The Xbox 360 was an almost all-round success, the Xbox One was a singular phenomenon, what does the future of the Series X|S consoles spell?
From ripping up Call of Duty: Black Ops Team Deathmatch modes on the Xbox 360 after school to using the Xbox One to explore the vast world of Tamriel in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the Xbox series has been a constant feature within my own gaming life, along with millions of others, and many of us have always been delighted with their performance. As of late, I thought I was happy with my Xbox One, but then disaster struck: I had a cheeky go on the Xbox Series X. The only way I can describe this experience is in the way of cars: it was like I had been driving a BMW for years, I was happy with the car, it performed perfectly and gave me quite the ride whilst travelling from A to B, but then I got to test drive a Lamborghini. Whilst both great cars in their own right, once you taste the speed of the latter, the former, despite its familiarity and consistency, might end up seeming a bit languid.
What if you don’t want the gaming equivalent of a Lamborghini: the Xbox Series X? Perhaps you’d like to stick with a BMW, just a newer model with the latest technology the industry has to offer. No need for the best, just enough to keep us in the minute. Good news, the Series X has a simpler sister console: the Xbox Series S, the S not standing for simpler but for stylish, sophisticated, sleek and supersonic in its processing power. I would do the same literary game with the Series X, but there aren’t too many adjectives beginning with X. Let’s move on.
What similarities do the Xbox Series X|S consoles have?
Perhaps the titular standalone S in Xbox Series S could also stand for slight, for small? Roughly half the size and weight of the X, the Series S boasts a lot of firepower for such a compact machine. Often priced at around £200 less than the Xbox Series X, the S represents the affordable, renovated and updated reincarnation of the esteemed Xbox One. We ought to begin by looking at where the the Series X and S occupy a middle ground. For starters, both harbour both AMD RDNA 2 GPU and AMD Zen 2 CPU components allowing the consoles to frequently top 120 frame per second counts, delivering outstandingly polished action sequences. Both the Series X and S seek to (and achieve) maintain 60 frames per second, the Series S operating in 1440p whilst the Series X nurtures 4K rendering, though the S can support similar resolutions on 4K TVs. As a result of their appointing of the HDMI 2.1 development, the ninth generation of Microsoft consoles certainly possess the graphic fidelity to call themselves ‘next-generation’.
What can I expect from the graphics?
Sound good? Hold on, we have barely scratched the surface on the graphics front yet! The developers at Microsoft have produced two devices with an admirable ethos underpinning it: to create the most tangible gaming experience yet. The ambitiously named Xbox Velocity Architecture initiative aims to propel users into generations beyond through a plethora of hardware and software upgrades. The first, in keeping with the consoles competitive counterparts, is the DirectX Raytracing feature, serving to further hoover up reality and stick it graciously on a screen. Better news still is the fact that both Series X and S consoles incorporate Raytracing technology even into the quotidian elements of gameplay let alone peak moments in the games narrative or particularly stunning environments. The upgraded Xbox Series X|S edition of Metro Exodus is exemplary of this idea; as I battled irradiated creatures and tip-toed around behemoth mutant bears I couldn’t help but notice that the reflections in those murky puddles were magnificent – I rarely have these thoughts in real life so what must that say about the quality of detail DXR features presents?
What is Xbox Velocity Architecture?
Whilst Raytracing is an impressive feat in itself, if you are a sucker for graphics you may want to lean slightly further towards the X; the console currently operates in 4K yet it has been developed to support 8K in due course, a feature to be triggered by later system updates. As part of the Xbox Velocity Architecture game plan, both consoles integrate the Variable Rate Shading technique, an incipient trait that is likely to feature in generations of consoles to come, and by opting for the Xbox range you would be of the first wave of gamers to gain the upper hand in this way. VRS is essentially a second-to-second modification of rendering power concentrated on the shading of gaming environments. What would be the point in bringing the GPU into play to give a dark grey when you can reduce activity completely to give closer to a total-black? The accelerating or relaxing of the GPU when necessary, when also partnered with VRR, Variable Refresh Rate, that focuses on a similar situational alteration only with the frame rate the game provides, makes for a dynamic, adaptable device capable of running huge, hectic games for hours without complaint. The tailoring of output in this way maximises the consoles performance efficiency, ensuring that allocations for a ramping-up of action in-game are there when they are needed which, in most cases, should lead to a greater fluidity in overall performance. Furthermore, the ALLM, Auto Low Latency Mode, is yet another automatic adaptation that encourages console and monitor to enter gaming states favourable for providing superb gaming experiences. The sagacious people down at Microsoft are not afraid to break the mould in this way, choosing to adopt in places a ‘less is more’ ethos, maximising efficiency and processing-cost-effectiveness, having five systems running at 100% rather than ten at 50%. Regardless, no software can work if the hardware is overheated or faulty: the Xbox Series X adopts an unprecedented Vapor Chamber capable of spreading heat across the core of the device, whilst both editions of the console possess 'whisper quiet' cooling fans and split-motherboards. Resourceful engineering, remarkable output.
