The Xbox One launched under-powered and overpriced. The packed-in Kinect camera drove up the price $100 in Canada and many games ran at 900p resolution. The PlayStation 4’s extra juice provided a steadier, 1080p display for $100 less.
The Xbox One lacked a clear vision. Instead of Microsoft focusing on Xbox Live and its library, the Kinect became the focus. Motion controls, voice commands and party games anchored the Xbox platform while Sony dominated the market. After Microsoft’s botched E3 reveal of sharable digital libraries, the negative reception destroyed the console’s launch.
The Xbox One X marks the platform’s largest step away from the tainted launch. It’s a more powerful version of the Xbox One with compatibility between games, accessories and dashboards. It promises to provide the most powerful console ever with native 4K games and HDR (high dynamic range) capabilities. The Xbox One X delivers on that promise, but it also benefits people playing on 1080p televisions.
Instead of analyzing the hardware specifications and reviewing the 4K HDR features, I will share my experience as someone playing on a 1080p TV. At $499 USD or $599 CAD, the Xbox One X improved the performance and visual fidelity of my Xbox One library. But these improvements might not feel worthwhile for every player, so it depends on your habits and expectations.
How does the Xbox One X improve games on 1080p TVs?
Microsoft will first point to the Xbox One X’s supersampling capabilities for 1080p games, but it’s not my standout feature. First, games need an “Xbox One X Enhanced” patch for the best results. Supersampling takes the 4K image of an Xbox One X Enhanced game and scales it down to fit on your TV. The supersampling should improve draw distance, jagged edges and image clarity. Games on the Xbox One X look clearer and a lot less blurry than games running on the launch Xbox One console.
While supersampling does improve visual clarity, I often struggled to spot a difference while playing certain games. In motion, Halo 5: Guardians looked identical to what I played for the past year. I played Halo 5 regularly and expected to spot an immediate difference, but I didn’t. Although Digital Foundry points to Halo 5 as the Xbox One X’s best performing game, it felt no different. I was let down.
For Call of Duty: WWII, the supersampling made an immediate improvement to image clarity. Everything looked photo-realistic without any slowdown in performance. Each tree leaf rustled in the wind and I could spot distant enemies hiding behind cover through a thick fog. Call of Duty: WWII looked unlike anything I ever played on the Xbox One, all while running at 60 frames per second.
I noticed the biggest graphical differences during the WWII campaign cut scenes. Pre-rendered cut scenes looked muddy, soft and somewhat blurry. When the scene switched back to the in-game engine, everything looked cleaner and crisp. I noticed the same cut scene and game engine differences in Injustice 2’s story mode. The quick switch from pre-rendered cut scene to in-game animations shocked me each time. The supersampling and enhanced X patches show you the difference when comparing the two side-by-side. While Call of Duty and Injustice 2 utilized the power of supersampling, your favourite games might not show similar results.
Then what’s better than supersampling?
Although supersampling works, raw power proved to me the Xbox One X’s benefit for 1080p TVs. To understand how hardware impacts many existing Xbox One games, I first need to explain how dynamic resolution works.
To help game performance, developers introduced dynamic resolutions for Xbox One and PS4 games. Battlefield 1, a non-enhanced game, ran at 900p at 60fps. With lots of explosions and enemies on screen, the resolution can dynamically drop to as low as 720p. The resolution drop helps smooth performance by freeing up additional resources. The hardware limitations prevent developers from achieving a steady framerate and resolution.
Below is some Battlefield 1 gameplay I captured on the Xbox One X. Even with all the fire, explosions and vehicles, the game ran super smooth.
On Xbox One X, games with dynamic resolutions shouldn’t drop below their max resolution. Battlefield 1 runs at 60fps and at max resolution no matter how many explosions fill my screen. Call of Duty: WWII also handles all on-screen effects without any slowdown. Games like Final Fantasy XV, Halo 5: Guardians, Diablo 3 and Assassin’s Creed: Origins, all shine on the Xbox One X. With the extra hardware strength, expect the steadiest, best looking console games on the Xbox One X.
What about games without dynamic resolution?
In general, the Xbox One X should improve performance of all games. Titles like The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt can struggle to hit the 30fps target on Xbox One, but the Xbox One X eliminates majority of slowdown. Even older games like Ninja Gaiden Black and Halo 3, run smoother and with crisper, cleaner edges.
The Xbox One X’s faster hard drive and powerful hardware also speeds load times. While playing Battlefield 1, I loaded into the server before any of my friends on regular Xbox Ones. While they waited for the loading to complete, I already pushed forward in a landship.
Smoother, clearer looking games won’t justify the Xbox One X price for many buyers. At $499 USD or $599 CAD, it might not feel like a worthwhile investment to make your existing games look prettier. Although games run smother, load faster and look clearer, the best results come with developer support.
Battlefield 1 runs like a PC version on the Xbox One X, but I would still like to see an enhanced patch. With no X patch announced, the game doesn’t take full advantage of the available power. The dependence on developers makes the future of the Xbox One X a little frightening. If the console sees no support, then we won’t see the true strength of the hardware.
With compatibility of accessories, games and friends lists between all Xbox One consoles, Microsoft simplified the transition to the Xbox One X. I still play with all my friends and play all my games without leaving anything behind. A new console hardware option exists for people seeking a powerful console, and it benefits every player – not just the 4K TV owner.