Microsoft’s newest console, the much-hyped Xbox One X, is nearly upon us. If you haven’t checked out our full review of the new console, then we thoroughly suggest you do so right now – it’s a complex beast.
There’s a lot to take in with the new console, and it’s also the most complicated piece of gaming hardware to try and describe. Like the PS4 Pro, it won’t have exclusive games, but instead it’ll have games that are ‘enhanced’ for the new hardware.
As if that wasn’t complicated enough already, the nature of these enhancements varies on a game-by-game basis, and some games even give you several options as to how you want them to use the additional horsepower the console provides.
We’ve put together this list of the top six things you need to know to get you up to speed with the new console as quickly as possible.
1. HDR, 4K and 60fps are the maximum, not the standard
Probably the most important thing to realise about the new console is that while Microsoft has been at pains to describe the new hardware as being capable of 4K at 60fps with HDR visuals, this is the maximum it’s able to achieve, and these will not be supported by all games.
Forza Motorsport 7 and Assassin’s Creed Origins will support the full gamut of performance upgrades including 4K resolution, HDR, and 60fps, but Halo 5’s patch will have the game render at 4K without HDR (the original game ran at 60fps already, so there’s no improvement there). Meanwhile last year’s release of ReCore will be upgraded with HDR support, but there’s been no word of 4K.
Things get even more complicated with some games that allow you to choose your graphical options for yourself. Middle Earth: Shadow of War lets you choose whether you want to force its maximum resolution (which, according to Digital Foundry, is 3520×1980 – aka not 4K’s 3840×2160) or whether you want the resolution to scale up and down in order to maintain a consistent framerate.
Things get even more complicated with Rise of the Tomb Raider, which lets you choose between a total of three different performance options. Native 4K prioritises resolution at the expense of performance, High Frame-Rate leaves the game at 1080p but gives you higher-resolution textures, and Enriched 4K appears to allow the resolution to scale to maintain a consistent performance level. All three modes feature HDR, but none allow the game to run at 60fps.
Confused yet? We bet you are.
This early on in its lifecycle it’s hard to say which modes will end up being the most common, but right now it seems that developers are taking a liberal interpretation of what ‘Xbox One X enhanced’ actually means.
Of course, not every game will actually be Xbox One X enhanced in the first place since…
2. Supporting the Xbox One X is completely optional for developers
After having been direct competitors for so many years, it’s only natural that both Sony and Microsoft have started to look very similar. Microsoft introduced Achievements, so Sony brought out Trophies, Microsoft asked gamers to pay to play games online, and now so does Sony. The list goes on and on.
But when it comes to their new half-step consoles, the two players are very different indeed.
Sony has been very clear from the start that developers have to support the PS4 Pro if they want to release a game on the PS4. That doesn’t mean every game has to display in native 4K, but they’ll all have to be able to support the new hardware in some fashion.
Microsoft, meanwhile, has been even more lenient. For its part, it sees supporting the Xbox One X as being a choice for developers, meaning that while they might go to great efforts to support the extra bells and whistles of the Xbox One X, they might just be content to release a standard Xbox One game.
Again, it’s hard to say exactly what effect this might have in the long term. Developers might jump at the opportunity to be able to market their games as being ‘Xbox One X enhanced’, and it’s always easier to sell a game that looks better.
But for many smaller developers the extra effort and expense might end up just not being worth the effort, especially while the install base for the Xbox One X remains small in comparison to the total amount of Xbox Ones (which themselves pale in significance to the amount of PS4s out in the wild).
This certainly makes it harder to work out if the X is worth your money right now especially since…
3. You don’t need an X to get lots of its most interesting features
Surprising though it may be, a lot of this $500 console’s features are available on last year’s Xbox One S, which retails for as little as half the price.
Now, to be clear, the headline 4K feature isn’t available on the cheaper console, which is unsurprising given the massive difference in power between the two machines. But buying yourself the cheaper console still gets you an Ultra HD Blu-ray player as well as HDR and Dolby Atmos.
The catch, of course, is that these features are only available in certain games (are you noticing a running theme here yet?). Gears of War 4 will support both, and Forza Motorsport 7 and Forza Horizon 3 support HDR.
