Hit­ting the spot

With Xbox One X, Mi­crosoft turns the runt of the lit­ter into the run­away leader of the pack

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Xbox One X trans­forms the runt of the lit­ter into leader of the pack

We just can’t get over how small it is. This is, as you might have heard since Mi­crosoft’s been bel­low­ing it from the rooftops for the best part of 18 months, the most pow­er­ful con­sole ever made. Yet it is also the small­est sys­tem Mi­crosoft has ever de­signed, rep­re­sent­ing a sea change in think­ing from a com­pany which has al­ways wanted its hard­ware to stand out. The orig­i­nal Xbox was a beast; the 360, with its os­ten­ta­tious curves, im­pos­si­ble to ig­nore. While sleeker than its pre­de­ces­sors, the launch Xbox One was de­signed to be no­ticed, re­flect­ing its maker’s de­sire to have it power your en­tire home-en­ter­tain­ment setup. That mis­sion failed, of course. And it’s been a long, rough road for the Xbox brand since. Yet it ends at Xbox One X, a con­sole which, in many ways, feels im­pos­si­ble: for its power ver­sus its size, for its lav­ish fea­ture set, for its form fac­tor. But most im­por­tantly, for the way it makes Xbox feel es­sen­tial for the first time in half a decade.

There are caveats to that, in­evitably. Most ob­vi­ously, One X is only as good as the rest of your setup. While it of­fers ben­e­fits to those play­ing in 1080p – su­per­sam­pling 4K as­sets to im­prove im­age qual­ity, more sta­ble fram­er­ates, a higher res­o­lu­tion for ex­ist­ing Xbox games that use a dy­namic so­lu­tion, and faster load times – the con­sole is nat­u­rally at its best on a 4K, HDR-en­abled panel. And it’s the lat­ter that re­ally mat­ters. The leap from 1080p to 4K is no­tice­able, cer­tainly, but it is in no way com­pa­ra­ble to the way the scales fell from your eyes when you hooked up your first HDTV. If it’s that level of pur­cha­se­val­i­dat­ing sen­sa­tion you’re after, you’ll need the wide colour gamut and vivid, retina-sear­ing bright­ness of HDR.

The ef­fect is as­ton­ish­ing, just as it is on PS4 Pro – yet here, you’re com­fort­able in the knowl­edge that it is be­ing de­liv­ered, in al­most ev­ery case, with­out com­pro­mise. Sony’s mid-gen up­grade has al­ways felt like a half mea­sure: it does not of­fer 4K, but 4K with an as­ter­isk, a con­sole that needs ren­der­ing short­cuts to help visu­ally am­bi­tious games fudge their way to max res­o­lu­tion. And de­spite pre-re­lease leaks sug­gest­ing Sony was to man­date Pro sup­port in all fu­ture PS4 games, it has by and large been left to first­party stu­dios to fly the flag for sortof-4K and HDR, with third­par­ties left to pick and choose, and fre­quently set­ting them­selves a low bar. Mi­crosoft has done the same, un­der­stand­ing that de­vel­op­ers will use the power avail­able to them in dif­fer­ent ways. How telling that the vast ma­jor­ity of avail­able X-en­hanced games run in na­tive 4K and full 10-bit HDR.

The re­sult is that, overnight, Mi­crosoft has flipped the script, re­vers­ing a nar­ra­tive that, tra­di­tion­ally, would have run for an en­tire con­sole gen­er­a­tion. Now, its box, not its ri­val’s, is the best place to play mul­ti­plat­form games. While at the time of writ­ing, two weeks be­fore the con­sole’s of­fi­cial re­lease, only a

Most im­por­tant is the way it makes Xbox feel es­sen­tial for the first time in half a decade

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