Xbox Series X Review – Console as time machine

admin 4 - Nov 5, 2020, 8:00am CST
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Xbox Series X Review – Console as time machine
Editors' Rating: 9/10
Pros
  • Enables 4K 120Hz, 8K 60Hz gaming/video
  • Remote Play works like a charm
  • Plays vast majority of legacy Xbox games
  • Makes old Xbox games look and play better
  • Super simple transition from legacy Xbox
Cons
  • Requires Xbox/Microsoft account to use
  • Depends on internet connection more than ever
  • Availability limited (at launch)

Xbox Series X is a doorway to the next generation in console gaming. Xbox Series X also launched with the ability to play the vast majority of Xbox games (Xbox, Xbox 360, Xbox One), making the lot look and feel better in the process. It might seem to most that buying a new Xbox is a foregone conclusion – of course, why not? The question isn’t if, but when, and why?

Why should I buy an Xbox Series X?

If you have a television with capabilities that your old Xbox does not fully utilize, the Xbox Series X is a worthy investment. The Xbox Series X works with up-to 8K resolution video/gaming, and up to 120fps gaming/video frame rate. That, compared to the up-to 4K/60fps of the Xbox One X, could be the only point on which you need to decide your next gaming console.

If you want to play old Xbox games that aren’t available on your current Xbox, the Xbox Series X (or S) are here for you. Every single game we’ve tested on the Xbox Series X looked better than it did with the console on which it was first released.

Take for example Joy Ride Turbo. That’s an Xbox 360 game that I’ve not played for years. I downloaded the game and jumped back in like no time had passed, and was surprised to find that the game didn’t look like garbage. If you’ve been enjoying Xbox games since Xbox first existed, Xbox Series X is a portal back through your entire collection.*

*With the exception of games that are dependent on the Xbox Kinect. This console seems to be taking a much more concentrated approach than Xbox One did, what with its facial recognition login and voice commands and Skype and whatnot. Xbox Series X seems to aim much more clearly for the gamer, rather than “every single sort of person who watches TV in the living room.”

When to hesitate

If you already own an Xbox One X or S and you’re wondering if you absolutely NEED to buy an Xbox Series X or S as soon as possible: Have no fear. Microsoft isn’t about to abandon the Xbox One series just yet. There’s far more profit to be had in a gradual transition.

If you have no interest in any of the advanced features of the Xbox Series X and only want the new console because it’s the newest hardware, check yourself. Or better yet, check your television. There’s no use in paying for a gaming console to ramp up to 8K if you do not have an 8K television. The same goes for HDR and 120fps refresh rate – your television might not have the ability to work with these features.

If you have a television with an HDMI port, you CAN use an Xbox Series X or S. If you want the full capabilities of the console, you’ll need to make sure that your television works with HDMI 2.1 so it’s capable of 4k+ video with 120Hz image refresh rate.

The console comes with a proper HDMI 2.1 cord – that does not mean your television will be able to fully utilize the capabilities of the console. You should be able to use the Xbox Series X and its included HDMI 2.1 cord even if your television does not have HDMI 2.1, so long as it has an HDMI port.

If you’re expecting that the price of the Xbox Series X or S will be reduced any time soon, it’s probably best to forego that expectation. It’s generally only after many months that any new gaming console has any sort of price adjustment.

What’s in the box?

Microsoft clearly focused on what’s inside more than the exterior of the Xbox Series X. This gaming machine has a custom AMD Zen 2 CPU with 8x Cores @ 3.8 GHz (3.6 GHz w/SMT) with Custom RDNA 2 GPU (52CU @ 1.825GHz) capable of of a cool 12 TFLOPS. This machine works with 16GB GDDR6 w/320 bit bus RAM and a custom 1TB NVME SSD for data storage.

The Xbox Series X is able to play new games and the vast majority of the games released for each of the elder Xbox consoles. The Xbox Series X is 15.1 cm × 15.1 cm × 30.1 cm (5.9 in × 5.9 in × 11.9 in) large in physical size, with a weight of 9.8 pounds (4.4kg).

The HDMI 2.1 cable included in the box is necessary to enable the console to deliver 4320p (8K) resolution at 24 – 60Hz, and 2160p (4K) at 120Hz. The Xbox Series X has HDMI Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) and AMD FreeSync capabilities.

This device is one of two – the other is a less expensive Xbox Series S. The S model has the same CPU as the X, with no optical drive, less internal storage, reduced GPU power, and less memory. The S has a max resolution of 2160 (4K) while the X can run 4320p (8K).

