After spending a week with the Xbox One X, Microsoft's "world's most powerful console," I know three things for certain. It's definitely an Xbox One, it makes enhanced games look lovely, and waiting for Xbox One X enhancement updates sucks.
The $US500 ($654) Xbox One X is a ridiculously powerful console, but in order to actively harness that power, developers need to beef up their games. Games not carrying the new "Xbox One X Enhanced" label can still benefit from the new console's beefy specs in terms of faster load times and frame rates. 4K resolutions and HDR support? Those require work.
I've spent the better part of the past week waiting for a lot of that work to come to fruition. I hooked the sleek black box up to my television (a 55-inch TCL P-Series, one of the least expensive 4K HDR televisions going), downloaded a whole bunch of games, and then began obsessively checking the "My Games and Apps" portion of the dashboard for new game updates.
The Xbox One X powers on with a cheeky little 4K animation, before moving on to regular Xbox One things. When not running enhanced games, the Xbox One X functions much like last year's Xbox One S, upscaling 1080p graphics to 4K. I did notice significantly faster loading times with the non-enhanced Lego Worlds, though the game still stuttered and chugged in crowded areas, as it did on the older system.
When I received the Xbox One X last week, Gears of War 4 was one of the few officially enhanced games I had access to. I like Gears of War 4, but I've already played as much of it as I wanted to. Still, it looks very nice in 4K HDR.
I played a lot of Zoo Tycoon Ultimate Animal Collection while I waited. The original was one of my favourite Xbox One launch games, and the new version features kangaroos and koalas, as well as 4K and HDR. It takes a long time for a park to load, but once you're in it's pretty sweet.
As the week progressed, more updates slowly began trickling in.
Assassin's Creed Origins
The Xbox One X update for Assassin's Creed Origins dropped a couple of days ago, transforming an already gorgeous games into a real showcase of the console's 4K HDR capabilities. Starting the game post-update and having the "HDR" icon popping up on my television upon starting it up was a joyous moment.
It's an improvement that's not easy to demonstrate via screenshots. Here's the game at basic 4K resolution.
And here's a screenshot taken with the Xbox One X of the game running in HDR.
The bottom screen looks over-saturated and washed-out. That's the effect of the sunlight filtering through clouds and dust. It looks much better in motion, but it's difficult to capture and share HDR in motion.
The Xbox One X can capture video clips of up to 30 seconds long at 4K HDR, but if you're not watching on an HDR compatible display, the effect gets a little lost.
Trust me, it's very nice.
While I am not a big soccer fan, I do appreciate the way FIFA 18 shows off the subtle difference between plain 4K and 4K HDR. Can you spot the difference between these two screenshots, aside from the ad banners?
The upper screen is a portion of a full 4K screenshot, while the lower is from a 4K HDR screen. In the top image, the lighting on Mr. Ronaldo's kit is more subtle and uniform. The bottom features slightly greener grass and brighter highlights.
The difference is really subtle. HDR isn't always going to completely change the way a game looks. In the case of FIFA 18, it's a nice effect that I might not have even noticed were I not specifically looking for it.
Halo 5: Guardians
Not every Xbox One X enhanced game is going to have support for HDR. The enhancement update for Halo 5: Guardians dropped yesterday, and while there's no HDR support, the game does run incredibly smooth at 60 frames-per-second 4K.
I'm still waiting on several big updates. Middle-earth: Shadow of War's 4K HDR update is listed as "Coming Soon" on the Xbox One X Enhanced list, as is Forza Motorsports 7, Final Fantasy XV, Madden NFL 18 and The Elder Scrolls Online. The Witcher III, Doom and Minecraft updates are "in development." Call of Duty: World War II is launching with 4K and HDR, but I'm waiting on the game to unlock.
So much waiting. Armed with a TV capable of displaying 4K HDR games, what I've gotten so far has certainly been worth waiting for. We'll see what else shakes loose between now and next week's official launch. Look for a full review of the Xbox One X then.
Some readers were curious about the size of the Xbox One X updates for HDR and 4K support. Here are a few examples.
- Halo Wars 2 HDR and 4K update: 17.89 GB
- Halo 5: Guardians 4K update: 15 GB, though that includea some new content.
- Quantum Break, around 50 GB on other Xbox One consoles, is currently downloading 83.7 GB to my Xbox One X, and that's not counting the 75 GB episode pack, containing the video of the game's TV show tie-in.