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Xbox One X: The Inner Circle Review

Console: Xbox One X

Release date: November 7, 2017

Price: $499.99 (US)

Disclaimer: This review is of a retail Xbox One X console that I purchased with my own funds. I do not own a 4K TV at the time of this writing; this review is based on gameplay on a 60-inch LG 1080p plasma TV.

The Xbox One X is more than just the most powerful console ever released by Microsoft. It’s the most powerful console ever made by a significant margin. Microsoft has eagerly touted the console’s immense power, talking up how it will make your current and future Xbox One games look and run better. This beast will also improve your backwards-compatible Xbox 360 and original Xbox games, as well. Microsoft smartly designed the new Xbox One X to improve most of your Xbox One games, even the ones that have yet to see any X-specific enhancements deployed.

The Xbox One X is also an Xbox One at the end of the day. It’s a stupidly-powerful Xbox One, sure. However, given that this is still a member of the Xbox One family of systems, it provides all of the pros and cons that come with Xbox ownership this generation.

This brings us to the million dollar question: is the Xbox One X worth owning? Read on to find out.

HARDWARE

I’m going to come right out and say it: the Xbox One X is the best-looking console released this generation. I have the standard, non-Scorpio X, and the console is quite simply stunning. The matte black finish all around looks great. The console’s rectangular design and sharp edges, combined with the black finish, allow it to elegantly blend into your entertainment center. The disc drive has been cleverly hidden beneath the “lip” of the console, and the circular perforations present on the top of the Xbox One S are no longer there. Overall, these design choices give the X a wonderful industrial design the likes of which has only really been seen by companies like Apple. The console has about the same footprint as the S, only it is a little slimmer.

At the beginning of the generation, Sony’s hardware design with the launch PS4 was head-and-shoulders better than the 1980s VCR look Microsoft used for the original Xbox One. With last year’s Xbox One S and today with the X, it’s clear that Microsoft has leapfrogged Sony by quite a bit in this area.

Microsoft also took the time to make sure that upgrading from the Xbox One S to the X is as simple as possible. The ports on the back are in exactly the same layout as they are on the S, and all of the cables used are the same as well. This makes it incredibly easy to unplug your S, drop the X in, quickly connect your cables, and be up and running. It’s very much appreciated, and I wish more companies would do this to make upgrading more seamless. Of note, the Xbox One X mercifully still uses an internal power supply, just like the S. Hopefully this means that the days of awkward (ridiculous) power bricks are done for.

As far as specs are concerned, the Xbox One X is packing some serious heat. You would be hard-pressed to build a gaming PC for the same price as what Microsoft is delivering here. It really is a great price-to-performance bargain. The Xbox One X features a custom AMD Jaguar-based CPU like the original Xbox One. However, it’s clock speed has be increased from 1.75 Ghz to 2.3 Ghz in the X. It’s a nice gain, but it means that poorly-optimized games that tax the CPU may still have issues on the X. The folks at Digital Foundry aptly demonstrated this when playing Just Cause 3 on the X.

The real story here would be the significant bumps that have been given to the memory, GPU, and internal hard drive. The original Xbox One used 8 GB of standard DDR3 RAM. DDR3 is a slower type of RAM, so Microsoft got around this by implementing 32 MB of superfast eSRAM. Not all developers took the time to properly utilize the eSRAM, so many games ended up looking/running worse on the Xbox One compared to Sony’s PlayStation 4. With the X, Microsoft’s hardware engineers decided to eschew the eSRAM and use copious amounts of much faster GDDR5 RAM – 12 GB to be exact. Of the 12 GB GDDR5 RAM, 9 GB are accessible to developers, with the remaining 3 GB being used to run the console’s OS.

The bigger gains were on the GPU side, wherein the Xbox One X uses an integrated AMD GPU with 6 teraflops of performance. This contrasts to the original Xbox One, which offered 1.3 teraflops of performance. It’s a sizable jump – the Xbox One X is over four times more powerful than the Xbox One that launched in 2013.

Finally, while not as fast as an SSD or hybrid drive, the 1 TB internal hard drive included with the Xbox One X is “up to 50% faster” than the one in the Xbox One S. The main benefit here is that loading times in games are drastically reduced, something I definitely noticed while playing games. It’s a nice quality-of-life improvement for sure. The only downside is that the internal drive is going to fill up very quickly once you start downloading 4K assets for games. Some total game installs can exceed 100 GB. Investing in an external hard drive having at least 1 TB of storage is pretty much mandatory if you can’t be bothered with continuously juggling your installed games.

