While the PC Master Race has been enjoying full 4K gaming for some time now, the console space has been lacking a machine that can handle the still relatively new visual technology for gaming. The PS4 Pro offered the best chance to game in 4K, albeit not in full 4K, and the Xbox One S could make games very vibrant looking with its HDR capabilities, but neither had the power to bring a full 4K gaming experience like a capable PC could.
Introducing the Xbox One X
Microsoft hopes to change that fact with the release of its Xbox One X console on November 7th, which features hardware that makes it 40% more powerful than any available gaming console on the market. This hardware is capable of delivering a full 4K gaming experience, but also for providing 4K Blu-ray support, as well as 4K streaming, all with HDR if enabled. Plus, thanks to its ability to support HD audio codecs like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, the Xbox One X should be considered a one-stop-shop type of multimedia device for budding 4K enthusiasts.
We were sent a review kit early to get hands-on time with the Xbox One X and a few of the games being enhanced for it, and I must say that it’s hard not to be impressed with what this device can do. I should note that all of my testing was done with a 4K capable home theater setup that consists of a 4K Samsung display, and a 4K Onkyo receiver. The Xbox One X tested out green in all 4K display checks with my setup, so I experienced the best of what the One X can offer in terms of the technology it contains.
Anyway, one will immediately recognize the increase in visual fidelity upon playing any of the Xbox One X Enhanced games, which at the time of this writing only included a handful of Microsoft Studios titles such as Gears of War 4 and Super Lucky’s Tale (plus a few kid-centric Disney-themed titles). The power and glory of 4K visuals can also be expertly showcased on the One X through its 4K Blu-ray player or 4K enhanced streaming services such as Netflix. This console’s increased power can’t be denied, which you will see showcased in the various embedded gameplay videos in this review, which I might add were all captured directly from the console using its built-in 4K GameDVR, which for someone like me who makes video game videos, is a godsend even if a few hoops have to be jumped through to work with the recorded footage.
The Xbox One X’s hardware is truly impressive, and I think fairly priced at $499 when you consider that a standalone 4K Blu-ray player will still cost upwards of $200 in today’s market, and for the fact that a 4K PC rig will cost upwards of $600 for a basic model. I do think the price is fair and reasonable, and for someone with an existing 4K home theater setup, it’s a no brainer solution for getting the best looking Blu-rays, streaming content, and games into your household.
Although, in terms of games, I do think Microsoft dropped the ball by not having more exclusive 4K games for the Xbox One X’s launch. In fact, outside of Super Lucky’s Tale, none of the Xbox One X Enhanced titles at launch are new, they’re just upgraded versions of existing titles. Now these upgrades are intense, as those who own a game like Gears of War 4 will find out if they play it on the One X, so I’m not discounting the console’s abilities, I’m just highlighting the fact that there are no brand new exclusives to play on it in full 4K visual glory. Of course, all of your existing games will look slightly better and more polished, and they’ll all load faster thanks to the One X’s 50% faster HDD, but if you are looking to play a brand new title that takes advantage of this console’s beefy power, you’re left with only Super Lucky’s Tale at launch.
The Xbox One X — as previously mentioned — is 40% faster than any other console on the market, so it does indeed pack in impressive technology for a gaming console. This little gaming device contains 6 teraflops of graphical processing power, 12GB of GDDR5 memory, and a 2.3GHz 8-core CPU to bring you full 4K gaming, streaming, HDR and wide color gamut technology in the comfort of your living room. What’s best of all is that the unit’s footprint is the smallest Xbox One model to-date, so while it is packed full of graphical shredding technology, it didn’t grow in size to accommodate it.
In terms of its design it really is just a black version of the Xbox One S in terms of available ports, which consist of 3 USB ports (2 in back, 1 in front), HDMI In and Out ports, an IR out port, an Optical Audio port, and of course a port for Ethernet. While it looks like the One S outside of coloring, it also lacks the large and loud fan that is featured in the top of the One S, so this console is very quiet. In fact, this is the most quiet gaming console I’ve ever owned outside of the Nintendo Switch. When you consider the console’s internals, it’s even more impressive to think how quiet this machine is when playing 4K games, or watching 4K Blu-rays. I would compare its sound level to that of a SSD drive idling. There is a slight hum of a fan to be heard, but the only way you would even hear it is if you were no more than a foot away from the console. For someone who appreciates a quiet gaming space to allow for the ambience of the game to take over my senses, I found the whispers of the One X to be a major bonus point for the system.
