Microsoft’s newest console, the much-hyped Xbox One X, is nearly upon us. If you haven’t checked out our full review of the new console, then we thoroughly suggest you do so right now - it’s a complex beast.
There’s a lot to take in with the new console, and it’s also the most complicated piece of gaming hardware to try and describe. Like the PS4 Pro, it won’t have exclusive games, but instead it’ll have games that are ‘enhanced’ for the new hardware.
As if that wasn’t complicated enough already, the nature of these enhancements varies on a game-by-game basis, and some games even give you several options as to how you want them to use the additional horsepower the console provides.
We’ve put together this list of the top six things you need to know to get you up to speed with the new console as quickly as possible.
1. HDR, 4K and 60fps are the maximum, not the standard
Probably the most important thing to realise about the new console is that while Microsoft has been at pains to describe the new hardware as being capable of 4K at 60fps with HDR visuals, this is the maximum it’s able to achieve, and these will not be supported by all games.
Forza Motorsport 7 and Assassin’s Creed Origins will support the full gamut of performance upgrades including 4K resolution, HDR, and 60fps, but Halo 5’s patch will have the game render at 4K without HDR (the original game ran at 60fps already, so there’s no improvement there). Meanwhile last year’s release of ReCore will be upgraded with HDR support, but there’s been no word of 4K.
Things get even more complicated with some games that allow you to choose your graphical options for yourself. Middle Earth: Shadow of War lets you choose whether you want to force its maximum resolution (which, according to Digital Foundry, is 3520x1980 - aka not 4K’s 3840x2160) or whether you want the resolution to scale up and down in order to maintain a consistent framerate.
Things get even more complicated with Rise of the Tomb Raider, which lets you choose between a total of three different performance options. Native 4K prioritises resolution at the expense of performance, High Frame-Rate leaves the game at 1080p but gives you higher-resolution textures, and Enriched 4K appears to allow the resolution to scale to maintain a consistent performance level. All three modes feature HDR, but none allow the game to run at 60fps.
Confused yet? We bet you are.
This early on in its lifecycle it’s hard to say which modes will end up being the most common, but right now it seems that developers are taking a liberal interpretation of what ‘Xbox One X enhanced’ actually means.
Of course, not every game will actually be Xbox One X enhanced in the first place since...
2. Supporting the Xbox One X is completely optional for developers
After having been direct competitors for so many years, it’s only natural that both Sony and Microsoft have started to look very similar. Microsoft introduced Achievements, so Sony brought out Trophies, Microsoft asked gamers to pay to play games online, and now so does Sony. The list goes on and on.
But when it comes to their new half-step consoles, the two players are very different indeed.
Sony has been very clear from the start that developers have to support the PS4 Pro if they want to release a game on the PS4. That doesn’t mean every game has to display in native 4K, but they’ll all have to be able to support the new hardware in some fashion.
Microsoft, meanwhile, has been even more lenient. For its part, it sees supporting the Xbox One X as being a choice for developers, meaning that while they might go to great efforts to support the extra bells and whistles of the Xbox One X, they might just be content to release a standard Xbox One game.
Again, it’s hard to say exactly what effect this might have in the long term. Developers might jump at the opportunity to be able to market their games as being ‘Xbox One X enhanced’, and it’s always easier to sell a game that looks better.
But for many smaller developers the extra effort and expense might end up just not being worth the effort, especially while the install base for the Xbox One X remains small in comparison to the total amount of Xbox Ones (which themselves pale in significance to the amount of PS4s out in the wild).
This certainly makes it harder to work out if the X is worth your money right now especially since…
3. You don’t need an X to get lots of its most interesting features
Surprising though it may be, a lot of this $500 console’s features are available on last year’s Xbox One S, which retails for as little as half the price.
Now, to be clear, the headline 4K feature isn’t available on the cheaper console, which is unsurprising given the massive difference in power between the two machines. But buying yourself the cheaper console still gets you an Ultra HD Blu-ray player as well as HDR and Dolby Atmos.
The catch, of course, is that these features are only available in certain games (are you noticing a running theme here yet?). Gears of War 4 will support both, and Forza Motorsport 7 and Forza Horizon 3 support HDR.
However, while the exact nature of the enhancements might be unclear going forward, it’s not all doom and gloom since...
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Jon Porter is the ex-Home Technology Writer for TechRadar. He has also previously written for Practical Photoshop, Trusted Reviews, Inside Higher Ed, Al Bawaba, Gizmodo UK, Genetic Literacy Project, Via Satellite, Real Homes and Plant Services Magazine, and you can now find him writing for The Verge.