Now is an incredibly exciting time for the games industry. Both Microsoft and Sony have unveiled their ‘next generation’ consoles, with the long-awaited Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 respectively. It’s been about seven years since games consoles got a generational update, so expectations are high. So how does the new Xbox stack up?
There are actually two new ‘next-gen’ Xbox models to choose from – the full-strength Series X, which is priced at $749 and the entry-level Series S, for $499. The Series X is the most powerful variant and made for 4K and 8K gaming. It also gets a Blu-ray drive, while the Series S is a match for HDTVs and can accesses games and other media from Microsoft’s online store or external hard drive. We’ll be focusing on the Series X for our review.
Another important consideration is that initial impressions of the Series X’s gameplay are inexorably linked to the quality of games available. As games can take years to create, there aren’t any truly ‘native’ titles ready right now. What we have are existing games that have been enhanced for the new consoles. This generally includes increases in resolution, more realistic lighting effects and higher frame rates. Once games have been written natively for the latest Xbox consoles, then we’ll really see what this generation is capable of.
Xbox Series X – on the outside
In terms of looks, the Series X doesn’t make too much of a statement. It has a similar volume to the Xbox Series One and PlayStation 4 but is shaped more like a tall cube than a flat rectangle. You can either stand it up or rest it lengthwise thanks to four rubber feet along one side. The Blu-ray drive works in both orientations, and otherwise the front of the minimalist case is unobstructed, apart from an illuminated power button, eject and sync buttons.
There’s a very large cooling fan at the top, with some racy ‘Xbox green’ paint visible through the grille. On the rear are all the standard ports such as an HDMI 2.1, Ethernet, two USB 3.1 connectors, memory expansion and a power plug.
With the device on, the fan doesn’t appear to make any more noise than the old model. We tested it at 40 decibels after an hour of gameplay. There’s also a grill on the back for more heat dissipation. When positioning your console, Microsoft recommends leaving 4 centimetres of space around it.
Overall, the design is by no means flamboyant, unlike the Playstation 5, and thankfully, not as tall. The Series X is 30.1 cm tall by 15.1 cm deep by 15.1 cm wide. However, the Playstation 5 is ‘the biggest console in modern history’ according to The Verge. This measures 39 cm tall, which may be too long or high to fit on many shelves and entertainment units.
Setting it up
New owners will be able to fire up their new consoles quickly with the Xbox mobile app. Just choose the ‘set up a console’ setting and it will guide you through the process. This includes connecting your Gamertag and synching the Xbox Wireless Controller. It will then update the console as well as the controller. You can choose to import your previous console’s settings too or set up as a new device.
We had a lot of games stored on our previous Xbox One X. Instead of re-downloading literally hundreds of gigabytes, we used the wireless transfer option. Once linked, we could select the games that we wanted to copy over the Wi-Fi network. Incompatible games didn’t appear in the copy list, which is handy. However we did have some issues transferring some games including Assassin’s Creed: Origins. It would just keep failing during the process. Also, The Witcher 3, copied but not the DLCs, and we couldn’t load a saved game without them. We just had to re-install these via the internet. At the time of writing, it looks like we’ll need to install Assassin’s Creed: Origins from the CD. At least this isn’t as bad as re-downloading from the internet.
For connecting to the TV, the Xbox Series X recognised our HDMI 2.1 compliant LG 65in CX 4K Smart Cinema OLED TV and automatically applied the best video settings. This included a low-latency mode for a faster response time and variable frame rate to avoid tearing and stuttering during gameplay. We just then needed to calibrate our High Dynamic Range (HDR) levels, but the default state was pretty decent.
It’s good to see that the Series X supports the HDMI-CEC (Consumer Electronics Control) standard to control displays. This allows you to power on/off and change the volume of your TV through the console. It worked with our reference TV without a hitch.
