Today, Microsoft revealed some tantalizing specs for its upcoming Xbox Series X console, which arrives later this year. Speed is the biggest theme of today’s announcement, as Microsoft leans hard into tech that stomps out latency, lag, and other undesirable hurdles to gaming.
Gone will be the days of grabbing a cold beer to kill time between closing Overwatch on your Xbox and opening Forza Horizon 4. In an info dump posted this morning, Xbox head Phil Spencer described the Xbox Series X’s new “quick resume” feature, which will minimize the time spent switching between Xbox games and waiting on loading screens. Players can transition between multiple games, each in a suspended state, “almost instantly, returning you to where you were and what you were doing,” Spencer wrote.
The Xbox Series X’s custom processor—AMD’s Zen 2 and Radeon RDNA 2 architecture—is four times more powerful than the Xbox One’s. Its GPU can handle a massive 12 teraflops of GPU performance, which is twice the Xbox One X’s. “The next console generation will be defined by more playing and less waiting,” says Spencer, citing “ultra-low latency” and a better wireless controller that instantly synchronizes players’ button inputs with the display. The Xbox Series X will also support up to 120 frames per second, compared to the Xbox One X’s 60 frames per second, meaning you’ll witness more of every blood-spattered encounter in Doom Eternal.
One vehicle for this big leap in visual tech is the HDMI 2.1, which the Xbox Series X says it will take full advantage of. The HDMI connection governs what console gamers see on their displays, and although a lot of 4K televisions support HDMI 2.0s, HDMI 2.1 ports aren’t yet standard. But if you do have a compatible set, you stand to benefit from a pair of new features: “Auto Low Latency Mode,” which will “automatically set the connected display to its lowest latency mode,” and its “Variable Refresh Rate,” which will automatically balance your television’s refresh rate to the refresh rate of the game you’re playing and combat lag. A recent Forbes report described how these promises of monumentally high framerates dependent on HDMI 2.1-compatible TVs are giving most TV brands “a series headache.”
The Xbox Series X will host four generations of Xbox games, and transfer players’ existing libraries from the Xbox One. Thankfully, playing them on the Xbox Series X will mean more stable framerates, better resolution and faster load times. Today, Cyberpunk 2077 developer CD Projekt Red announced that, if you buy the upcoming game on the Xbox One, you’ll receive an upgrade for your Xbox Series X for free. “Gamers should never be forced to purchase the same game twice or pay for upgrades,” said CD Projekt Red, quote-tweeting the Xbox Twitter account’s announcement of backward compatibility. An Xbox Series X feature called “Smart Delivery” will ensure that you access the right version of a given game for whatever console you’re on.
It’s hard to say right now how the Xbox Series X compares to the upcoming PlayStation 5. We don’t yet know the PlayStation 5’s major specs for sure, but we do know that both consoles deliver 4K gaming, have solid state drives, and support ray tracing. Price remains a major unknown for both. A recent Bloomberg report claimed that the manufacturing cost of a PlayStation 5 may be around $450. Creator Sony has to turn a profit, but the PlayStation 4 sold—and sold well—for just $400 back in 2013.
Xbox announcements always lean hard on superlatives, and today’s Xbox Series X’s is no exception: “Fastest. Most powerful,” reads the blog’s header. But the PlayStation 4 sold significantly better than the Xbox One despite a similar spec arms race. A lot of the time, it’s not insane hardware that gamers want; it’s the most exclusives, the cutest console colors, the best value. The PlayStation 4 far outpaced the Xbox One on exclusives and launched as the cheaper option.
In the intervening years, even more factors have come into play, starting with cross-platform compatibility. People like to game where their friends are gaming, too, and want the fewest barriers-to-entry to do so. Sony has hesitated in letting people play games with their buddies on Xbox, Nintendo’s Switch and PC, and for a long time, that was fine, although outlets like IGN referred to it as “stubborn” and “embarrassing.” Microsoft has traditionally been ahead on this trend, letting Xbox owners play their games on their PCs. While not every game was compatible with this feature, Xbox’s “Play Anywhere” feature does a lot of heavy lifting. On top of that, Microsoft doesn’t turn up its nose at releasing much-anticipated games, like Halo Infinite, on PC alongside Xbox.
But now games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, and Fortnite are letting PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 players intermingle. It looks like Sony has started to realize the value in this. In October, the company announced it would let all developers access cross-platform capabilities.
Overall the Xbox Series X should be fast, offer a huge library of old, new, and previously owned games, and connect friends for cross-play. What will Sony bring to the buffet?
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