Living with an Xbox One X. Our long term test.
So this is our long term Xbox One X 1TB Console review. As opposed to playing for one week, and giving you views based on some limited experience, I decided to live with our Xbox One X for a good few months before passing comment. Now I’m prepared, and happy to pass comment on the pro and cons of the latest console from Microsoft.
First things first, we got the Scorpio edition which came with a lovely stand which allows the console to go vertical. Now this might seem like a strange place to start, but combined with the tiny size of the Xbox One X, it allows the console to go next to your TV (well depending on your setup), looking very classy indeed. Classiness aside though, I think that being out of a cabinet and being in effect free standing, has meant the console is very well aired. This has resulted in the console being the quietest device in the living room. Against the other two main ‘boxes’ in the room it wins easily: It is quieter than the PS4 Pro, by far, and quieter than the Sky Q box. I should state it is not just the quietest device currently in the living room, but the quietest console I have ever had.
The next thing to note about the Xbox One X, compared to other Xbox One consoles is the speed at which you can navigate the menus. Microsoft have, since launch, tried to optimise the Xbox front end multiple times, but ultimately, there isn’t enough system resource available to make it a lag free experience. I find that ironic. If I was designing a console I would make sure it’s spec and architecture was built around the user having a perfect experience with the menus first, with then enough power added on top to run the actual games.
I believe that when creating the original Xbox One, Microsoft, designed a spec for a console to run some great games, THEN worked on the user experience and had to compromise how much power they could make available to the operating system. The Xbox One fixes this oversight, as it has more than enough power, and has more resources dedicated to the system OS. Hence the overall user experience is much improved, faster and less jarring.
Now let’s get to the meat of why someone would want the console, i.e. to play 4K games. First, for those still with the original Xbox One, let’s clear up some confusion. The Xbox One S outputs in 4K too, BUT the games are being rendered using 1080p friendly assets. So in effect for games the console is up-scaling to 4K, whilst for streaming apps where there are 4K versions (such as with Netflix) it will play native 4K video. On the Xbox One X, the console itself is powerful enough to render the actual games in 4K (or at least a higher resolution than the Xbox One S), and improve the frame rate (so games become smoother to play in terms of animation/response time).
So the Xbox One X is a real step up. It really is offering better looking and performing versions of a range of games. ~n Xbox One X version of a game will have extra data installed upon installation. This extra data will be higher resolution assets for example. Often, games will offer the user a choice as to how to use the extra power. I.E. does the user want a true 4K image, but 30 frames per second, OR a lesser resolution (but which is normally still much better than the standard Xbox One version), and a faster frame rate, nearer to 60 frames per second. You should remember, though, that the Xbox One X won’t always be rendering in true 100% 4K. Often games will use, what is called a dynamic resolution – meaning it is fluctuating, with the final ‘image’ being upscaled to 4K before it hits the TV. The PS4 Pro does this a lot, as it is not as powerful as the Xbox One X, but the Xbox One X does use this too.
How does this stack up in the real world? Now when I say the real world, I literally mean as a user. No fancy videos analysing tech performance, we can leave that to the Digital Foundry (who are excellent at what they do). The question you will be asking is, can these improvements and changes be seen to the naked eye, easily, without having to ‘search’ for them, or convince yourself that they are actually there.
The good news is that on a whole range of games the console shines! On first party console games such as Halo 5 it looks sublime as does Quantum Break. On a large 4K TV, especially one with either official HDR or unofficial, with rich colours, the graphics pop. You see details you wouldn’t normally see, and whilst 4K is not the same as 3D, a well composed 4K image starts to get into the territory where an image starts to fool the brain into seeing perspective, i.e. natural 3D, similar to that we see in real life.
One of the highlights of the recent slew of end of 2017 games, which looked amazing was the latest Call of Duty: WW2 title. COD has always been about a 60 FPS experience, and super smooth gameplay. On the Xbox One X, the game is able to maintain this, but has really upped the anti in the visual feast side of things. It looks amazing, and on a really good TV, (we have a top of the line 55 inch Samsung UHD model), pops. It’s like the gaming’s equivalent of an IMAX experience in the home.
Another game that really stands out is Star Wars Battlefront 2, which is amazing. The only word that comes to mind is ‘clarity’. The clarity of the image is amazing. The on foot sections pull you into the screen, whilst the space battles are remarkable. Never have we felt closer to being in one of the movies. We are not talking about small differences here, subtle to the human eye. In these cases you do not need analysis, with the right TV, the difference is clear and enthralling. The Frostbite engine (used in Star Wars) clearly loves the Xbox One X system architecture, as Fifa18 takes another leap to photo realism when played on the system.
Another first party showcase is Gears of War 4. The level of detail is huge upgrade, with texture detail just not seen on the base version. Once again the overall ‘effect’ are graphics that feel immersive and with a good enough TV, ‘3D’ at times without the glasses.
Games we have played which have really shown off the Xbox One X:
- Assassins Creed Origins
- Call of Duty WW2
- Destiny 2
- Dishonored 2
- Forza 7
- Halo 5
- Fifa 18
- Gears of War 4
- Halo Wars 2
- Middle Earth: Shadow of War
- Star Wars Battlefront 2
- TitanFall 2
- The Witcher 3
To be honest, it is clear that at launch both the PS4 and Xbox One was underpower. Both consoles were very underpowered compared to PCs, even PCs of the time, and the Xbox One was underpowered even compared to the launch PS4. Clearly there was a risk that the older, more hard core gamer might leave the world of consoles altogether and invest in PC systems. Valve even tried to take advantage of this, and planned the ‘Steam Box’ revolution to fill that gap, and came up with a way of putting a pretty powerful PC in the living room. However, Sony and Microsoft, with their console upgrades have, between them, stopped that revolution from taking place.
Sony’s approach is clearly a ’just enough’ approach. They have done just enough to justify their PS4 Pro. The price of the console is lower than the Xbox One X, and that is reflected in the upgrade it offers. The Xbox One X, is the true complete package. 4K games (rendering at 4K, or on the whole much closer to that target than the PS4 Pro does most of the time), 4K streaming and even 4K UHD BlueRay discs (something missing from the PS4 Pro). Let’s remember too, the Xbox One X is small, quiet too and has tons of apps for all sorts of channels and content that the PS4 does not offer.
If Sony first party games aren’t the most important thing for you, we would have to recommend Xbox One X for any serious gamer who doesn’t want to invest in a top of the line gaming PC rig to have in their living room.
Clearly at some point the Xbox One X will be eclipsed by a PS5 or Xbox One XX (we wonder if there is a clear naming convention at Microsoft anymore!), but it will take at least a couple of years, until Xbox One X owners feel that the PC brigade is getting to far away from their base experience. Plus there are other variables, besides the console which would stop living room owners catching up with those with dedicated gaming PCs. I.E. even if a console could offer 120 frames per second, few existing TVs can show that data, or even if there was a console that could pump out 8K graphics (yes 8K is a ‘thing’ now), few TVs will be out (and affordable) to display them.
Hence right now and for the next few years, the Xbox One X offers the most reliable and robust way of experiencing 4K content in the living room, with the best price, and best overall user experience.