X-Box Series X: on the inside
Compared to previous generations, the Xbox Series X sets a new benchmark for raw graphics power and processing speed. It has an 8-core AMD Zen 2-based processor that runs at 3.8GHz. Comparatively, the Sony PlayStation 5 uses a similar 8-core AMD Zen 2-based processor that runs at 3.5GHz. There’s an AMD RDNA 2 GPU for graphics, rated at 12 teraflops, whereas the PlayStation 5 gets a similar AMD RDNA 2 unit running at 10.3 teraflops.
Both consoles have 16 gigabytes of GDDR6 RAM and use ultra-quick solid state hard drives (SSDs). The Series X gets a larger 1 terabyte capacity, while the PlayStation gets a slightly reduced 825 gigabyte version. While we don’t yet have a PS5 to test, the Xbox Series X is more powerful on paper, however, the Sony’s smaller SSD drive is reported to be nearly twice as fast.
For the less expensive Xbox Series S, this has a 3.6-GHz AMD Zen 2-based CPU, a 4-teraflop AMD RDNA 2 GPU, 10GB of RAM and 512GB of storage.
The point of all this power is to make games look and play better than ever before, and the new Velocity Architecture is a key part of this. The system leverages ultra-fast memory, efficient data pathways and multi-core processing to dramatically reduce game load times and provide near-instant game swapping.
We tried the ‘Fast Resume’ feature, as it’s called, and the Series X had no problem swapping between Red Dead Redemption 2, Ori and the Will of the Wisps and Gears 5. There was no need to load up the games – it just picks up where it left off.
Read Dead Redemption 2, in particular, took absolutely ages (2min 45 seconds) to load up the Xbox One X to the point where we’d find something else to do to keep busy while waiting for it. On the Series X, a full boot up was less than a minute (59 sec), and near instant when resuming gameplay.
The Fast Resume feature won’t work in all cases. For example, if your game needs a network connection, such as with Destiny 2: Beyond Light. Also, if you are running games from an external USB hard drive, these are just too slow. More on this below.
Solid state storage
A lot of us will probably fill up the one terabyte of storage quickly, thanks to the Series X’s broad backwards compatibility with older games. If you stored your older Xbox games library on an external USB drive, this will work on the Series X. However, the drive won’t be fast enough to support Quick Resume.
However, there is a proprietary connector on the back that’s designed for connecting high-speed solid state hard drives that. These work with the Velocity Architecture and support ‘Quick Resume’ and fast game loading.
Currently, the only SSD available is Seagate’s Storage Expansion Card – which is an official Xbox accessory. We simply plugged it in, transferred some games and they ran as if on the internal hard drive. We’ll be posting our full review of the Seagate Storage Expansion Card very soon.
High fidelity gameplay
The Series X, like the XBox One X, can play games in 4K resolution (which is 4 times the detail of an HD TV). Unlike the Xbox One X, the Series X is capable of displaying 4K games at up to 120 frames per second, provided it’s supported. As films are generally shown at 24 frames per second, this makes for a very fluid and smooth experience. It’s also an excellent match for fast action titles.
We played Ori and the Will of the Wisps, which supports 4K at 120 frames per second, and it was very impressive. This mode perfectly suited the horizontal platform-style action, and there’s so much to see thanks to multiple animated weather and landscape layers. The game will even play at a 6K mode at 60 frames per second. The image is sampled down to 4K but keeps its utterly gorgeous look.
We tried Gears 5, a first-person action shooter that also supports 120fps. Character movement was ultra-quick, and panning around the game world was dizzyingly smooth and fluid. Locking in on enemy headshots was precise and sharp thanks to the added frames.
Otherwise, most titles will run at 4K in 60fps, however, the Series X can even handle 8K games at 30fps. There are no 8K titles right now, but you can still use the box to stream 8K video from the internet, provided you can find any and that you happen to have an 8K TV. For now, 4K detail should be impressive enough.
Hardware accelerated Raytracing is definitely a showstopper. This mimics how light behaves in the real world to create more realistic and dynamic game environments. In the past, only higher end PCs had the power to do this. Now, the Series X can perform the calculations needed to emulate individual rays of light, and how they illuminate, scatter or reflect off objects in real time.