When it comes to the Xbox One X’s abilities to play 4K games, Blu-rays, and streams, I found it completely up to the task. Games do load a bit faster, and they clearly look better if they’ve been enhanced for use on the system, especially if you have a capable 4K display and receiver. Playing games, even as intense as Gears of War 4 can get with its high-octane action sequences, didn’t cause the One X to stutter in the least. It churned through both the enhanced Visuals and Performance modes of Gears of War 4, which offer either full 4K visuals at 3ofps for campaign and Horde for the former setting, or 1080p 60fps for the latter. Both modes were handled just fine, and even at 1080p Gears 4 looked way more detailed, vibrant, and alive than it did on the Xbox One S with HDR.
I have to say that even a 4K Blu-ray looks better thanks to the One X’s hardware over the One S, because the UHD version of Planet Earth II is legitimately one of the most beautiful bits of 4K content I’ve ever experienced. Microsoft included a copy of that documentary for review purposes, and I’m glad it was in the kit, because while I’ve watched and own plenty of UHD Blu-rays, none of them were really shot in 4K with HDR — they were just remastered — so seeing content shot with the technology and then displayed using the One X’s hardware truly blew me away for the first time in my two year long affair with 4K content. Watching Planet Earth II on the Xbox One X with my 4K setup was the first time I felt like switching to a 4K home theater paid off. That’s how amazing it looks running on the One X, which is another notch in its belt for being a solid 4K multimedia device.
Another exciting feature of the Xbox One X’s hardware is that it allows you to capture 4K video game clips in HDR and SDR, and they can be up to an hour long if you use an external drive as your capture location. All of the gameplay videos in this review came directly from the One X thanks to this new feature, and for someone who makes a few video game videos a month, the ability to record 4K gameplay clips is a godsend for making them look as visually impactful as possible. You do have to jump through a few hoops if you do your video editing on a Mac (think HandBrake conversions), and recording in HDR can be tricky if you don’t have a PC that supports it, but nothing too complex to not make someone want to record in 4K on the One X.
Don’t expect a brand new UI when you fire up the Xbox One X, because it is rocking the same updated interface that just came to the Xbox One family of consoles. Outside of the ability to record 4K videos with the GameDVR app, there really is no change in terms of the console’s operating system. You can sort for Xbox One X Enhanced titles in your games library, but there is no special menus or apps that the Xbox One X offers.
When talking about software in the form of new games for the Xbox One X, the lineup is minimal at best, especially for brand new titles. As previously mentioned only a few Microsoft Studios games and smaller Indie titles have been updated for the Xbox One X during the early review period. There are many more to come, which include third party developed games like Assassin’s Creed Origins and Middle-earth: Shadow of War, so hopefully most will be updated in time for the public release date of the console, or shortly thereafter.
The reason being is that there just aren’t many Xbox One Enhanced titles to play at the time of this writing, and even worse there’s only one brand new title releasing that takes full advantage of the Xbox One X’s power, which is Super Lucky’s Tale. Microsoft could have really benefited from a few more new Xbox One X Enhanced titles over a bunch of previously released titles getting 4K updates. More new games would have given gamers additional reasons to jump ship to the One X, or possibly switch sides from Sony’s PS4 family of consoles, but at its launch the One X only has its increased hardware power going for it due to the lack of brand new 4K enhanced gaming titles. I’m just not sure the power alone is enough to convince thrifty gamers, or those on the edge of 4K to buy another Xbox One branded console.
Even with the lack of 4K enhanced games during the Xbox One X review period I was still able to fully realize its graphical potential while testing, and it is great to say the least. The two games I spent the most time with were Gears of War 4, and Super Lucky’s Tale, because both provide 4K UHD visuals and Dolby Atmos sound. Gears 4 takes things even further visually with its Wide Color Gamut HDR capabilities, which make the picture as crisp and vibrant as it can get in a 4K setup. With Gears you can choose how you want the Xbox One X to process the game’s visuals, so you can go for full 4K at 30fps, or full 1080p at 60fps depending on your preferences for visual fidelity and game performance.
In reality both modes look glorious and are noticeably better than what the game looked liked on the Xbox One S with HDR support. The colors and textures just smack you in the face, and remind you why you’ve invested a bit of cash into this whole 4K movement in the first place. Seeing the campaign and Horde mode run at a flawless 60fps with 1080p visuals is also a treat, and quite frankly is my preferred way to play due to the performance gain garnered from the increase in frame rate.
Super Lucky’s Tale on the other hand also looks marvelous and extremely colorful thanks to its cheery setting and themes. Having this platformer run at 60fps is also impressive and makes the controls feel even better than they already are. Again, the color palette this game uses to bring its world and characters to life are perfectly suited for 4K visuals, so this game is another great example to point to when you have to explain to your peers and family why you need to buy your third Xbox One console. If you have the 4K hardware in place it’s hard not to recommend this console to you based on what I saw from these two games.
