Aesthetically, the Xbox One X isn’t much to look at — it’s essentially a smooth black box. It is the smallest Xbox the company has ever made — at 11.8 x 9.4 x 2.4 inches, which is good news for those with limited space on their television stands. It’s currently available only in black, which actually fits well with the utilitarian, power-first narrative that Microsoft is pushing here. It doesn’t have to be that pretty, because it’s more important what the games do.
And there’s no denying that the games look great running on 4K. Even if you don’t have a 4K television, the console will use a technique called supersampling to enhance the clarity and color of whatever it’s showing. A press demonstration session at the Electronic Entertainment Expo showed off — on developers’ versions of the consoles — what games looked like running in 4K. A closer look at the console, which will hit store shelves on Nov. 7, revealed some of the deeper capabilities of the machine as well.
A demonstration of the racing game “Forza 7″ illustrated how in-depth graphics can now get. There was finely rendered stitching on the interior of the race cars, but the additional graphics power also gave developers the ability to flesh out the experience with such detail that you could see the windshield wipers rattling.
Even Minecraft, which is known for its blocky aesthetic, gets a visual boost. Little details like highlighting the edges of blocks make a noticeable difference to the overall look of the game. Players can also see farther within the game’s world at any given point and can add shine and texture to the blocks in their game that really pop in the 4K resolution.
The demos showed off that games look fantastic on the Xbox One X, and offer developers more options to make games even more immersive down the line. But that’s down the line. When looking at this console in the context of what’s out right now, I still think $500 is a lot to pay for prettier games, even if they are much, much prettier.
And that conclusion might be fine with Microsoft. The trick to understanding the Xbox One X is to wrap your head around the fact that it’s part of a lineup.
You may remember that Microsoft last year announced the Xbox One S, a $249 console that also can show games in 4K, although not natively — meaning it’s not quite as fluid. If your Xbox One or even Xbox 360 is on its last legs and you can’t justify the price of the Xbox One X, that’s probably your best option.
That’s a bit of a shift for gaming customers, who have become very used to having one console option from a company. But Microsoft is very much promoting both the Xbox One X and the Xbox One S at the same time. They showed up side-by-side at the event, which was useful for size comparisons, but also a pretty clear indication that they both have Microsoft’s full support.
Given the components — the graphics cards, the processors — that have gone into the Xbox One X, the price is actually fairly reasonable looking purely at its build cost. But it is $100 more than the competing PlayStation Pro, from Sony. When it comes to that decision, however, most gamers probably either have their console allegiance set or will be relying on exclusive games to decide which of those two machines is right for them.
On that front, Microsoft is touting a launch lineup with breadth — it showed off 42 games at the Xbox One X’s launch news conference, 22 of which are exclusive to Microsoft at launch. Those include the latest Forza, “Crackdown 3″ and “Sea of Thieves.” For a niche market of gamers, those games plus the Xbox One X’s power and future potential will make it worth it. For the rest of us? I think Microsoft still has some selling to do.