MICROSOFT is back with a brand new gaming box – the Xbox Series X.
I’ve been testing the next-gen games console that makes your own Xbox looks like a snoozefest, but should it be on your Christmas list this year? Almost definitely.
What is the Xbox Series X?
The Xbox Series X marks the next-generation of Microsoft games consoles.
It’s one of a pair, coming in as the more powerful and pricier alternative to the Xbox Series S.
This is Microsoft’s direct rival to the PlayStation 5, promising high frame-rate 4K gaming and gorgeous graphics.
You’ll be be able to pick one up on November 10 for £449/$499.
Xbox Series X design
Microsoft has adopted a striking new vertical cuboid design for the Xbox Series X.
It looks like a matte black tower dedicated built to worship the gaming gods – but not in a garish way.
In fact, it’s very minimalist and should look fine in any living room.
It didn’t fit in my Ikea cabinet standing up, so I lay it down on the side – an option for those with limited space.
I prefer the overall look to the previous generation of consoles.
And I think it’s probably a safer design versus the PlayStation 5, which will certainly stick out more in your front room.
The Xbox Series X is also much, much smaller than the PS5. That’s a big win for Xbox.
The controller is best described as “don’t fix what’s not broken”.
It’s largely the same as the old joypad but with a few tweaks – including a more grippy texture.
The joypad is more comfortable to hold and there’s now a Share button too, but there’s not much new beyond that.
PlayStation arguably has the edge here with its new DualSense controller, which has adjustable tension in the triggers to boost immersion, as well as a built-in speaker.
It’s a shame Microsoft didn’t bundle any brilliant additional tricks into the joypad, but it’s not a bad controller by any means.
And it’s certainly a safer design that the DualSense joypad, if that’s your thing.
Xbox set-up is fast: HDMI into the telly, connect to WiFi and you’re done in minutes.
Downloading games and installing massive patches is still a problem, but by no means exclusive to Xbox.
Xbox Series X specs and performance
On paper, both the Xbox Series X and PS5 are extremely powerful.
They use 8-core processors, although the Xbox is clocked slightly higher.
And it offers 12 teraflops of graphical output – that’s 12 trillion operations per second.
It trumps the 10.3 teraflops in the PS5, though that probably isn’t (and shouldn’t!) be the deciding factor for you.
What’s important is that Microsoft offers 4K gaming at up to 120 frames per second.
It’s an impressive feat, and will require a 4K telly on your part – though they come relatively cheaply these days.
A highlight of the new generation of consoles is ray-tracing, which features in many new games being released.
Graphical engines accurately map how light and shadows reflect, making them infinitely more realistic than ever before.
It requires a lot of processing power, but it’s a major boost to visuals – and the new Xbox is tough enough to handle this graphical revolution.
Other neat perks include generally faster loading, as well as Quick Resume, which lets you instantly hop back into (and between) games seamlessly.
It works well, and largely replaces the need to manually “save” – because games are effectively suspended in memory.
That’s thanks to a sizeable 1TB solid state drive that works quickly, and will be able to hold plenty of games before forcing you to delete your least favourite children, so to speak.
I should note that even standard non-optimised games will look better on the new Xbox Series X, as it uses Auto HDR to improve colour and contrast on games that were designed for standard-def.
The roster of new games available before launch on the Xbox Series X is limited, but I’ve been able to try most of the best of what’s currently on offer.
That includes an optimised version of 2018 racer Forza Horizon 4, which is absolutely stunning.
The popular game lets you whizz around a squashed version of Britain’s north in hyper-cars, and it’s jaw-dropping on the Series X.
I had the game running on a 65-inch 4K Sony telly, and many parts of the environment looked photorealistic.
The frame rates were fine, as you’d expect given the powerhouse hardware on board.
Next-gen lighting, textures and game physics bring the game to life with astonishing quality.
Even the tiny droplets of water that trickle across the car’s hood are expertly rendered.
I also got to spend some time in Dirt 5 – it’s a rally racer that’s beautiful like Forza, but far dirtier.
It’s very texture-dense with excellent lighting effects, and looks brilliant.
At start-up, you get the choice of prioritising for graphical quality or for frame rate.
I went for graphics first, and found frame rate largely stable. There were a few noticeable drops near the beginning of races, when 12 cars were jostling for position – and for screen-space.
But these were hardly noticeable, and not worth switching to other graphical setting in my opinion.
Classic games have received optimisations too, including Gears 5 and Ori and the Will of the Wisps.
I’ve never had much love for the Gears franchise, but I’ll concede that it looks fantastic on the Xbox Series X.
But that’s no surprise: it looked great anyway.
Ori is probably the more interesting case, because it’s one of the few games I tried that doesn’t have a realistic art style.
It’s more challenging for games that are cartoonish to show off impressive graphical techniques.
But Ori is stunning on the Xbox Series X, with colourful and intense visuals – and pretty lighting effects.
The game is stable and runs very fluidly, and makes a great case for a more animated aesthetic.