Microsoft’s most powerful console yet is a bit of a damp squib on launch.
The Xbox One X is touted as Microsoft’s answer to 4K console gaming. It’s designed to be the most powerful console ever, packing a staggering amount of processing power and memory into a frame that’s no bigger than the dinky Xbox One S. Unfortunately, it’s not without its problems and almost all of them are Microsoft’s fault rather than issues with the hardware itself.
In much the same way that Sony’s PS4 Pro failed to initially bowl me over – until it did – the Xbox One X has a slate of issues that Microsoft need to sort out before it can justify its hefty £450 price tag. It’s no wonder that Sony isn’t really worrying all that much about the PS4 Pro’s prospects when it’s already winning the race, and launched cheaper a year ago.
But I digress, before we wade into how Microsoft has fumbled the Xbox One X launch, let’s get to the good stuff: the Xbox One X hardware itself.
Xbox One X review: Design
The Xbox One X is an incredible feat of design. Like the Xbox One S before it, it’s testament to just how accomplished Microsoft’s internal hardware development team is. At first glance, it’s basically just a black version of the Xbox One S. It sits at around the same size, measuring just 0.5cm wider, 1cm deeper and 0.5cm shorter than its forebear, yet somehow weighs more than even the original Xbox One.
You’ve still got a USB 3 port situated on the front of the Xbox One X, with a further two more positioned on the back. There’s still an HDMI passthrough for your set-top box and the HDMI out port to connect to your TV – both of which are 4K, 60fps capable. It retains its optical output, too, which keeps things nice and flexible from an audio output point of view.
Microsoft has also managed to cram in a 4K UHD Blu-Ray player and hide the disc tray under the console’s front overhang so it’s basically unnoticeable.
Simply put, it’s a sublime piece of design and, like many of the best boxes you tuck under or around your TV, it’s so unremarkable it’ll just blend right in.
Xbox One X review: Specifications
Beneath the plastic shell, Microsoft has crammed a startling amount of power. Its CPU and GPU may well be based on the same architecture as in the Xbox One and One S, but it’s a totally different machine in terms of power output. It has eight x86 cores clocking in at 2.3GHz and its GPU constitutes of 40 compute units with an output of 1.172MHz. Combine that with 12GB of blisteringly-fast GDDR5 memory with a 326GB/sec bandwidth, and you’ve got an absolute beast on your hands. Microsoft has also equipped the Xbox One X with a 1TB fusion drive that has a higher RPM than the one found in the Xbox One Elite’s.
To ensure compatibility with the whole Xbox One ecosystem, the Xbox One X uses the same controllers as you find on the Xbox One S and Xbox One. It must be said that, when paying £450 for the console, it would have been nice for Microsoft to have maybe included a more feature-packed controller like that of the Xbox One Elite – heck, it would be great if they just included rechargeable batteries.
Microsoft has continued its unification of Xbox One systems in the Xbox One X’s software too – it’s exactly the same as that of the Xbox One S’. This also means it’s capable of backwards compatibility – offering up some welcome boosts in performance to some games – as well as streaming to and from any Windows 10 laptop or PC on the same network while making use of Play Anywhere titles as well.
Xbox One X review: Games
Now, onto the meat; Xbox One X games. At least, that’s probably what I would have said if Microsoft had let the Xbox One X gestate a little bit longer before whipping it out for this year’s holiday period.
At the time of writing, there’s not an awful lot of 4K games you can play on the Xbox One X that are really worth your time, or money. At launch, Microsoft’s first-party support is paltry, offering up just Disneyland Adventures, Rush: A Disney-Pixar Adventure, Zoo Tycoon Ultimate Animal Collection, Super Lucky’s Tale, Killer Instinct, Halo 5 and Gears of War 4. At least Forza Motorsport 7 finally got its update, albeit at the very last minute on launch day.
You’ll also find that some Xbox 360 games have also been given support for launch day; unlocking 4K upscaling, HDR and higher frame rates and generally better performance. However, after you’ve spent $649 on a new console, you don’t really want to spend your time playing Halo 3 and Fallout 3 on it.
On the third-party front only a handful of titles will be ready for launch day, with FIFA 18 being chief amongst them. Yes, that means – at time of writing this review – you won’t be able to play Assassin’s Creed: Origins or Call of Duty WWII in 4K with HDR on launch. It’s also worth noting that Destiny 2 isn’t even listed as supported.
The same catalogue issue was true of the PS4 Pro on launch, although Sony landed with a launch library of 45 titles from day one. By the end of 2017, Microsoft says it expects to have 70 titles with Xbox One X support and over 100 by early 2018.
