Xbox One X: The Kotaku Review

Image: Alex Walker/Kotaku

The Xbox One X is a box filled with powerful components that's designed to do the same thing as a box with less powerful components, only a little bit better. That's a weird place for the "world's most powerful console" to be.

In an simpler time, the Xbox One X might have been Microsoft's next-generation console, using its substantial memory, CPU and GPU upgrades to power games the original Xbox One and last year's Xbox One S could only dream about.

Instead its enhanced power is mainly being applied towards taking advantage of two of the hottest display technology buzzwords since 3D (R.I.P.) -- high dynamic range (HDR) and 4K resolution.

4K Resolution

Right-click and open in a new tab for full-size

Full HD, aka 1080p, displays an image that is 1,920 pixels wide and 1,080 pixels high. 4K ultra HD doubles the number of pixels in both dimensions, resulting in an image that's 3,840 pixels across and 2,160 tall.

The greater pixel density of 4K makes for less noticeable aliasing (the jaggy edges that come from rendering curved lines with tiny squares) and allows for more detailed textures.

The trade-off is that a gaming console or PC needs to work much harder to render four times the pixels. A great deal of the Xbox One X's power goes towards making that happen.

High Dynamic Range

Deeper blacks, brighter whites and more colour detail in-between -- that's what HDR is all about. Standard display technology has a relatively limited contrast ratio, the difference between the brightest and darkest colours they can produce. A monitor or television that supports HDR has access to a much broader spectrum of colours to paint with. Keep an eye on Ronaldo's shirt in the GIF below.

The Xbox One X is a console built specifically to handle the rigors of 4K gaming while supporting HDR, and in most cases it handles its task admirably.

The rub here is that in order to fully enjoy those buzzwords, one needs a 4K television that supports HDR, specifically HDR10. Basic 4K TVs are relatively cheap these days, but HDR is another matter.

For the purposes of this review, the folks at TCL loaned me one of their 140cm P-Series sets, which featured everything I needed at a suggested retail price of $1095. (You may find better prices if you shop around, however.)

While ideally one would want to hook a 4K, HDR-capable television to the Xbox One X, players with 1080p sets can still benefit from its beefy specs. Xbox One X enhanced games can load faster, maintain more stable framerates and pack in fancy lighting effects than they would on older Xbox One hardware.

Through a technique called supersampling, the console can render in 4K but shrink the image to 1080p, which significantly reduces object aliasing.

The Xbox One X is a grand video game console, packed with powerful components and capable of improving many aspects of the Xbox One experience. It's also almost completely optional.

Specs

  • x86-64 2.3GHz 8-core AMD custom CPU
  • AMD Radeon-based graphics clocked at 1172MHz with 40 compute units, 6 TFLOPS
  • 12GB GDDR5 Memor
  • 1TB HDD
  • 4K UHD Blu-ray drive
  • Input/Output: Power, HDMI out, HDMI in, USB 3.0 x 3, IR out, S/PDIF, gigabit ethernet
  • Networking: IEEE 802.11ac dual band (5GHz and 2.4Ghz), 2x2 wireless Wi-Fi with Wi-Fi Direct
  • Power consumption: 245W
  • Size: 11.8" by 9.4" by 2.3"
  • Weight: 4kg/3.8 kg
  • Price: $US499.99 ($655)

The Hardware

Slightly smaller than the Xbox One S, yet weighing two pounds more, the Xbox One X is a dense piece of kit. It's a black box on top of a slightly smaller black box, nearly featureless on the front save the white light of the power button.

In a clever bit of design, the console's optical drive sits under the lip of the wider top section, hiding it from view. Coupled with the lack of topside vent holes (they're only on the sides and back now), the X has a sharp monolithic look.

The back of the unit features the exact same series of ports that are present on the Xbox One S -- two USB 3.0 (with a third on the front), HDMI in and out, an IR out, optical audio and network ports. Like the S, the X's power supply is internal, so the power cable is just a standard two-holed affair.

The controller included with the X is just a black version of last year's redesign, nothing new there.

