Which Xbox One is number one: original, S, or X?
A side-by-side breakdown of all three major Xbox One iterations: Xbox One, Xbox One S, and the brand-new Xbox One X.
There’s a new Xbox on the block. At its core, it’s competing with the PlayStation 4 Pro: Sony’s mid-cycle refresh of a 4K-capable machine . The bigger challenge, for us, is of abbreviation: Xbox One translates to XBO; Xbox One S to XBOS; and Xbox One X to, well, XBOX. Confusing, right?
Jokes and Sony vs Microsoft comparisons aside, current Xbox owners are likely asking this more pertinent question: should I be upgrading from my Xbox One or Xbox One S to the Xbox One X? Let’s explore that in greater detail.
The original Xbox One, part of the eight generation of gaming consoles, released in Australia in November 2013. Considering the usual shelf life for a console generation is closer to 10 years (the Xbox 360 started releasing in November 2005), it’s a tad odd that the Xbox One has already had a moderate refresh with the Xbox One S in 2016, and now is having a major refresh in 2017.
In some key respects, the original Xbox One was in need of an upgrade. It’s not just that, on paper, the launch PlayStation 4 is a more powerful machine. Compared to the PlayStation 4, the Xbox One is a bulkier, heavier machine, yet somehow still has an external power supply. Aesthetically, the Xbox One is closer to a plastic brick, than the sloped, italicised design of the launch PlayStation 4.
But let’s not veer too far into the PS4 vs XBO comparison. From a performance standpoint, one of the bigger challenges of the original Xbox One was Kinect. The hands-free motion-control technology was sound in theory – at a time when motion control was part of the gaming zeitgeist (thanks, Nintendo, for sparking that with the Wii) – but problematic in execution: primarily in how it required one of the Xbox One’s eight CPU cores to be dedicated to its mostly passive use.
The fact that Kinect never extended beyond gimmicky inclusion in games which, for the vast majority of instances, felt forced rather than organic, is telling because the Xbox One S didn’t include a Kinect port. Granted, Microsoft offered a limited-time free adapter to the Kinect faithful who insisted on using the bulky camera for Xbox One S adopters. Fast-forward to the Xbox One X, and there’s no Kinect port, and while you can purchase an adapter, word has it that Kinect is dead.
Microsoft recently confirmed that production of the Kinect peripheral has officially ended [https://www.fastcodesign.com/90147868/exclusive-microsoft-has-stopped-manufacturing-the-kinect]. RIP, little buddy that nobody really liked. Kinect aside, Xbox One S made a number of key improvements to address the shortcomings of the 2013 Xbox One.
For starters, the Xbox One S is quieter, it has slightly more powerful hardware, the power supply has been internalised, and it’s all housed in a 40-percent smaller form-factor shell. It also helps that it packs a 4K Blu-ray player: something strangely omitted from Sony’s refreshed consoles. Such was the importance of the 4K Blu-ray player during Xbox One S’s launch that, when priced appropriately, the S proved to be one of the cheapest 4K Blu-ray players you could buy, which also happens to play Xbox One games.
The Xbox One S also has support for high dynamic range (HDR), which is an optional image-improving feature that developers can add to their games [LINK to Xbox One X/PS4 Pro jargon demystified article]. On top of this, the new bundled controller features improvements, such as a textured grip, extended range, and Bluetooth support. Bluetooth means the controller can be repurposed for wireless use on compatible computers and mobile devices.
As a convenience factor, the Xbox One S also includes an integrated IR blaster, which means it can be used to automatically turn on other entertainment devices that are used in conjunction with the console, such as TV and sound system. In terms of gaming, there’s a very slight performance bump for the Xbox One S, which means that certain titles have smoother frame rates (with less dynamic resolution scaling) or are slightly better-looking. In fairness, this slight performance increase, according to Microsoft, was included to help developers take advantage of the Xbox One S’s HDR feature.
While the Xbox One S doesn’t support native 4K, it’s capable of upscaling games from 1080p to 4K, providing you have a 4K-capable screen. This upscaling works for supported video and game content. Unlike the Xbox One, the Xbox One S also has an optional stand that lets it be used in a vertical configuration, instead of the traditional horizontal pattern. In terms of audio improvements, the Xbox One S also includes support for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X audio. This support for spatial audio continues in to the Xbox One X, as well as the other hardware improvements in the Xbox One S, including an IR receiver.
According to Microsoft, the Xbox One X boasts 40 percent more power than any other console, which includes its closest competitor, the PlayStation 4 Pro. At first glance, the Xbox One X is similar in design to the Xbox One S, but despite the performance boost, it’s somehow the smallest console Microsoft has ever built.
Stacked next to each other, here’s the hardware breakdown between the three Xbox One consoles:
Xbox One/Xbox One S/Xbox One X spec comparison
- Xbox One: 8-core 1.75GHz CPU; 12CU 853MHz GPU @ 1.31 TFLOPS (peak shader throughput); 8GB + 32MB (eSRAM) memory with 5GB games addressable and 102GB/s bandwidth; standard Blu-ray drive
- Xbox One S: 8-core 1.75GHz CPU; 12CU 914MHz GPU @ 1.4 TFLOPS (peak shader throughput); 8GB + 32MB (eSRAM) memory with 5GB games addressable and 68GB/s (+218GB/s ESRAM) bandwidth; 4K UHD Blu-ray drive
- Xbox One X: 8-core 2.3GHz CPU; 40CU 1172MHz GPU @ 6 TFLOPS (peak shader throughput); 12GB memory with 9GB games addressable and 326GB/s bandwidth; 4K UHD Blu-ray drive
In lay terms, the faster CPU, superior GPU, and additional system memory (with a healthy bump on the games addressable quotient and bandwidth) means the Xbox One X has the hardware to deliver on its boast of native 4K games and, if the developer so chooses, at 60 frames per second (fps). By including supersampling, it also means the Xbox One X will use 4K textures on a 1080p display, albeit at a reduced 2K resolution. This means Xbox One X games played on a 1080p screen will look better than if they were played on an Xbox One or Xbox One S.
If you’re looking at hardware, the Xbox One X is the clear winner in the Xbox One family. Similarly, if fidelity trumps everything, Xbox One X wins again, even for people on 1080p screens (who can take advantage of supersampling). That said, if you’ve got an Xbox One, or bought an Xbox One S last year, the cost-to-benefit ratio is a little harder to justify.
The Xbox One X is, understandably, a full-priced console release, meaning it ships with a $649.95RRP. You could feasibly take advantage of a trade-in offer at participating stores to knock that price down, but you’re still primarily paying for the extra eye candy. Outside of the 4K capabilities, the only gaming edge is faster loading times.
Any Xbox One X game you own and, according to Microsoft, plan to own in the future will be compatible on Xbox One and Xbox One S. Sure, it’ll look better on the Xbox One X and, depending on what the developer wants to do with the extra power, may even play at higher frames, but the content will be the same. On top of this, the standard so far has been to set the benchmark frame rate at the lowest common denominator for online games, meaning that if an Xbox One game runs at 30fps online, Xbox One S and Xbox One X games will have to follow suit to level the playing field, despite the additional power.
Without a few killer-app games to launch alongside the Xbox One X – it really only has the cartoony Super Lucky’s Tale, which doesn’t sell the full power of the machine – it’s by no means an essential purchase for Xbox One and Xbox One S owners. 2018 will likely be the year that Xbox One and Xbox One S owners are likely tempted to upgrade, when there are more Xbox One X-enhanced titles on offer, be they first- or third-party, especially if third-party devs start treating the Xbox One X as the lead platform to best present their games.