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Xbox One

Platform(s): Xbox One
Genre: Hardware
Developer: Microsoft
Release Date: Nov. 22, 2013

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Hardware Review - 'Xbox One X'

by Adam Pavlacka on Nov. 8, 2017 @ 7:30 a.m. PST

Xbox One is Microsoft's all-in-one gaming and entertainment system that puts you at the center of all your games, TV, movies, music, sports and Skype.

Buy Xbox One X

From a hardware perspective, the Xbox One X is a beast. Microsoft claims in its press materials that the Xbox One X is the "most powerful console" on the market, and from a pure specs point of view, it is correct. Compared to both its predecessor, the Xbox One S, and its direct competitor, the PlayStation 4 Pro, the Xbox One X has more processing power, more RAM, and more GPU power. However, specs alone don't tell the whole story, as the hardware is nothing without the software to run on it.

Unlike a traditional console launch, which might only have a handful of games available, the Xbox One X has both a dearth of enhanced titles as well as an abundance of standard games to play. The enhanced titles are where the system really shines, as they've been designed to make direct use of the extra power in the Xbox One X, while standard games generally get the benefit of faster loading times and higher frame rates. With that said, "more power" is not a magic bullet for every title out there, given the architecture of the Xbox One X.


Just like the Xbox One S, the CPU powering the Xbox One X is part of AMD's Jaguar APU family. When making the upgrade to the Xbox One X, Microsoft worked with AMD to upgrade the GPU component, but the CPU component only got a small clock speed bump. Keeping a Jaguar APU at the core is likely the reason Microsoft was able to hit both the cost and power requirements it was targeting for the Xbox One X. Updating to a customized Ryzen APU would likely have resulted in a bigger performance boost, but not in such a sleek package.

What does this mean for games? Any GPU-optimized standard game will see a performance boost when moving from the Xbox One S to the Xbox One X. CPU-bound games, like Just Cause 3, will see only a small performance improvement. On the other hand, the many games that use dynamic resolution to maximize performance (sacrificing pixel count for frame rate) on the Xbox One S will end up benefitting the most.

Xbox 360 games also benefit from the extra horsepower, which isn't much of a surprise, given that they are running under emulation. You'll generally see across-the-board frame rate improvements, with some games seemingly hitting better performance on the Xbox One X versus an actual Xbox 360 console. Bayonetta is a perfect example of this. Since it is just the original Xbox 360 game running under emulation, Bayonetta on the Xbox One X doesn't have the enhancements of this year's PC version, but the levels I played while testing the console ran like butter.

Ultimately, all games running on the new system will benefit from the anisotropic texture filtering and v-sync, but it is those that are specifically enhanced to take advantage of the extra RAM with UHD visuals that really shine. This includes both Xbox One titles and selected Xbox 360 games.

As I noted last week, the amount of enhanced games available right before launch were limited, but developers have been pushing out patches on a daily basis. This bodes well for the new console because gamers who are dropping five Benjamins want to be able to put their new toy through its paces.


The game that best shows off the power of the Xbox One X is Microsoft's own Gears of War 4. It was good on the Xbox One, but it looks amazing here. The trailer highlights some of the improvements, but YouTube doesn't do the visual upgrades justice. The Coalition went all out, bumping the resolution to 4K and re-grading the entire game for HDR. Gears of War 4 doesn't just use HDR as a bit of window dressing; the full color gamut (and brightness levels) of HDR are implemented, giving everything an extra level of impact.

If you prefer frame rate over visuals, Gears of War 4 has you covered. While it doesn't have the full suite of customization options that you'd find in a PC game, the Xbox One X version of Gears of War 4 has two different graphics modes: performance and visual. Performance cuts down on some of the graphic icing in order to deliver a gameplay experience that is as close to 60 fps as possible, while visual gives you all the bells and whistles.

Another impressive Xbox One X outing is Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed Origins. It doesn't offer a performance option like Gears does, but exploring ancient Egypt in 4K with HDR visuals is an absolute treat. Whereas Gears excels with the close-in visuals, Assassin's Creed does a masterful job of presenting a smooth and fluid open world. It also has a photo mode, so you can easily share images with others.

Speaking of photo mode, Forza Motorsport 7 rounds out the top three titles for the Xbox One X. The game has a special boot screen to let you know you're running in "enhanced" mode on the new console, but it really doesn't need it. It's obvious that the textures were designed with the Xbox One X in mind, as the game is packed with details, from the dirt on the windshield to the subtle reflection of the dash in the glass. Again, HDR is used to excellent effect, with different environments (sunny vs. raining) having distinct looks.

