Spending a week with the Xbox One X

Tuesday, 14 November 2017 08:00 AM Written by 

 

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Microsoft’s ultimate gaming machine has officially arrived. The $500 box that boast 6 teraflops of graphical power comes with a lot of braggadocious talk about 4K, HDR and fast processing speeds. But can it back up all of its claims?

 

Microsoft isn’t calling this a new generation of Xbox. The S and X can play all the same games and use all the same accessories. As of now, there’s no plan for that to change. The X can do everything the S can do, it just does them in a better, faster and stronger way. That jump in power is evident from the moment the console is turned on.

 

But before that happens, you have to admire the X’s build quality. It’s a premium console, and it feels like a premium console. It’s the smallest Xbox ever made, but it feels substantial. Everything from its power button to the quality of its ports to its materials, the X is clearly a very well made and well designed console.

 

The Xbox dashboard hasn’t changed. It’s still the busy mashup of content that you own and other stuff that you can buy. But on the X, it’s much faster. The dashboard is still in need of an overhaul, but navigating on the X is slightly less painful thanks to its boost in speed. Somehow, the PS4’s dashboard feels snappier on a launch console, but the X’s Games and Apps tab loads faster than the PS4’s “My Library” tab.

 

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The point of the Xbox One X is to run games in 4K and HDR, and it makes this process very user friendly. There a list of checkboxes in the video output settings to show what quality of video the Xbox is currently out putting. If it’s not connected to a 4K TV, the X knows and will tell you this. If it is connected to a 4K TV and those check boxes aren’t checked, then you have to mess with the settings on your TV. For instance, HDR was turned off in my TV settings, which I had to change. Trying to get the 4K and HDR just right became an obsession for me. I wanted to make sure I was getting the best picture possible. The X makes that process easy. But in that sense, it feels more like PC gaming than console gaming. Consoles are about ease of use. When I play games on a PC, I tinker with the video settings to get them just right. Now I find myself doing the same thing on the Xbox One X.

 

Once the setup was complete, it was time to load up some games. Microsoft sent the Xbox One X for review along with a library of game codes of games that have enhancements on the Xbox One X. The download time for these games was substantially faster than downloading anything on the PSN. The Xbox One X downloads were taking full advantage of my 100 Mb/s download speeds as most of the downloads were in the 90 range. There’s also a great option to do a network data transfer where you can hook two Xboxes up to each other and transfer the data.

 

It may take a while to load up a bunch of games on the Xbox One X, but there isn’t much room on there for many of them. The Xbox One X is only equipped with a 1Tb hard drive. That’s not much when you consider that some of these games, most notably the ones that have high-res 4K textures, are close to 100 Gb in size. “Forza Motorsport 7” is 95 gb. “Gears of War 4” is over 100 Gb, as is “Halo 5: Guardians.” “Quantum Break” is a whopping 170 Gb. So that 1Tb hard drive fills up fast. Fortunately, the Xbox has had the option of connecting an external hard drive for a while.

 

Then there’s the question of the day: do HDR or 4K matter? The Xbox One S and original PS4 are both capable of producing games that are HDR enhanced. The Xbox One X is capable of producing graphics that are full 4K and HDR. And like video game graphics, the quality of HDR and 4K are on a game-by-game basis. Some Xbox One X games are enhanced and some aren’t. Some have HDR. Some have 4K visuals. Some have both, and some have neither. That’s the biggest quandary of this system. It’s only going to be as valuable as its support. Since Xbox doesn’t have a huge library of exclusives, that support is going to come from third-party developers. As of now, it’s pretty solid with different publishers like Ubisoft, Warner Bros. and EA taking advantage of the X’s extra horsepower.

 

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Picture quality is mostly subjective. People see colors and quality differently, so I can only tell you about my visual experience with the Xbox One X. It’s able to produce some truly stunning picture quality on a TV equipped to handle a 4K and HDR picture, but that quality depends on the game being played. HDR is the real difference maker. “Rise of the Tomb Raider,” “Forza Motorsport 7,” “Assassin’s Creed Origins” are three of the prettiest games available on the system, and it’s mostly thanks to HDR. “Shadow of War” has 4K HDR graphics, but its color palette is muted, so HDR doesn’t help that much. “Halo 5” guardians runs at 60 frames per second and is upscaled to 4K, but doesn’t have HDR. It looks nice, but “Halo 5” has always been a great looking game. 4K doesn’t add that much.

 

It doesn’t make much sense to get an Xbox One X without having the benefit of a 4K TV. The system has some enhancements when playing games in 1080p, but again, that’s on a game-by-game basis. It only improves things like load time, framerate and texture quality. This is a system designed to be played in 4K and HDR. That picture quality that the system is capable of is only as good as the TV it’s being viewed on. OLED screens are the best 4K televisions on the market right now, and they’ll give you the most out of an Xbox One X.

 

The Xbox One X needs a killer app. The system’s biggest problem is that it doesn’t have one now, and it doesn’t even have one on the horizon. Every new system should have something to show off to skeptics. The launch PS4 had “Killzone.” PSVR had “VR Worlds” that showed underwater depths in virtual reality. Even the launch Xbox One had “Ryse” and “Forza” which showed off killer next-gen graphics. The Xbox One X is stuck rehashing old games.

 

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It’s only a matter of time before this powerful box gets its own exclusive that’s not playable on the original Xbox One or the Xbox One S. As of now, Microsoft says that everything on the Xbox One X will be compatible with the older Xbox One, but the X’s power is too great to ignore. It has a ton of power, but nothing showcases it quite yet.

 

I’m going to keep putting it through the various tests before I give it a full review. It’s a puzzling system. As of now, it’s clear that this is a sleek and powerful machine, but I want to see a game that unleashes that power.

 

 

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