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Microsoft created the Xbox One with the thought that it would be the ultimate all-in-one console. The HDMI IN port encouraged users to route their cable through the system so that live TV would exist in a single hub alongside the other entertainment apps and games on the hard drive. Though Microsoft has moved away from the much-maligned Kinect camera and sensor that was supposed to help you navigate all of this, the Xbox One largely succeeded in its original goal and is still the best piece of hardware a gaming enthusiast/cable subscriber could own. Last year’s Xbox One S added 4K gaming, streaming, and Blu-ray. The new Xbox One X adds all that plus massive jolt of processing horsepower that improves the performance of everything you use it for.
Even when you add Sony’s PS4 Pro to the current console war, the One X hardware outstrips everything on the market. The CPU and GPU both sport more CU (compute units), higher clock speeds, and more memory (12 GB to the PS4 Pro’s 9 GB). Microsoft is also keen to point out the One X’s 6 teraflops (a measure of computing speed) of graphical processing, a massive increase over the One S’s 1.4 and a good bit more than the PS4 Pro’s 4.2. Numbers like that will sail over most consumers’ heads, so what does it really mean? In short, it means the One X is powerful enough to pump out 4K gaming at 60 frames per second with relative ease. Select games like Forza 7 also support HDR (high dynamic range), and on a TV that supports the same look absolutely breathtaking. After playing regular games on a regular HD TV, the number and depth of colors saturating the screen in an HDR 4K game almost feels like too much for your brain to process.
All One X systems ship with a 1 terabyte hard drive, and porting your games over from your old Xbox One is pretty simple with an external hard drive. Alternately, anything you bought in the Microsoft store can be re-downloaded and, provided you always stayed connected to the Internet while you played, your save data will sync automatically from the cloud.
The One X plays all Xbox One games and everything in the Xbox 360 backward compatible library (400 games and counting). There are currently 164 games with specific graphical upgrades for the One X, and this list includes a mix of the old and new. For some Xbox 360 games like Halo 3, the difference is stark—with the changes probably falling just short of what you might see in a full 4K remaster. It’s funny, too, that Microsoft went back to work on a game that’s 10 years old, but it knows where its bread is buttered; Halo diehards are Xbox diehards by default, so it just makes sense to throw them a juicy bone like this. But even if you’re not playing from the list of enhanced games, the One X finds ways to make them prettier, improving framerates and load times.
If you haven’t upgraded to a 4K TV just yet, you should know that a lot of the enhancements can be seen on a standard 1080p HDTV. This is particularly true of the One X’s antialiasing ability, which smooths out the jagged edges typically visible on diagonal and curved lines. These often appear as twinkling spots or clipping, and they have the effect of making the image look much less realistic. When you hammer away these flaws, the difference is huge. One of the first things I did with the One X unit that Microsoft provided was hook it up to an older HDTV and pop in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring on Blu-ray. The opening scene of that film, where elves fight an orc army on an ash-gray hill in Mordor, was previously a jumbled mess, with blocks of wayward pixels delineating where the human actors ended and the CGI horde began. On the same television with a One X, there isn’t even a hint of this issue, just a solid, crisp image no matter how fast the camera is panning.
I always appreciated the design of the original Xbox One; the oversized shell harkened back to the first VCRs, and I count myself as one of the few who miss those dinosaurs. But the external power brick, a holdover from the Xbox 360, always struck me as strange. And after three-and-a-half years of daily use, the fan on my brick started to make loud whirs and clicks, even when it wasn’t turned on, and needed to be replaced. The One X’s power supply is internal, so all you connect is a regular power cord in the back of the console. The unit is also much smaller than the original Xbox One, and about the same size as the One S, though it’s shaped slightly different; the top half of the unit oversets on the left side, creating a slight overhang. The disc drive hides in this top-bottom divide. The entire unit is cased in a muted, matte black finish, with only three buttons on the front: power, accessory sync, and disc eject. One USB port is in the front, with two more in the back adjacent to the HDMI IN and OUT ports. If you had an OG Xbox One that came with the required Kinect and you’d still like to use it for voice commands, Skype, or game broadcasting, you’ll need an adapter that will allow it to plug into a standard USB port. Microsoft makes one for $40. Audiophiles will also delight to see the optical out port in the back, allowing you to hook up all manner of higher-end headphones, sound bars, and surround sound systems.
Most of the talk around this system has hinged on whether it’s necessary, and that’s fair. You can, after all, jump into the current console generation for a lot less than the $500 asking price for the One X. But if you’re looking to future-proof your entertainment center for (hopefully) three or four years, then you can’t do better than what is inarguably the most powerful console in the world. It pulls off an awful lot of tricks to make games, video, and apps run super-smooth, and it does so with blinding speed, all while operating whisper-quiet. I didn’t really think I needed a One X, but then I tried it. Now it’s hard to think of going back.