How much can I store on the Xbox consoles?
The internal storage side of things might a factor swaying consumers to head towards the Xbox rather than PlayStation, for the Xbox Series X has a notable advantage of 135GB over its opposite number, a total of 802GB worth of usable memory on the X and 364GB on the S, allowing Series X users an extra two 65-70GB Cyberpunk 2077 sized titles to be internally stored. Employing a Gen 4 NVMe SSD, the ninth generation Xbox consoles virtually abolish load times, but perhaps the most impressive feature of the console is that you can glide between up to three titles at once in mere seconds using the Quick Resume save feature; you can effortlessly jump (literally) from Ori and the Will of the Wisps to Forza Horizon 4 in the very position you left off – and I timed it: just shy of 11 seconds, which to load the expansive maps of Forza Horizon titles is absurdly speedy. A slew of newly released games will likely embrace Quick Resume in the near future, with the most popular titles of the recent history also likely to be in accordance too. Both consoles are ridiculously rapid in their processing power, yet the Xbox Series X is, at least in the eyes of spec statistics, the most remarkable console to date from this perspective, boasting 12.1 TFLOPS of computing power, almost 10 times that of the Xbox One. Talk about Moore’s Law! That said, the fact that the Series S offers 4 TFLOPS is still thoroughly admirable especially considering the reduction in price.
Are there any external storage options?
A particularly pragmatic move from Microsoft is their decision to roll out the Seagate Expansion Card, a proprietary external storage card that promises to perfectly match the speed and quality of the Xbox’s internal SSD. The Seagate EC allows users an extra TB of storage space that can be accessed at the drop of the hat: games downloaded onto the Seagate Expansion Card can be played directly rather than being downloaded. Think about that for a second – you can identically double (and more) your systems memory through the insertion of a card – what on Earth? It took me a while to fully comprehend that. What’s more, you can still use a USB Hard-Drive whilst using the Seagate, a choice that would allow you further immediate entry to Xbox One/360 backward compatible titles that the Seagate does not permit. Whether you want to lose yourself in the raytraced Ministry offices of Control or the holy (and dated) Xbox 360 best-seller Halo 3, the storage options granted to us by Microsoft are attractive to virtually every gaming preference.
Is the controller any different?
Interacting with the Xbox Series X|S is a less innovative process; the Xbox Wireless Controller is not a profoundly trailblazing handset, leading on only with subtle nuances from its same-series forerunners. Where the Sony DualSense controller carries a number of dashing developments, the Xbox Wireless Controller remains unadorned, true to its fundamental purpose, focused only on minimal but effective upgrades. The standard issue controller is less about majestic design or ground-breaking firmware upgrades but rather aims to act solely as a conduit through which we can negotiate the astounding realism of the (1440p or 4K) screen, allowing the imagery to permeate reality itself. For some concerned with aesthetics and maximal functionalities, the standard controller might lack the novelty or the charm they are searching for, in which case the Xbox Elite Controller range might be of interest. The colour of the Xbox Wireless Controller you receive out-of-the-box wisely depends on the console you have opted for: the Robotic White controller with the Series S, the Carbon Black with the Series X. Though an upgrade, the Xbox Wireless Controller has made alterations to keep it in vogue, allowing it to provide us the best medium to experience the rapidly changing world of gaming.
What are the handset differences in detail?
