With a launch date of November 7th, the Xbox One X is both the newest game console of note to come to market as well as the latest addition to the Xbox One family. While the original One is no longer available, Microsoft isn't dropping the One S anytime soon, leaving you with two good gaming / media center consoles for your 4K HDR TVs and Atmos systems, but which Xbox is right for you and should One S owners immediately run out and upgrade?
Read on, friends!
For this piece, I am comparing my own Day One Xbox One, Storm Grey Xbox One S, and PS4 Pro against an Xbox One X review kit provided by Microsoft. I used both a Samsung QN65Q7F and LG 65UH7700 for the display, and a Marantz SR6011 for the AVR.
BOY, HOW THINGS CHANGE
The original Xbox One debuted in 2013 at a time when the general population thought 4K was far too expensive, without benefit, and far too lacking in available content to ever really make waves in the marketplace. Today, 4K TVs are the standard, with HDR their must-have feature. As encapsulated as standard in HDR10, High Dynamic Range means brighter brights and a wider contrast ratio that enables a greater range of color representation. And thus, there exists a gap between the 2013 game consoles and the 4K HDR displays that are becoming ubiquitous for anyone in the market for a new TV.
Over the past few years, Microsoft worked to steadily improve the Xbox One through lower prices and an ongoing series of software and hardware upgrades (such as the controller revisions). More dramatically, in 2016, Microsoft revealed two new versions of the Xbox One -- the Xbox One S and the Xbox One X. (Update: The full review of the Xbox One X can be found here.)
XBOX ONE S
The Xbox One S debuted in August of 2016, bringing with it a stunning new and compact hardware profile, 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray support, HDR gaming and even faux 4K (non-native checkerboard rendering) gaming. Although the Xbox One S shares the same 8-core AMD Jaguar 1.75Ghz CPU and 8GB DDR3 memory (plus 32MB ESRAM) as the original Xbox One, various refinements in the design and memory addressing, namely the bump from the 12 GCN 853MHZ GPU to 914 Mhz, give the Xbox One S a performance advantage that is noticeable, especially in more demanding games.
That extra edge, when combined with the recent Fall Update, makes the Xbox One S feel like an upgrade over the original no matter what display is in use. The console's small and stylish footprint contains its own power supply, and that all makes for a welcome entertainment center upgrade compared with the original Xbox One. (Finicky external power supply aside, the original Xbox One is an extremely quiet console, an edge it retains over the One S.)
When combined with a modern 4K HDR display such as a Samsung QN65Q7F, the Xbox One S boasts impressive Ultra HD Blu-ray playback (see details here), 4K HDR video streaming (Netflix, Amazon, and VUDU), HDR gaming, and faux 4K (non-native checkerboard rendering) gaming.
It's also important to note that, with recent updates, the Xbox One family supports direct bitstreaming for Dolby Atmos & DTS:X discs (via the Blu-ray app) and Dolby Atmos for gaming and some video streaming (this is a system-wide setting). Along with the 2017 LG OLEDs, it's one of the few devices currently capable of Dolby Atmos via Netflix. Dolby Atmos for gaming is, like HDR gaming support and faux 4K gaming rendering, supported on a per title basis. Gears of War 4, for example, is one of the few titles to support both HDR and Dolby Atmos.
The entire Xbox One family of consoles now not only supports backward compatibility for a long list of Xbox 360 titles, but Microsoft has also recently introduced limited support for original Xbox titles. Whether users own disc copies or choose to buy digital copies, various beloved classics are now playable with a slight enhancement on the Xbox One platform (with more titles to come).
XBOX ONE X
As stated in the open, the launch date for the Xbox One X hits is November 7th, and it is the newest piece of hardware of significance to hit since the Nintendo Switch last March. When Microsoft unveiled the Xbox One X (then codenamed Project Scorpio) at E3 2016, it was positioned to be a more powerful variant of the Xbox One S and, at the same time, meant to out-muscle and out-sexy the PS4 & PS4 Pro. At that time, the One X almost seemed superfluous or, at least, too much like the Xbox One S to justify the existence and development of both. It looked to be a premium flavor of the Xbox One S with more power, but a big price.
Without trying to step too much on my in-progress full review, the Xbox One X is a major upgrade of the Xbox One S as well as a freaking titan when set against anything in the game console space.
Simply put, it does everything the very capable Xbox One S can do -- whether that's running software, capturing and streaming gameplay, or playing Ultra HD Blu-rays and stream 4K HDR Atmos video (see John Wick Chapter 2 on VUDU) -- and does it better.
