Xbox One X Review: Incredible 4K Power, Same So-So Exclusives

"The most powerful console in the world." That's the lofty claim Microsoft is making about the $499 Xbox One X, the company's resounding answer to the $399 Sony PlayStation 4 Pro. Offering specs previously unheard of in a console, including a custom AMD GPU with 6 teraflops of power, this is a system that can deliver the promise of native 4K resolution for console players as well as High Dynamic Range (HDR).

But as future forward as the Xbox One X wants to be, it's firmly tethered to the present due to uneven feature distribution across games and native 4K support for only some titles. . And Microsoft still needs to bolster its rather limited library of exclusive games to compete with the PS4 Pro and Nintendo Switch. But if you're looking for the most powerful console in the land, the Xbox One X lives up to the hype.

Design

One thing's for sure: Microsoft loves that boxy design aesthetic. Measuring 11.8 x 9.4 x 2.4 inches and weighing 8.4 pounds, the One X makes the original Xbox (12.5 x 4 x 10.5 inches, 8.5 pounds) look like a behemoth. It's heavier and a bit taller than the Xbox One S (6.4 pounds and 11.6 x 9.1 x 2.5 inches), but just a tad bit smaller than the PlayStation 4 Pro, which comes in at 7 pounds and 15.6 x 11.6 x 2.6 inches.

Bulk notwithstanding, the One X has a minimalist modern chic that I really dig. I just wish Microsoft put the most interesting parts of the design where everyone could see it. I'm speaking of the semiglossy bottom that's covered with seemingly hundreds of tiny raised dimples that are good for keeping the console in place as well as running your fingers over the surface repeatedly. True, you could simply turn the console on its side, but since I typically turn my devices horizontally, my time with that awesome texture was much too short.

The rest of the One X is all matte black plastic, with deep lines for vents and ports. Along the front of the system, you get the trademark white backlit Xbox power button, as well as buttons for pairing Xbox controllers and ejecting discs. Lastly, you'll find a USB 3.0 port and an IR Blaster. Along the back, there are another two USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI-in 1.4 port, an HDMI-out 2.0 port, Ethernet and an S/PDIF port, just like on the Xbox One S.

Specs: Say Hello to the World's Most Powerful Console

There's been a lot of Microsoft-led hype about the One X being the "world's most powerful console." And on paper, the system certainly lives up to it. The One X packs a custom 8-core 2.3-GHz AMD processor with 12GB of GDDR5 RAM and a custom AMD GPU with 6 teraflops of power and 40 compute units. Compare that to the PS4 Pro, which has a 2.1-GHz 8-core AMD processor with 8GB of GDDR5 with an extra 1GB of DDR3 RAM and an integrated AMD Radeon Polaris GPU with 4.2 teraflops and 36 compute units.


Microsoft Xbox One X

Sony PlayStation 4 Pro

Price

$499

$399

CPU

2.3 GHz, 8 cores

2.1 GHz, 8 cores

GPU

AMD Polaris architecture, 6 teraflops

AMD Polaris architecture, 4.2 teraflops

4K, HDR Support

Yes

Yes

VR Support

Not Yet

Yes

Key Exclusives

Gears of War, Halo, Forza

Uncharted, The Last of Us, Bloodborne

Just to cut down on the jargon, a flop is a measurement for the floating point of operation per second. The number of those flops a computer can do per second is how a system's power is measured. Tera is equivalent to a trillion. Put it together, and you get a trillion floating points of operation per second.

Multiply that by 6, and you get 6 trillion, which, when compared with the PS4 Pro's 4 teraflops, is nothing to take for granted. True, it still can't compete with a midtier GPU like an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 (6.5 teraflops) or an AMD RX 580 (6.1 teraflops), but it does mean that the Xbox One X should do a better job than the PS4 Pro of rendering 4K graphics without dropping frame rates.

4K and HDR Performance

As I said in my PlayStation Pro 4 review, it's time to invest in a 4K television. And whatever you do, make sure it has HDR, or you're going to be missing out on some of the prettiest gaming this side of a high-end gaming laptop or desktop. Paired with my 43-inch LG 43U6100 4K UHD HDR Smart TV, the One X made it hard to pull myself away long enough to write this review. But I stopped gazing into the crazy-vivid reds, greens and blues and insanely sharp detail and crisp contrasts just for you you're welcome.

Microsoft has enhanced several of its most popular titles to take advantage of that 4K goodness, including Halo 5 Guardians, Gears of War 4 and Killer Instinct, to name just a few. Third-party enhanced titles include Assassin's Creed Origins, Middle-earth: Shadow of War, FIFA 18, the upcoming Call of Duty WWII and Star Wars: Battlefront II.

Killer Instinct never looked so pretty as it did on the One X. I could see every detail of Jago's shoulder tattoo, and his metallic demon kneepads looked like they were ready to gnaw a hole through anyone fool enough to get too close. When I performed a Shadow Wind Kick, I could see the dark purple energy emanating from the attack in waves.

Gears of War 4Gears of War 4When I switched over to Gears of War 4, the details were so clear, I swore I could see all the pores on JD Fenix's face. That also meant that the Swarm looked extra gross as the moon glinted off their translucent, grayish-pink skin.

Although Assassin's Creed Origins hasn't received its Xbox One X Enhanced update yet, the game still looks visually stunning on the new console. Details were so sharp that I could see individual strands of hair in the gleaming jet-black locks of the protagonist, Bayek. After facing down a charging crocodile, I took time to admire ridges on its pale-green hide as the blood from its wounds slowly stained the water a vibrant but gory red.

For all its power, Xbox doesn't have many exciting new console exclusives.

Unlike the PS4 Pro, which can only capture screenshots in 4K, the One X allows you to record all your exploits in glorious 4K for both stills and video. However, don't expect to capture whole campaigns in 4K, as Xbox has limited captures to 30 seconds of content for both standard resolution (SDR) and HDR. Compare that to 2 minutes for 1080p SDR and 5 minutes at 720p SDR.

Microsoft was kind enough to send along an Ultra HD Blu-ray of the phenomenal Planet Earth II documentary series so we could check out the console's UHD Blu-ray disc player. (The Xbox One S also plays 4K Blu-rays.) It's a serious thumb in the eye to Sony, which made the bizarre decision not to add UHD Blu-ray to the PlayStation 4 Pro.

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As I started watching the first episode, I was instantly transfixed by a reddish-brown mouse hanging on to a verdant green stem of a deep purple thistle, and just how clearly I could see every one of those usually inconsequential petals. It was almost as if I were seeing the plant for the first time. In addition to playing UHD Blu-ray content, you can watch 4K shows and films on Netflix and Hulu. Amazon is also getting into the 4K act with its upcoming Prime Video app, which is set to launch Nov. 7.

But even if you don't have a 4K TV (yet), that doesn't mean you can take advantage of the One X's power. Thanks to supersampling technology, the system will scale down the resolution while still delivering sharper images and faster frame rates. When I played Assassin's Creed Origins on my 32-inch Vizio E32-C1 1080p Smart LED TV, the game didn't render as smoothly as it did on my 4K set, but it did look better than it did on my original Xbox One.

Xbox Gets Enhanced

Microsoft will have at least 25 Xbox One X Enhanced games available at launch, with more than 50 other in development or set to launch soon. Most of these titles include first-party games such as Killer Instinct, Gears of War 4, Super Lucky's Tale and Zoo Tycoon: Ultimate Animal Collection. The Xbox One X Enhanced designation means that the developers have worked to ensure that the game will feature either higher resolutions, faster frame rates, improved textures or ae combination of the three.

However, if you want the full shebang of 4K Ultra HD, HDR and Xbox One X Enhanced, you'll want to seek out games with all three designations, like Ashes Cricket, Disneyland Adventures, EA Sports FIFA 18 and Gears of War 4. Microsoft has created a helpful web page to keep track of which games have what and when they'll get it, but honestly, I wish the company could have convinced all of the developers to work all three features into their games instead of having a fragmented roster.

Gears of War 4's details were so clear, I swore I could see all the pores on JD Fenix's face.

PlayStation, for its part, has its own confusing mishmash of features going with its PS4 Pro Enhanced label. According PlayStation's website, some titles might have HDR 10 Support, enhanced visuals and frame rates, or a resolution boost. But the fact that PlayStation doesn't tell consumers which games have what features is telling. I only found out that the PS4 Pro Enhanced version of The Witcher 3 isn't running in native 4K by doing plenty of digging on Google.

Still, PlayStation has enhanced a lot of its popular exclusive titles, like Horizon Zero Dawn, Ratchet & Clank, The Last of Us Remastered and Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, as well as third-party offerings like NieR: Automata, Final Fantasy XV and Hitman.

Xbox One X vs. PlayStation 4 Pro: Which 4K System Reigns Supreme?

If we're talking about specs, the Xbox One X is the clear winner with its faster processor, more powerful GPU and overall more RAM. It's the only system that can render in true native 4K resolution, albeit only on some titles. It also supports UHD Blu-ray and can capture in-game footage at 4K. In terms of cost, the $499 Xbox One X is notably pricier than the$399 PlayStation 4 Pro.

MORE: Xbox One Games: Our Staff Favorites

However, where PlayStation continues to win is its game selection. For all its power, Xbox doesn't have many exciting new console exclusives outside of the likes of Cuphead, Forza Motorsport 7, Super Lucky's Tale and the upcoming PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds. Meanwhile, PlayStation 4 Pro has Horizon Zero Dawn, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy and Nioh, with heavy hitters like the upcoming God of War and The Last of Us 2 on the horizon.

New Interface: Who Dis?

Xbox may not always have the prettiest hardware on the block, but Microsoft has never been afraid to switch up the console's software. The latest update to the user interface (which is available to all Xbox One owners) puts a priority on faster navigation. Pressing the Home button on an Xbox One controller summons a column of options, making it even easier to get to things like your achievements and friends.

The new Xbox One Home screen is dominated by a large tile, so you can quickly resume your last game or app. Below that are smaller tiles that include a mix of recent activities and adds, as well as an area for pinning your favorite games and apps for quick access. Below that, you'll find tiles for Xbox Assist, Microsoft's latest tech support assistant, which lets you troubleshoot, get tips to optimize your Xbox experience and search through help articles.

The One X has a minimalist modern chic design that I really dig.

At the top of the Home page, you can scroll right to access tabs for Mixer (Microsoft's streaming service), Community, Entertainment and Store. In the far right corner, there's the time, a battery-status icon for your controller and, if you're like me and hold on to old tech for dear life, a Kinect icon. Call me old-fashioned, but I'm still fond of using my Kinect in lieu of my controller to summon Cortana. And it's still a nifty way to broadcast a stream in a pinch.

I have yet to invest in a soundbar or sound system to get the most out of my purchase. For gamers in my position, Microsoft incorporated a novel solution with an assist from Dolby: You can now download the $15.99 Dolby Access app so you can get Dolby Atmos-enhanced audio in your headphones. However, to take advantage of the enhanced audio, you'll need a pair of headphones that can plug into the optical port at the back of your Xbox One.

Bottom Line

Ultimately, the Xbox One X is what Microsoft claims it is: the most powerful console in the world. It's not going to replace your average gaming PC, but it doesn't have to. For many console gamers, the Xbox One X is the only system capable of delivering true 4K, which, when you see it, is definitely a game changer (pun intended). But until Xbox has more enhanced games under its belt, you can afford to wait a few months before making the leap.