Other enhanced titles that are worthy of special mention include Rise of the Tomb Raider and Diablo III. Rise of the Tomb Raider scales nicely with the new system, offering three different rendering modes. There is a high frame rate mode; a native 4K mode, which bumps the resolution; and an enriched visuals mode, which bumps the resolution and adds extra effects.


Diablo III doesn't support HDR, but it looks mighty pretty running in native 4K. As a company, Blizzard is known for games that scale well, and Diablo III is no exception. Originally released for PCs before Xbox One even existed, the Diablo III looks and plays as though it were a brand-new release. The biggest tell that it's an older title is in the pre-rendered cut scenes, with compression artifacts that are clearly visible on a UHD display. If you happen to have Diablo III in your collection, it's worth playing through again on the Xbox One X. If you don't have it yet, it's a safe bet to go alongside your new console.

One area where games don't benefit nearly as much as promised by Microsoft is load times. Yes, load times are faster on the Xbox One X. No, they're not amazingly faster. To test load times, we captured both systems at 1080p, synced up the launch button press in Adobe Premiere, and then timed the point at which the game had started either a cut scene or actual gameplay. To account for any interim menus, the A button was constantly mashed until the game was loaded.

Assassin's Creed Origins:
Game Start Xbox One X: 57.10 seconds
Game Start Xbox One S: 1:00.28 seconds

Load Save Game Xbox One X: 37.37 seconds
Load Save Game Xbox One S: 55.46 seconds

Diablo III - Ultimate Evil Edition:
Game Start Xbox One X: 42.44 seconds
Game Start Xbox One S: 35.27 seconds

Load Save Game Xbox One X: 28.18 seconds
Load Save Game Xbox One S: 26.31 seconds

Forza Motorsport 7:
Game Start Xbox One X: 45.46 seconds
Game Start Xbox One S: 47.27 seconds

Quantum Break:
Game Start Xbox One X: 52.35 seconds
Game Start Xbox One S: 1:00.35 seconds

In most cases, the Xbox One X loaded games faster, but occasionally, the Xbox One S would come out ahead.

If native Xbox One X games were all the system had to offer, it would be tantalizing, but Microsoft went one step further and is allowing developers to also offer Xbox One X-enhanced versions of Xbox 360 games. These are selected titles that run in the Xbox 360 emulator but still offer upgraded visuals. Like the enhanced native titles, these are exclusive to the Xbox One X, so playing the same games on an Xbox One S won't get the benefit.


Some of the enhanced Xbox 360 titles available at launch include Halo 3, Gears of War 3, Fallout 3, and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Seeing these older games get a new coat of paint is almost more impressive than the new games. The updated version of Halo 3 competes favorably with the remastered version included in The Master Chief Collection. Gears of War 3 can't compete with Gears of War 4, but it looks a lot better than anything the Xbox 360 hardware could pump out, and the same is true for Fallout 3 and Oblivion. These all feel like budget remasters, but they're all free upgrades for existing owners.

No, you're not going to buy an Xbox One X just to play old games, but the fact that the tech can offer such improvements bodes well for Microsoft's stated plan of no longer having distinct console generations, and instead just offering incremental upgrades every few years.

As a media box, the Xbox One X offers multiple streaming services, a UHD Blu-ray player, and the ability to play back media from local or networked drives. Local media is limited to the codec and profiles supported by the system, so it's not going to be as flexible as a PC, but it handles most common files.

Streaming-wise, Netflix is the content leader, which is why it is disappointing that the Netflix app on the Xbox One X doesn't properly switch between the standard color space and the HDR color space. If you don't have an HDR-enabled TV, or if you manually disable HDR support on the Xbox One X, the Netflix app is fine, but if HDR support is enabled on the console, then the app always outputs with the HDR flag on. This is great if you're watching HDR content, but not so great if you're watching normal content. It is surprising that Microsoft let the app through cert with such a bug, especially given the UHD push with the Xbox One X.

In comparison, the Amazon Video app properly supports HDR and only turns on HDR mode when playing back HDR-enabled UHD content. The problem is that Amazon's HDR catalog is ... lacking. The technical aspects of the app are solid; Amazon just needs more HDR films in its catalog.


VUDU, which is Walmart's digital video service, offers UHD content in its Xbox One X app, but it doesn't offer any HDR content on the system. VUDU itself supports HDR, but only the Dolby Vision variety. The Xbox One X only supports HDR10, which VUDU doesn't support, even though Dolby Vision is technically backward compatible with HDR10. As a result, if your digital movie collection is stored in VUDU — a distinct possibility since it is the only provider to support both Ultraviolet and Movies Anywhere— you're not going to benefit from HDR.

