Xbox One X: Everything we know about Project Scorpio’s final form

Updated: Concerned you didn’t see Master Chief in 4K on Xbox One X during E3? Don’t worry. Turns out 343 Studios was saving the surprise for after the show, and today announced that Halo 5 will receive a game update to support true 4K with the release of Xbox One X. The studio also announced that Halo 3, Halo 3: ODST, Halo 4, and Halo: CE Anniversary will be coming to Xbox One’s list of backwards-compatible games later this year.

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Project Scorpio finally has its real name: Xbox One X. This is the evolution of Microsoft’s Xbox consoles.

We’ve had a little time with the new console so you can check out our hands on: Xbox One X review

The console was announced during Microsoft’s E3 2017 keynote on stage by Xbox Chief Phil Spencer. Spencer hyped the Xbox One X’s ability to play games in native 4K, often at 60 frames per second.

While the Xbox One X will be the most powerful console ever created with 12GB of DDR5 memory, it doesn’t mean old Xbox Ones will be left in the dust – Spencer was clear that there will be game compatibility across all Xbox devices.

So what does the Xbox One X do differently? The big selling point is 4K – a resolution four times higher than traditional 1080p HD. But that’s not the only trick up Xbox One X’s sleeve. It can also play games in HDR and at higher frame rates than both the original Xbox One and Xbox One S.

Thankfully, however, you won’t need all-new controllers or headsets – all the accessories that work on Xbox One and Xbox One S work on Xbox One X.

So how much is it going to set you back? $499 (£449, €499, CA$599 or AU$649).

Here’s what you can expect when Xbox One X launches on November 7, 2017.

Xbox One X’s design

Xbox One X looks almost identical to the Xbox One S. It has a space grey color, and comes with a 4K Blu-ray player.

Advanced electrical engineering. Moore’s Law. A miracle. Call it whatever you want, but the Xbox One X defies what we thought was possible for a console, squeezing an ultra-powerful GPU into a slim plastic shell.

Also similar to the Xbox One S, the One X looks to have two physical buttons: one in place of the touch-capacitive power button and one for the eject button on the face of the console.

But the big difference – if you can even it call it big – is the shift of the drive from the front top section down to the very middle of the console. It might not have any difference in practice, but it does feel a bit more confusing for players handling the system for the first time.

Interested in anything other than the Space Grey color? You might be out of luck. So far, Microsoft has only announced the one color – though, we’re sure a special edition with a new color scheme is just one holiday season away.

Cut to the chase

  • What is it? A new 4K-equipped Xbox One
  • When is it out? November 7, 2017
  • What will it cost? $499 (£449, €499, CA$599 or AU$649)

What’s powering Xbox One X?

Although we haven’t seen the console running for ourselves, Microsoft has released the full specs in an interview with Eurogamer’s Digital Foundry.

The headline feature of the new console is its GPU, which will pack a massive six teraflops of graphical performance. The One X’s GPU has 40 compute units (compared to the original Xbox’s 12) running at a clockspeed of 1172MHz (up from 853MHz), which is a big jump over both the original Xbox and the PS4 Pro.

In particular its GPU is 4.6 times more powerful than the original Xbox One.

Before you start celebrating, that’s still a fair amount less than Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1080 graphics card, which pumps out a whopping nine teraflops but, considering that high-quality VR only requires a GTX 970 to work properly, Xbox One X shouldn’t (in theory at least) have any trouble providing Xbox gamers with their first foray into virtual reality.

However, the console should be able to run very efficiently thanks to upgrades to its command processor, which has been upgraded to make use of Microsoft’s new DirectX 12 graphics API, resulting in efficiency savings for the console of as much as 50% for titles running on the new API, according to Microsoft.

Project Scorpio

The rest of the console’s hardware has also been improved. Its AMD CPU has seen its speed increase from 1.75GHz to 2.3GHz while retaining the same number of cores (a 30% increase in horsepower), and its memory has been boosted by 60% over the original Xbox One.

Some have questioned Microsoft’s decision to stick with the (admittedly a highly augmented and customized version) AMD Jaguar class processor which powers the original Xbox One and PS4 rather than upgrade to something much more powerful but Phil Spencer recently addressed this in an interview with The Guardian. 