In the box you’ll get the Xbox Series X console itself, a power cord, an HDMI 2.1 cord, a new Xbox Wireless Controller, and documentation. This is the simplest edition of the Xbox Series X. There’ll certainly be other editions in the future with included games and/or accessories beyond the single basic controller.

All the Entertainment Apps

Microsoft’s worked with every major streaming content provider active today, it would seem, to make certain the Xbox Series X launches with the full gamut. Microsoft didn’t make as big a deal with Xbox Series X (as it did with Xbox One) about it being a do-everything home entertainment centerpiece, but it is. The Xbox Series X certainly is that sort of machine.

Xbox Series X works with Netflix*, Hulu, Disney+*, HBO Max, YouTube, YouTube TV, Amazon Prime Video, VUDU*. Also available at launch: Apple TV**, NBC Peacock, FandangoNow, Twitch, Sky Go, Now TV, Spotify, and Sky Ticket. Notably absent from this mix: Any and all Google apps.

*Netflix, Disney+, and VUDU all work with Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos sound, so long as you’ve got a television that’s also compatible with said tech.

As it was with the Xbox One, the Xbox Series X is not particularly open to holding and playing all your downloaded movie files… and such. We seem firmly removed, at this point, from the brief moment in history where it was easier to download and hold all the movie files and TV show episodes we wanted on a home media center. Microsoft drives this point home with focus on the biggest streaming services in the industry.

Subscription Services

Microsoft is not shy about hammering away at your eyes and brain about the availability of subscription services. The startup sequence for Xbox Series X includes a pathway to setup using the Xbox App on your phone. Microsoft wants to make it as easy and seamless as possible for you to feel a desire for and need of services like Xbox Game Pass Ultimate.

To be clear, here: You do not NEED to pay a monthly subscription fee to play games on a new Xbox Series X or S. You can buy the console and a single game and play that game forever, if you want. Microsoft isn’t shy, though, about making sure you know that your experience will be enhanced with “free perks, including in-game content, consumables, and partner offers, as well as member discounts…” with Xbox Game Pass.

If you’re using new features like Remote Play, you’ll be enticed to experience the wider world of smartphone-enabled play-anywhere gaming from Microsoft. Xbox Series X Remote Play seems to work a LOT quicker and more reliably that Xbox Series X at the moment. Tested with the same gear, same internet, same phone, same controller, the Xbox Series X plays reliably enough to be competitive, while I’d only trust the Xbox One X Remote Play for late-night runs for fun.

Games old and new

The Xbox Series X is like a gaming console time machine. I know I’ll be able to play all of the top-tier big-name video games developed for consoles in the future (with the exception of any PS5 exclusives, of course). I also know I’ll be able to play any Xbox video game I’ve ever played in the past. Or if I find an old, used Xbox game (a physical disc), I’ll be able to load and play that game without issue. Even better – I’ll be able to play those games with visuals and performance that’s as good as it’s ever been on any other Xbox – or better

ABOVE: Our testing setup. On the left you’ll see an Xbox Series X (with a custom-printed skin). On the right you’ll see the Xbox Series X. BELOW: The same pair of consoles – don’t let the photo above fool you, they’re almost identical in height.

Games that I’ve played for months, or years, are revitalized. For example I loaded Sunset Overdrive, a game released in the year 2014. I’ve come back to this game for over a half-decade because it’s a semi-open-world entertainment system of sorts – it doesn’t get old. This is not a game that’s been specifically optimized for enhanced gameplay on Xbox Series X – but it looks better, loads faster, and feels like its been given a visual boot in the pants.

Sunset Overdrive is one of a collection of games that instantly started up from the point at which I’d left off on the Xbox Series X. It was just as easy to move from Xbox One X to Series X as it was from Xbox One S to One X, or One to One S.

In our original Xbox One Review, a ran through the paces with launch titles aplenty. This was more important with Xbox One because Xbox One didn’t have immediate access to the vast majority of the Xbox games back-catalogue. With Xbox Series X, we’ve tested the old and the new.

Unfortunate for some of the most awesome games that’ll be available at launch for the public, we’ve not gotten enough time to relay impressions here in the first release of this Xbox Series X Review. We’ll certainly be updating this review as soon as we’ve had adequate time with titles like DIRT 5 and Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla.

Microsoft has a running list of games that are “Xbox One X Enhanced” in one way or the other. Most of the time this means they’ve been given the ability to load faster and play smoother. Occasionally that means they’ve been given the ability to play in higher resolution than you’ve ever seen them played before. Almost without fail, games we’ve played in the past loaded faster and played smoother on Xbox Series X than we’ve ever seen them load or play before.