Inside the Xbox One X is a series of custom components adding up to the impressive numbers Microsoft's been tossing about since the system was officially outed. Numbers are great, but what's much more impressive is how quietly the console runs under heavy loads. I've been using the X for over a week now, subjecting it to taking games like Assassin's Creed Origins and Call of Duty: World War II with all the 4K, HDR bells and whistles, and this thing is whisper-quiet.

Credit likely goes to the console's vapour chamber cooling system, a very efficient means of heat management that's seen a lot of use in video cards and some newer, ultra-slim laptops.

It's basically a heatsink comprised of two layers of metal lined with a wicking material, sandwiched together with a small amount of liquid sealed inside. When heat is applied to the liquid it turns to vapour. The vapour moves to a low pressure area of the chamber, dissipating its heat and returning to liquid form, ready to go through the process all over again.

The Xbox One X gets hot, but never uncomfortably so, and it stays quiet. In comparison, my PlayStation 4 Pro sounds like a tiny jet engine, and that's just sitting idle on the home screen.

The OS

Unpacking this cool new system, plugging it in and booting into the same exact interface as the console that came before it is a bit of a letdown. It's a very "iPhone upgrade" feeling. The X does add a little 4K stinger to the front of the boot process.

But after that it's pretty much business as usual.

The only significant difference I've come across is the ability to capture 30 second snippets of 4K, HDR video, or up to 60 minutes when recording to an external hard drive.

The Assassin's Creed Origins clip below was only 88 megabytes when I uploaded it to OneDrive.

The fun part? To view this in HDR, you need an HDR display. Go get one, we'll wait. Capturing HDR screenshots is slightly trickier. When an HDR screenshot is saved and uploaded to OneDrive it creates two files, a PNG and a JXR (Jpeg XR) file. The PNG file is super-bright.

While the JXR is dark and subdued.

To make the screenshot appear as it does on the Xbox One X where it was captured, the two composite images must be merged. I do not have access to a piece of software that will do this. I doubt many people do.

The Games

Great news! The Xbox One X is backwards compatible with every game for the regular Xbox One past, present or future! In many cases, it runs those games better than ever before!

It's difficult to muster excitement for a console's game lineup when all of those games can be played on an older version of the console released back in 2013. There is nothing I can play on the Xbox One X that I cannot play satisfactorily on the gunked-up launch day Xbox One with the busted Blu-ray drive my kids have been torturing in my living room since I swapped it for a One S last year.

It's not about the games the Xbox One X can play, but rather how well it plays them. Developers hip to take advantage of the console's increased power can make their games "Xbox One Enhanced." That's the designation that indicates a game has been modified in various ways that only Xbox One X owners can appreciate.

Take 2015's Halo 5: Guardians, for example. It's recently-released Xbox One X update allows the game to run in full 4K at 60 frames per second. It doesn't support HDR, but those larger textures really make the game's little details pop.

Right-click and open in a new tab for full-size

Looking for the full 4K, HDR experience? Forza Motorsports 7 is one of the console's buzzword poster-children, covering both bases at a crisp 60 frames per second. The game is beautiful in motion. Brilliant reflections ripple off the surface of speeding vehicles as they race towards a sunny sky so bright I have to squint.

Remember the JXR/PNG file thing? I cheated and did a Print Screen of the JXR in Photo Viewer, pasted it into Photoshop over the PNG file and modded the opacity. Not quite, but pretty close.

Don't get too used to 4K running at 60 frames per second. Most of the 4K on the Xbox One X runs closer to 30 frames per second, which I think is just fine, even if it makes many others grind their teeth.

Some games, like Middle-earth: Shadow of War, offer players a choice between 4K resolution and overall quality. Here's how Shadow of War splits things up, via its Xbox.com page.

Favour Resolution:

Increased texture detail and targets native 4K.

Favour quality:

Increased texture detail, increased draw distances, improved shadow and lighting quality, increased vegetation, improved ambient occlusion, higher polygon counts (keeping higher quality levels of detail on screen for longer), and texture filtering improvements.

