We've reviewed the Xbox One S and concluded that this is a great update to the console, making it an attractive option for anyone who hasn't committed yet and wants to join the Xbox family but also as a great media device for those wanting to embrace 4K.
We're delving a little deeper into what it will do in the Ultra HD space and here we'll guide you through the ins and outs and pros and cons of choosing the Xbox One S as your Ultra HD media player of choice.
Xbox One S: TV settings are key
Let's start at the beginning. The screen you connect your Xbox One S to is going to have a major impact on your experience. Ultra HD, or 4K, is currently in the realms of things not being plug and play, so there's some fiddling around to do.
We connected the Xbox One S to two main televisions. Firstly the Samsung KS9500, which is Samsung's top tier curved direct-lit LED TV, at 65-inches. Secondly the LG OLED C6, which is LG's latest curved OLED display at 55-inches. Both offer Ultra HD resolutions, both offer HDR and both can be considered excellent televisions.
In both cases, the Xbox One S accepted that these TVs would support Ultra HD resolutions, but at the first pass, said they wouldn't support everything in other situations.
Head into settings > display & sound > video output and you'll find a range of options. The most useful is checking compatibility, in the "advanced video settings", you'll find a breakdown of what the One S thinks your TV will do, under the "4K TV details" option.
This will tell you what your display can do, and if the Xbox is reporting something different to what you believe, you might have to tweak your settings. The biggest problem here is different standards of display.
The LED Samsung offers 10-bit display, the OLED LG a 12-bit display and telling the Xbox what it's connected to solves some of these problems and there's a drop-down box to accommodate those alternatives. There's also the option for an 8-bit display, which will be older 4K TVs without HDR. If you have a 2014 or 2015 4K TV, you might need this option.
If things aren't working, check you're on the right bit depth for your display and try restarting both the TV and the Xbox and check again. In both cases we moved from little support to full support after a settings tweak.
Xbox One S: Tweak your HDMI settings
On 4K TVs you'll find individual settings for each HDMI. Although watching 4K works directly on many TVs, to get the full benefits of HDR, you'll have to dive deeper and ensure the HDMI UHD Color setting is switched on. (This setting has different names on different TVs from different manufacturers - HDMI UHD Color is Samsung, LG uses HDMI Ultra HD Deep Colour, for example.)
Fail to turn that on and you will find that your fancy Ultra HD Blu-rays will look a little flat, as there's no HDR coming through - and that makes a big difference, if not the biggest difference, to Ultra HD Blu-ray viewing.
Also, find the info button on your remote and press it, as this will usually tell you want the TV is showing you - for Samsung you'll get an indicator of HDR, the resolution and the frame rate (24fps, for example). LG is a little poor in this regard, but many other TVs, like Panasonic, will have a button to show you what's playing at that moment. Both test TVs, however, give a big notification when an HDR signal is being received.
Xbox One S: Ultra HD Blu-ray experience
One of the most attractive things about the Xbox One S is the Ultra HD Blu-ray player. It's the cheapest player on the market at the moment, with the 500GB costing £249, compared to the next cheapest, Samsung's K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray player at £350.
On the Xbox One S you get the full Ultra HD and HDR experience. The visuals from those top-spec TVs are stunning. Sure the top spec Panasonic UHD Blu-ray player might just edge things out in terms of absolute picture quality, but as so much is governed by the performance of the TV it's attached to, we think most will find themselves entranced by the richness and detail that Ultra HD Blu-ray offers from the Xbox One S.
The biggest downside in reality is control and noise. Firstly, you'll want to buy the Xbox One Media Remote, because using a gaming controller is too clunky for regular movie watching. It's only £15 and worth the upgrade.
Secondly noise. The Xbox One S is a comparatively noisy player. The fan noise, disc whirring noises and the rest of the buzzing and chirping that goes with it makes it a lesser experience than either of the dedicated Ultra HD Blu-ray players currently available.
That's something of a shame, because the Xbox One S is a beautiful looking thing, more interesting than other players, but to keep it from distracting you in quiet movie scenes, you'll probably need to hide it in a cupboard.
Xbox One S: Blu-ray playback
With Ultra HD Blu-ray being a new format, it's unlikely that you have many or any in your collection. Fortunately, regular Blu-ray playback is good. It's much the same experience as with Ultra HD Blu-ray (noise, control, etc) - and very much like Blu-ray playback on the Xbox One.
There's something else to note though. The Xbox One S output drops from 2160p to 1080p when you insert a regular Blu-ray disc. That fits the native resolution of the Blu-ray, so the Xbox then isn't "upscaling", it's feeding that 1080p content to the TV and the TV is then making the pictures fit the display.
The same applies to DVD, if you're still watching those too, but that's the right way to do it. You can't force the Xbox to output a 2160p image from these lower-res discs, so the TV is then doing any video processing it can to clean up the image.