NOTE: When I say games played smoother, I’m referring to processing speed in the game, not necessarily frame rate. For some games, like Minecraft (at launch, anyway), won’t show major improvements in graphics right out the gate. Instead, we saw improvements in processing power.

Same Game, no special treatment

Below you’ll see two screenshots. I captured both screenshots on the same day, in the same world (Adventure Time) in Minecraft, with the same settings. We’ve got 4K resolution here – both consoles were connected to the same monitor.

Above you’ll see what a Minecraft player sees on an Xbox One X. Below you’ll see what a Minecraft player sees on an Xbox Series X. The only differences you’ll see here are the position of the clouds and the horse. If a game is not specifically Optimized for Xbox Series X, the differences you’ll see – the differences we’ve seen – are in load times.

Xbox Series X Load times

I did not expect that the Xbox Series X’s load times for games to be quite so pronounced. For games I’ve played for a decade, the difference between 5+ minutes and 2 minutes load time can feel massive. For games that can get slower the more you play them, like Minecraft, Xbox Series X was a godsend.

Minecraft takes 7 minutes to load on an Xbox One X, and another 5 minutes to generate a world. This timing is relative, of course, and has to do with the amount of data we’ve worked with on the Xbox Series X console in the time we’ve played over the past few years. Loading Minecraft on Xbox series X takes 2 minutes, and another minute to generate a world – like it should. We experienced similar cuts in load time for each game we tested – Minecraft’s processing time improvement was right around average VS the rest of the games we tested on both consoles.

Controllers

Official Microsoft-made controllers from the Xbox One series devices work with the Xbox Series X. The most basic versions of Xbox Series X (and S) include the new Xbox Wireless Controller. The new controller is at least as good and in several ways better than the Xbox One wireless controller, but not quite as pro-grade as the official Elite Controller released in two iterations (Gen 1, Gen 2) so far.

I enjoy using the new Xbox Wireless Controller more than the most basic controller released for the Xbox One. Tiny reasons like the inclusion of USB-C for charging, and the new, far simpler pathway to sharing screenshots and video clips, make the controller ever-so-slightly better for the way I tend to use the Xbox.

This new controller isn’t as heavy as the Elite controller – it’s comparable in weight to the standard Xbox One wireless controller. The joysticks are tighter – in a good way – than the Xbox One’s joysticks. The directional pad is slightly clickier. The slightly more tactile feel of the directional pad on the new controller is superior in a way I did not realize I wanted – but now do not want to live without.

There’s a texture on the grips of the new controller that’s better than the slick flatness of the original Xbox One controller, but not quite as best-in-class as the rubbery grips on the Elite controller.

NOTE: We’re talking about the Gen 1 Elite Controller here – but the qualities to which we refer are at least as good in Gen 2 as they are in Gen 1.

If you’ve already found your favorite controller – like my Elite Controller here – it’ll be difficult to change. And there’s little need to change – old controllers work with this new console. But as you’ll get a new controller in the box with the new console, you may as well give the new controller a whirl.

Xbox Series X Verdict

The Xbox Series X is a masterpiece of modern home entertainment optimization. It performs admirably, right out of the box, at the same time as it feels wholly familiar and comforting to use. Microsoft seems to have learned the most valuable lessons from the last launch, here – there is no learning curve, and no shock, save the shock of seeing even the oldest games look and feel better than they ever have before.

SEE TOO: Xbox Series X unboxing and first impressions

You’ll find the Xbox Series X available for approximately $500 USD if you’re able to find the console at original retail price. Microsoft also released the device with an Xbox All Access plan for approximately $35 per month with “no upfront cost and 0% APR for 24 months” – that includes the console itself and 2 years of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate.

A price of $500 is well worth what you get with the Xbox Series X. I’d recommend against payment plans that include subscriptions to services ONLY if you’re not the sort to read the fine print, or often forget to cancel services after you’ve gone through the trial period. If you’re the sort that stays on-point when it comes to bills and subscription fees, go for it!

The extended review: We’ll be reviewing all manner of new games for Xbox Series X here on 88gadget.info through the future. You’ll find the lot over in our Gaming Reviews portal. There you’ll also find a collection of gaming lifestyle peripherals, accessories, graphics processors, and the occasional box of gaming-adjacent cereal. There you’ll find more in-depth looks at the games you may want to buy and play after you’ve started playing your brand new Xbox Series X.


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