Ark: Survival Evolved eschews 4K resolution altogether, the developers choosing to put the console's additional power to more constructive use. The Xbox One X Enhanced version of Ark supports either 1080p at 60 frames per second or a 1440p "detail mode," which only runs at 30 frames per second but adds improved draw distances, long-range shadows and the True Sky dynamic weather system from the PC. It looks really nice.

The Xbox One X version also supports 70 players per server and allows local co-op players to go their separate ways via split screen support. All of that, plus it loads much faster. I'll take all of that over 4K any day.

A lot of the Xbox One X's appeal is going to depend on how it enhances the games players want to play. Microsoft's got a huge list of current and upcoming enhanced games. Waiting for games to update is a pain, but the payoff can be quite nice.

Should You Upgrade?

Having upgraded from my original Xbox One to an Xbox One S and swapped my launch PlayStation 4 for a PlayStation 4 Pro, I understand the craving for the latest and greatest all too well. In terms of pure power, the Xbox One X is quite a leap over its predecessors, but that doesn't make taking the $US500 ($655) plunge a no-brainer. It all depends on the gear you've got.

If You Have A 4K HDR Television

If you've got a display capable of squeezing all of the juice out of the Xbox One X, you might as well take advantage. The original Xbox One is wasted on it, and the Xbox One S is only upscaling 1080p games to 4K resolution.

If You Have An Original Xbox One

If you're still sporting that 2013 tech, you should definitely upgrade -- just not necessarily to the Xbox One X. The One S is faster, smaller and just all-around cooler than big black box Microsoft foisted on us at launch.

With the 1TB model currently selling for half the price of the Xbox One X, unless you've got a really fancy TV or see an Xbox One X game enhancement you can't live without, the S is the system to get.

If You Have An Xbox One S

Again with the TV caveat, probably not. Take a look at this chart, found on the official Xbox page.

The Xbox One S plays all the games, works with all the accessories, supports advanced audio technologies and plays and streams ultra HD video. It even supports HDR, which you'd think would make it on to the checklist.

Unless you had your heart set on 6 teraflops or are really into relishing 40 per cent more power, the Xbox One S is just fine.

A Spectacular Console In An Awkward Position

The Xbox One X is an outstanding piece of gaming hardware. It's powerful. It's exquisitely engineered. It not only runs games at 4K resolution, it runs them smoothly and quietly.

It's also an Xbox One, a console that's been struggling to keep up with Sony's PlayStation 4 since the two launched within a week of each other back in 2013. The Xbox One doesn't have as many games.

It certainly doesn't have as many big exclusives. Further muddying the waters, last year Sony introduced the PlayStation 4 Pro, a new PS4 capable of running games at 4K with HDR support. The Xbox One X is a little more powerful and sports a 4K ultra HD Blu-ray drive, which the Pro lacks, but the Pro is also $US100 ($131) cheaper.

Meanwhile, Nintendo is winning hearts and minds with the Switch, a hybrid handheld/console that, in handheld mode, only runs at 720p. It's like having good games is more important than outputting at really high resolution.

The Xbox One X faces competition from all sides, including its own. Its most highly-touted features, 4K and HDR, require display technology that's still in the early stages of adaptation.

It's a really good console that's also a really hard sell.

WATCH MORE: Xbox News


Comments

    Got a Scorpio Edition one, and overall I am mightily pleased with it, even from just a purely asthetics POV. Love that it comes with a stand, so i can have it sit vertically, which will help when i finally install some floating shelves next to the wall mounted TV

      Also got a Scorpio so far so happy with it I’m replaying a couple of older games and just in awe at the details I can see now. Had a few issues with my external HDD not loading games but loaded to internal and no issues so far. If you have a data cap or slow internet the first few days could be painful. I haven’t turned it off since I got it as I’ve been constantly updating games and then having to transfer to internal.

    One thing I find in the whole X1X vs PS4 Pro wars, I'm seeing speedups (or at least less frame drops) for games that aren't enhanced any which way. Those of us living with PS4 Pro's have generally gotten acquainted with the 'disable PS4 Pro enhancements' toggle due to some of the odd things it does in a few games.

