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Xbox Series X will add HDR to older games

Microsoft says HDR reconstruction and 100,000 hours of retro game playtesting will make Xbox Series X the most backwards-compatible console ever.

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Joshua Mobley/CNET

Older Xbox games will get new high dynamic range graphics on Microsoft's upcoming Xbox Series X, the company has revealed. Jason Ronald, partner director of program management for the Xbox Platform Team, outlined the new console's multigenerational backwards compatibility plans in an Xbox Wire blog post on Thursday. He also said select games will double their original frame rates, and both old and new games will benefit from a quick-resume feature to eliminate downtime. 

The current Xbox One has added more than 500 Xbox 360 games to its backwards compatibility list since 2015, as well as select original Xbox games. For the Xbox Series X, expected in late 2020, Ronald says thousands of games will be ready to play. 

"With more than 100,000 hours of play testing already completed, thousands of games are already playable on Xbox Series X today, from the biggest blockbusters to cult classics and fan favorites," Ronald says. "Many of us in Team Xbox play on the Xbox Series X daily as our primary console and switching between generations is seamless. By the time we launch this holiday, the team will have spent well over 200,000 hours ensuring your game library is ready for you to jump in immediately."

Teaching old games new tricks

Rather than simple software emulation, backwards-compatible games will run natively on the Xbox Series X hardware, which means the newer CPU and GPU, plus the fast NVME solid-state drive, can make those older games run better than they originally did. That could mean reduced loading times and faster frame rates (for example, from 30 to 60 frames per second, or from 60 to 120 fps). The current Xbox One X console can already up-res some older games to 4K resolution and add anisotropic filtering for improved visuals. 

Read more: Best Xbox One games for 2020  

The most interesting new feature in Microsoft's Xbox Series X backwards compatibility plans is the ability to add HDR to older games. Ronald calls it a "new, innovative HDR reconstruction technique which enables the platform to automatically add HDR support to games. As this technique is handled by the platform itself, it allows us to enable HDR with zero impact to the game's performance and we can also apply it to Xbox 360 and original Xbox titles developed almost 20 years ago, well before the existence of HDR."

HDR is already a major selling point for big-screen TVs and streaming video as well as some laptops and video games. It's arguably more impactful than higher resolutions for visual sizzle. 

The Xbox Series X is expected in late 2020, alongside its main competitor, Sony's PlayStation 5

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