However, while the exact nature of the enhancements might be unclear going forward, it’s not all doom and gloom since…
- Read our definitive verdict in our Xbox One X review
- Then take a look at the latest Xbox One X deals
4. Non-enhanced games will still play better
Even if a game has not received an Xbox One X patch, it will still play better on the new console, Microsoft claims.
The data is certainly in its favor on this one. For starters the hard disk drive speed on the new console is much faster (50% faster according to Microsoft), which should result in faster load times.
But Microsoft goes even further with its claims. Because of the increased power inside the console, it says that texture filtering will be improved, framerates will be more steady and dynamic resolutions will be higher.
The logic of this certainly works. Many games on Xbox One utilise resolutions that will dynamically drop during intense periods of gameplay. If the console has more power it would make sense that these drops would no longer be necessary and hence not utilised.
Its claims about framerates also have precedence. When the Xbox One S was released last year, analysis from Digital Foundry found that games experienced as much of a 9fps performance boost on the new hardware.
We’ve yet to see any hard data to back up these claims on the new hardware, but the logic behind them, combined with Microsoft’s track record, is cause for hope.
While theoretically we’d love every game to receive an Xbox One X enhancement patch, in reality we’d be ok if some of our favorites didn’t since…
5. Xbox One X patches are freaking huge!
As we’ve moved away from physical discs, the amount of space taken up by your average game has ballooned, and nowhere is this more obvious than with the Xbox One X, where early indications are that typical game downloads will be very large indeed.
The Xbox One X patch for Gears of War 4, for example, brings the total game download size up to a whopping 103.11GB. Meanwhile, even pre-patch, Halo 5’s total download is 98.26GB on our system, and with additional 4K assets this is only likely to increase, despite some clever new techniques being employed by Microsoft.
The Xbox One X is only available with a 1TB hard drive, which means that if this trend continues you will be able to store approximately 10 games total, which isn’t much if you like to have a couple of multiplayer games to hand to jump back into occasionally.
Yes, Microsoft enabled the ability for the console to install and run games from external hard drives since 2014, but when you’re spending $500 on a new console this is small concelation.
Quite apart from space concerns, these large downloads will also take time to install on all but the speediest of internet connections.
You can avoid some of the pain by downloading any available 4K patches to your One S (using an option within the ‘Backup and Transfer’ menu in Settings) which can then be transferred to your new console when it arrives using an external hard drive.
Oh, and one final thing…
6. VR is still a complete unknown on this console
When Microsoft first announced the Xbox One X (then codenamed ‘Project Scorpio’), it was keen to emphasise that this console would have enough graphical horsepower to handle virtual reality.
However, since that presentation at E3 2016 the company has remained almost completely silent on the topic, save promising that Windows 10’s mixed reality headsets would come to the platform at some point in 2018.
For Microsoft’s part, it’s still keen to emphasise that it sees virtual reality as being a key part of its future, but when we asked a spokesperson if that ‘future’ meant the Xbox One specifically, a response was not forthcoming.
Is the world ready for a 4K console?
Although we’d intended this guide to outline everything you need to know about the new console, the truth is there are a lot of things that are impossible to gauge at this point about the amount of support the console will receive.
It’s also likely that we’re only seeing a small part of what it’s capable of as old games that were never designed for it are retrofitted to take advantage of its bells and whistles.
In contrast, going forward it’s likely that we’ll see games developed with the Xbox One X in mind, and they’ll make much better use of its power.
There’s also the issue of internet speeds which, although outside of Microsoft’s control, present an annoying trade-off between high-resolution assets and being able to play a new game in good time.
In some ways it feels like the world isn’t quite ready for a 4K console. Developers aren’t ready to make the most of it, download speeds aren’t fast enough, and large capacity hard drives aren’t cheap enough to deal with all that data.
With 4K TVs on the cusp of becoming truly mainstream we were definitely going to see a native 4K console at some point, the question is simply whether Microsoft’s console is a little too early.
Future-proofing is no bad thing, but future-proof too hard and too early and you end up with a piece of hardware like the Dreamcast, which couldn’t utilise the fantastic online multiplayer it was capable of because internet speeds weren’t ready to support it.
We won’t know for sure until more Xbox One X enhanced games start becoming available for consumers to try for themselves but, for the time being at least, the Xbox One X is a complicated console to pin down.
- Read our definitive verdict in our Xbox One X review