It’s been more than 70 days since Xbox Canada sent me an Xbox One X to review. I’ve spent some time with a number of games, and the platform in general, and what follows below is my impressions of the experience and what you can expect from the Xbox One X should you decide to purchase one yourself. So here it is, my Xbox One X review.
Let me say this unequivocally, if you are in the market for a new console, the Xbox One X is the one to buy. Full stop. There’s a reason they put “the world’s most powerful console” on the box, this isn’t a fabrication, the numbers don’t lie. As I said myself: “teraflops are the killer app”. The Xbox One X is THE PLACE to play console games at the moment, the performance and picture quality are unparalleled.
The three games I spent the most time with on the Xbox One X are Assassin’s Creed: Origins, Destiny 2, and Call of Duty: World War 2. From a non-technical, raw aesthetic, perspective I can say without a doubt these games look STUNNING in 4k, and load times fly by, especially when I compare that to my vanilla Xbox One. I was immediately impressed with my experience. Keeping in mind I went straight from a launch Xbox One to the Xbox One X. The interface feels snappier, games boot up quickly, things look sharper, edges are more aliased and smooth.
I had initially thought I would be limited to games that were specifically Xbox One X enhanced (Microsoft’s “certification” that the game meets a set number of enhancements for the X): but that’s not the case. Destiny 2 received the enhanced treatment after I started playing it, and even without it, the game looked remarkably more attractive, loaded far faster, and just felt that much smoother. Destiny 2 is a good use case because I was fortunate enough to see it on the X both pre and post enhanced. It’s hard to qualify the experience, but it just felt solid, better. It was at this point that I fell in for this little black box. I was fully prepared to not notice the difference, I was a full on 4k sceptic. The Xbox One X cured me of that.
The Xbox One X is tiny but mighty. It’s smaller than the original Xbox One, and the PS4 Pro, but holy crap is it heavy. The small frame belies the sheer heft it represents. That’s a beautiful thing, the box is small, and discreet enough to look at home on your entertainment centre. They achieved this small form factor by using something really awesome: a vapour chamber chip cooler. This is definitely NOT a liquid cooler, and not especially cutting edge technology, but the scale and application are somewhat new and relatively exciting, in that it allows the X to be so tiny and output great visuals without it getting hot enough to fry an egg, or sound like a jet engine.
Other than just being fast as hell, what really sets the Xbox One X apart is the the full on leap into the new and exciting world of higher-fidelity sound and audio. Unlike its competitors, the Xbox One X is doing full “fat 4k” for a lot of the newer games it supports (look for Xbox One X Enhanced™* on the box). In some cases consoles are using dynamic resolutions to fake 4k, but many new games on the X are using that FULL 4k frame, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. This isn’t like the leap from SD to HD, where it’s easy to explain how sharper things appear, how you can have finer, smaller text, and a much cleaner looking image. No, 4k has to be seen to be believed, like the eldritch horrors that dwell in the deep fissures of the ocean, or the matrix, just TELLING you what 4k is simply isn’t enough. No words can fully encapsulate the experience. You have to be shown 4k to really get it, and that’s what can make it a hard sell for some folks. If you have doubts, get your butt to a physical electronics store and check out some of those dope OLED 4k TVs in person. You won’t be disappointed.
The Xbox One X is more than just a bump in resolutions, like the Xbox One S, it features HDR 10. HDR stands for high dynamic range, and it is a system that allows for my variations in brightness and darkness on screen. The human eye is amazing, it can perceive, side by side, a wide range of light levels. You, as a person, can look out your window and see the daylit outside, as well as the detail inside of a dimly lit apartment simultaneously. Until recently a lot of the technology we use could not do what our eye could. We can perceive about 14 “stops” or light range at once, whereas most older cameras could only capture 1. Advanced movie cameras are getting close to capturing that range, and displaying it more accurately on TVs, and so videogames are getting in on that action too. HDR allows for a richer, more dynamic image, and when combined with that full 4k image from the X, it just blows your socks clean off. It’s something really truly magical. It’s hard to put into words just how great it looks, because it’s not just a punch up in numbers, it’s a different way for displaying visual information, and, again, is best seen in person before deciding if it’s something you really want.
The other element that sets the X apart is Dolby Atmos, a 3d positional sound system from our good friends at Dolby, the audio standard folks that have been around since 1965. Dolby Atmos is especially great for video games because audio sources can not only be assigned environments, but also in scene fixed sources, like a character, gun, or, engine. Previously a general relative position had to be faked, but with Atmos a truer positional audio can be applied. Just like HDR it adds a richness and a depth to the sound, and makes the experience more immersive; but, there’s a catch. Dolby Atmos is a requires you to purchase the Dobly Access app for headphones (it’s free for home theatres), but it works with ANY headphones out there. You could, of course, drop a bunch of cash on an Atmos home theatre or sound bar, but, like HDR, you need to make sure the products you’re getting support Atmos.
Late 2017 Microsoft also launched the new Xbox dashboard, a snappier, faster, smoother interface Xbox One. The new dashboard does away with some of the older “Metro” inspired tiles and heavy use of Kinect only voice commands, and streamlines it for controller input and multi tasking. This comes along with several other “quality of life” updates for the Xbox ecosystem, including the ability to gift games to people, great streaming support toMixer, and a amazing backwards compatibility. It’s a welcome addition, and the Xbox feels like what it probably should have been at launch.
The catch is this: right now there’s no “killer app” that’s Xbox exclusive that really blows my socks off. Forza looks amazing, but these days we’ve had amazing looking car games for a long time, it’s hard to drum up excitement in me when someone says “these cars look so good, so shiny”… I get that, but I’ve heard that a dozen times now, I want something more. I was hoping at E3 we’d get a new Halo or Fable announced, something that would really get my blood pumping, but; sadly, no. That may still happen, but as of now “terraflops” are the killer app. The Xbox One X Enhanced™* third party games are incredible, but I want something from Microsoft that really blows me away, something that I can only find on the Xbox. That may still come, but as of this writing, it has not.
All that to say, the Xbox One X is my favourite new console, but as history has taught us, it takes more than just amazing hard ware to sell a console. If you want to know the best place to play the next great Call of Duty, or the smoothest experience to stream directly from your console, the Xbox One X is it. Hands down. I love it, and I’m watching excitedly for what the next console exclusive will be.