles games and content, to match the performance of your 4K TV.
Assassin’s Creed Origins looks truly incredible on a 4K screen, with the different locations showcased bursting in colour, detail and majesty. The use of viewpoints might have been altered in the latest iteration of the game, but just walking up and seeing a new, unshrouded location in all its grandeur – that’s what gamers can expect in 4K glory.
At S$699, it is pricey compared to the original four-year old Xbox One and Sony PlayStation 4. Sony launched the PlayStation 4 Pro last year, an advanced game console that outperforms the original, but Sony’s latest fails to match the prowess of the Xbox One X.
Because it is also a home entertainment device, the One X comes with Dolby Atmos audio built in, capable of replacing your standalone, one-trick 4K Blu-ray player. Design wise, it takes up less space compared to the original Xbox One. It also does away with a connector for the Kinect motion controller, once considered to be the console’s secret weapon. The machine is also very silent, much more so than the original. Connector wise, everything is at the rear, so from left to right, there’s the power connector, HDMI out, HDMI in, two USB ports, an IR out, an Optical Audio port and an Ethernet port. Beat that Sony.
There’s a new interface for the Xbox One X, but this software update has also been adopted for existing Xbox One consoles we well.
The one thing the Xbox One X lacks though, is an exclusive, killer game that makes the console a must-buy. To be fair, most consoles don’t really have them during launch either. Classics such as Uncharted and Halo took some time before launching on their consoles of choice, but they have grown to be staples for gamers. What the Xbox One X needs is something akin to Quantum Break or Gears of War, that performs so well on it, that gamers have no choice but to get the One X. And no, the upcoming Sea Of Thieves doesn’t look to be it.