XboxOne X - E3 2017 analysis
X marks the spot?
The covers have finally come off of one of the most talked about an revered new pieces of hardware in the last few years, supercharged and more powerful than anything that had come before. The brand new Porsche 911 GT finally steps out into the light at this year’s E3, a momentous occasion for all I am sure you will agree.
This “subtle” marketing link was of course a metaphor for the real star of Microsoft’s show, a new, sleeker, refined, smaller & above all else powerful console to sit atop the Xbox family food chain, nay the console food chain. They have touted it as such and they are not wrong, this is without question the Great White of small, under TV devices, rammed packed with all the features to justify its $499 or £449 price tag as I predicted last year when it hits stores on November 7th. Is this too high to succeed and does it have enough in the tank to see the journey to the end?
Let’s start with all the facts that we now know, & just what your money gets you. Some things have changed since its “technical” reveal earlier in the year, demonstrating that this was still a moving feast. The side out “X to the power of” box gives you a simple and quick breakdown of all the key points and hardware facts, I will cover the ones that matter the most to developers and consumers IMOP along with just what these all mean to the laymen.
The elephant in the room & one of the biggest disappointments for some is the lack of 1st Party AAA content for the machine, but long-time viewers of my channel and site will know this is not a surprise to me. The company made its goals clear many years ago and this new console fits in perfectly with those, supplying the best place to play ALL multi-platform AAA games & possibly some Independent titles as well, I covered this in my video below back in March last year, watch from around the 9 minute mark for the Xbox info, this is just them moving into the area of most concern, software and service. This is why you are seeing PC and Console as one, cross buy, even cross play now with PC and consoles. The Nintendo Switch is now on the list with Minecraft but Sony still state NO.
The message is clear and the demo's on stage for 4K/HDR, 8 million pixel goodness that this machine is designed to deliver and many games demonstrated that target that level, IF they all manage to achieve it is something I will be covering in great detail over the coming weeks and months. But we saw the latest Assassins Creed, rebooted from is obvious Black Flag roots into mainstream attention, tagged with the 4K option on the MS new beast (A noun that was used heavily on-stage) it certainly looks like one game that could achieve a native resolution at the same 30fps level of the other ‘ONE’, possibly with a Dynamic solution. But many of the games shown from the 22 Exclusive (in some form or another yet to be ratified) did not sit in this AAA category, and as such all will likely hit that level.
The new Metro Exodus was another great showing, even though it ran on a PC with similar specs to the XboxOne X this will be a title that will target a sub UHD resolution at most likely a 30Hz rate. But many other titles such as the stylish, blade runner The Last Night, VR port Lucky's Tale, Osiris, Unruly Heroes, Path of Exile, Fable Fortunes among many others will almost certainly have a fully native 4K asset and resolution output.
It all becomes clear
One game that certainly hits this lofty goal with ease is the sumptuous Forza 7 bringing along its 60fps stablemate, dynamic weather and a greatly improved PBR lighting and material system to boot, it was, and is, a clear benchmark for the new hardware which I will be covering soon. It also demonstrates what will become the consoles biggest “asset” over its Pro rival, assets. You see many games, certainly the multi-platform AAA ones coming from the likes of EA, Ubisoft, Bethesda and the like, are already geared up creating engines, in-game assets and materials around the new 4K output, the XboxOne X is going to do little to change that, but what it will do is allow developers to use these exact same assets on the machine alongside its higher resolution. You see the PS4Pro did many things right, but one of those was NOT the memory allocation, something demonstrated in the small 512MiB boost the Pro is given, increasing its total application allocation to 5.5GB allocation. As you gaze over to that side out box you will see the total memory allocation the 1X has is nearly twice that, 9GB of the machines total 12GB is now dedicated to games, something I stressed in my first analysis of the specs. But what does this mean then? Well it means that games utilising these higher quality textures, can be packed into this new console version, X is indeed greater than 4.
Examples that will land at launch with free updates added to Gears of War 4, Forza Horizon 3, Killer Instinct or Minecraft to start then you will get these extra 4K texture added into the game to see for yourself with them all likely to be downloads rather than on the disc, just as they already appear on the PC versions. And the same will come from other 3rd party teams such as Ghost Recon, Final Fantasy XV, Resident Evil VII and many, many more including one I always said would land in the Witcher 3 and will most likely land on Pro at the same time. These updates and all the others that are patched will all be free, add a full 4K resolution mode and if the game had better quality PC assets, those will also be supplied. As I have covered before and will continue to, even when these happen and the Pro offers up a native 4K resolution it can still use the same 1080P level textures. Rise of the Tomb Raider is one such title that uses CheckerBoard rendering to reach its 2160P output, but the texture quality is still below what the PC version can run, not so with an eventual X1X update.