Oddly, in today's connected world, your best option for HDR UHD playback on the Xbox One X is physical media. I tested the player with a HDR UHD disc of "Baby Driver," and playback was flawless. There were no noticeable issues during the movie, with visuals looking crisp and clear all the way through. The Xbox One X will output both Dolby Atmos and DTS-HD MA bitstreams via HDMI, so if you have the hardware, you're good to go. The system also supports Dolby Atmos for headphones if you pay for the upcharge; that option isn't free.

If you prefer to stream yourself to the world, the Xbox One X supports that as well, via the included Mixer app. Broadcasting is limited to 1080p, even if your game is running in 4K, but the process is simple. You bring up a menu and start the broadcast, and that's all it takes to start live-streaming over the Internet. If you prefer to produced edited videos, the Xbox One X allows you to capture full 4K HDR gameplay, but you'll need to have an external hard drive hooked up. While it's not going to compete with professional-level hardware like the Atomos line, it's a big plus for budding YouTubers.

Speaking of external hard drives, if there is one fatal flaw to the Xbox One X, the size of the internal hard drive is it. A 1 TB drive may have been fine on the Xbox One S with its smaller game sizes, but given the larger game installs that are required for native 4K assets, that 1 TB drive gets filled up quickly — doubly so, given that the system software consumes nearly 25% of the space. After a fresh, out-of-the-box, system setup, the internal hard drive on the Xbox One X only had 780.6 GB of free space available. Forza Motorsport 7 is 95 GB in size, while Gears of War 4 is 103.3 GB. Those are just the base games and don't include any DLC. Suffice it to say, you're going to want to buy a USB 3.0 hard drive to go with your console purchase.

All of this is well and good, but what if you don't have a 4K TV? Is there any point to the Xbox One X? The answer is yes. Owners of 1080p TVs won't get the benefit of HDR, as there are no 1080p HDR TV sets on the market, but they will get the benefit of improved visuals thanks to a technique known as supersampling.


Used by PC gamers for a number of years, supersampling is a way to get the benefits of higher resolution rendering while outputting to a smaller display. You can think of it as the gaming version of "mastered in 4K."

While the final output from the Xbox One X to your TV will be 1080p, the game itself will render at a higher resolution internally, the same as if you had it hooked up to a 4K TV. It is only "down-rezzed" right before the display. As a result, the final image ends up with a cleaner picture and smoother lines. You also see this technique used in digital photography, where photographers will shoot in a higher resolution than they intend to print.

Ranked, in order of quality, are 1080p < 1080p via supersampling < native 4K.

When it comes down to it, the Xbox One X is undoubtedly powerful. It is also small, sleek and extremely quiet. Whether it's a good buy for you as an individual depends on a handful of things. If you already own a UHD TV, then the system is a solid upgrade, as it can be the center of your home entertainment system. If you don't own a UHD TV, then the question is, "How much do graphics matter?"

In the end, visual flourish is what you're paying for with the Xbox One X. If you absolutely have to have the best, then the Xbox One X is for you. If you just want to play the games and don't mind missing some visual embellishments, the Xbox One S is hard to beat at roughly half the price of the Xbox One X. Yes, you're giving up some power, but that extra money can buy a lot of games in the interim.

Score: 8.0/10


 

Hardware Specifications
  • CPU: Custom 8 core Jaguar CPU at 2.3 GHz
  • GPU: Custom Polaris GPU at 1.172 GHz, 6 TFOPS
  • RAM: 12 GB total, 9 GB addressable by games
  • Storage: 1 TB HDD
  • Optical Drive: 4K UHD Blu-ray
  • PSU: 245W internal

Video:

  • UHD (2160p) at 60Hz
  • AMD FreeSync support
  • HDR 10 support
  • HDCP 2.2

Video Codecs:
  • HEVC/H.265
  • AVC/H.264
  • VP9
  • MPEG-2
  • MPEG-4 Part 2
  • C1/WMV9
HDMI Encoded:
  • Dolby Digital 5.1
  • DTS Digital 5.1
  • Dolby Atmos (requires app download)
  • PCM 2.0
  • PCM 5.1
  • PCM 7.1
HDMI Passthrough (Blu-ray):
  • Dolby Digital Plus
  • Dolby Atmos
  • Dolby TrueHD
  • DTS-HD MA
  • DTS:X
Optical Encoded:
  • Dolby Digital 5.1
  • DTS Digital 5.1
  • PCM 2.0
Audio Codecs Decoded:
  • AAC
  • MP3
  • MPEG1
  • WMV
  • Dolby Digital Plus
  • Dolby Atmos
Interfaces:
  • WiFi: 802.11ac dual band 2x2
  • Ethernet: Gigabit
  • USB: 3x USB 3.0
  • HDMI Out: 2.0b
  • HDMI In: 1.4b
  • Optical S/PDIF: Yes
  • IR Blaster: Yes

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