    Got my Scorpio, its doing okay, will no doubt use to revisit some old 360 games I keep telling myself I will play, RDR being at the top of that list. On that note I finally played Gears of War 3 for the first time on my xbone last year and now I'm a bit miffed that I couldn't wait just one more year for that 4K update lol

    Picked mine up on Tuesday and absolutely love it. I'm fortunate enough to have an LG Oled so I can get the most out of the console. Assassins Creed Origins in particular looks absolutely spectacular. I totally understand that the X is a hard sell if you don't have a killer display to go with it. So far I'm happy with the X and the price I paid, it delivers what it promises.

      I only have a 1080p plasma, and while playing origins last night, the wife commented, "What movie are you watching?" That's a win for me.

    Biggest gripe? Lack of internal storage.

    The size of installations thanks to 4k content have exploded - forza motorsport 7 over 100gig alone. I have an external hard drive already but Microsoft should have put in a 2TB HDD as standard.

    Last edited 09/11/17 2:06 pm

    Maybe there'll be enough power to add split screen back in ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      Halo 3 has 4 player split screen and each qtr is 1080p

        Cool. That was ten years ago and ran on a 360. Halo 4 removed me as a fan when they removed split screen for "more graphics". In fairness it was a terrible game, and splitscreen wouldn't have helped that much. Hence why I haven't played 5 at all

    Seems like the real benefits will come with the adoption of 4K TVs and better software support - similar to the PS4 Pro.

    Seems it is selling really well.
    Hardcore gamers want the option and if the average gamer is 35 they have the disposable income.

    I fkn love my X. My jaw keeps dropping. LOVE IT

    I've got a sweet 4K HDR TV, an Xbox One S and a PS4Pro.

    I won't be upgrading any time soon.

    This is based on what I've seen as crappy support for the PS4Pro.

    EDIT: Actually if they make it so I can use the Xbox One X as a PC by installing windows software on it. I'd have one already. I've little need for a PC anymore, but I need one for the odd thing. A console that can do the odd PC'ing would be sweet candy.

    Last edited 09/11/17 5:45 pm

    Whatever happened to photo realism? This souped up Xbox is still just a minor update. Ps4 Pro doesn't do any better. Why are we getting DLC's? 30Gb update for a bloody game to install before you can play? 21st century and we have this rubbish. Rant over.

    Big fat black donut Commodore. Make some exclusives. I hope it sells well as much as I hate microsoft this gen I don't want them to disappear

    I have a 4k TV that doesn't have HDR. Is it still going to be worth upgrading to an X?

    I still run a day 1 original XBONE, so I know it'll be a huge step up, but is it going to be significantly worth it with my 4k only TV?

    Am I the only one who prefers 3D to 4k?
    After the initial "wow" factor from 4k, once I actually watch something the 4k wow factor fades away, whereas as 3D immersion remains.

      same here, i would love to see a field of wheet in a game :D

    Its The Price £450 & £50 for a standard edition game, Then a 4K TV on top, not to mention Xbox Live and your Internet fee to connect up now thats Expensive,
    A new Computer looks the way to go If your Investing for the Future, or the Xbox one s, sure looks appealing price wise, for now.
    But the Xbox One X, Now that
    s what Every Gamer will buy when the Prices come down without a doubt, with or without a 6K TV or is it 4K or is it Ok TV or Oled right up the garden path.
    Upgrades Upgrades ,When I buy one I will wrap it up in Cotton wool, seriously Over Priced Mouth Watering Console Might be that but it oversteps the mark, the price mark
    So time to learn how to build a PC although I would Love to have them all,
    The Fancy Computer Build Looks the best bet in the Grand Dept, or Am I having Grand Delusions again, O Mother....... Board, what to do, Microsoft Owns them All
    4K specs, and 10 bit TV, can wait, Looks like the Xbox one s for me, with the 1080p and Assasins Creed Origins I need somewhere to let steam Off

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now