All we know about Microsoft's forthcoming game console, which is almost everything at this point.
Update, Nov. 5: Read our reviews of the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S.
Microsoft's eagerly awaited new Xbox video game console is almost here, and you can shell out $500 (£450, AU$749) for the Xbox Series X now that preorders have started. Or, you might decide to save a couple hundred and opt for the lesser -- but still very appealing-- Xbox Series S. We now have a clearer picture of what to expect from the Xbox Series X, short of the types of answers we can only get by booting one up and starting to play a final unit.
The Series X enters a scene that looks very different than when its predecessor, the Xbox One X, arrived three years ago. Though technically it's competing with other living room game consoles, notably its sibling the Series S and the upcoming Sony PS5, in practice it's now challenged for a share of your entertainment time and money by hugely popular phone-based mobile gaming and the Nintendo Switch handheld console, as well as nascent cloud gaming options and established PC gaming.
The Series X costs $500 -- less with a trade-in -- and preorders have begun; the console will ship on Nov. 10. Unfortunately, the process wasn't much smoother than the PS5 preorders, which retailers began too early. It sold out quickly.
Read more: PS5 and Xbox Series X: Why you shouldn't go next-gen until 2021
If you were hoping to pick up an Xbox One X or One S All-Digital for a pittance if the 2020 model turned out to be a budget-buster, hope again: Microsoft discontinued production of both models, so that will cease to be an option once stock runs out unless you opt to buy a used console. The Xbox One S will stay around, however, and at $300 the compact, 1440p Xbox Series S seems like a good middle ground if you're on a budget. The cheapest option is to hold onto your current console for a while longer until the discounts begin.
The console is based around AMD's current-generation Zen 2 processor architecture plus a graphics processor using AMD's forthcoming RDNA 2 microarchitecture, so presumably built on the Navi 7-nanometer process.
The system's CPU is an eight-core custom Zen 2 processor running at 3.8GHz (3.66GHz with simultaneous multithreading). Its GPU is a custom RDNA 2 processor at 1.825GHz with 52 CUs that will create 12 teraflops. This puts Microsoft's new console among some of the higher-end gaming PCs.
Read more: Hands-on with Xbox Series X: Quick resume, backwards compatibility and faster load times
Other hardware includes 16GB of GDDR6 RAM, a 1TB solid-state drive, an HDMI 2.1 connection carried over from the previous model and an optical drive for game discs. The SSD will incorporate a new feature called Xbox Velocity Architecture, which will let developers make use of up to 100GB of game assets instantaneously.
A proprietary 1TB Seagate expansion drive will be able to plug into the back of the Xbox Series X, providing even more storage for games. It's designed to have the same architecture and give the same performance as the internal SSD. It's not cheap though at $220.
External drives can still work with the Xbox Series X, but they can only store game data and will need to transfer games to the console's SSD or expansion drive in order to play.
Read more: Unboxing the Xbox Series X: Everything in the box
Unsurprisingly, it incorporates Microsoft's DirectX 12 Ultimate, the latest version of the company's graphics programming interface (which is in Windows 10 ), notably its GPU support for DirectX ray tracing and Variable Rate Shading (DXR 1.1).
In combination, these all will allow the Xbox to drive higher frame rates -- 4K resolution at 120 frames per second -- with variable rate refresh support when connected to TVs or monitors with an HDMI 2.1 connection. Both it and the PS5 also claim 8K capability upscaled and at a lower frame rate, though then the question arises: do you really want it?
|Processor||8-core AMD Ryzen Zen 2-architecture CPU at 3.8GHz (3.6GHz with SMT)|
|Graphics||AMD Navi/RDNA 2-family GPU with 52 CU at 1.825GHz (12TFLOPS FP32)|
|Video memory||16GB GDDR6 with 14Gbps 320-bit interface (10GB at 560GB/s allocated to GPU, 6GB at 336GB/s allocated to rest of system with 3.5GB for GPU)|
|Storage||1TB NVMe SSD PCIe 4.0; proprietary 1TB SSD add-on module; USB 3.2 external HDD support|
|Optical drive||Yes, 4K Blu-ray|
|Maximum output resolution||8K 60fps; 4K 120fps|
|New controller features||Share button, Dynamic Latency Input|
|Console streaming||Yes (Console Streaming)|
|Backward compatibility||Xbox One and supported Xbox 360 and Xbox games|
|Subscription tie-in||Xbox Game Pass, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate|
|Dimensions||5.9 x 5.9 x 11.9 in/151 x 151 x 301 mm|
|Preorders start||September 22|
|Release date||November 10|
With all the updated components, the Xbox Series X certainly seems like a big step up from its predecessor. The solid-state storage will allow faster startup of games and shorter loading screen times than the previous models' hard disk drives provided, even for older games. While Microsoft vaguely says the updated processor has "four times the processing power of the Xbox One," any speed update helps and will apply to all games.