At time of writing, hardware Raytracing is supported in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, WatchDogs: Legion and Dirt 5 and Devil May Cry 5 Special Edition, with more titles coming soon.
No shortage of Xbox games to play
As mentioned, the Series X can play older Xbox games. This is a huge strength as moving to the Series X|S platform doesn’t mean leaving your beloved games behind. You can play thousands of titles across four generations of consoles.
Progressions and achievements can all be migrated too. Best of all, these games should play as well, and in many cases, better than they did on your old consoles. Gone are low frame rates where older consoles struggled to handle the graphics load. Also, some legacy games will get patches to unlock higher frame rates, 4K resolution and advanced lighting effects.
There’s also an Auto HDR feature that will enable High Dynamic Range effects for non-HDR games. While we haven’t spotted this in action, it should help display more detail in dark scenes and brighten up highlights, sun flairs, explosions, and the like.
Then there’s Microsoft’s Smart Delivery feature, which will automatically update your current game without paying a fee or buying a new version. Smart Delivery is currently available for Xbox Games Studios titles. However, other developers are coming online so we can expect support for games including Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Marvel’s Avengers and Cyberpunk 2077.
And of course, there’s the Xbox Game Pass that gives you access to over 100 games. With new titles added all the time, it costs $10.95 a month. For more info, click here.
The game controller
The new Xbox Wireless Game Controller has seen some improvements too. It’s solid, sturdy and still feels quite similar to the previous generation’s standard controller. However, it has lifted the D-Pad design from the Xbox Elite Controller edition, and is now bevelled upwards and more thumb-friendly. Also, there’s a new ‘share’ button where you can take screenshots and record videos for sharing to your social channels.
The controller uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BTLE) wireless signals to connect to the Series X, which also improves paring speeds. By checking in with the box more often, the Dynamic Latency Input feature reduces the chance of controller inputs being missed. A USB-C connector replaces the mini-USB, but the controller still runs on two AA batteries. You can swap these out with a rechargeable pack, however.
There are three colours to choose from including Robot White, Carbon Black and Shock Blue. Carbon Black came in our retail box.
Older generation controllers will work on the Series X, so you don’t need to throw them away. The new Wireless Controller should also work on the older Xbox One, Windows 10 PCs, Android devices. Support for iOS is coming soon via a software update.
Audio and accessories
In terms of sound, the Series X supports DTS and Dolby Atmos spatial audio as well as 7.1 channel surround sound via linear PCM. You will need to install the DTS Surround Unbound app or Dolby Access app from the Microsoft Store, and then select them from the settings menu. Otherwise, you can use the built-in Windows Sonic spatial sound mode, which is automatically enabled when selecting headset-only audio.
You should also be able to link up older headsets, however some might require a firmware update to work. Microsoft says that any officially licensed Xbox One accessory that connects to your console wired or wirelessly via USB works on Xbox Series X|S. Headsets that connect via Xbox Wireless Controller’s 3.5mm port are also supported.
Upgrade to the new Xbox Series X now.
It’s the most powerful Xbox ever, with some seriously astounding graphics and gameplay. More than than, Microsoft has respected the considerable investment that many have already made in the Xbox ecosystem. You can still play your old games, only now, they’ll play better on the Series X. Some will get special free updates to unlock higher resolutions and frame rates.
The Series X delivers the goods terms of graphics too. Auto HDR, hardware raytracing, 4K resolution up to 120 frames per second support – and 8K future proofing are all impressive. Current games look amazing but we’re expecting some next-level experiences once native titles come out. On paper, the Series X is more powerful than the PlayStation 5, however, real-world performance will likely be similar. Unexpectedly one of the nicest things about using the new consoles its ultra-fast loading times and Quick Resume feature. Instant gaming is so good!
So if you’re into gaming or have been holding back on the Series X, there’s really no reason to. Upgrade and get a better experience with the games you have and a next gen experience with the new stuff. And, if you don’t want to spend as much and are happy with full HD instead of 4K gaming, and don’t care about a Blu-Ray drive, then there’s always the Series S.