For the social gamer, the most significant change to the controller might be the introduction of the Share Button, a third centrally placed widget allowing us to take screenshots and recording gameplay on-the-go. Whilst exploring the vast Red Dead Redemption 2 landscape we are sure to encounter sunsets and views that force us to take a minute in order to appreciate them – why not take a photo or a video? The answer previously was straightforward: I cannot be bothered to take a screen recording, but today our camera is always within an inches grasp of our twiddling thumbs meaning we are much more likely to snap away when the time is right – convenience is king, and the Xbox Wireless Controller is certainly royalty. Closely resembling the 2nd Edition Xbox Elite Controller, the D-Pad on the standard (and slightly smaller) Xbox Wireless Controller, which Electric Games stocks in Shock Blue, Carbon Black and Robot White, is more of a multi-directional dish with end-tension clicks. On first touch, the Electric Games team concluded that the D-Pad might seem as though it lacks adequate delineation, yet with a few hours room for adaptation we had all changed our minds, concluding that this nimble D-Pad would not hinder but potentially further supplement our collective gaming experience. I have found it to be the case that once you use the multi-directional D-Pad it proves difficult to regress back to the traditional gamepad – returning back to our BMW versus Lamborghini analogy, suggesting that there is advantages to the newer design that we may miss should we take a trip down memory lane.
Without being too coarse in description, during a Warzone rampage it’s possible that our hands end up being a bit clammy, leading to a reduction in grip which, in a tense last man standing Battle Royale shootout, is not conducive to good performances – you go to press the trigger and you lose grip: game over. The wretched Slipping Controller Syndrome. Fortunately, the developers over at Microsoft have clearly been subject to such an awful fate and so for the greater good of humanity they have integrated textured grips on the L1/L2 and R1/R2 triggers. Beyond ergonomics, the Xbox Wireless Controller harbours an improved Bluetooth battery life for those who want to make good use of the controller’s compatibility features. Otherwise, the controller still employs dual AA batteries, providing up to 40 hours of juice, combined with a USB-C charging feature that can be used in-game, allowing the user to choose whichever method suits them best. It is often the alterations in minutiae, in the finer changes fastidiously concocted by innovative developer teams, that quietly benefit our gaming experience – the Dynamic Latency Input technique is but one of these updates. DLI, amongst other responsibilities, adopts the role of the referee between controller, console and monitor, expediting and monitoring the process between the pressing of the button and the visual manifestation of our thumbs’ choices. The Xbox One took around 8 milliseconds to transfer button to action, so if you press the X button to reload your weapon the monitor will follow suit 8ms later. Now, not many of us can actually quantify 8ms in our day-to-day experiences, but in situations where every millisecond counts, such as during close quarters combat in the upcoming Battlefield 2042, the 2ms input time that the Xbox Series X|S is extraordinarily beneficial. An input speed capable of practically eliminating the controller’s delay as the middle man between our synapses firing in our brain and the relaying of our choices to the screen, the fresh Xbox Wireless Controller is insanely quick in its functioning - 2ms is just incredible. Though resiliently ticking away in the background, the Dynamic Latency Input feature gives a delicious icing to our gaming cake, especially when partnered with the facets of the Xbox Velocity Architecture initiative (VRR/VRS).
It is not often that finding shortcomings is difficult during a review: a critical eye will always find something. Still, with the ninth generation Xbox Series X|S in mind you have to dig to find failures and even then, on the rare occasion where the console might fall short (depending on perspective), the discrepancy between expectation and reality is very slight. In the past year I have begun to lean over to the Sony side of things, losing my potential bias for Microsoft products, but even on neutral ground it is easy to see how inclusive the Xbox Series X|S proves to be, offering two consoles brilliant in their own regard, each fulfilling their fundamental purpose: the Series S for an economical entry into the next generation of consoles, the Series X for providing a leading console capable of rivalling (if not surpassing) the computing power of PCs. Meeting in the middle with unbelievable graphics, huge storage capacities and processing power capable of quick-starting multiple titles through Quick Resume, the Xbox Series X|S each in their right are winners for me. So long as you can get your hands on a console (which you can read about here), we think that they may be winners for you too.
Written by Joel Gunner