For games that incorporate it, the DXR acceleration gives developers the opportunity to render far more accurate lighting, shadows and reflections without negatively affecting performance and without a lot of the optimization overhead otherwise required. And VRS lets developers choose where they can save processing power while rendering a frame based on how visually important an area is and how noticeable a slightly rougher render might be.
Read more: Xbox Series X vs. Xbox Series S: It's all about 4K vs. 1440
That means that games integrating it may also be able to sustain higher frame rates with better-looking graphics in select scenes than they might otherwise have had.In addition to supporting variable refresh rates -- letting the console sync game frame rates with compatible TVs or monitors to minimize artifacts like stutter and tearing caused by mismatches -- HDMI 2.1 adds ALLM, or Auto Low Latency Mode, which automatically sets the display to its lowest latency mode, and has been available in TVs from manufacturers like Sony and LG for at least a year. Keep in mind that to run 4K/120p, you'll need an HDMI 2.1 connection in the TV or monitor as well.
Microsoft's bringing back Quick Resume, a feature it introduced and then deprecated about five years ago. Previously, it allowed you to suspend (rather than exit) a single game and pick it up exactly where you left off, but now it will be able to do so for multiple games. Both Xbox consoles also incorporate a new Family Settings app to provide parents with control over screen time, content filtering and more.
With all these upgraded specs, we also have no idea of how much the carbon footprint will change -- despite rumors to the contrary, Microsoft hasn't made over a quarter of a million carbon-neutral Xbox Series X consoles.
Microsoft says yes to backward compatibility, as far as the original Xbox, and that many games will play and look better, thanks to the aforementioned upgrades that apply to every game running on the console. Of course, the devil's in the details when it comes to compatibility, and those include how saved games and progress transfer, among other things; for instance,your game library, progression and entire gaming history comes with you when migrating from Xbox One to Xbox Series X, but saved games aren't supported from Xbox 360.
Read more: Xbox Series X: Full hands-on preview, games, UI and more
Unlike the transition from earlier generations, though, this one should go more smoothly. The new hardware is mostly just faster versions of the previous components, and the last Xbox One operating system also used DirectX 12 and supported HDMI 2.1, or at least there's nothing that requires emulation or rewriting.
Microsoft has introduced at least two new features to improve the experience of running multigenerational games: the aforementioned HDR reconstruction, for automatically tonemapping SDR games to HDR, and Smart Delivery. When you pay for a game, it gives you the rights to that game for both Xbox One models and the Series X and automatically chooses the correct version -- but it's also optional for developers and publishers, and it's not clear whether it applies to older games you've already paid for. And it looks like there's about a $10 premium for the extra copy in a lot of cases. (List of games optimized for Series X and S and Smart Delivery support.)
However, all games are natively compatible with the Xbox Series S, so if you buy for that and upgrade in a few years you shouldn't have to pay again.
Yup, though not as radically redesigned as the console, and it will be backward-compatible with older models. It's based on the current Xbox Elite Wireless model but has a reworked D-pad and a share button. Microsoft has also done some work on reducing the wireless lag -- and thereby increasing the responsiveness -- between the display and the controller with what it calls dynamic latency input.
The D-pad, triggers and bumper also have a tactile matte finish to give the controller a bit more grip when playing.
Another aspect of the controller staying the same is the use of AA batteries instead of a built-in rechargeable battery. Microsoft says this choice was to keep the flexibility for those gamers who want disposable batteries and those who prefer rechargeables.
Read more: With Bethesda and Game Pass, Microsoft is playing a different game
Microsoft naturally has all of its studios working on games for the console, which we finally got a comprehensive look at at the July event; we had the first significant reveal of third-party games in early May.
Read more: Best upcoming Xbox Series X games you'll need to play
Microsoft also confirmed that all its titles will be available to Xbox Game Pass subscribers on Day 1. Previously, it officially launched its xCloud cloud gaming service as part of the $15-per-month Xbox Game Pass Ultimate service.
