The Xbox One X launches today (Nov 7th 2017), and you might find yourself ready to lay down 599.99 CDN on that hot 4K gaming box. The tagline for the Xbox One X is “the world’s most powerful console”, and there’s no denying that fact: but not every home theatre setup and configuration is going to make the most of that juice, and I’ve broken down everything you are going to need to know, to make sure your gear can give you the best picture and sound possible.
But is it really 4k?
This is the most pertinent question. Both the PS4 Pro and the Xbox One S can output in 4k, but neither are rendering in 4k natively for everything, in the case of the Xbox One S, it’s all upscaling. In the PS4 Pro’s case they’re using something known as checkerboarding to kind of upscale some games that it can’t render in 4k. When it comes down to it, the Xbox One X has ALL the terraflops, and on paper outperforms all the other consoles out there.
But does it look good?
I can throw numbers are you all day long, but the real question is WHAT DO THEY MEAN? How do gigahertz and terraflops translate into hot gaming, photorealistic visuals? Well, the answer is they don’t. Not 1:1 anyway. If you go out and buy a 4k TV, yes, you’ll get incredible graphic fidelity, with sharp textures and clean lines; but, it’s a couple of other features that really make the picture and sound quality stand out: things like 10 bit colour, HDR, 24Hz, 50Hz, Dolby Atmos, and more. The days where pure horespower translated to the best picture and sound are gone. These days we’re talking about features and support more than anything.
Wait? What’s HDR?
HDR stands for high dynamic range, and is a cool technique that allows for greater contrast relationships for things you see on screen, and mimic the human eye and light comprehension more closely. Human beings have this miraculous ability to see and perceive a wide variety of different light sources at different brightness levels. Take a look through a camera view finder in a dark room with sun shining through the window and you’ll get a sense of what I mean. The window is bright white but the rest of the room is dark. Humans can perceive that range with little issue, something technology hasn’t been able to do in the past, and that’s what HDR aims to fix.
So I just need a 4k TV with HDR?
Woah! Slow down partner, it’s not that simple. You have to have the RIGHT HDR. Right now there are two major competing standards for HDR: HDR 10 and Dolby Vision. On paper, Dolby Vision looks better, but HDR 10 is more widely supported and easier to implement, and so is rapidly outpacing it’s competitor in adoption. To that end the Xbox One X supports HDR 10, so if you’re about to buy a new TV for gaming with your Xbox One X, HDR 10 is definitely a feature you’ll want in your TV.
Sure, but what the hell is 10 bit?
Most televisions made in the last few years have used what’s called 8 bit color. Color data is compressed for each pixel into one of 256 values. This limits how many colors can be displayed, and most noticeably affects the appearance of gradients: things like sunsets. 10 bit color allows for a range of up to 1024, so colors appear more rich, varied, and transition more smoothly. The Xbox One X supports 10 bit color depth, but only if your tv does too, so this is another feature box you’re going to want to check.
But you said something about Hz?
The frame rate support is directly tied to refresh rate support. Your TV will likely be able to display things at defined color depths in combination with refresh rates. The point here is to make sure your TV supports multiple refresh rates in combination with color depth. If you live in North America or Japan your TV should support 10 bit color at 24Hz and 60Hz. If you’re anywhere else you want a TV that supports 24Hz and 50Hz. That being said, if it supports ALL of them, the better.
Ok, so I’m good right?
Have you thought about sound? The Xbox One X supports 3d positional audio using Dolby Atmos. You want to get a theatre receiver, home theatre audio set-up, or special head phones, that support Atmos. As of right now the good people at Plantronics are the only ones making Dolby Atmos gaming headsets, so you might want to check them out. All Xbox One X enhanced games support Atmos, and my experience with it so far has been pretty spectacular. It furthers the total immersion that the the Xbox One X’s photo-realistic 4k graphics attempt to deliver.
Alright, what’s the catch?
Well, there’s one small thing: 4k means bigger textures, new audio assets, and more. These games are big. Bigger than before. The Xbox One X enhanced version of Gears of War 4 tips the scales at just north of 100GB. A solid external hard drive is required reading for the Xbox One X. On top of that make sure you update your games to their enhance versions, because only when you download those enhanced assets will you get the true enhanced experience.
Ok 4k-kids, that’s it for now. Tune in next week when we talk super-sampling, what the Xbox One X looks like on a 1080p TV, and what the heck HDCP 2.2 is (you want it!).