The Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S launch on November 10 in Australia. Despite the weird year we’ve been having and multiple development delays, gaming has barrelled straight ahead into 2020 with laser precision. Come rain, hail or shine, the next generation of consoles is here and coming to a store shelf near you.
If you’re considering the upgrade, or you just want to dive into some shiny, next gen games, there’s some important factors to weigh up before you commit to a purchase.
The biggest difference between the Xbox One and Xbox Series is performance
The leap between the Xbox One and the Xbox Series consoles isn’t immediately obvious, but there’s a few notable upgrades worth mentioning.
The biggest (and most attractive) difference is the graphical performance of the Xbox Series X. While the Xbox One X was capable of 4K HDR gaming, the Xbox Series X is capable of outputting an 8K HDR signal. You won’t actually be playing games at 8K though: Phil Spencer told Wired that 8K gaming was merely “aspirational technology”.
“I think we’re years away from 8K being — if it ever is — standard in video games,” he said.
That said, the support of higher refresh rates — and TVs that can support higher refresh rates at 4K — will be a huge upgrade. Whereas the Xbox One X could struggle to maintain 30 frames per second in existing AAA games, some Xbox Series X optimised games will hit 4K/60 FPS with HDR. It’ll even be as high as 120 FPS in certain titles, although that won’t necessarily always be at 4K. Halo: Master Chief Collection will hit 120 FPS on the Xbox Series X, but Yakuza: Like A Dragon will only be running at 1440p if you want 60 FPS gameplay.
Basically, games look really nice, and run really smooth. Skin is more textured, plants are brighter and more intricate, and the Xbox Series X allows for high tech raytracing that adds a greater sense of photorealism.
The Xbox Series X’s impressive performance is backed up by the latest 7 nanometre silicon from AMD, boosting not only the performance of its graphics but powering a much faster, more efficient CPU. But it’s arguably the addition of an internal NVMe SSD drive, which powers the faster loading speeds and features like Quick Resume, which saves your game state for easy access.
Each of these new features is great and builds on the capabilities of new Xbox consoles. It means the Xbox Series X and Series S are miles ahead of last generation in terms of processing power, sheer graphical capabilities, but also ease of use.
Whether it’s the dramatic lighting of Gears 5 to the shimmering pores of Yakuza: Like the Dragon, you’ll notice the difference in graphics and quality immediately. And if that’s what you’re after, you should definitely consider the Xbox Series X in your purchasing plans — eventually.
Despite these improvements, there is a massive elephant in the room for the Xbox Series X right now: its games lineup.
Let’s talk about the Xbox Series X/S games lineup
At launch, the Xbox Series X and Series S will have no ‘exclusive’ games that can’t be played on Xbox One or Windows PC. Yakuza: Like the Dragon, Tetris Effect: Connected and Gears Tactics (all flagship launch titles) can all be played on Xbox One consoles.
That’s not to say there isn’t a reason to invest in the console, though.
At launch, there’ll be over 30 games ‘optimised’ for Xbox Series X. This means they’ll have upgraded graphics, faster loading times, ray tracing and other performance improvements. If your television is capable of these high spec graphics, you’ll have access to incredible sights. If you’re using an older HDMI 2.0 TV, you’ll still notice the elevated performance of the Xbox Series X, but it’ll be to a lesser degree. You’ll also have to be patient for the best-looking games the console can produce.
For now the Xbox Series X/S games lineup is very thin, and every game you’re likely craving will already be on your old Xbox One. (The exception here is if you’ve never had an Xbox before. If you’re brand new to the console, there’ll certainly be plenty to enjoy for the first time here.)
This elephant also has another elephant friend in the room, and its name is HDMI 2.1.
Let’s talk about HDMI 2.1
HDMI 2.1 is one of the major obstacles facing the next generation of consoles. This tech enables transfer of higher video resolutions and refresh rates than modern TVs, but both connected devices need to be HDMI 2.1 compatible for this transfer for occur. While the next generation of consoles (Xbox Series X and PS5 included) are compatible with HDMI 2.1, most people won’t have a compatible TV set for this tech.
You’ve got TVs like Samsung’s Q70T, Q80T and Q95T models, Sony’s Full Array LD models and the LG NanoCell range on the market, but these begin around the $1,995 mark. For a modern television it’s not an awful price tag, but if you’re purchasing a console and hoping to take advantage of HDMI 2.1’s better graphics, it’s a big investment. The major issue isn’t the price, it’s the newness of the technology.
If you purchased a TV set in the last two to three years, it’s still ‘new’ and perfectly serviceable — but it likely won’t be HDMI 2.1 compatible. Most people lack the resources for an insta-upgrade to new tech, and this sudden obsolescence of modern TVs is a shame for both your wallet and the environment.
If you don’t currently have a HDMI 2.1-compatible TV (or you’re not planning on investing in one soon), you’ll miss out on the upper end of the Xbox Series X’s capabilities. That being the case, it might be better to hold out for the future, when HDMI 2.1 televisions are more mainstream, more affordable, and guaranteed to support the bandwidth necessary for newer technologies — like Dolby Vision HDR for games, which will arrive on the Xbox Series X and S from 2021.
Consider your personal means before you invest.
Xbox Series X or Xbox Series S?
If you’ve made up your mind and you’re looking to get a new Xbox console at launch (and there’s stock around) you’ll be better off going with the Xbox Series X.
There is a significant price difference between the two ($749 for the XSX vs. $499 for XSS) but you’ll gain access to a lot of excellent new features. While the Xbox Series S is a nifty console with solid capabilities, it can’t reach the eye-opening performance levels of the Xbox Series X.
The lack of a disc drive for the Xbox Series S is also a major consideration here. All games are available digitally, but you’ll likely end up paying more in the long run for this decision. The Xbox Series S can play every game the Xbox Series X can, but you’ll have to purchase them directly from the Microsoft Store at full price.
You’ll be paying $99.95 for a digital title others may be able to purchase for closer to $79 or $69 at retail. Those costs will add up not just over the lifetime of a console, but the course of one or two big years, especially if you’re considering multiple AAA games day one.
The only exception to this rule is if you primarily use (or want to use) Xbox Game Pass alone. The subscription service gives you access to the latest and greatest in games for a small monthly fee. You won’t have to worry about digital pricing if you prefer Game Pass over purchasing individual games; you may be happier with the cheaper upfront cost. But you’ll need to forgo the improved graphics and gut-busting power of the Xbox Series X, but this could be a secondary option if shiny graphics don’t fuss you too much.
You don’t need an Xbox Series X or Series S right now, particularly if you already own an Xbox One X.
For new or returning Xbox fans it’s a wonderful console with plenty of games and features to get excited about, but if you’re already playing on an Xbox One X, there won’t be enough ‘new’ about the console at launch to really get stuck into. That goes doubly so if you don’t have a TV capable of HDMI 2.1 compatibility.
With games set to come out at a steady pace over the next few months (and years), you’re more likely to get value out of the console if you wait on the sidelines for a killer Xbox Series X exclusive, and games that better take advantage of its 120 FPS capabilities.
The Xbox Series X is an exciting console. But its peak will be a few years down the track when exciting games like the Fable reboot, Avowed and Halo Infinite are closer, and the future of the Bethesda catalogue is clearer.
If you missed out on a preorder, don’t feel too bad. The best of the Xbox Series X is yet to come.