I played a few other enhanced games as well, which included Zoo Tycoon Ultimate Animal Collection, Disneyland Adventures, and Rush: A Disney-Pixar Adventure. At 37 and with a kid who isn’t of gaming age yet, putting serious time into these titles was going to be a chore, not because they’re not fun, but more because the genres just don’t speak to me anymore. Now that doesn’t take away from what these games look like now thanks to their 4K UHD upgrades. Each now looks much more detailed and more crisp. I found the increase in color fidelity to be the most noticeable changes, but textures are very sharp as well thanks to the 4K enhancements.
This console’s 4K Blu-ray visual abilities can’t go unmentioned. I touched on them above when discussing what the UHD version of Planet Earth II looked like, but I can’t stress how amazing the picture was while watching a film shot in 4K on a 4K Blu-ray compatible device. Seeing this documentary in action on the Xbox One X finally convinced me that being a 4K early adopter wasn’t as foolish as I was starting to believe. To me, if all 4K movies that were shot in 4K look like Planet Earth II on the Xbox One X, I would be a happy camper even if I only casually gamed on the device.
Microsoft has always been behind the curve when it comes to HD audio codecs and its gaming consoles, but that all changed a few updates ago, and even more so with the Xbox One X. This console offers both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X support, so it should be able to handle all modern audio configurations thrown at it. Of course, to take full advantage of these audio codecs you need a capable stereo receiver, so their inclusion may do nothing for you if you just wear headphones or use your TV’s built-in speakers, but if you do have the right hardware you’ll be treated to some ridiculously good sound. Even if you don’t have the hardware but do have a quality pair of headphones, you can pay $14.99 for the Dolby Atmos for Headphones technology, which I might add does make your headphones sound even better when playing Atmos enabled titles like Gears of War 4.
The most important aspect of this console’s sound profiles is that they’re there if you need them, and that if you take advantage of them you will only be increasing the 4K gaming or movie watching experience. You will not have to worry about missing out on your home theater’s capabilities with the Xbox One X hooked up to it, so you audiophiles should be more than pleased with the sound this console can put out if it’s connected to the right audio processing hardware.
Is the Xbox One X for everyone? Not likely, but that should not take away from what it can do for those who decide to pick one up. I wholeheartedly believe that if you have a 4K home theater setup and have been wanting to get the most out of it in regards to your gaming and TV/Film watching hobbies, then the Xbox One X should be a device on your must-buy list. It’s going to be more convenient and affordable than a 4K PC rig, which I acknowledge will always be more powerful and upgradeable than a console, but if you love the ease-of-use factor of console gaming, then there’s no better solution for getting into the 4K gaming movement. Hell, for an extra couple hundred bucks over a standalone 4K Blu-ray player you also get a very capable movie/TV show playing machine, which can also stream 4K content from apps like Netflix, or I don’t know, play games in full 4K! So I do feel the price is fair for those who have the hardware to take full advantage of it.
On the other hand, if you don’t have a full 4K setup at this point, then it’s hard to recommend buying the Xbox One X unless you still for some reason don’t own at least one of the current-gen consoles (PS4, Xbox One, Switch). If you’re console-less, there is no better console on the market in terms of pure hardware than the Xbox One X, so yes you should get one. If you do own other current-gen consoles, but don’t have a 4K setup, then I credit the Xbox One X’s lack of 4K exclusive titles as the main reason to pass on it for now. While there are a ton of games getting Xbox One X enhancements, all have been released before on other systems outside of Super Lucky’s Tale, so I think Microsoft screwed up in this regard. If there were a few exclusives debuting with the One X then I’d recommend buying the console to anyone regardless of what gaming devices they already own, because they’d be getting to play new games in 4K that can’t be played anywhere else, which to me is a reason to invest into one gaming platform over another.
One thing is very clear though, and that is the fact that the Xbox One X is gaming’s most powerful console to date, and it definitely pays off on its 4K abilities in both gaming and watching content with the increased visual fidelity upgrades. Time will tell if power alone will make it a success, because while people like me who already have 4K setups are craving any type of experiences for them, others, especially the gamers this console is being marketed to, may need more unique and exclusive gaming experiences to even consider buying another new Xbox One model. That’s for you to decide, all I can tell you is that I’m very impressed by the Xbox One X, and outside of the lack of exclusive 4K gaming content at launch, I find it to be the best console I’ve ever used in my 30-plus years of gaming.
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Review Statement: The author of this review was provided a review kit from Microsoft for the purposes of this review.