Xbox One X - Performance and 4K gaming

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Xbox One X – Graphics and performance

The Xbox One X’s lifecycle hasn’t even begun yet, so it’s little surprise that in the short time I’ve had with the console, I only had three Enhanced games to test. These games are likely fairly representative of the ecosystem, but it’s still too early to come to a firm conclusion on how strong the One X will be in terms of graphics-intensive titles.

At this point it’s worth remembering that there will be no Xbox One X exclusives for the time being. Xbox One is a platform, and the consoles are merely different ways to enjoy the platform. That’s the theory, anyway.

I did all my testing on Samsung’s 49-inch KS7000 TV. This set supports full 4K pictures and HDR, making it an ideal choice for this test. It also happens to be Trusted’s TV of the Year 2016.

The following screenshots were all captured on the Blackmagic Decklink 4K Extreme, a capture card that supports up to 60fps uncompressed 4K footage over HDMI 2.0. The only thing you won’t see is HDR.

The first game that received an update was Gears of War 4. Given it’s a Microsoft exclusive, you won’t be surprised that it’s probably the best example of what the console is capable of. That is to say, it’s gorgeous. The huge range of colours now available to the devs shines through, giving scenes more depth than anybody’s ever seen from a console game. The way light falls from both artificial light sources and the sun looks accurate and natural, and while many of these eye-candy features fade into the background when you’re hurling frag grenades at massive underground-dwelling insects, it’s undeniably beautiful. Even when playing at Full HD resolution you can’t fail to spot the extra details.

And yes, even if you only have a Full HD television, you’ll still benefit from the extra power: the console will “super-sample” your games, meaning it’ll render them in Ultra HD and then scale it down to Full HD for extra sharpness.

Like Rise of the Tomb Raider and Shadow of War, Gears allows players to choose how to utilise the power of the One X. If you prefer, you can enabled Performance mode, which dials down the resolution while keeping all the graphical prettiness and bumping up the game’s frame rate from 30fps to 60fps. That’s a massive leap, and both I and several other members of the Trusted Reviews team would take extra performance over higher resolution any day of the week, especially in a game like Gears of War. It’s a great compromise, that lets you get the lovely light rays and whatnot alongside a game that feels far more fluid and responsive. You lose a little sharpness, but not as much as you might think. For me, it’s worth it.

Related: Upcoming Xbox One Games

Gears of War, Xbox One X: This cropped image in Visuals graphics mode shows dynamic lighting to its best effect. This scene in HDR is stunning


The same scene but in Performance mode. You lose some sharpness but gain twice the framerate, and keep the same lovely lighting and textures


That same scene again on the One S. There’s a lack of sharpness and the colours are quite clearly more muted. Not exactly ugly, though.

Xbox One X cropped image: Note the sharpness of the character model and the detail on the ground textures


On the One S, details are again a bit more hazy, as are a few textures. But the difference is far less stark than in the first image comparison and would be hard to tell at a glance.

FIFA 18 has also been updated, but it doesn’t affect the game nearly as much as Gears has been. The only difference I could spot was a bucketload of extra sharpness around players on the pitch, which isn’t to be sniffed at. It’s easiest to see when the ball is in play, which is where people spend most of their time anyway. Everywhere else, like in replays and player close-ups, it’s less obvious.

But it wasn’t like FIFA 18 needed many enhancements anyway; simply lifting the game into Ultra HD makes more difference than anything else could, and it looks great.

Related: Call of Duty: WW2

Facial hair is sharper on the X (below) but other facial details are largely the same as the S (above)

 

FIFA’s extra fidelity isn’t obvious beyond some sharper player models and more detailed grass. Here, the net is also a bit sharper.

Meanwhile on the S, it’s hardly ugly, but the grass is softer.

My final experience came from Titanfall 2, a game that runs at 60fps on the Xbox One S. It definitely looks sharper thanks to Ultra HD, but most of the graphical enhancements are much more subtle. Slightly better lighting effects, some better-quality explosions and higher-resolution gun models was about all I could spot.

But there were some points at which the One X looked no better than the One S when playing Titanfall. These were the busiest parts of the game, where loads of action was happening on screen; the One X was likely using what’s called “dynamic scaling” to temporarily reduce resolution to keep performance silky-smooth. The very fact it’s able to output 60fps at close to Ultra HD is impressive, but it’s not a life-changer.

It’s this dynamic scaling that’s really what sets the One X apart – because of its massive horsepower, it can practically guarantee consistent frame rates on any game currently on the market.

Related: Star Wars Battlefront 2

Titanfall 2: Textures are sharper here, and you can see there’s better flare coming from the titan’s red lights. The lighting overall is of a higher quality, although the colour of the scene is the same as the One S (below)

There are other areas where I’m less impressed. I already mentioned the size of the hard disk, but I also really hate how slow it is. I tested launching Gears of War 4 from both a cold boot and from standby, and both the Xbox One X and S took more or less the same amount of time to load the game, give or take a couple of seconds. Granted, this could be down to the larger file size of 4K titles, but that doesn’t explain the fact that even booting to the Xbox Home Screen takes the same time on both consoles. It’s a bit disappointing.

I also think Microsoft could have taken more control over how game developers harness that power. Gears of War gives players control of how the game looks and feels via in-game graphics and performance settings, but many other titles won’t offer these options. Players deserve to understand what their options are, instead of having them hidden away in patches that don’t fully explain what’s happening.

Ultra HD gaming on a box costing £450 is impressive whichever way you look at it. It’s not getting close to a £1200 gaming PC by any standards, but it’s close enough to really make one consider whether a gaming PC is actually the best option.

The additional sharpness is great, but it’s the special effects that really elevate the One X above other consoles. Considering that a PS4 Pro can be bought for £100 less and does a pretty great job itself in terms of 4K sharpness if not out-and-out visual quality, the difference isn’t as great as you might think.

Nonetheless, if the new games that launch onto the Xbox One platform over the next few months look as good and perform as well as Gears of War and Titanfall 2, gamers are in for a treat.

In fact, the whole crux of the One X is explained by Drew McCoy, the lead producer on Titanfall 2 over on the Xbox blog: “I think this first batch of titles is only scratching the surface of what will be possible in the future and I can’t wait to see what everyone does,” he said. Couldn’t put it better myself.

Why buy the Xbox One X?

If you’re still rocking an original Xbox One, it’s fair to say you might be due an upgrade, if just for better, cooler, less noisy performance. But your choice is still between the Xbox One S (around £230) and the £450 One X. That’s an awful lot of extra cash to pay, even if performance is more consistent and the overall picture is sharper.

For me, the One X is a more compelling purchase than the One S – it’s the very latest in console hardware and the guarantee of smooth performance and some stonking visuals is mightily tempting. But the very fact that I can continue to recommend the One S is a testament to Microsoft’s new, generation-less gaming strategy. You’re not going to miss out on any games if you don’t have the money to upgrade, and that’s something we can surely all get on board with.

Verdict

The pinnacle in console hardware, but not yet a must-buy.

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