The question is, is this enough? Despite the early foibles surrounding the Xbox One, the main reason Microsoft didn’t claw back ground on Sony wasn’t that it had ruined its start but because it just didn’t have the game catalogue.
Unlike Sony’s catalogue of interesting projects, 1990s classics, and developer partnerships that appeal to Eastern audiences as well as Western, Microsoft tends to go for bigger is better. While third-party support will obviously remain strong on Xbox One X, Microsoft really needs to buck up its publishing ideas to win out with the Xbox One X.
Xbox One X review: 4K, yay or nay?
Thankfully, what the Xbox One X does do, it does very well indeed. As a 4K console, nothing else compares. Of the games available to run in 4K during our review period, many of them were sublime and the difference between an unenhanced title and an enhanced one was noticeable.
Playing Gears of War 4 is notably better than on the Xbox One S. Textures no longer seem to be smoothed, instead they’re pin-sharp and the addition of HDR really breathes life into The Coalition’s creation. The same can be said of FIFA 18, with textures looking rich and detailed and colours really popping thanks to HDR.
The trouble is, despite these nice upgrades, 4K isn’t something you’ll notice all that much. Playing games in 4K is lovely but it very quickly all just appears like you’d have expected it to – like it always should have done. In fact, sitting up close to the TV is really the only way you’ll notice that you’re using a 4K-capable console. Playing an unenhanced build of Forza Motorsport 7 before the Enhanced update patch dropped, revealed that resolution really isn’t the Xbox One X’s crowning achievement – it’s being able to run games fluidly with high-resolution textures.
Having now seen Forza Motorsport 7 with high-resolution textures, HDR and at 4K, it's incredible in motion. But placed alongside the unenhanced version, however, and the only notable difference is the lower-resolution textures and lack of HDR. The game looks perfectly good on the Xbox One S, and it still looks pretty nice – even at 1080p upscaled across our 65in 4K Samsung UE65KS9500 TV.
It’s also worth noting that, while the Xbox One X’s native 4K capabilities are obvious when looked at up close, sitting away from the TV at any reasonable distance renders it almost unnoticeable. Compared with the PS4 Pro’s Checkerboard technique, which upscales instead of rendering true 4K like the Xbox One X, both images look just as crisp when sat around 2m away; anyone who believes there’s perceptible difference is in a fantasy land.
Xbox One X review: Added extras
Alongside the Xbox One X’s power output for 4K, HDR-enabled games, Microsoft has also added a few other bells and whistles to round off the package. Just like the Xbox One S, the Xbox One X contains a UHD Blu-ray drive as standard, and support for Dolby Atmos too. The Xbox One S never really touted its Atmos support, but just like with the X, all you need to do is download the Dolby Access app and purchase an Atmos licence. Currently a smattering of apps support it, including Netflix, but the likes of Star Wars Battlefront II and other games will support it too.
With this extra functionality, it’s clear Microsoft is aiming the Xbox One X firmly at the AV geeks in the room and Atmos is certainly a nice addition. However, for many, it’s simply just another tickbox feature rather than a system-seller.
You could pick up an Xbox One S for the same price as a standalone UHD Blu-ray player, but the Xbox One X’s added power does makes it a compelling prospect if the blu-ray drive is one reason why you’re eyeing up the One S.
Xbox One X review: Initial verdict
Xbox One X’s biggest problem is that it has to convince your average consumer that it’s worth the money. Side-by-side with the PS4 Pro running the same game, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference. Combine that with a significant price difference, and it’s a bit of a problem.
The biggest issue with the Xbox One X, however, is having to place too much faith in Microsoft itself. To make it really worth the $650 asking price, you need to believe that Microsoft will be able to make every single one of your games sing in 4K. You have to have the faith that you’re not going to miss out on some excellent games of this current generation because they’re only available on PC or PS4.
Ultimately, though, you need to ask yourself if you really need the Xbox One X. It may be easy to say yes if you already own a 4K TV and have the original Xbox One or don’t own a PS4 Pro or 4K-capable PC. For those without a 4K TV, the Xbox One S or PS4 Pro are far better purchases; the former even gives you a modicum of future-proofing via its Blu-ray drive. If you do have a 4K TV and no games console, I’d opt for the PS4 Pro over Microsoft’s equivalent.
As with any games console, the final decision boils down to the games you want to play most. If you really want to play Forza, Gears of War or Halo, Microsoft is your only choice. If I were you, though, I’d abandon buying an Xbox One X and embrace a console that truly embodies pure fun – the Nintendo Switch.