Xbox One X Review: A Future-Proof Xbox For 4K And HDR

Like Sony’s PlayStation 4 Pro before it, the Xbox One X represents a mid-generational upgrade that offers a significant boost in performance over its predecessor. Microsoft says the console will allow developers to render games natively at 4K, offer high-dynamic range for more accurate colors, improve load times, and bolster framerates. While we encountered issues with some of these enhancements, the Xbox One X has the potential to really soar when its power is leveraged effectively.

What’s in the Box?

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The Xbox One X retails for $500 / £449 / AU $649. For that, you get the console, a 60-inch long power cable, a six-foot high-speed HDMI cable (needed for 4K HDR), Xbox One controller, two AA batteries, a 14-day free trial for Xbox Live Gold, and a one-month subscription to Xbox Game Pass.

Design

The console measures 30 x 24 x 6 cm (11.8 x 9.5 x 2.4 inches), which technically makes it the smallest Xbox console yet. This is really impressive when you consider the fact that it has an integrated power supply unit, like the Xbox One S before it. This means that you don’t have to deal with an obnoxiously large external power brick like with the original Xbox One. Despite its small size, however, it’s the heaviest Xbox One at 8.4 pounds.

Aesthetically, it looks a lot like a matte black Xbox One S. Like the S before it, it has a physical power button, which strays away from the original Xbox One’s capacitive touch equivalent. This is a welcome tweak considering it was often prone to accidental shutoffs. The front of the console also sports a 4K HDR Blu-Ray drive, one USB 3.0 port, and a controller pairing button. The ports on the back remain identical to the S; from left to right it offers: HDMI out, HDMI in, two USB 3.0 ports, IR out, S/PDIF, and Ethernet. The X is backwards compatible with the existing Xbox One accessories, though you’ll need a Kinect dongle if you want to use Microsoft’s recently discontinuedcamera system.

Overall, the design is simple and clean. It has plenty of ventilation through the back and when you couple this with its compact size, you get a sense that Microsoft prioritized function over a flashy design here. Luckily, it still has an unassuming aesthetic that should fit right in with most personal entertainment centers.

Specs

  • CPU: x86-64 2.3GHz 8-core AMD custom CPU

  • GPU: 6 TFLOPS, AMD Radeon-based graphics clocked at 1172MHz with 40 compute units

  • Memory: 12GB GDDR5

  • Storage size: 1TB HDD

  • External dimensions: 30x24x6 cm/11.8×9.4×2.3 in

  • Weight: 8.4 lbs/3.8 kg

  • Optical drive: 4K UHD Blu-ray

  • Input/Output: Power, HDMI 2.0b out, HDMI 1.4b in, three USB 3.0 ports, IR out, S/PDIF, gigabit Ethernet

  • Networking: IEEE 802.11ac dual band (5GHz and 2.4Ghz), 2×2 wireless Wi-Fi with Wi-Fi Direct

  • Power consumption: 245W

Underneath the hood, there’s been a lot of talk about the Scorpio Enginefueling the system. At the heart of it is AMD’s x86-based 2.3GHz 8-core CPU, which is clocked 550MHz faster than the original Xbox One’s octa-core equivalent.

Arguably bigger gains come from the integrated graphics processor, which uses a custom AMD Radeon-based solution that features 40 compute units clocked at 1172MHz. This provides six teraflops of graphics performance, which is over 4.5 times that of the original Xbox One and over 1.4 times that of the PS4 Pro, its nearest console competitor. This gives it enough horsepower to run certain games at 4K (2160p) with high-dynamic range colors enabled.

The Scorpio Engine is cooled via a vapor chamber cooler, which houses a small amount of water that evaporates into steam when it gets too hot. It then reverts back to liquid when the system cools back down. You typically only see vapor chambers in high-end graphics cards, but they’ve been known to work effectively, and it’s nice to see Microsoft implement it here.

While the original Xbox One and PS4 Pro both use 8GB of shared memory across their respective CPUs and GPUs, the Xbox One X features 12GB of GDDR5 RAM that’s capable of delivering 326GB/s of memory bandwidth. This is unprecedented for a console. Microsoft says that games will be able to leverage up to 9GB of it, with the rest going to operating system-related tasks.

While we would have preferred an SSD, Microsoft says that the Xbox One X’s 1TB hard drive is 50 percent faster than the original’s 5,400rpm solution; though we weren’t able to validate this claim in our testing, which we’ll discuss below. Like the original Xbox One before it, the X supports external USB drives for added storage.

Graphical Enhancements

The main reason to get excited about the Xbox One X is for the prospect of graphical enhancements. Rather than dictate a certain set of graphical targets for developers to hit, Microsoft lets developers use the console’s extra processing power as they see fit. Games that are tuned to take advantage of the Xbox One X will carry an “Xbox One X Enhanced” label.

From what we’ve seen so far, many developers are opting to render games at 4K, which is four times the 1080p resolution of the vanilla Xbox One. Some are also adding HDR support to provide a wider color gamut and higher contrast ratio between white and black levels.

