Review: Xbox One X is stunning visually and economically, 4K HDR console gaming now a reality

The most powerful console ever created is sitting in my living room. Its the Xbox One X and its a serious performer. Be in no doubt, Microsoft’s claims of...

The most powerful console ever created is sitting in my living room. Its the Xbox One X and its a serious performer. Be in no doubt, Microsoft’s claims of its ability to deliver smooth gaming in amazing quality isn’t a pipe dream or a sales pitch, its a reality.

If you’ve invested in a 4K TV, then you’ll want to find as much content as possible in 4K to derive the maximum possible value from your investment and to keep your eyeballs smiling. If you’re a PC gaming enthusiast, chances are you already have a gaming rig worth many thousands of dollars and a 4K monitor to go with it. If that’s you, to be perfectly honest, there’s not a lot new here for you.

If you’re a console gamer and can’t or don’t want to finance a high-end PC, then the Xbox One X is the  perfect choice to capatilise on that 4K TV investment. One the surface, a console receiving  a resolution bump doesn’t sound that important, but there’s something pleasently comforting about the reliability of turning on a box and just having it work. Those PC enthusiasts know there’s always weird stuff like USB devices or monitors not being recognised, weird graphic driver issues that require reboots or updates. All that’s fine for hardcore gaming fans, you’ll put up for it, but a box that’s in your living room, for your family needs to be rock solid. There’s something special about a box that’s dedicated in its engineering to meet your gaming needs and has great controllers waiting for you on the couch.

To be honest, I’ve connected PCs to the TV before and its always an awkward proposition that most people simply won’t tolerate. What Microsoft have done here is package similar horsepower in a set-top-box style device, that can be tucked away in a low-line unit and that opens the market considerably.

Design

The Xbox One X is noticeably smaller that the original Xbox One. If your coming from an Xbox One S, its basically an iteration on that design which also ditched the power brick (and the Kinect port). During the sales process, what you see is the hardware, so the design is important for that aspect, but once you tuck it into a cabinet in your lounge room, it basically dissapears.

This time the Xbox One X is able to stand on its side without a stand and looks good doing it, with its perforated side and slick all matt black finish. There’s plenty of vents at the rear to help with heat dispersion, but again, you’ll never see it after connecting Power and HDMI cables.

The Xbox logo on the front is actually a physical button you can press to turn it on, but day-to-day, you’ll be doing that via the controller. The side USB port is now on the front, making charging your controller much easier than fumbling around on the side. The controller sync button is located next to the USB port, also convenient. The left of the front face is now dedicated to the optical drive.

Unlike set top boxes of the past (looking at you Boxee Box), the Xbox One X is confident in its abilities and doesn’t feel the need to yell at you with outrageous colours to get your attention. Its much more utilitarian than a lesson in exotic electronic styling, but I think that’s absolutely fine.

Entertainment

If you’re a movie enthusiast, you can help justify some of the cost with the included UHD Blu-ray drive. Harvey Norman are selling a Sony UHD Blue-ray player for A$398.00, which could account for a decent part of the A$649.00 cost of the Xbox One X.

Personally I’ve really moved on from optical media, with my gaming and media needs being met by the FTTP NBN running to my new house. With a 100/40Mbps plan and unlimited datacap (thanks MyRepublicAU) living digitally is an awesome place to be. If you’re looking for examples of why we needed the NBN, look no further, its here and its in 2017.

This bring us to download sizes. In the world of 4K gaming, we need to reset our expectations of what game downloads look like. Games can be, and are often now, more than 100GB in size. If you’re internet sucks, then you may be contemplating continuing to buy at retail. While that’ll help, you should still expect many gigabytes of updates before you can play.

There’s a decent and growing list of games that are being updating to support the Xbox One X. This means their developers are releasing the handbrake they put on the game before releasing on earlier consoles. With the extra performance available on the Xbox One X, resolution, frame rate, UI, textures, lighting, physics and particle effects can all be unlocked to dramatically enhance the experience.

