We've been writing about the Xbox One X for so long, even before the "Project Scorpio" was announced at E3 2016, that it doesn't really feel like a new console. And, to be honest, in many ways it isn't.
Like the PS4 Pro, it is a mid-generation update – albeit a rather powerful, impressive one – and shares so much with its cheaper stablemate, the Xbox One S, the immediate differences are almost imperceptible.
It doesn't help that, at the time of reviewing, only a handful of enhanced games were available to us - as the One X can handle up to 4K resolution and HDR (high dynamic range) visuals - so our opinion is mostly based on the 4K version of Gears of War 4, plus E3 and Gamescom demos, at least in gaming terms. We have a stack of other games awaiting enhancement, so will update when they get their respective patches too, but we can only base our initial impressions on what we've seen so far.
And that is potential. A whole load of potential. Get a big sack, write "potential" on it, fill it full of stuff and you still wouldn't have as much potential the Xbox One X offers.
For now, though, it is a fractionally smaller, significantly faster Xbox One S. For £450.
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 the new console has far greater processing power, 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.
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 our 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, keyboard or even a Kinect camera (through an adapter). And Ethernet internet connectivity is offered alongside dual-band Wi-Fi (802.11ac).
The new 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.
- 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. Microsoft has been touting the "world's most powerful console" tagline for more than a year and, in hardware terms at least, it genuinely is.
Its nearest rival is the PS4 Pro, released at the tail-end of 2016, 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.
In normal terms, this means the new Xbox should be more capable at running games at native 4K resolution, even up to 60 frames per second. Developers getting up to that in the short term is mostly unlikely, however, with only a few enhanced titles 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. 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 been running our Xbox One X for a while, playing hours and hours of gaming, and haven't noticed heating issues at all.
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 will be of huge benefit to lounge and bedroom gaming somewhere down the line – 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.
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.
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. We do need to investigate further, however.
Sadly, as previously suggested, there's no Dolby Vision, regardless of the standard used by the studio. But we're very happy with video performance anyway. And considering the main rival console doesn't even have a 4K Blu-ray deck, it's hard to grumble too much.
- 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.
In time we expect it to be the best on the market for that. At present, it is on a par with the PS4 Pro at the very least, although we need time with a bigger library of enhanced Xbox games to be sure.
Those we have played look absolutely stunning, for sure, with Gears of War 4 and Forza Motorsport 7 having particularly spectacular 4K 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 gives a tantalising glimpse of what will be available in future.
For now, it is somewhat a rarity as many of the "enhanced" titles available at launch aren't even in 4K.
Microsoft is keen to point out that a game tagged as enhanced for the console doesn't necessarily mean a jump up in resolution. It could be that the developer has achieved a steadier frame rate – up to 60fps. Or that general performance, such as loading time, has been increased. High dynamic range (HDR) visuals might have been added without 4K, even.
This allows for a rapidly growing list of enhanced games, with several available this year, and many existing titles being patched to offer something new on the console. Plenty of forthcoming games will also give you more on Xbox One X than One S or the original One, and we hope they take note of the enhanced edition of Gears of War 4 – it is truly a piece of great work.
That's because, not only does it get a bump in resolution, you can also forsake the 4K visuals for a better frame rate. And the graphics themselves have been remastered 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.
- Best Xbox One games to look forward to in 2017-2018: Crackdown 3, Forza Motorsport 7, Sea of Thieves, Ori 2 and more
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.
One way to ensure you are seeing (and have downloaded) the enhanced patch 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. We only see a handful for now, but that will soon populate.
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, with the recently redesigned smarts of the Fall Update and thus a more intuitive homescreen. Therefore the One X is both familiar and possibly less exciting to those upgrading from a standard version. And with few enhanced games currently out there, it is hard to see the immediate benefit of doing so. You get better 4K Blu-ray and video streaming performance, which is a boon, but there is little you can do on the One X now you can't do on the One S.
What it does offer, however, is futureproofing. There is no doubt that the "world's most powerful console" will get the software it deserves in 2018 and beyond. As developers become used to the sheer grunt under the hood, the games will surpass versions for any other machine on the market. The boasting rights then will be something to behold.
For now, it is a pricey package of potential – the console equivalent of an Audi R8 being driven on the M25 in speed-limited roadworks. Once it gets beyond and really lets it rip, all its rivals will be left in its dust.