While the Xbox One X is geared towards users with 4K HDR displays, traditional 1080p TVs aren’t entirely left in the dust as some developers may choose to use the extra processing power to improve lighting or to add dynamic shadows. Some games will also run more smoothly on the X. Standard HDTVs will also get supersampling, which renders games at higher resolutions and then down samples or “shrinks” them to a lower resolution display. This acts as an effective form of anti-aliasing that reduces undesirable jaggy effects.

While only Xbox One X-enhanced games will reap some of the aforementioned graphical tweaks, Microsoft says that the Xbox One X has tweaks at the hardware level to implement anisotropic filtering to every game in existence. This can help textures off in the distance look clearer.

Visual Analysis

To analyze the visual enhancements that the Xbox One X offers, I compared it against the original Xbox One, a high-end gaming PC, and Sony’s PlayStation 4 Pro with multiple copies of games whenever possible.

I hooked up all the systems to the same TV: a 55-inch 4K HDR Samsung UN55KS8000 and then swapped between the HDMI inputs to conduct visual A/B tests. Because the Xbox One X can also bolster 1080p graphics, I also connected both systems to a 55-inch 1080p TV and similarly analyzed the visual differences there.

While a wide variety of Xbox One X-enhanced games are on the way, unfortunately, at the time of this writing, only a handful of games were patched to take advantage of the new hardware. The available games that we tested include Gears of War 4, Killer Instinct, Super Lucky’s Tale, FIFA 18, Rush: A Disney-Pixar Adventure, and Disneyland Adventures. You can expect us to do more graphics comparisons in the future as the Xbox One X enhancement patches are released.

Gears of War 4

Testing the third-person shooter on the 4K HDR TV, the resolution bump is immediately apparent from the initial menu screen, which showcases a real-time rendering of protagonist JD Fenix’s face. With the Xbox One X, the pores on his cheeks provide a real sense of depth, almost like you could fall into them…if you were tiny enough. On the original Xbox One, they comparatively look more like fuzzy dust particles.

You really get much better detail overall with less jagged aliasing issues running on the X. This is especially evident around characters’ hair or distant items with straight lines. Overall, it amounts to a cleaner, sharper image.

Gears of War 4 also sports arguably the best implementation of HDR we’ve seen in a game yet. The high-dynamic range allows colors to appear more realistic. The original Xbox One looks much more washed out and muted in comparison. The X’s high-contrast implementation also provides really dark black levels, which, again, contributes to a more realistic image that pulls you into the scene.

In terms of pure image fidelity, it surprisingly looked better than our high-end gaming PC equipped with a GTX 1080 running the game maxed out, as it offered extra dynamic shadows that don’t seem to be available on the PC. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t run at 60 FPS here on the Xbox One X, so a high-end PC will be able to beat it in terms of framerate.

Fortunately, Gears of War 4 also offers a performance mode that eschews the native 4K rendering in favor of a smoother experience. Here, it looks visually closer to its orignal Xbox One counterpart, but often felt like it was running at 60 FPS.

Hooking everything up to the 1080p TV, the Xbox One X does a good job making the display punch above its standard HD resolution. While there are still some jaggies, supersampling effects provide a very potent form of anti-aliasing. While the difference between the Xbox One X and the original Xbox One isn’t as prominent on a standard HDTV, the overall image still looks noticeably clearer with less noise. The Xbox One X can effectively make your 1080p TV look as good as it possibly can.

Super Lucky’s Tale

When it comes to Playful’s platformer, there’s much less to analyze. Super Lucky’s Tale supports 4K 60FPS with the Xbox One X and 1080p 30 FPS on the original Xbox.

Whether playing on the 4K TV or 1080p display, the frame rate increase with the X is noticeably smoother. The game looks very crisp running on the 4K TV with the Xbox One X. When hooked up to the 1080p TV, the X’s supersampling does make it look slightly sharper than its Xbox One counterpart, but it’s not super prominent unless you’re really looking for it up close.

Killer Instinct

Killer Instinct already runs at a locked 60 FPS on the original Xbox One. The X simply bumps up the resolution to 4K, which mitigates most of the jaggies.

The game doesn’t support HDR, and the Xbox One X makes shadows look too dark on our HDR display. We didn’t encounter this issue running the game on our traditional (non HDR) 1080p display, however. Here, the original Xbox One looked washed out in comparison to the X. We also noticed improved anti-aliasing and better anisotropic filtering that made details in the background a little more clear.

FIFA 18

FIFA 18 is the only Xbox One X-enhanced game available at the moment that’s also enhanced on the PS4 Pro. When we pitted the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro head to head here, it was honestly hard to tell the difference. Both platforms render the game at 4K, but neither system is able to achieve a stable 60 FPS.

The biggest visual difference we could tell between the two consoles was that color on the Xbox One X looked more realistic on our 4K HDR TV. On the PS4 Pro, the grass looked a bit too “nuclear green” in comparison, which gave it a more “videogamey” aesthetic.

Beyond that, if you’re looking for more graphical comparisons between the two consoles, you’ll have to wait until we have access to more Xbox One X enhanced games post launch.

