Knock knock, open up the door, it’s real.
Wit the non-stop, pop pop and stainless steel…
Let’s get this out of the way. If you already own an Xbox One S, then of course don’t run out and get this thing. It’s a better 4K Blu-ray player than the S, but unless you have a giant TV or sit two feet from your 4K, HDR display, you just won’t notice the difference.
If you haven’t upgraded your wheezing, red-ringed Xbox 360 or (unthinkably) never succumbed to Microsoft’s siren song of “the all-in-one games and entertainment system”, and can’t be having with all those filthy games on your important business PC, then the X may impress with its sleek presentation… if not the actual day-to-day experience of using it. The X brings with it an extensive upgrade to Microsoft’s confusing and cluttered Xbox user interface. The upgrade doesn’t really improve on the clutter or the confusion, but the sheer number of icons and sub-menus speaks to a really feature-rich experience. Which is good, right?
Still, it’s a rather foreign design language. Unlike the Nintendo Switch UI, which is dominated by large colourful tiles depicting currently installed games, Xbox expects users to choose a small geometric symbol on the side of the screen to go to another screen where games are listed. Oh, it’s possible to configure the layout of the home screen so games appear right there, but this is something you learn after an hour or so. It needs to be simpler.
Anyway, the X isn’t about the UI upgrade, it’s about the tech inside. This is the first “true” 4K-capable console, and it is impressive how small and sleek and silent the unit is. Smaller again than the already svelte Xbox One S, the X is as minimalist on the outside as it is maximalist within.
By which I mean it’s very powerful. Specs? Well, since consoles straddle a weird line between genuine all-purpose computer and gaming ASIC, the X’s CPU and RAM specs aren’t especially relevant (there’s an 8-core AMD CPU with kinda-sorta liquid cooling, but it’s all custom so comparison with anything else is pointless).
What is relevant is the GPU’s floating point performance: it’s self-rated at 6 teraFLOPS. That’s impressive, especially when you consider everything that runs on it has been specially tweaked to take advantage of the standardised hardware. Before you get too excited though, PC’s current GPU darling, NVIDIA’s GTX 1080Ti, claims 11.3 TFLOPS. Of course, that videocard alone costs twice as much as an Xbox X. Swings and roundabouts… in 4K!
Actual gaming performance is… wait, before we get to the games, we first have to convince the Xbox One X that our 4K HDR TV is really capable of 4K and HDR. Top tip: if your new Xbox One X refuses to accept that your $5000 quantum-dot TV is indeed capable of 4K and HDR, grab the TV’s remote, open “picture settings” and randomly mash all the buttons until the Xbox admits defeat.
Okay, so actual gaming performance is… wait, before we can play any games, we have to first update the Xbox itself (about a gigabyte), then restart, then after that we can get to downloading and updating the games.
Here in the PCTA labs we have access to a 100Mbps dedicated fibre link, so downloading Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty WWII and Forza 7 took merely a full working day (Forza 7 is 93GB by itself). These three games also took up 23% of the 1TB internal hard drive.
Unfortunately after dragging the X home, Forza 7 wanted to do another 81MB download – a mere sip of data, but it wouldn’t launch without it. Unfortunately this somehow messed up the install and the full 93GB was wiped. Microsoft’s response wasn’t literally “ayuh, she’ll do that” but it was close.
Assassin’s Creed ran smoothly enough in 4K, but it still looks better on a PC since a dedicated GPU can add in a lot more post-processing effects. Console graphics still look kinda flat, even in very high resolution. And the framerate chops. Not much, but it does.
Watching 4K HDR Blu-ray though is a revelation. Our review X came with a copy of the BBC’s Planet Earth II. We musta watched those snakes eat those baby iguanas like a hundred times.
That the Xbox One X is an engineering triumph – a true 4K capable gaming “computer” crammed into a box smaller than a DVD player from 2007 – is obvious. The question any prospective buyer needs to ask is whether the dubious benefits of quadrupling the pixels justifies doubling the price. Because an Xbox One S is very, very cheap right now.
Then again, the X will be cheap too, someday.
Xbox One X
The best Xbox One right now. Also, far and away the most expensive Xbox One right now.