Ultra HD streaming: Netflix considerations
Aside from being an Ultra HD Blu-ray player - and the cheapest way to currently access those amazing optical discs - streaming is where most of the 4K action is. Netflix and Amazon Instant Video have been pushing 4K Ultra HD and HDR content harder than anyone else and are the main source of next-gen content for many.
To access Netflix's content you'll have to upgrade your subscription to the 4K package (that's £8.99/$12 a month), but it's definitely worth it, as the resolution bump from Netflix makes a big difference, especially on TVs that are slightly too large for the room they're in.
The Xbox One S offers Ultra HD and HDR, although there's only a few programmes offering HDR at the moment - Marco Polo being the notable example, but with more being added all the time. The UHD and HDR effect from Netflix doesn't have anything like the impact that Ultra HD Blu-ray does, but it's still excellent to watch.
One nice trick to get around the control issues of Netflix on the Xbox is to use the built in DIAL feature. No one talks about this, but it's a casting protocol, like Google cast, that will let you control playback with your phone. Simply open the app, hit the cast button and select the Xbox. As long as you've signed into the Netflix app, it will play your content. Simple.
Netflix's app is universal, so you have the same experience whether you use the Xbox, your TV or another media device. There's only one difference however, that's cornered by an LG exclusive. LG offers support for Dolby Vision - another standard of HDR - and using LG's native app means Marco Polo is then delivered in Dolby Vision and looks even more dramatic (aided by the wonderful OLED panel, of course).
As most smart TVs offer Netflix as an app (it's arguably the most important app to offer), there's perhaps no need to have your Xbox on as well – it may just be easier to use the TV app, save power and save noise.
There's another advantage that comes back to that info button - on a TV like Samsung or a Panasonic - hit that in the Netflix app and it will show you the quality you're streaming at.
Xbox One S: Amazon Instant Video
Amazon has a lot of UHD content, but it's been less focused in how this is offered to customers than Netflix perhaps has. Firstly, you don't need a separate subscription, you just need that Amazon Prime subscription and that will open the gates to Amazon's offering.
One the Xbox One S, however the app currently doesn't offer the UHD content you'll find elsewhere. For example, switch over to Samsung's native app and you'll find sections for 4K movies and TV Shows, as well as individual programmes stating they are Ultra HD.
Fire those up and you'll spot the difference. That mean that, in its current form, the Xbox One S loses out, as it's not offering this content, although it's probably only a software update away.
Again, the same argument stand as with Netflix: if you have the app on your TV, do you need to be using the Xbox for the same thing?
Xbox One S: HDMI pass-through
One of the appealing things about the Xbox One is using it to control everything. It can control your TV, connected devices, sound system and so on. The integration of set-top boxes means that the OneGuide can serve up a menu of TV programming you might want to watch.
Cable, satellite or other set-top boxes took advantage of HDMI pass-through. HDMI pass-though, however, doesn't support 4K sources. We tried connecting the Samsung K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray player and although the image plays through the TV, it's not Ultra HD Blu-ray quality with stunning HDR.
The Xbox still outputs a 2160p signal to the TV, but we suspect it's been downscaled to 1080p and then upscaled, rather than natively preserved.
We questioned Xbox about this and received the following statement: "Xbox One S does not currently support 4K pass-through via HDMI-in. We will continue to explore making the changes needed for the hardware to support pass-through as 4K broadcasts become more widespread."
Xbox One S: Should I buy it as a 4K media player?
Drawing all this to a conclusion. The Xbox One S has its positives: it's the cheapest Ultra HD Blu-ray player on the market right now, it offers a range of 4K streaming services and will support HDR gaming in the future (when titles are released). Additionally, with the 3.5mm headphone socket on the new controller, you can play/watch/stream quietly and enjoy yourself in the middle of the night without disturbing others.
Offering all the Xbox One features in a better-looking package, makes it a great choice for all-round entertainment especially if you choose the 500GB version thanks to the price, with the following caveats:
- The Ultra HD Blu-ray player market is likely to change drastically in the next 6 months. Wait for IFA 2016 to see if anyone announces a player there: LG, Sony and Philips don't yet have a player, and a cheaper model may appear very soon, and may offer streaming apps too.
- If you're a casual gamer but more serious TV watcher, then the Xbox One S is a good choice: aside from those apps mentioned, there's services from UK TV channels, Now TV, Waiki TV and plenty more.
- If you don't have any provision for 4K streaming through your smart TV, the Xbox One S fills that gap for Netflix, but but other 4K streaming is currently limited.
- There are few gaming changes aside from HDR support (with no games available yet). If you're a serious gamer, wait for the next-gen Xbox - Project Scorpio - to launch later in 2017.