When Microsoft first announced it was creating “the world’s most powerful console” – under the working title “Project Scorpio” – there were few 4K HDR TVs around and even fewer sources for Ultra HD content to feed them.

Now though, there is an abundance of 4K: movies, TV shows, sporting events, even many smartphones can film family get-togethers in the format. It makes sense, therefore, to have a console that can provide a full 4K gaming experience.

The PS4 Pro beat the Xbox One X to that particular punch by a full year, to be fair, but those extra 12 months have been used wisely by the Xbox team. The One X is indeed the world’s most powerful console. By some margin.

And, at £450, it’s also the most expensive. So what do you get for your money and is it worth the investment, especially when its lower-powered sibling, the Xbox One S, is less than half the price?

Design and connections

  • Measures: 300 x 240 x 60mm
  • Weighs: 3.81kg
  • HDMI 2.0 output (to get HDMI 2.1 update)
  • HDCP 2.2 support
  • Three USB 3.0 ports
  • Ethernet and dual-band Wi-Fi (802.11ac)

Even though Xbox's flagship console has far greater processing power than the Xbox One S, in both CPU and GPU, and will technically generate more heat, it is in a smaller box than its predecessor. It is the smallest Xbox One ever, in fact, and nicely tucks away into an AV cabinet.

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You can stand it on its end, with an optional vertical base, but we prefer it as a stealthy in-cabinet device. Being black, it also better hides from view in comparison to a bright white One S.

On the rear there is a HDMI 2.0 output (with HDCP 2.2 support so it can handle the latest 4K content without limitations) plus a HDMI 1.4 input to put your Virgin Media or Sky+ box through the console – just as before. This enables the Xbox One X to be the central hub of your home entertainment thanks to the built-in OneGuide electronic programme guide (EPG). Unfortunately, it still doesn't seem to work with the Sky Q box, nor 4K content from other devices, but there are still some out there who might want to plug their set-top-boxes into it.

Three USB 3.0 ports are on offer for connection to an external hard drive or two, keyboard or even a Kinect camera (through an adapter). And Ethernet internet connectivity is offered alongside dual-band Wi-Fi (802.11ac).

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The machine is compatible with all former Xbox One accessories, including older controllers. You get one of the new ones with more stable connectivity in the box though, which is black like the console itself.

Serious specification

  • Custom CPU @ 2.3GHz, 8 cores
  • Custom GPU @ 1.172GHz, 40 CUs, 6TF
  • 12GB GDDR5 RAM
  • 1TB HDD

The magic behind the Xbox One X really happens inside rather than outside the box. Its nearest rival is the PS4 Pro, as previously mentioned, but the One X is considerably higher specced. It has six teraflops of processing power on its graphics SoC, in comparison with the PlayStation's 4.2. And the One X's octa-core CPU runs faster at 2.3GHz over the Pro's 2.1GHz.

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In normal terms, this means the new Xbox is more capable at running games at native 4K resolution, even up to 60 frames per second. Developers getting up to that is rare at present, with only a handful enhanced titles truly offering full Ultra HD visuals without dynamic scaling, but further down the line the Xbox One X definitely has more potential for improvement in this regard.

In addition, the CPU offers the added benefit of all-round faster speeds, with the user interface, loading times and general operation. Originally coming from an Xbox One S, we immediately felt the speedier access to games and apps. Even the menus zip along quicker, getting you to the Xbox Store, for example, in less time. The One S isn't a slouch – certainly in comparison with the original Xbox One – but the X is just so much faster to use.

We have also ran our Xbox One X for many hours at a time, playing graphical intensive games, and haven't noticed heating issues at all.

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In short, this is a very highly specced machine – almost on a par with a hand-built PC gaming rig – yet which still works and runs like a home games console. That's very impressive and is of huge benefit to lounge and bedroom gaming – especially if you match it with a quality 4K HDR TV.

Entertainment on tap

  • 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player
  • Dolby Atmos support for games and films
  • Netflix in 4K HDR
  • Amazon Video in 4K HDR
  • HDR10 compatible

Before we get to the games themselves, it's worth noting that the Xbox One X is by far and away the most rounded, most capable entertainment machine available.

Microsoft moved somewhat away from the "home entertainment hub" marketing it employed before the launch of the original Xbox One, realising that the target audience was mostly interested in its gaming prowess. But it now has a console that can once again be seen as an all-in-one solution.

