When the Xbox One launched four years ago, Microsoft was riding high on the success of the Xbox 360, which defied expectations to become the market leader for that console generation. But a series of stumbles leading up to the One’s launch — an always-online requirement that was quickly scrapped after fan outcry, and the included Kinect camera that drove the price up $100 higher than the competition — led Microsoft to a distant second place behind the PlayStation 4 that it’s still struggling to recover from.
Microsoft has spent the past several years course-correcting, dropping the little-supported Kinect peripheral, lowering the price consistently, updating the UI, and releasing the slickly redesigned Xbox One S last year. Now it’s ready to take the next big step by releasing the most powerful gaming console ever created. First teased at last year’s E3 as Project Scorpio, the next Xbox embraces Microsoft’s PC roots. It supports all current Xbox One games, apps, and peripherals, but simply runs games better, much like a high-end PC.
Titled the Xbox One X at this year’s E3, the new console is 40 percent more powerful than any other console on the market, featuring 6 teraflops of graphical processing power and a custom 8-core CPU for a true 4K video game experience. It supports 4K streaming, wide-color gamut, HDR, Dolby Atmos spatial audio, and 4K Blu-ray playback, all packed into the smallest console Microsoft has ever made. It’s a premium console with a premium price. The Xbox One X costs $499, compared to the $399 Ps4 Pro (which doesn’t play 4K Blu-rays), and is $220 more than the Xbox One S (which does).
All of Microsoft’s upcoming first-party games will run in native 4K, and studios are updating existing games to run better on the new hardware. Games that are Xbox One X Enhanced perform better, potentially with faster load times, higher resolutions, and with higher or steadier framerates. Microsoft has announced more than 150 games are being enhanced, including recent releases such as Middle-earth: Shadow of War and Assassin’s Creed: Origins, as well as upcoming titles like Call of Duty: WWII and Star Wars Battlefront II, making the Xbox One X the place to play if you want the best experience.
It seems like Microsoft is seeking to recast a narrative that has haunted the brand since the One launched: that the PS4 is the best place to play games. Not only was the PS4 more powerful than the Xbox One at launch, but it also secured first access to downloadable content for huge hitters like Destiny and Call of Duty. But now most third-party games will undoubtedly run best on Xbox One X, which could convert those looking for the premium experience.
And what an experience it is when connected to a 4K TV (I tested the console with my 55-inch TCL 55P605, a 4K TV that supports HDR). Quite simply, games look absolutely amazing running on Xbox One X. Last year’s Gears of War 4 was already a graphically impressive powerhouse, but the enhanced version is positively stunning. And like many other optimized games, it gives you the option of upping the framerate to 60fps or keeping the framerate at 30fps and pushing the graphical fidelity with insanely high-quality textures.
The downside is that these textures come at a price — to your hard drive. Gears of War 4’s file size balloons to about 100 GB once you download the 4K assets, and the Xbox One X hard drive is only 1TB, so you can imagine how quickly that will fill up once other games are updated. An external hard drive is absolutely essential unless you want to constantly manage and delete your games.
Games that hadn’t been updated for X at the time of this review, such as Shadow of War and Assassin’s Creed, seem to load considerably faster and run more smoothly on X than on S, even if they’re just being upscaled to 4K, but they still look incredible. And although the Xbox One X improves games’ framerates and resolution even on 1080p TVs, it doesn’t seem like a significant enough leap to warrant the price if you don’t have a 4K TV.
But if you do have a 4K TV — and they’re becoming increasingly affordable and more widespread — the X’s 4K Blu-ray drive is a pretty convincing sell. Microsoft included a UHD disc of BBC’s documentary Planet Earth II with the unit, and I’m fairly certain it looks better than real life. My UHD copy of Spider-Man Homecoming was astonishingly crisp, and the colorful film really pops in 4K. The console’s Netflix and Amazon Video apps can also stream in 4K (better hope your internet service provider doesn’t have data caps!), and the Upside Down world of Stranger Things never looked more inviting.
Oddly, the biggest competition to the Xbox One X might not be the PS4 Pro; it could be the Xbox One S. Microsoft’s lower-priced system does a lot of what the new console does at almost half the price (and comes bundled with a game), and for many gamers, that might be enough. But for those who have a 4K HDR TV and are looking for the absolute best console performance, the Xbox One X delivers on its promises, giving a premium experience that rivals high-end PCs at a fraction of the price.
The Xbox One X is available Nov. 7 for $499. Microsoft provided EW with the console for review purposes.