What’s mightily impressive about the Xbox One X is just how quiet it stays during operation, despite all the power Microsoft has crammed into this sleek design. The console stays whisper quiet, mostly thanks to the advanced liquid/vapor cooling system used. I didn’t take any temperature readings, but heat production from the console seems reasonable. The X does seem noticeably warmer to the touch after extended gaming sessions than the S did, but it’s really nothing to be concerned about.

Other than a black design, the controller is the same controller that Microsoft introduced with the Xbox One S last year. It features Bluetooth for improved range, and of course you can use it with your PC if you so choose. Those coming from an original Xbox One will immediately notice how nice the grips and revised shoulder buttons feel, but there isn’t really much else to say. The Xbox One continues to have the most comfortable controller this generation, and that doesn’t change with the X.

What also didn’t change is that Microsoft still doesn’t include a play and charge kit, which sucks. Something just feels really cheap about unboxing your $500 beast of a console and then realizing that Microsoft is still the only company that doesn’t ship rechargeable controllers out of the box. Of course, your Elite controller and third-party USB controllers will work just fine with the X too.

SOFTWARE

The Xbox One X uses the same OS currently being used by the S, save for an extra animation at the boot screen. This is both good and bad, in my opinion. The current Xbox OS is the most fluid, streamlined, and snappy it’s been this generation. It’s well-organized and aesthetically-pleasing. I’m especially fond of the contextual layers that have been implemented in the guide. The Apple fanboy in me appreciates the flat design and simplicity of this OS. I don’t like using it quite as much as the Switch OS, but it’s pretty much neck-and-neck with the PS4 OS at this stage of the game.

Another thing I loved was how easy it was to transfer all of my games, apps, and settings from my S to the X. All I had to do was back up my settings and games to an external drive, and plug it in during setup. That’s it. No lengthy menus and settings screens, and no downloading or reinstalling games. A function in the Xbox OS allowed me to pre-download X enhancements for my games before I received my X. It was literally plug and play. THIS is how setting up a console should be. Kudos to Microsoft for removing as many barriers as possible and allowing me to get set up and playing so quickly.

I do have some pain points, however. For one, despite being fast to use most of the time, the OS does still chug at certain points and in certain apps. Managing the download queue and using EA Access have been pain points so far. This is certainly not the fault of the console; Microsoft just needs to address these little hiccups via updates.

My final complaint is superficial. The OS here just doesn’t feel special enough. When navigating the OS, you have no way of knowing whether you’re using an Xbox One, S, or X. Can’t I get some kind of extra animations or pretty visuals on home screen? I fully admit that this is nitpicking, but I do feel it’s worth mentioning.

One last note about the OS: While the dark theme is elegant, the light theme is retina-searing and not well thought out. I’m glad that the option is there, but I won’t be using the white theme.

USING IT

I played a smattering of games on the Xbox One X during the past week that I’ve had the console. For reference, the games that I played were Forza Motorsport 7, Call of Duty WWII, Fallout 4, and Halo 5. During the time I spent playing these games on my 1080p plasma, two words immediately came to mind: clean and smooth.

Forza 7 looks absolutely phenomenal on the X, even at 1080p. There is no aliasing to be found, and the game stays locked to its 60 fps clip. Textures and materials are improved, and reflections on wet roads look even crisper than they did before. Forza 7 was already a stunning game on the standard Xbox One S, and it is even more so on the X.

Halo 5 is a game that looks considerably better on the X than it does on the standard Xbox One. At launch, developer 343 employed an aggressive dynamic resolution scaler and texture filtering to get the game running at a locked 60 frames. The result of these choices is that visual quality was sacrificed in many areas to keep the game running at a smooth clip. On the Xbox One X, those sacrifices no longer have to be made thanks to the extra power under the hood. Halo 5 looks gorgeous on the X, with extremely crisp textures and image quality even over long distances. Of the games I sampled, Halo 5 was the one in which I noticed the biggest difference when coming from my Xbox One S to the X.

Call of Duty WWII was less impressive overall. The game is 4K enhanced, meaning it downsamples when displayed on a 1080p TV like mine. However, I didn’t notice any other visual improvements or effects. The image is cleaner overall and the framerate is a consistent 60 fps, but the improvements here are admittedly small.