Microsoft used its in-development Forza Motorsport as the poster child for using the whizzy new features of the Series X. Halo Infinite, which was one of the most highly anticipated launch titles, was delayed until 2021. Day 1 titles and titles slated to launch within a month of the two Xbox consoles include:
More notable titles confirmed for the console include:
Xbox Game Pass will continue to be the major vault subscription option for the console. The Series X also offers Xbox Console Streaming, now called Remote Play, a feature that lets you play Xbox games on your phone that are running on your console.
You'll also be able to hand off games from the console to PC or mobile device via what was formerly called Project xCloud integration. (The service, just launched as part of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate but still considered in beta, lets you play Game Pass games on your phone or tablet that are running on remote pseudo Xboxes rather than on your local console.)
Broadly speaking, the PS5 and Series X offer roughly the same specifications vis-a-vis processing power, storage and new graphics features like ray tracing. One potential performance advantage the PS5 might have is its new hardware decompression silicon, which could speed up loading of high-resolution textures even more. Sony also overhauled the controller, now dubbed DualSense, to add some intriguing-sounding haptic feedback and adaptive triggers.
Read more: Sony PS5 vs. Microsoft Xbox Series X: Next-gen consoles power up
The Series S, with its $300 price and smaller footprint, looks like a really good alternative to either console if you're budget constrained, especially since 1440p is perfect for connecting to a relatively inexpensive monitor instead of a TV. As ever, it comes down to which games you want to play most.
|PlayStation 5||Xbox Series X||Xbox Series S|
|Processor||8-core AMD Ryzen Zen 2-architecture CPU at up to 3.5GHz||8-core AMD Ryzen Zen 2-architecture CPU at 3.8GHz (3.6GHz with SMT)||8-core AMD Ryzen Zen 2-architecture CPU at 3.6GHz (3.4GHz with SMT)|
|Graphics||AMD Navi/RDNA 2-family GPU with 36 CU up to 2.23 GHz (10.3 TFLOPS, FP unit unknown)||AMD Navi/RDNA 2-family GPU with 52 CU at 1.825GHz (12TFLOPS FP32)||AMD Navi/RDNA 2-family GPU with 20 CU at 1.565GHz (4TFLOPS)|
|Video memory||16GB GDDR6 with 256-bit interface (448GB/sec)||16GB GDDR6 with 14Gbps 320-bit interface (10GB at 560GB/s allocated to GPU, 6GB at 336GB/s allocated to rest of system with 3.5GB for GPU)||10GB GDDR6 (8GB at 224GB/s allocated to GPU, 2GB at 56GB/s allocated to rest of system)|
|Storage||825GB SSD at 5.5-9GB/sec; NVMe SSD slot; support for USB HDD||1TB NVMe SSD PCIe 4.0; proprietary 1TB SSD add-on module; USB 3.2 external HDD support||512gb NVMe SSD PCIe 4.0; proprietary 1TB SSD add-on module; USB 3.1 external HDD support|
|Optical drive||Yes, 4K Blu-ray||Yes, 4K Blu-ray||No|
|Maximum output resolution||8K 60fps; 4K 120fps||8K 60fps; 4K 120fps||1440p 120fps|
|Audio||3D, accelerated by custom Tempest Engine hardware; for headphones only at launch, supplemented by virtual surround for speaker audio||Ray traced||Ray traced|
|New controller features||Haptic feedback, adaptive triggers, USB-C connector||Share button, Dynamic Latency Input||Share button, Dynamic Latency Input|
|VR support||Yes, compatible with PSVR headset||unknown||unknown|
|Console streaming||Yes (Remote Play)||Yes (Console Streaming)||unknown|
|Backward compatibility||PS4 games, some peripherals||Xbox One and supported Xbox 360 and Xbox games||Xbox One and supported Xbox 360 and Xbox games|
|Subscription tie-in||PS Now||Xbox Game Pass, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate||Xbox Game Pass, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate|
|Dimensions||15.4 x 4.1 (3.6) x 10.2 in/390 x 104 (92) x 260 mm||5.9 x 5.9 x 11.9 in/151 x 151 x 301 mm||10.8 x 5.9 x 2.5/275 x 151 x 63.5mm|
|Release date||Nov. 12||Nov. 10||Nov. 10|
|Price||With optical drive: $500, £450, AU$750; without optical drive: $400, £360, AU$600||$500, £450, AU$749||$300, £250, AU$499|