It’s almost next-gen console season. It’s been a while since we’ve had one of those, hasn’t it? The Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro were more like a half-step jump than the full generational leap we’re about to see. The Xbox Series X (and its smaller, cuter Series S sibling) are Microsoft’s entries into the console vs. console cage match the 2020 holiday season is shaping up to become, going against Sony’s PlayStation 5.
Here’s what you can expect out of Microsoft’s Xbox Series X and Series S, how to buy them, and whether you should.
Xbox Series X or Series S?
There are two next-gen Xbox consoles arriving on November 10, 2020. They’re very different in both style and substance, but both will be able to run the same games and support the same controllers (including previous-gen controllers).
Xbox Series X
The Xbox Series X is the flagship. This is the console with the generational leap in capability we’ve heard so much about. If you don’t want to have to worry about how well new games will perform, this is the console you should get, full stop. It’s going to be future-proof for several years, and it’s the hardware the latest Xbox games are custom-built for. In addition, it has a few high-end features worth mentioning.
Microsoft claims the Series X is “8K ready” meaning it will be able to upscale game content for 8K screens, which are a niche within a niche right now but if you’re an A/V nerd planning on getting the best of the best, this is an important feature to remember.
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The Series X can run games at up to 120 frames-per-second (FPS). That means your gameplay is going to be buttery smooth, but it will only be noticeable on a display with a high refresh rate. Most newer TVs offer a 120-Hz refresh rate, so it might be a good idea to check yours if you want to get the most out of Microsoft’s hardware.
It will also be able to render and run games at 4K without any upscaling. That means your games are going to be tack-sharp and look incredible on a 4K screen.
The Xbox Series X is $500, which is about what most next-gen consoles start at. You get 1-terabyte of storage (expandable to 1-TB) and a 4K UHD Blu-ray disc drive. It’s also backward-compatible with Xbox One and select Xbox 360 games.
Xbox Series S
The Xbox Series S is a much smaller, more affordable version of the Series X. It’s not as powerful, it doesn’t have as many features, but it will allow you to play next-gen games while saving a little cash. The Series S is an appealing option if you don’t have or don’t plan on upgrading to a 4K TV anytime soon.
The Series S can also run games up to 120 FPS, but only at a 1440 pixel resolution. Games will still be sharper and smoother than they are on current hardware, but the Series S won’t be running games at 4K. (It will upscale to 4K, but it’s not the same as what the Series X can do.) It is capable of streaming 4K movies from the likes of Netflix or HBO Max.
The Series S supports other next-gen graphical technology, like ray tracing. So your games are still going to be rich in detail and lovely to look at.
The Xbox Series S is $300, putting it in the same price bracket as a Nintendo Switch or Oculus Quest 2. You only get 512-gigabytes of storage, but you can also add another 1-TB with an expansion card. There’s no Blu-ray disc drive, so you can only play digital games from the Microsoft Store.
Should You Upgrade?
If you don’t own an Xbox One, the Series S or Series X will let you play Xbox games like the upcoming Halo: Infinite. Do note that most Xbox games are also launching on Microsoft’s Windows platform, so if you already have a gaming PC setup, there isn’t a strong reason to snag one of the new consoles unless you strongly prefer couch gaming.
Already own an Xbox One, One S, or One X? You don’t have to upgrade your console just yet. Most new games for the first year or two will still be available and playable on the Xbox One range, just not to their highest potential. You can also buy an Xbox One console since they’re often discounted to catch up on older titles, but don’t pay more than $200. Anything higher than that and you’re better off paying for the new Series S.
Where to Buy the Series X or Series S
The next-gen consoles are available for preorders starting at 11 am ET today, and they officially launch on November 10. Included in the box are an HDMI cable, an Xbox wireless controller, and the console. Don’t forget you’ll likely want to pay for Xbox Live Gold for online play and Game Pass Ultimate, which lets you access more than 100 games for $15 per month instead of paying $70 on a new game every time (yes, expect newer games to cost that much).