Rush: A Disney Pixar Adventure

This family-friendly mini-game compilation supports 4K and HDR through the Xbox One X. The enhancements allow the game to feature vibrant colors and look sharp, but it clearly isn’t able to run at a smooth 60 FPS, as we encountered the odd, occasional hiccup. This is disappointing considering Rush doesn’t look very graphically demanding, especially not compared to something like Gears of War 4. This could be due to how the game was originally designed or may speak to the quality of the update.

Disneyland Adventures

Like Rush, Disneyland Adventures supports 4K and HDR through the Xbox One X’s enhancements, but, again, the frame rate didn’t see an improvement with it running below 60 FPS. Despite the official HDR support, the game ended up looking a little dim on our 4K HDR television.

4K HDR Video Support

To test out the Xbox One X’s 4K HDR video playback capabilities, Microsoft provided us with a 4K HDR copy of BBC’s Planet Earth II series.

On our 4K HDR TV, the nature documentary looked stunning. The visuals were sharp and crisp, and it was easy to make out every strand of hair on a sloth and every texture of each tree branch.

The color reproduction is equally amazing. The blues of the ocean and the greens of the forest are realistically portrayed. The bright rays from the sun pierced down through tree canopies very convincingly. This is about as good as it gets as far as home theater setups go.

User Interface

Microsoft released its overhauled Xbox One dashboard last month. While there is a small learning curve to new user interface, it’s snappier than past iterations. We did encounter some menu slowdown while we were downloading a bunch of games and quickly flipping through all the tabs, but it’s certainly not as sluggish as past updates.

The new dashboard also allows you to filter games that are Xbox One X Enhanced, though it doesn’t tell you what specific graphical enhancements the console offers.

Noise, Heat, Power Consumption, and Boot Times

Sitting in the dashboard, the Xbox One X runs silently. When we fired up Gears of War 4, a slight hum from the cooler arose, but it’s impressively whisper-quiet.

Using Flir One's heat camera, we measured the Xbox One X's temperature.
Using Flir One’s heat camera, we measured the Xbox One X’s temperature.

The console does get a bit warm, however. Just sitting in the OS, we clocked it at 54.3 degrees Celsius. When we fired up Gears of War, it rose to 61.7 degrees C. It’s not scorching hot to the touch by any means, but it is significantly hotter than the PS4 Pro we tested last year, which we saw hit 46.1 degrees Celsius when we were gaming on it. Interestingly, the temperature dropped to 57 degrees C when we switched over to Gears of War 4’s Performance mode, which optimizes frame rate over visual fidelity.

We also saw this mirrored when we measured the system’s power draw. The Xbox One X consumed 144 watts of power under Gears of War 4’s Performance mode, but 174 watts in the higher fidelity Visual mode.

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In terms of boot times, Microsoft asserts that the Xbox One X’s hard drive is 50 percent faster than the original Xbox before it, and while we did see improvements here, they weren’t as good as the company’s claims. From a cold boot, the X took 7.5 second to turn on. This is just 0.6 seconds faster than the original Xbox One. Loading up Gears of War 4, the X took 50.8 seconds to boot to the main menu, which was roughly seven faster than the Xbox One. When I loaded up the same Act 1 mission, both consoles took 31 seconds.

When I fired up Killer Instinct, the X launched the game in 37.7 seconds, whereas the original Xbox One did so in 44.1 seconds. While there’s generally a measurable performance gain when it comes to load times, it’s not as significant as Microsoft is claiming thus far.

Conclusion

As Xbox head Phil Spencer has suggested, the Xbox One X shares a lot in common with the company’s high-end Xbox One Elite controller. Both devices are designed for enthusiasts through and through, and are priced accordingly. This makes the less cost-prohibitive Xbox One S a better fit for most people.

While the Xbox One X is an expensive box, from a hardware standpoint, you’re getting a very powerful and capable machine. You’ll be hard pressed to build a comparably powerful PC for $500. On top of that, you get a 4K HDR Blu-ray player, which can cost several hundred dollars on its own.

The Xbox One X isn’t perfect. From what I can tell so far, its load times don’t live up to Microsoft’s claims, and I noticed some poor HDR implementation, but when a developer is able to take advantage of the hardware, you can get sharper visuals, more vibrant colors, better performance, and added graphical bells and whistles. Playing Gears of War 4 on the Xbox One X really feels like it’s the way it’s meant to be played.

Should you get an Xbox One X? That answer should largely depend on whether you’d be happy with the console’s library of games. You can check out a list of all the Xbox One X-enhanced games here. If you’re happy with the lineup and are thinking about jumping in, allow me to outline three different scenarios for you. If you game on a 1080p TV and don’t have any plans to upgrade to a 4K one, the Xbox One S is going to be a better fit for you. While you will get some graphical enhancements with the X, you don’t really get your money’s worth if you don’t have a 4K HDR TV. But what if you already own a 4K HDR TV and an Xbox One? In this case, I’d only recommend getting the X if you have the disposable cash to spare for the increased visual fidelity and performance benefits. If you have a 4K HDR TV, don’t have a current gen console, and are looking to purchase one, however, the Xbox One X is a great choice.

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