It was, he said, the result of a price/performance compromise. Though it would be possible to “design a $2,000 console that ran, like, two Titan Xs SLI-d together”, it would lead to a price point that doesn’t suit consoles. With this compromise Microsoft has managed to reach a price point that shows the console is still a premium product but “relative to the PC that you could go buy at this spec, you’re gonna feel really good.”

Even the motherboard has seen improvements, and will adapt its power delivery to match the specific characteristics of the individual console’s chip.

Audio processing has also seen improvements, with Dolby Atmos being included in the console. (Read up on Dolby Atmos.)

The console will use a vapour chamber to dissipate heat out of the back of the console.

These improvements have been designed by a team of Microsoft engineers after analysis of hardware bottlenecks on the existing console and its graphics engines, and prototyped using hardware emulators.

Excitingly, it’s also been revealed by Eurogamer that the console will support adaptive frame-rate technology known as FreeSync. One X will be the first console to support this technology as it’s something that’s more commonly found in PCs.

When a console drops below its target frame-rate of 60fps or 30 fps a graphical glitch known as screen-tearing can sometimes occur. Traditionally consoles use something known as V-Sync to prevent this happening but this sometimes caused lag and stutter which isn’t great for fast-paced games.

Having FreeSync means that Xbox One X should be able to prevent any screen-tearing without that telling judder or input-lag, something that will be particularly key when playing graphically demanding 4K games. Though Microsoft has said it will be available across all of the console’s games, even backwards compatible Xbox 360 titles.

Though this is great, one downside is that many One X owners won’t get to take advantage of the technology right away.  This is because adaptive sync will only be available on TVs equipped with HDMI 2.1 (a display standard that hasn’t yet been ratified) or computer monitors that support FreeSync over HDMI. It’s unlikely that a majority of people will have access to these kinds of displays just yet.

However, we can expect the majority of TVs in the future to adopt the HDMI 2.1 standard so sometime in the future you’re probably going to end up with a TV that will support FreeSync.

All of this means that rendering in native 4K is a real possibility for the new console, which contradicts a Microsoft whitepaper published last year which suggested that the new console would make use of upscaling techniques called ‘half-resolution’ and ‘sparse rendering’.

Half-resolution is a technique whereby graphically intensive effects are run at a lower resolution than the game as a whole, and are then upscaled to the full resolution.

Meanwhile, sparse rendering is a technique that’s similar to the PS4 Pro’s ‘checkerboarding’ technique, which cleverly upscales games to 4K in a way that’s almost indistinguishable from the native resolution.

While Microsoft has said that it’s targeting native 4K for its first-party titles, these techniques suggest that the Xbox One X’s games will run at different resolutions, depending on their developer’s priorities.

The other advantage Xbox One X has is that, since the Xbox One runs Windows, it’ll be easy for game developers to create games to work on both platforms.

“The capability to build a game that actually takes advantage of different hardware capabilities is part of any third-party dev ecosystem, or anybody who’s targeting Windows and console at the same time,” said Xbox head Phil Spencer speaking to Wired.

Microsoft also promises the console will be able to render visuals at 60Hz, which means silky smooth gameplay that’s synced to your TV’s refresh rate. Digital Foundry’s video in particular showed off a port of Forza Motorsport running at 60fps at 4K.

However, more recently it’s been confirmed that Destiny 2 will only run at 30fps on the console, indicating that not all games will hit that 60fps target.

An extra 1GB of RAM

Just days before Microsoft’s E3 presentation, Mike Ybarra has announced on Twitter that after some fine tuning, Xbox has managed to unlock an extra gigabyte of RAM for developers.

Xbox One X has 12GB of GDDR5 RAM with 3GB reserved for the system itself. This means that developers now have 9GB of RAM to work with for their games.

The more RAM a console has free, the more a game can load at the one time. Ybarra went on to explain that even games that don’t have to make use of the full 9GB will have it as a cache and see a massive difference in load times.

Enhanced on Xbox One X

One interesting revelation from Microsoft’s E3 announcement is that all consoles in the Xbox One family, including One X and the One S, will be able to play from the same library of games.

Xbox One X will also apparently support a select number of Xbox 360 games just like the Xbox One as well as original Xbox games as well.

However, more powerful consoles like Xbox One X will feature better gaming experiences due to the more powerful components.