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The company added 4K HDR streaming and a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player to the Xbox One family with the One S last year, but the One X by far and away does all of that even better.

Amazon Video and Netflix apps are available, both offering 4K HDR video shows and movies where available and, while they also do so on the One S, the speed of the processing matters on the X. Not only is the experience of wading through either app smoother and quicker, the adaptive video streams adopted by both jump into their Ultra HD formats faster. You still need capable broadband, of course, but, in our experience, the console outperforms our TV's built-in equivalent smart applications, which is impressive considering we use an LG 65-inch 4K HDR OLED with webOS 3.0. 

The only caveat is that Dolby Vision isn't supported on the Xbox Netflix app (or the One X generally), but many HDR TVs don't either. And HDR10 is an excellent alternative standard.

Dolby Atmos audio support is available, thankfully, which many 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays offer. If you have a Dolby Atmos surround sound system or soundbar then you'll get the extra height channels support through the Xbox One X. You just need to download the Dolby Access application.

It will also add Dolby Atmos support for certain games, with the list expanding over time. And if you pay a one-off fee of £14, you can also use virtual Dolby Atmos over a pair of headphones.

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4K Blu-ray playback is enhanced generally on the Xbox One X. The discs take a fraction of the time to load when compared to the One S and, indeed, some that fail to start at all on the older machine now do so without fuss. They also seem to sport better pictures, with less artefacts on screen. We can't be sure if it is the new GPU or just better handling of the Blu-ray emulation software, but movies definitely look better in our opinion.

The app was even updated after launch to provide more solid picture performance, and we've been thoroughly impressed no matter what disc we spin.

Sadly, as previously suggested, there's no Dolby Vision regardless of the standard used by the studio, so it's not a replacement for a dedicated 4K Blu-ray deck for an AV enthusiast. But considering the main rival console doesn't even have a 4K Blu-ray deck, it's hard to grumble too much.

The games

  • Up to 2160p @ 60Hz support for games
  • Xbox Live needed for online play
  • Xbox backward compatibility now includes original Xbox games 

Of course, the Xbox One X's main raison d'être is to play games – and to play games very well.

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There is an ever-growing library of enhanced games - even some Xbox 360 games are enhanced through backward compatibility - and you really can tell the difference between the same games running on Xbox One X and the One S.

Some of the enhancements are resolution, some HDR. There are many that also adopt both and they are, on the whole, truly stunning. Forza Motorsport 7, for example, has particularly spectacular 4K HDR graphics.

The latter runs in 4K and at 60 frames per second, which is a highly impressive feat and leaves you awestruck at times, especially when the dynamic weather effects and rain kicks in. It shows just how capable the One X is and, if this is what is capable now, we can't wait to see what developers will achieve in the future.

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We also like that fact that, in some instances you can also forsake the 4K visuals for a better frame rate - such as in Gears of War 4.

And although it is a remaster of the original Xbox One version, the graphics themselves have been heavily reworked to give greater detail and draw distance. It is a fantastic example of a developer – in this case, the in-house team at Microsoft's own The Coalition – utilising the power of the X to make an improved game, rather than just adding a lick of paint.

Most of the time the enhancements will be purely sharper visuals, though. Also, don't be fooled into thinking that standard Xbox One games in your library are also enhanced – the Xbox One X upscales all content to 2160p, so when you bring up your TV's information panel it'll tell you it is 4K when it is simple upscaling tech at work. That said, everything does look a little better because of this.

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One way to ensure you are seeing (and have downloaded) an enhanced patch for a game is to go into your Games & Apps section, then filter by Xbox One X enhanced. That will show you the games that have already been updated.

Verdict

Somebody said to us a while back that the games industry is starting to ape the smartphone market. Mid-generation upgrades are similar to phone replacements in that they tweak rather than completely overhaul the former model. And that's the case with the Xbox One X.

In all aspects, it is an Xbox One. It has the same user interface as the One and One S and is, therefore, both familiar and possibly less exciting to those upgrading from a standard version. But, with a rapidly expanding enhanced games library and better 4K Blu-ray and video streaming performance, it is becoming more compelling by the day.

It is pricey and the cost needs to come down for true adoption, but the Xbox One X undoubtedly provides the best console gaming experience available right now. And for the immediate future at least.

Price when reviewed:
$499