Microsoft Xbox Series X Review

The power impresses but Xbox Game Pass Ultimate is, quite simply, astonishing

by Rik Henderson
SRP: £449.00

What is the Xbox Series X?

The Xbox Series X is Microsoft’s latest flagship games console that carries the tag of “most powerful ever”. It is jammed to the rafters with tech you’d usually find in a high-end gaming PC and, in all honesty, even looks like one.

It has the ability to play games in up to 4K 60 frames-per-second, even 120fps on some titles that swap some of the resolution for even more smoothness, and one day in the future it could even output 8K. Plus, it is a very capable media streamer and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player to boot.

But some, if not all of those features were also on the now-discontinued Xbox One X – even the Xbox One S supported 4K Blu-ray – so what makes the Series X next generation? What does it bring to the table that’s new?

The answer is; a heck of a lot.

Design and connections

The Xbox Series X is no looker, nor is it as peculiarly designed as its main rival, the PlayStation 5. It’s a box – possibly the most box-like Xbox yet.

Weighing 4.4kg, it’s a hefty beast, too, and looks best when upright thanks to a concave heat grille on the roof and a green circular pattern dotted around the holes. However, it can also be laid horizontal and even has rubber feet along one side for the purpose. This allows it to be hidden in an AV cabinet - just make sure you have enough head room and space on the right-hand side as the top grille becomes side facing in that scenario.

 

It’s a box – possibly the most box-like Xbox yet

It’s worth noting that, as this sports the most powerful processor in any console yet, it is likely to create a lot of heat and, thus, has a fan to match. You really do need to ensure it gets decent airflow, therefore, as while it is silent in operation from the box, we’re not sure how long that’ll last if you cramp its style.

The front is fairly non-descript regardless of orientation. It houses a slot for the 4K Blu-ray deck, a USB 3.1 port and eject, controller pairing, and the trademark Xbox on/off buttons.

Microsoft Xbox Series X
Xbox Series X: Rear connections

The rear is similarly tidy, with just a few connections of note. You get an HDMI 2.1 output that’s technically capable of up to 8K video (which might happen one day), another two USB 3.1 ports and a power socket served by a figure-of-eight lead. Thankfully, like the more recent Xbox Ones, the power unit is built into the console – long gone are the days of enormous Xbox power bricks.

Also on the back is an Ethernet port for wired internet (which we’d always recommend if possible), while Wi-Fi 802.11ac is on board too should you prefer a wireless connection. Finally, you get a slot for the dedicated, first-party Storage Expansion Card that is available separately, which could be important if you want immediate access to more than 20 next-gen games, as that seems to be the average a 1TB drive can feasibly hold these days.

Specs:

CPUOcta-core custom Zen 2 CPU
GPU12 TFLOPS, 52 CUs
Memory16GB GDDR6 RAM
Internal storage1TB SSD (+slot for expansion card)
Physical media drive4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Video performance target4K 60fps, capable of up to 120Hz, 8K possible in future
HDR video formatsHDR10, Dolby Vision
Sound formatsDolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, Dolby Atmos
Connections1x HDMI 2.1, 3x USB 3.1, Ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi
Measurements (WxDxH)151 x 151 x 301mm
Weight4.44kg

Controller

While the console design is a slight departure for Xbox, the new wireless controller is not. It’s pretty much the same shape and style as the last two iterations, with just a few noteworthy additions.

There is a new share button in the centre of the controller, to enable easy sharing to social platforms of screengrabs and videos, while the D-Pad on the left-hand side has gained a disc for ergonomic reasons. The underside is also dimpled for better grip.

 

What hasn’t changed is the controller’s reliance on AA batteries

Inside, some new specifications not only reduce latency for Xbox gaming, they help it work more precisely with other platforms, such as PCs, iPhones and Android handsets. Bluetooth Low Energy (BTLE) support and Dynamic Latency Input (DLI) technologies specifically deal with wireless lag.

What hasn’t changed is the controller’s reliance on AA batteries. In some ways though, this is a more practical approach than including hard to replace rechargeable batteries, as you can always add first or third-party alternatives and swap them easily when they start to lose their potency. You can’t say the same for controllers who have rechargeable batteries built-in.