But other updates will come, Gears of War 4 will not only have native 4K resolution and textures but will also run higher geometry on models, better shadows, greater dynamic lights, longer draw distance all at this higher IQ. Multiplayer also keeps the 4K resolution with current 60fps but will run a dynamic scaling solution (likely to become a key factor on all the bigger/higher 4K titles) to ensure the performance does not dip below that 16ms line.
Memory like an Elephant
Battlefield 1, Mass Effect, Prey and many others all have higher quality materials than cannot be run on the PS4Pro’s memory space, but can be fitted into the 3.5GB extra space afforded by the new machines GDDR5 which is helped further in its 4K aspirations by its 326GB/s bandwidth, a boost over the 218GB/s the Pro has. This wider bandwidth and greater footprint make hitting 4K output buffers much easier as it is not always just about the ALU throughout and Tflops, some games will struggle to hit these huge buffer counts because of ram size on the Pro. X1X also has another benefit with this extra ram, it can allow a great amount of effects, draw distance, LoD, AA or even loading times for games that do not require the full 9GB allocation. This is exactly the benefit you will see with Xbox360 and XboxOne games on the machine that do not have an improvement patched released. Better texture filtering, smoother frame-rates and faster loading as this can be used as a Virtual HD reducing seek times on the physical harddisks & becoming a large cache, this is the BIGGEST boost over the Pro rather than the 1.8Tflop performance increase it also gains over the Sony elite box. It could empower developers to try more features or techniques on the machine, but we will see what this all gets used for beyond my list here.
It does have other benefits with its HDMI in and out still present allowing stream though options to work as before, 4K Blu-Ray UHD player makes it the complete 4K device for your new TV from shows, games and disc movies, but it is more expensive than its rival, something which may limit the impact it will have on the mainstream market, but that is why the XboxOne S exists which includes the same 4K/HDR options for movies, shows but lacks the grunt to deliver on that promise for games. With its HDMI 2.1 support for the newer Dynamic HDR metadata and all options wherever they may land, VRR (Variable Refresh Rates) to allow games to support varying frame-rates with less impact and no tearing such as we see with AMD’s Freesync or Nvidia’s Gsync. Like many things though much of this will depend on your TV and cables (HDMI 2.1 does require the newer 48G cables due to the increased bandwidth) but all connections are the same and older cables can still be used which are good for 4K60Hz gaming or films with current HDR panels.
Some truly impressive games were shown with Rare standing out as a phenomenal title in Sea of Thieves and...well that water is truly mouth 'watering'. Crackdown looks as much fun in destruction as the older games but dialed up to 11, with the "Is that real?" moment coming from Anthem, a title that will also launch on PS4, XboxOne and PC. The biggest exclusive from the show was the machine itself, the best place to play AAA games could literally become it's advertising slogan.
The show, for me, was again well balanced with enough talk on the new machine and its benefits with the early demo’s and last one in Bioware’s latest Destiny like adventure Anthem which demonstrated what the machine could achieve using the resource to target 1080/30 rather than a native 4K and on that score I await to see what can be achieved on both this and the Pro when it simply targets visual quality over visual clarity. 4k/HDR is the dream PR ticket, MS waited a year to enhance its machine to achieve that far more often than its rival, I still think the CPU was the other target but AMD possibly fell behind on delivery goals for them to wait any longer. This will limit the potential higher attract base that would come from 1080/30 to circa 4K/60 it could have delivered, either or it is still a refinement and generational leap in many ways over its older, weaker brother. It certainly has the grunt to out muscle the Sony box, the huge wealth of Multiplatform titles will look, play and perform better on the X, but the area it lacks the most is also the area its rival is the heavyweight champion of. Software sells hardware, in a few hours Sony will demonstrate that again with Playstation originals and a wealth of titles that make any visible gap in power almost invisible with the onscreen results. It is this part of the jigsaw that Microsoft have not and will not buy into and it could be the most expensive choice they make.