Even for non-enhanced games like Fallout 4, the X uses its sheer brute force to deliver the best possible experience. Image quality in the game is quite high, especially with regard to the environments. Most importantly, the game runs at a constant 30 fps, with none of the frame drops or odd freezing that occurred on the standard Xbox One. I did notice a weird bug wherein reflective surfaces in the game took on a bright neon-looking color at one point. This was rectified by restarting the game.

Clearly, most games will see great improvements on the X, even on a 1080p screen. Media apps, DVDs, and Blu-ray discs look great when played on the X as well. The Xbox One X does a great job of using its extra horsepower and 4K capabilities to make your HDTV look as good as it possibly can. This is easily the best I have ever seen my 1080p TV look.

What about all of that 4K goodness though? I had chance to talk with TiC big boss Lenwood Henigan about his experience using the X on his 4K TV. In short, he described the image quality as being “phenomenal” and the overall experience as having “exceeded expectations.” Len also made it a point to indicate to me how well done the Dolby Atmos audio support is on the machine.

In short: regardless of what type of TV you have, you’re going to see some real benefits from the X.

So, back to that million dollar question: is the Xbox One X worth it?

OVERALL & FUTURE PROSPECTS

I’m going to attempt to break this down as many ways as I can so you, the reader, can make an educated decision on whether or not the Xbox One X is worth the $500 cost of entry for you.

If you have a 4K TV: Go for it. The Xbox One X was tailor-made to take advantage of your shiny 4K set, so it’s definitely worth taking the plunge.

If you have a 1080p TV: Think about how you currently use your Xbox One. If you’re someone like me, whose primary console is Xbox and you have a large library of Xbox games, it’s totally worth it. Dozens of games have or will get X-specific enhancements, and even those that don’t will see some notable improvements. Plus, you’ll be ready if you decide to upgrade to a 4K TV down the line.

If you primarily game on PS4: Let’s say you’re a PlayStation gamer, but want to check out some Xbox titles like Halo, Forza, and Cuphead. You’re thinking of getting an Xbox, but now you have a choice to make: do you go for the S or the X? If you have a 4K TV, I’d go for the X. You already splurged on the 4K TV and probably a PS4 Pro. Why not play those Xbox games and multiplats as best as you possibly can, too? If you have a 1080p TV, give it some hard thought. Microsoft has announced Xbox One S bundles for just $189 in time for the holidays. For someone with a standard HDTV and a fleeting interest in Xbox, that may be the better deal for you.

If you primarily game on PC: Skip the X. Most of Microsoft’s games can be played on PC, and you can upgrade your gaming PC to be more powerful than the X if it isn’t already.

If you’re more of a media junkie than you are a gamer: If you have a 4K TV but are mainly interested in media than games, skip the X. The Xbox One S would be a better buy in this instance. The S still gives you a 4K UHD Blu-ray player and 4K streaming media, and can play the occasional game if you want. In this use scenario, the extra power of the X would be wasted. Save some coin and get the S.

In closing, the Xbox One X is a fantastic piece of gaming hardware. It’s sleek, powerful, and quiet, and it will do wonders for your existing Xbox library (including backwards compatible games). Microsoft has laid the foundation for their future with this machine. Finally, Microsoft is the market leader in terms of both services and hardware thanks to the X.

The only thing that needs to be done is for games to be built on top of that foundation. Developers have been supporting the X very well so far. I would expect them to continue to do so in the future as well. Hopefully, we see Microsoft’s first-party studios firing on all cylinders in 2018 as they pump out games to take advantage of this beast. If Microsoft can bolster their first-party offerings, the Xbox One X will no doubt be the console to beat.

Right now though, Microsoft has exceeded my expectations with the Xbox One X. It is a fantastic console that makes the majority of my Xbox One games look and play better. It represents a substantial upgrade over the Xbox One S and especially the launch Xbox One. Lastly, while $500 is expensive, it still represents an incredible bargain considering the performance you’re getting here.

I took the plunge, and I can say without reservation that the water feels great.

 

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Michael Pallanti
Michael Pallantihttp://Ticgamesnetwork.com
O.G. Gamer since the Mattel Intellivision with over 30 years of gaming experience. Co-host of The Multiverse Show (part of the TiC Affiliates program) airing Monday nights at 8 pm ET. When I'm not gaming, I do radiology stuff, watch the Patriots and Sixers, and hang out with my wife. Wanna chat? HMU on Twitter @DaTruthofMikeP

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