Xbox Series X: Looking Ahead

Microsoft chose to show their hand early in the upcoming console wars. The console, initially dubbed ‘Project Scarlett’ was confirmed to be in development with a teaser video at E3 2019. The console name Xbox series X along with the new design, was revealed later in December 2019 at the Game Awards. Further to that head of Xbox, Phil Spencer has confirmed many details of the hardware specs.

This is a big departure from the typical ‘big reveal’ at E3 in the summer followed by a holiday release that same calendar year. Sony has taken a somewhat more traditional approach. The official design reveal is yet to take place but the company has at least revealed the existence of the PS5 amongst other details. Perhaps this change is a reflection of the times. A more modern digital era where leaks are easily spread and consumer demand for electronics is at an all time high. In any case, we now know many of the key details of the Xbox Series X. Let’s dive in.

Design

Xbox Series X with an all new, monolithic design. Image courtesy of Microsoft.

Microsoft gave us a surprise drop of the Xbox Series X design at the Game Awards 2019. Nobody was expecting a sudden design reveal let alone the none conventional design that Microsoft unveiled. The tried and true horizontal rectangle was traded for an extruded cube like monolith. The design was made to be stood upright. From the details that we do know, this is in part to enable an innovative cooling system. Fortunately the console can still be used in the traditional horizontal mode.

I’m personally a fan of this new design! it breaks with traditional console design conventions. It abandons the old and makes way for something new. It stands out for the right reasons and honours the goal of the original Xbox, make a console that can deliver PC like performance with the simplicity of a home console. In this respect, this almost tower like design feels honest and true to that original vision. It looks modern, sleek and for those of us that can’t fit it in our TV stand, it’ll look great.

Images courtesy of Microsoft.

Hardware Specs

Microsoft hopes that they’ll win favour with the gaming community right out the gate. They lost a lot of good will at the start of the current generation with confusing and divisive choices like focusing on media consumption and an always on internet connection as a requirement. The current generation was ripe for the taking off the back of the beloved and well received Xbox 360. Fortunately Microsoft turned things around when Xbox head Phil Spencer doubled down on the things gamers actually care about; great games, solid performance, backwards compatibility to name but a few. Microsoft has clearly listened and learned. The Xbox series X has a compelling hardware proposition:

  • Custom-designed AMD processor (Taking advantage of Zen 2 and RDNA 2 architecture)
  • Twice as powerful as the current Xbox One X – 12TFLOPs compared with Xbox One X’s 6TFLOPS
  • 120 fps support
  • Direct X Ray Tracing technology
  • Potential 8K resolutions
  • Variable Rate Shading for stable and reliable frame rates
  • High speed SSD storage system
  • Physical disc drive

Microsoft is doubling down on overall experience, not just visual fidelity. Phil Spencer talked at length with GameSpot about his desire to build a console free from barriers like load times, frame rate drops, boot up times, download sizes and more. It really feels like Microsoft wants to make a product that is not only consumer friendly but a product that they can be proud of internally. I really love this approach.

Special Features

In addition to the traditional spec updates that we expect from generation to generation, Microsoft has also revealed a number of compelling features that add to the value proposition of the new console.

  • Quick Resume. This enables multiple titles to be paused and automatically resumed in a blink
  • Share button added to the controller akin to that on the PS Dual Shock controller for quick sharing of screen shots and clips
  • Refined controller size with additional grips on the triggers
  • Variable refresh rate support for games depending on the in game content being displayed
  • Lower latency input with new dynamic latency system
  • Backwards compatible with all Xbox One titles
  • Backwards compatible with Xbox 360 and Xbox titles that are currently part of the backwards compatibility program
  • Backwards compatibility with Xbox One controllers and accessories

Final thoughts

I think the future is incredible bright for the Xbox brand. Microsoft have invested heavily in first party exclusives by purchasing many excellent studios. Microsoft has funded these studios with the resources they need to create content that might not have been possible on their own. This should hopefully result in bold, creative risks that lead to new compelling game titles. Microsoft have focused on the features that actually matter to gamers on the hardware front while continuing to work on cloud gaming with Project xCloud.

Microsoft will most certainly face tough competition from Sony with the PS5. Sony are coming into the next generation race off the back of a highly successful generation with the PS4 that they decisively won. This time round Microsoft has the right ingredients to really pose a threat to the PS5. I think pricing will be key and neither Sony or Microsoft have revealed pricing. I suspect they’ll play a game of marketing chicken to see who gives out first.

I think the next generation looks promising for gamers and Microsoft has a real shot at winning it. Let’s wait and see.

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