Every. Single. Thing.
Having run an Xbox One X around the clock for a week, it's staggering how adroit the compact form is, how much more stable the whole thing feels, how whisper-quiet it sounds compared to the One S.
With great system stability and speed affecting every single app on the Xbox One platform (and make no mistake, everything from Settings to the Blu-ray player to the Store is an app), and a quiet, cool, and incredibly sleek bit of kit in the entertainment center, the Xbox One X feels like a new console. It handles system-wide Atmos like a champ and even the new experience Hulu, which seems to clog up whatever it touches, runs silky smooth on the One X.
And there are the games.
Sure it comes with the fleshed-out backend and catalog of an established generation (and more), but the true bellwether feature of the Xbox One X is how it can push games that deliver on 4K HDR displays. Microsoft has managed to line up the system updates, third-party publishers and nomenclature in a way to benefit the Xbox One X experience to a degree not touched upon by the PS4 Pro launch or any important same platform hardware upgrade (like the New 3DS) in recent memory.
As the launch approaches, there are still more things (specifically Xbox One X specific game patches) coming online, and thus the full review is still in progress. But while it's been a given that Microsoft would have their big titles ready to rock, (Gears of War 4 - native 4K, HDR, Dolby Atmos, 60fps option, Forza Motorsport 7 - native 4K, HDR, 60fps, Halo 5 -native 4K, etc.), Microsoft also has Activision, EA, Ubisoft, Warner Bros. and Bethesda on board with their biggest holiday titles. Even publishers like Disney, Square Enix, Capcom and so on are getting on Xbox One X support.
Sitting down to play Gears of War 4 in native 4K with HDR and Atmos, or else firing up Middle-earth: Shadow of War in native 4K with HDR or Assassin's Creed: Origins in dynamic 4K with HDR and Atmos or even Super Lucky's Tale in 4K with Atmos reminds of when I first booted up the PS4 with games like Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag. It's the feeling of a new console, a new generation, and yet the games are clearly the product of the previous generation (but with the power to reach and maintain a new level of detail). That might sound like a back-handed compliment but it's not.
Turning on the svelte Xbox One X and entering a game with native 4K, HDR, and/or Dolby Atmos has the sexiness of pushing a GPU to its limits at my PC, but the Xbox One is living room friendly as well as being a relatively easy push-button affair. The home theater really benefits from having a step ahead thanks to the popularity of HDR and Atmos (not to mention 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray).
The Xbox One X boasts of having an 8-core Custom AMD 2.3GHz CPU, 12GB GDDR5, 36 GCN 911Mhz GPU, and these are specs that easily surpass both the Xbox One S and the PS4 Pro. The amount of memory, in particular, is massive and developers should have the access and bandwidth to make the most of it. There is a little more to the hardware, however, with details like partial liquid-cooling and AMD FreeSync compliant HDMI 2.0b out helping to make the Xbox One X distinct over anything else on the market or even on the horizon.
X OR S: WHICH ONE IS RIGHT FOR YOU?
It's not hyperbole to say that the Xbox One X is priced roughly double the cost of an Xbox One S. (A 1TB Xbox One X at $500 versus a 500GB Xbox One S with a game at $249.) And the benefits I've outlined above of the Xbox One X over the S, including greater stability, a quieter and sexier machine, and serious select native 4K HDR gaming power are likely to appeal to each user in a different degree. At the same time, a $500 console that can really bring out the best of 2017's Best 4K TVs (which can be found at $2000-$3000 in the 65" range) shouldn't be dismissed by anyone looking for a perfect pairing... Even though neither the Xbox One S nor the Xbox One X offer Dolby Vision HDR (both use HDR10).
So, which one is right for you?
The Xbox One S is great for its multimedia capabilities and for its gaming catalog. The Xbox One X, however, makes a statement as a premium gaming console with superior performance that we can expect to be supported going forward. Xbox One games marked with either or all three of the "Xbox One X Enhanced," "4K Ultra HD," and "HDR" logos should be the norm from here on, and that will be of special interest for Xbox One X owners. (A running table of Xbox One X Enhanced games can be found here.)
Thanks to its power and usability, the Xbox One X is the current living room console champion. Period. Pick up the One X if you have an HDR-capable display and killer surround sound and want to get the most out of your gaming and multimedia experiences. You won't look back.
For everyone else, the Xbox One S is still an impressive machine priced to sell. Stick with the One S if you're on a budget, are only a casual gamer, or don't yet have any plans to buy a large 4K HDR TV.