Microsoft Xbox Series X
Xbox Series X: Controller

The Xbox Wireless Controller also now comes with a USB-C port for recharging optional packs or wiring it to the Series X for further reduced latency.

One of the great benefits of the Series X staying within Xbox’s well-established ecosystem is that it is also compatible with last generation controllers and accessories. That includes the dedicated media remote released for the Xbox One some years back.

User experience

The Xbox Series X maintains the exact same user interface as the Xbox One consoles, with a tile-based design and menu system that makes it easy to find games. It’s not so friendly when it comes to media streaming apps though, which you’ll have to download yourself and set-up. And, while you can pin specific games to scrollable bars on your homescreen, there’s not currently any way to do similar with Netflix or Disney+, say.

You do get an Entertainment bar, which will guide you to the most popular apps, but you can’t make it any more specific, really. The best way to have your entertainment services front and centre is to create a group containing all the ones you subscribe to and pin that to the homescreen.

Microsoft Xbox Series X
Xbox Series X: Apps grid

This is a side effect of a platform that prioritises games and, to be honest, anyone willing to pay close to £450 for a new device is likely to want it that way anyway. It could be more intuitive to those who also care about their media playback, however.

Other than that, the UI is superbly fast. One of the criticisms of Xbox Ones in the past was that they were clunky to operate – not so here, you can zip through menus in no time at all, thanks to the beefy processing.

It also must be said that 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray playback is the best we’ve seen yet on a games console. It too benefits greatly from the sheer power under the hood, with discs booting up much more quickly than we’ve seen before, even on dedicated players. You just insert a disc and the Xbox Series X instantly boots the Blu-ray Player app and starts the disc.

It can be a little noisy in operation, but that might be highlighted further by the fan being completely silent, something we’re not used to in games consoles, so it makes any whirring stand out more.

 

4K Ultra HD Blu-ray playback is the best we’ve seen yet on a games console

Thankfully, we found that it doesn’t reject discs that we’ve had problems with on an Xbox One X in the past – it loads them first time. The only caveat to that is that it is no longer compatible with 3D Blu-rays.

While that won’t bother many out there, if you still have a decent library of 3D BDs like us, and an older TV that supports the format, you’ll be dismayed that you can no longer play them. It must be a limitation of the deck hardware used in the console, which is a shame.

Apps and games

For non-disc users, there are plenty of apps available to go along with the huge library of games. Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, Now TV, plus all the terrestrial catch-up services are present, along with more niche services like the WWE Network. In addition, Apple TV has been introduced for access to Apple TV channels and TV+ shows and films.

Where applicable, media content is played back in up to Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos (you will need to download a dedicated app for the latter). You will need a more modern set that supports either, with some older LG OLEDs not compatible with the Xbox’s more recent Dolby Vision version, but you still get HDR10, if not.

Microsoft Xbox Series X
Xbox Series X: Apple TV

Both DTS 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround are also supported. You can switch between audio options in the settings, opting for either uncompressed audio at stereo, 5.1 or 7.1, or bitstream for DTS, DD and Dolby Atmos. All audio is passed through the HDMI 2.1 port – there is no optical audio output.

All the video and audio formats available apply to games too, as the Xbox Series X and cheaper sibling, the Series S, are the first consoles to support both Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision for gaming. We’re yet to see a game run in Dolby Vision, but are eager to find out what it can bring to the party.

In terms of games generally, there has never been a better time to own any Xbox, let alone the powerful Series X as Microsoft’s monthly subscription service, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, is quite simply astonishing.

 

... you can have access to a mammoth games library that would usually have taken years to collect

For just £10.99 per month, you get access to more than 200 Xbox One, Xbox 360 and original Xbox games. Some of those will feature upgraded frame rates or resolution on Series X, and some will even be fully optimised come the console’s full launch. That means, from the box, you can have access to a mammoth games library that would usually have taken years to collect.

