When Microsoft finally unveiled the Xbox One X at E3 earlier this year, I was fairly critical of it. I just couldn’t see where the company expected to find a market for the 4K console, especially when taking into consideration the fact that every Xbox One exclusive title is also available on PC as part of the Xbox Play Anywhere initiative. So no matter how incredible games would look on the Xbox One X, they still wouldn’t hold a candle to max settings on a high-end gaming rig. With all of this in mind, who exactly was going to shell out $500 for an Xbox One X?
But given the opportunity, I had to see for myself whether or not the Xbox One X was everything Microsoft claimed it would be. I needed to know if, forgetting any questions I might have about its viability, the Xbox One X really was “the world’s most powerful console.” The results of my time with the console were somewhat unexpected.
Lifting the console from its box, I was immediately struck by how familiar it looked. Despite its internal upgrades, the console itself looks nearly identical to the Xbox One S, which launched last fall. Other than the One X being slightly thinner than the One S, the two consoles are basically indistinguishable from one another. As I said in my review of the Xbox One S, the new design is appreciably better than that of the original Xbox One, but I guess I expected a premium console to distinguish itself a bit more. That’s not to say it’s a carbon copy, but it doesn’t stand out. It’s also worth noting that the Xbox One X is noticeably heavier than the One S. This won’t matter once it’s sitting beneath your television, but if you’re upgrading from a One S, you’ll feel the difference as you switch them out.
My first adventure with the Xbox One X involved copying all of my games and apps from my Xbox One S over to the new, 4K-enabled console. Thankfully, Microsoft sent me a 2TB external hard drive in order to expedite this process, and I can say without hesitation that this is the way to go if it’s an option for you. In order to transfer my 700GB of games and apps over to my Xbox One X, all I had to do was plug in the external HDD, format it for games and move all my data over from the Storage section of the Settings menu. It took me just under 2 hours to transfer 700GB of games and apps to my external hard drive, which is relatively quick, all things considered.
Once I had copied all the data over to the hard drive, I plugged it into the Xbox One X before I began the setup process. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the front USB port didn’t read the hard drive, so I had to go through the whole process as if I was starting over fresh. The Xbox One X did eventually recognize the hard drive when I plugged it into one of the two USB ports on the back. My other option was to set up both consoles at the same time and use the network transfer setting to transfer my data over my home network. While I assume this procedure is equally effective, I have a feeling that it requires far more effort and is more time consuming as well.
But I know that subtle hardware design modifications and the degree of difficult when it comes to setting up the console aren’t the reasons anyone is considering upgrading to an Xbox One X. Consumers want to know whether or not the games look good enough in 4K to warrant spending $500 on a new console.
The reason the games look as good as they do is because of the hardware powering the Xbox One X. The upgraded console features an 8-core custom AMD CPU clocked at 2.3GHz, a 6 teraflop GPU and 12GB of GDDR5 RAM with a memory bandwidth of 326GB/s. Additionally, the Xbox One X has 1TB of internal storage, 2 HDMI ports (1 in, 1 out), 3 USB 3.0 ports, IR out, S/PDIF and an ethernet port. It also supports Dolby Atmos, HDR10 and 4K Blu-rays.
Microsoft has announced that 70 Xbox One games will be enhanced for the Xbox One X within the first week of launch. Unfortunately, only a small selection of those were available for us to play during the review period, but as a skeptic going in, I can say that playing games in true 4K is night and day compared to 1080p. I tested a wide variety of games, and until you see the difference between an Ultra HD game and the games you’ve been playing on your Xbox One or Xbox One S, you won’t know what you’re missing.
In order to get a basic feel for how the image quality of the Xbox One X compared with previous consoles (before delving into video recording and screenshots), I connected both the Xbox One X and Xbox One S to my Sony X800D 4K LED TV and swapped between inputs as I played through the campaign of Gears of War 4, which is one of the first enhanced games. Within the first seconds of the cutscene that began playing during one of the game’s later chapters, the contrast between the two versions was obvious — even more obvious than I expected it to be.
The character models on the Xbox One S looked relatively blocky and blurry, while on the Xbox One X, they were clear and the outlines of their uniforms and weapons were well-defined. I played through the same series of battles, first on the Xbox One X and then on the One S, and although both consoles perform admirably when it comes to keeping up with the action, it was clear to me that the frame rate was smoother and more consistent on the One X, even though subtleties like that occasionally elude me when I’m absorbed in a game. There’s even an optional Performance Mode in the enhanced version to bump the frame rate up to 60 FPS.
When I played through Gears of War 4 last year, I thought it was a great looking game. It was a great looking game, about as good as anything I’d seen on the Xbox One at the time. But the Xbox One X version of the game feels like the “real” version. For me, the most impressive upgrade is the increased draw distance — buildings and characters 100 feet away are still crystal clear on the Xbox One X. On the Xbox One S, the definition of far away objects begins to fade and blur. You can get a glimpse of this in the screenshots I took below:
Super Lucky’s Tale, a game which will launch on the same day as the Xbox One X, also received the enhanced treatment. While the nuances of a 4K cartoon are slightly harder to pick up on than those of a hyper-realistic shooter (graphically, that is) like Gears of War 4, the 4K visuals are immediately noticeable when you see the two versions side by side. And for a platforming game, 60 FPS is a game changer, especially when attempting a difficult jump.
Finally, I played a few matches of Killer Instinct on both consoles. Once again, the updated character models were sharper and the stages were more vibrant on the Xbox One X. As a launch game, Killer Instinct isn’t the most visually impressive game on the Xbox One, but the One X brings it far closer to what we expect from games in 2017. I’m well aware that this isn’t the best comparison shot, but the characters models are clearly improved:
The question that you might be asking after reading everything I’ve written, looking at the screenshots and watching the comparison video is: Do I need an Xbox One X? Unfortunately, it’s not a black-and-white decision. If you’re still working with an original Xbox One, you have a 4K TV and you’re thinking about upgrading, the Xbox One X won’t disappoint you. It’s fast, games look better on it than any other home console in existence and it retains the same sleek design of the Xbox One S with a few minor, but welcome, improvements.
On the other hand, if you’re already reaping the benefits of the Xbox One S and aren’t sure if you want to spend another $500 so soon, it comes down to whether or not the rather significant visual and performance improvements are worth the money to you. All I can tell you is that if you do decide to upgrade to the Xbox One X, no matter which Xbox One you’re using currently, you will notice the differences between the old models and the Xbox One X.
Finally, if you don’t own an Xbox One at all, but are finally ready to make the leap, it’s hard not to recommend jumping right in with the One X. If you own a solid 4K TV with real HDR, you owe it to yourself to squeeze as much out of it as possible. The Xbox One X will help you do that, with gaming and 4K Blu-ray support.
My expectations for the Xbox One X were virtually non-existent. As much as I appreciated the PS4 Pro, and as much as I’m still enjoying the (all too infrequent) benefits of owning one, it has become an afterthought in the months since my review. But when Microsoft stood on that stage and announced to the crowd that it was preparing to launch “the world’s most powerful console,” it wasn’t bluffing. Although the recent software update has certainly had an impact, the Xbox One X is lightning fast, both in-game and out. From cycling through menus, changing settings, powering the console on and off — other than a few hiccups on day one, this has been the smoothest experience I’ve had with an Xbox One since it launched in 2013. Combine all that with the fact that games look absolutely stunning on the new console, and I finally have a compelling reason to start turning my Xbox One on again.