Just a hair over four years ago, Microsoft turned its whole world upside-down Fresh Prince-style, turning a downhill coast into an uphill struggle when it unveiled the media-focused Xbox One console. Microsoft swung hard on casual gamers and advanced features and missed big. They’ve been fighting ever since. With the Xbox One X now officially unveiled, the struggle continues. The system has a price, a release date, and a look. But what’s the draw of this thing? Who is it for?
Well, it’s definitely for me. I’ve owned an Xbox One, Xbox One Elite, and Xbox One S. The original Xbox One resides at a friend’s house now, still chugging away happily. I’ll end up buying a One X at launch, too. But I know I’m not everyone.
Xbox One X is the “ultimate experience”
Microsoft’s goal with the Xbox One X seems to be to provide the best gaming experience, without any room for argument. This thing is a beast. It’s significantly more powerful than anything else on the market, including Sony’s souped-up PlayStation 4 Pro. Simply put, games will look better on Xbox One X. They’ll have better frame rates and compare much more favorably to high-end gaming PCs than anything else.
I made the jump to 4K this last holiday season when Samsung’s KS8000 hit a lower price than I’d seen since its release. The television supports not only 4K resolution, but the HDR10 standard as well. When I plug in my Xbox One X, I’ll be able to squeeze every ounce of power out of it. Any game I can play on Xbox One X this fall, I will play on Xbox One X. My friends playing elsewhere is, right now, the only real argument for me to pick up a multiplatform game anywhere else.
One of the biggest questions that lingers here is that of exclusives. Sony has plenty of PlayStation 4-only experiences, and Nintendo games are only on Nintendo systems. Microsoft broadened its approach in the last couple years with Xbox Play Anywhere, which makes the biggest Microsoft games available not just on Xbox but on PC as well, often offering cross-platform multiplayer on top of synced saves and DLC. This opened up Microsoft’s library to millions more potential gamers, but took away the edge the company has with games like Gears of War, Forza Horizon & Motorsport, Halo Wars, and more.
So why not just get a PC?
I have a gaming PC. I’m planning to upgrade it in the next year or so with a fresh batch of new hardware, and I’m even thinking of doing a custom case with color-matched cabling and lighting. I love my PC, and I use it for hours a day for work and play alike. I’m happy to play games on it.
But it’s not my favorite place to play games. I hate the dice-roll of driver updates. I hate sitting and toggling settings to get something that looks good and performs well. I hate the random hiccups that happen in PC gaming. I was born a console gamer when I cracked open a Nintendo Entertainment System just over a quarter-century ago, and I think I’ll always be a console gamer to some degree. I’d rather crash on my couch with a controller, a big screen, and big sound, whether that’s coming through my speakers or headset.
A lot of that is a preference, but what about cost? Our own Joey Davidson argued that jumping into fully-featured Xbox One X gaming is an expensive affair, and I won’t dispute that. If you’re starting from zero, you’re likely looking at at least a $1,300 spend to get a 4K television, an Xbox One X, and a game to play on it. But if we’re starting from zero and talking specifically about gaming, PC gaming isn’t much different. Getting a monitor and video card that can do everything an Xbox One can is going to run about $1,000, and it climbs from there when you get past starter monitors. Lump in a processor that won’t hold that video card back and all the rest of the parts you need to get running, and that’s another $500. To keep that thing up to full gaming spec, you’re looking at $500 or so every 3-4 years. Starting from zero, there isn’t much difference.
But just like you don’t need a top-end monitor with G-Sync and HDR10 to enjoy games on ultra settings, games running on Xbox One X are still going to look better on 1080p televisions. We’ll still see the benefit of the system’s extra horsepower even on “older” televisions. If you want to upgrade to a beefy new 4K television after that, you’ll just get even more out of your games. As HDMI 2.1’s Variable Refresh Rate technology hits the market and starts to spread, the value of a 4K television is only going to increase, as games will look smoother and better on Xbox One X even when they do drop frames.
So who is this thing for?
Right now, I think the Xbox One X is for gamers who want the best possible experience with the least amount of screwing around. That’s a pretty small audience, which I say as a part of it. Sony is still figuring out how to sell the PlayStation 4 Pro. The company didn’t make a great case for it at launch, and sales have been slow to pick up. The company isn’t emphasizing its abilities because they don’t want to make their own lower-power hardware look bad. Microsoft is likely in the same position and has to figure out how to sell Xbox One X consoles.
I think some of this is a long play. Microsoft built an extremely powerful console that lays a strong foundation for the next four or five years of gaming. If we’re really in a time when we’re going to see incremental updates, rather than generational ones, I think Microsoft is making a good decision in offering up a powerful console that they can depend on for a long time to come and slowly drop from its $500 debut price. While the company obviously would love to sell as many systems as they can when it hits on November 7, I think it’s more about three or four years from now. In that way, I think the Xbox One X is in a great spot.
We’ll find out though, right?