Additionally, nigh-on every single game that runs on an Xbox One will also run on the Xbox Series X, so if you have some lying around on disc or have bought digital copies in the past, you can just boot them up. And, many work with what Xbox calls “quick resume”, so you can swap between your games instantly without having to reload them.

The console can pause between four to six games at a time, allowing you to chop and change between them as you see fit. It’s quite staggering the first time you use the feature.

The Xbox Series X can also store games on external USB 3.0 / 3.1 hard drives with quick resume available (though not fast loading) so that’s a cheap way to hold a big stack of titles. And, if that wasn’t enough, you can literally unplug one from an Xbox One, plug it into the new console and access the library immediately. However, true optimisations aren’t applied to games stored on external drives, apart from those on the official Storage Expansion Card option.  

Performance

In terms of performance, it’s hard to rate the Xbox Series X at this present time. There are not enough games that can give it a thorough workout at present. We’ve only seen a handful of titles optimised for the console specifically and while they look stunning, they barely scratch the surface of what it will ultimately be capable of.

One headline feature that will make a difference, even initially, is ray tracing. PC gamers will already be au fait with the tech, but it adds a new lighting system to games to make them look far more realistic than ever before. Neon lights diffuse in the night sky, reflections stare back at you from puddles, that sort of thing.

 

This is a machine built to output both games and video at their best, and that it sure does

Frame rates, too, are instantly noticeable, with driving games and first-person shooters benefitting greatly from the ability to hit a stable 60fps, let alone 120fps.

There is one word of warning about 120fps gaming though – or 120Hz in AV speak – you will need a compatible TV and, if you use a full home cinema setup, AV receiver. Most older TVs just aren’t as compatible as you’d hope, while AVRs with 120Hz passthrough are as rare as hens’ teeth.

Even our Philips OLED 754, which is a recent model, is not capable of 120Hz at 4K (it will work with 1080p 120Hz though, which will be enough for many of the first wave of games). Our AV receiver, the Denon AVR-X2700H can cope with 4K 120Hz though, so we’re hoping to give that a more thorough test when the titles are released to give it a workout.

Microsoft Xbox Series X
Xbox Series X: Bautista!

As for video performance, we have no complaints whatsoever. Rich, deep black levels are available from disc and streaming playback alike, while the speed of use also means that services lock into their maximum resolutions more quickly than we’re used to. This is a machine built to output both games and video at their best, and that it sure does.

Verdict

The Good

  • A true powerhouse of a console with the highest spec around
  • Can load 4K Blu-rays with faster speeds than many decks
  • Excellent picture performance across the board
  • Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos for games and video
  • HDMI 2.1 that can potentially output 8K video one day

The Bad

  • A blocky box design
  • Noisy disc tray
  • Native Xbox Series X game support is minor at launch, especially with exclusives
  • No 3D Blu-ray playback

Microsoft Xbox Series X Review

Should I buy the Xbox Series X?

There is no doubt that the Xbox Series X is one mightily impressive piece of gaming hardware that also handles media playback with aplomb, but whether you want to be an early adopter or not depends on whether you are willing to wait to see it truly blossom.

The hardware is spot-on but the content will take a while to catch up. All the while, the existing Xbox Ones sit under cabinets essentially able to do much of the same, certainly on the video and music playback side. Yes, games will look undoubtedly better, crisper and more detailed on Xbox Series X, loading times are significantly shorter, and the system itself moves like the clappers, but your money will be spent on future potential more than what’s available in the here and now.

It could also take years, rather than months, to really eke the very best from this magnificent beast, so you have to ask yourself whether it’s worth upgrading or not.

If you don’t already have an Xbox though, it’s a no brainer if you have the money. Not only do you get a futureproofed gaming powerhouse, you get a superb media hub – one with HDMI 2.1 and the ability to output 8K video if it ever comes to it.

Just makes sure you have a decent-sized hole in your AV cabinet to house it.

Highly Recommended

Scores

Styling and design

.
.
.
.
6

Build quality

.
.
8

Connections

.
.
8

Networking

.
9

Controller

.
9

Gaming Performance

10

AV Performance

.
9

Value for money

.
.
8

Overall

.
9
9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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