The name for this concept is “Enhanced on Xbox One X.” It’s a marketing slogan that gives you an idea of which games will get the 4K HDR boost and which ones will simply run at higher framerates.

Many of Microsoft’s future first-party games will come with these enhancements right out of the box. That said, Gears of War 4, Forza Horizon 3, Minecraft, Resident Evil 7, Final Fantasy 15, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands, Rocket League and dozens of other popular Xbox One games will receive free updates to take full advantage of the power of Xbox One X when the system launches.

How much of a difference are we talking? Digital Foundry showed a screenshot of the Forza Motorsport 6 running in 4K while still maintaining 60fps, while still having plenty of GPU horsepower to spare.

Most interesting was the fact that this game had been ported to Xbox One X after just a couple of days of porting work. This ease suggests that we might see a lot of games being ported to the new console.

This suggests that 1080p Xbox One games should be able to run at 4K on Xbox One without too much trouble, and Microsoft has also said that it intends for games with a resolution of 900p on Xbox One to also run at 4K on Xbox One.

However, even if you’re stick rocking a Full HD TV you should benefit from the Xbox One X’s ability to super-sample games from 4K down to 1080p, which should result in a boost to detail.

If you’re curious what games might actually end up looking like compared to their 1080p versions, then a couple of recent Microsoft tech demos might give you a better idea.

Interestingly, despite the fact that Sony now requires that every PS4 game support the Pro in some way, this will not be the case with Xbox One X. As revealed in a recent interview not every Xbox One game going forward will be required to support the new hardware.

Ostensibly this is a good thing, since it will allow developers to choose how to best spend their limited resources, but it will be interesting to see whether this harms developer adoption of the new hardware.

Project Scorpio

Whose VR headset?

Xbox has recently announced that it will be bringing mixed reality headset support to Xbox One and Xbox One X in 2018.

Xbox owners won’t be limited to just one headset. Instead the console will support all Windows Mixed Reality headsets, which include models from Lenovo, Dell, Acer and HP. There’s also HoloLens, but that’s for augmented reality and not VR.

Instead, Microsoft will use an existing VR headset like the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, though Spencer doesn’t name any specific headsets as being partners.

The logical choice here might be Oculus Rift, as Microsoft partnered with the Facebook-backed company earlier in the year to launch every headset with an Xbox One controller. Plus, a more unified platform between PCs and Xbox could make it easy on developers to port existing Rift games to Xbox One without any extra work.

Here’s the bad news: since Xbox One X doesn’t come bundled with a VR headset – at least not one that Spencer mentioned – expect to spend an additional $600-$800 (£499-£689) for one.

Project Scorpio

But does maximum resolution always mean native 4K? Spencer has recently gone on record to say that the console will in fact be able to do native 4K, but the discovery of a whitepaper recently suggests otherwise.

Although Microsoft is keen to assure developers that porting to the new console will be easy, there are still questions about whether developers will want to do so. According to a survey from the Game Developer’s Conference, developers are concerned the new mid-generation console upgrades will create more work for them as they struggle to build games that support both systems.

Potentially this means that the new console won’t be embraced as fully as it could do, and this has the potential to prevent it from reaching its full potential.

So far we’ve had confirmation of a number of Xbox One X games including Forza Motorsport 7, Crackdown 3, State of Decay 2, Call of Duty, FIFA, Madden, Battlefront 2, Middle Earth: Shadow of War and Red Dead Redemption 2. This is a strong opening lineup for the console’s 4K abilities.

Why was it announced so early?

It’s a bit odd for Microsoft to announce a new game console so early. Even Phil Spencer admits it.

“It’s crazy to announce something this early, but when I put myself in the shoes of our customer, I want to be able to make a choice on what console I want to buy with as much information as possible,” he says. “We want to give you the information to make that decision. We also want to go talk to the developers that are out there today, that are building games for next holiday, and say here’s what you’re going to have at your disposal on the console side.”

It also makes sense to announce the console early to catch up to PlayStation’s VR efforts. While the PS4 does support VR, it’s an unquestionably inferior experience when compared to the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, which require expensive computers to power them.

This is Microsoft’s chance to show they’re serious about VR, and hopefully that’s enough to keep gamers from jumping to another platform.

Additional reporting done by Nick Pino and Lewis Leong

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