Check out the full list over on Xbox to see if your favourite game is on the list. Some, not all of these are being upgraded to include HDR as well, another important feature you likely already paid for in your TV purchase. At the time of writing, there were already 26 titles with Enhanced updates available, with 90 more in development and a further 46 coming soon. This shows a strong commitment from devs to have their games seen and experienced in the quality they intended.

The Xbox One was great for its time, as was the Xbox One S, but with the Xbox One X being able to realise games as they were intended by the developers, there’s really no choice here. I understand budget is an issue for some, but seriously, you need to think of the future. In my mind its the end of the line for HD, even if you haven’t upgraded your TV, the next time you buy one, it will be a 4K TV, so it makes sense to invest in a console that’ll serve you for many years to come.

For those who already on an Xbox One (like me), then its likely time to consider an upgrade. If you’re creative in the second hand market, you could grab a couple of hundred to put towards the X. If you got the Xbox One S more recently, you have 4K movie playback, but you didn’t buy the console for that, you bought it for games. The step up from 1080p to 4K is substantial and if you’ve got the budget, Christmas is coming in fast.

Performance

To power that quality, Microsoft asked AMD to politely build a custom processor just for the X. Inside that black, fairly tame exterior is a serious bit of kit. The 8-core CPU is clocked at 2.3GHz and pairs up with a mega 12GB GDDR5 RAM to deliver amazing in-game experiences, while tackling that age-old issue of speeding up load times.

When it comes the GPU, I’ve played some of the exact same games (F1 2017 and Forza Horizon 3) on a GTX1080 with the settings maxed out and it looks spectacular. What’s amazing is that video card costs more than this entire console, by some margin, so if Microsoft should be applauded about anything with the Xbox One X, its the economics around the latest console. To deliver a 6 Teraflop GPU that delivers on the promised 4K HDR gaming experience at 60fps, for this price is nothing short of amazing.

One of the challenges for a box this small, that now includes the power brick, is keeping things cool. Remember the billion dollar red ring issue that plagued the Xbox 360, its still relatively fresh in people’s minds. To ensure the Xbox One X stays cool, Microsoft turned to advanced liquid cooling and supercharger-style centrifugal fan. I have to say it works. While the my Xbox One X lives behind a pane of glass, the console is super quiet, again amazing achievement, pat on the back Xbox engineers, you’ve earned your dollars here.

Price and Availability

The Xbox One X isn’t cheap when you compare it to other consoles, but being the most performant, you’d expect it. Like we discussed above, in comparison to a gaming PC that delivers a similar 4K experience, you’d be hard pressed to do it for double the entry price here.

Included in the box is an Xbox One Controller and HDMI 2.0 cable, so account for that in the pricing too. I assume the inclusion of the HDMI cable is to ensure users don’t use an old cable and have a sub-par experience, smart.

The hard reality is that the Xbox One X cost A$649.00. Look for sales and bundles in the lead up to Christmas, but that’s hardly a stocking suffer, although you can buy 2 of them for the price of an iPhone X.

Overall

All things consider, the Xbox One X is a massive success in terms of hardware. When it comes to software, the story is still being written with many developers hard at work to take advantage of the new horsepower. While the performance envelope has certainly been increased, there’s no doubt developers are still optimising for the platform, which means this won’t be the last Xbox, instead just the next in a long line, but this is a generation leap forward.

In search of 4K content on your new TV, you can forget about broadcast, many channels still stuck on SD, absolutely insanity in 2017. Thankfully we now have a relatively affordable set-top-box that plays 4K HDR games, 4K Blu-rays movies, as well as delivers IP-based movies and TV shows like Netflix and YouTube. If you’re TVs smart interface, isn’t that smart, or is at least slow, the pickup up an Xbox One, may be the right solution for your living room.

I can’t say the latest build of the Xbox UI (built on Windows 10 code base) is the most intuitive because its not. Once you learn it, you can get around it quickly, but honestly, its not the most logical and is definitely in need of a single vision as it feels designed by committee.

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Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis.