Xbox Series X Review: Unbridaled Potential

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After much hype and bluster, next-gen gaming has finally arrived with the launch of Microsoft’s Xbox Series X, which releases two days ahead of Sony’s Playstation 5 on November 10, writes Krishan Sharma.

Touted as the ‘most powerful console ever’, is the Series X enough to justify graduating from an Xbox One or PS4?

Design: Silent monolithic beauty

The Series X looks more like a shrunken down PC gaming tower than a traditional game console and that’s in no way a bad thing. The tall black monolithic industrial design makes a statement while also still managing to blend in seamlessly with the rest of your entertainment gear. In an homage to Xbox’s past, there are some subtle green accents along the top of the perforated grill that make the console pop at certain angles.

At 301mm tall and 151mm wide, the Series X isn’t exactly media cabinet friendly. In my case, I didn’t have enough space between my wall mounted TV and entertainment unit so I had to lay it horizontally where it looks less flattering due to the non-removable rubber ring on the base of the unit and the vertically orientated Xbox logo. Also keep in mind that the Series X propels heat through the top via a 130mm fan, which means it’s a good idea to give the console some clearance so air can flow easily.

I’ve had two weeks with the Xbox Series X and the console has remained whisper-quiet throughout to the point that you’ll sometimes wonder if the console is actually turned on. It’s a refreshing change from the last generation of consoles where the likes of the PS4 Pro and the Xbox One sounded like a jet engine when under load.

With no user accessible way to open or clean the system, I do wonder how the open air flow design will hold up after years of accumulated dust and whether the quiet operation will become more audible as a result, but so far so good.

One exception is the Series X optical drive, which is rather loud though this is only likely to be an issue for those intending on using the console as 4K Blu-ray player since disc-based games are installed and run from the console’s internal storage.

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Xbox Series X with controller

Controller: If it ain’t broke…

Aside from a few quality of life improvements and a slightly smaller footprint, the Series X controller feels almost identical to the Xbox One controller. There’s a grippier textured finish along the underside and the d-pad has been tweaked to resemble that of Microsoft’s Elite Controller making it more useful for games that require sweeping actions such as combo-tastic fighting games. Borrowed from the PS4’s DualShock 4 controller is a new Share button that automatically saves a screenshot of your gameplay when pressed and captures the last 30 seconds of gameplay when held. I like how captured gameplay is now sent to the Xbox smartphone app, which makes it easier to share with the social media service of your choosing.

The controller also features what Xbox calls Dynamic Latency Input (DLI) which, as the name suggests, is supposed to cut down the lag between button presses on the controller with what you see on screen. Improving controller responsiveness is always a good thing and this is something that can be further improved by playing in a 120Hz mode on supported titles but just be aware that your TV’s input lag will also play a role which varies from model to model.

The controller continues to use AA batteries rather than internal rechargeable ones but it’s at least as efficient as the Xbox One controller with our unit managing to retain 70 percent charge even after two weeks of testing. If you already have a few Xbox One controllers lying around than you won’t need to buy any more controllers for the Series X since they will work just fine on the new console.

Setup: A breeze

Setting up a game’s console is often a fiddly process thanks in part to the tedium involved in entering text using a controller but it’s incredibly streamlined on the Xbox Series X provided you elect to use the Xbox smartphone app which lets you copy your settings, GamerTag, Wi-Fi password and other information over in a snap. Just be aware that setup requires an internet connection as well as the download of a sizable launch day patch.

Booting up the console for the first time you’re greeted with the same dashboard interface as found on the Xbox One albeit one that is much more snappier and responsive. Unfortunately, the interface is still rendered in 1080p and the dashboard is littered with low resolution game art and iconography – a point that was immediately apparent on my 77-inch LG CX 4K TV. While I have no qualms in Microsoft reusing the same UI, I expect the dashboard to match the fidelity of its games with a native 4K presentation as well as integrate core console features such as Dolby Atmos into the OS instead of treating it as an extra app to download.

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Ports and WiFi: Not quite next gen

The Xbox Series X sports three USB 3.1 Gen1 Type-A ports for plugging in external drives and other accessories, an ethernet jack and a slot for Xbox’s new proprietary storage expansion card. It would’ve been nice to have faster USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports as well as a USB-C port both of which can be found on it’s chief competition, the Playstation 5.

Microsoft does at least allow you to archive Xbox Series X titles on an external USB drive, which Sony doesn’t allow on the PS5, and you can play Xbox One, Xbox 360 and original Xbox games directly from them complete with support for Quick Resume (more on that later).

Surprisingly there’s no WiFi 6 onboard with Microsoft instead opting to go with the slower Wi-Fi 5 or 802.11ac wireless. For a device that is likely to live in millions of people’s homes for years to come and the potential boost to performance it would’ve provided for things like remote play, which relies on a fast and low latency wireless connection between console and mobile device, that’s a little disappointing.

Xbox Series X mechanics

Performance: Hard to go back

The Xbox Series X is, on paper, the most powerful console ever, combining an 8-core/16-thread 3.8GHz CPU with a 12 teraflop AMD RDNA 2-based GPU and 16GB of RAM. That’s a significant step-up from the outgoing Xbox One X, which had a 2.3GHz CPU, 6 teraflop GPU and 12GB of older-generation RAM. It’s also a slight increase on the on-paper power of the PS5, which combines a 3.5GHz CPU to a 10.3 teraflop GPU and 16GB of RAM.

There’s a bunch of other architectural improvements as well with one of the biggest being baked in hardware support for ray tracing, which can drastically improve the way light behaves in a game, improving light sources, shadows and reflections, making images appear far more realistic. While only a handful of titles at launch support ray tracing such as Watchdogs Legion and DMC 5 Special Edition, expect to see many more titles that utilise this impressive looking graphical tech as studios shift their focus to developing exclusively for next-gen consoles.

All that horsepower means that console games for the first time can hit up to 120Hz on some titles provided you have a HDMI 2.1 equipped television while also opening the door to 8K gaming. More relevant to current 4K television owners though is that games running in 4K at 60fps is the norm and not the exception on Series X. Last gen consoles such as the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro would deliver fluctuating frame rates between 30-40fps on most blockbuster titles while the resolution scaled up and down to keep the action flowing smoothly as possible. Playing those titles now on the Series X such as Monster Hunter World and Dead or Alive 6 now stay locked at that 4K 60fps target.

The Series X is the only games console that offers the ability to play four generations of console games with more than 600 games from the original Xbox and Xbox 360 as well as the entire Xbox One library playable from day one. They also look better than ever running at higher resolutions and framerates with significantly faster load times.

In addition, the Series X introduces a new feature called Auto HDR, which uses machine learning to up-convert SDR titles. It worked really well in my testing, and in some titles HDR can have a transformative effect on the solidity of a game’s visuals. Bright and colourful titles such as 2005’s Conker: Live & Reloaded and 2014’s criminally underrated Sunset Overdrive, for example, really benefit from the wider colour gamut and higher peak brightness that Auto HDR offers.

Some of last generation’s biggest games such as Doom Eternal and Witcher 3 will be receiving a Series X optimisation patch in the near future as well which will add more graphical features and performance improvements to those much beloved titles.

The best looking titles from the last generation such as Gears of War 5 and Forza Horizon 4 have even been optimised for Series X at launch with the former being ratcheted up to match the PC’s best graphical settings as well as the inclusion of ray tracing and support for 120fps in multiplayer.

Xbox Series X wide shot

By now you’re probably noticing a theme here – most of what you’ll be playing at launch will be existing Xbox One games with a new lick of paint. Usually a new console launch comes with a couple of exclusive games built from the ground up that leverage all of the capabilities of the new console. The Xbox Series X doesn’t have that at launch and that’s a shame given the amount of power on tap here.

What I can tell you for certain is that the dearth of exclusives that plagued the Xbox One last generation won’t be an issue on the Series X with heavyweights such as Bethesda Game Studios and 22 other first-party studios now firmly under Microsoft’s wing.

Quick Resume: A game-changer

Both the Xbox Series X and the Playstation 5 have adopted superfast NVMe SSD for storage which reduces load times to near non-existence. However, the killer feature for the Series X is Quick Resume, which enables you to switch between multiple games and resume them almost instantly from where you last left off. By ‘almost instantly’ I mean after a five to ten second splash screen, you’re right back where you were. This means no more start menus or reloading save files.

At first I didn’t think I would use Quick Resume much at all as I like to see a game through to completion before diving into the next but after two weeks of using it, I can’t live without it.

Instead of progressing through one game, with Quick Resume I’ve found myself steadily progressing through multiple games at a time. For example, I routinely broke up the intense single player campaign of Doom Eternal with a few races in Burnout Paradise Remastered. As I no longer needed to sit through the tedium of booting a game fresh every time, I also found myself accepting a lot more game invites as a result where I would do a few raids with online friends on Destiny 2 before jumping back into my single player game.

I also found that games remain in a suspended state even after unplugging the console over a weekend, allowing me to pick up where I left off after cold booting the console.

That said, I did encounter game crashes from time to time that would force me to either hard reboot the console or force quit the game and there are some titles that don’t support Quick Resume at all but for the most part the feature worked well.

Xbox Series X back

Upgrading the storage: Speed comes at a premium

The downside of NVMe SSD storage is that it is expensive but Microsoft at least offers a generous 1TB capacity from the jump, which amounts to 806GB of usable storage in comparison to Sony who offers just 650GB of usable storage with their included 825GB drive.

While external USB drives can be used to store Series X titles, they can’t be run directly from them meaning you will need to either delete titles from your internal storage to make room or expand the system’s internal storage by investing in a $359 1TB Storage Expansion Card from Seagate which plugs into the back of the console. The decision by Microsoft to go the proprietary route means that the Storage Expansion Card won’t fall in price as quickly over time. Sony on the other hand lets you install any compatible PCIe NVMe SSDs like those you would install on a PC, making expandable storage a more cost effective option on the PS5.

That said, it’s not something most consumers will have to be concerned about in the short term as it should take a while to fill up 806GB of usable storage, but it is a cost you will need to factor into the equation at some point during the console’s life.

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Verdict

The Xbox Series X is an impressive bit of hardware with a slick design and whisper quiet operation as well as the best backwards compatibility for both games and accessories in the business. It makes a powerful first impression with near instant load times and forward looking features such as Quick Resume that make it hard to go back to the previous generation of consoles. The only aspect of the Series X that doesn’t feel decidedly next-gen is the dashboard interface and controller, both of which will feel familiar to Xbox One players.

The Series X is also the only next-gen console that doesn’t require an upfront purchase to own thanks to Microsoft’s deal with carriers that allow you to pay off the unit in monthly installments like a smartphone plan. There’s no denying that gamers should own a Series X eventually and if you manage to nab one at launch, you won’t be disappointed. However, the complete absence of an exclusive launch title means it isn’t a console you need to buy right away either.

Pricing and availability

The Xbox Series X is available from November 10 for a retail price of $749 or on contract with Telstra.

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Telstra NBN Plans

If you choose to buy your new Xbox Series X from Telstra, you can add it to your existing Telstra account. If you’re looking for a new NBN plan, now might be the time to switch to an NBN plan with Telstra and have both your Xbox and internet on the same account.

The following table shows a selection of unlimited data Telstra NBN plans on Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of standard monthly cost, from the lowest to highest. Use our internet comparison tool to see plans from a range of other providers. This is a selection of products with links to a referral partner.

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