Microsoft Xbox One X review: It’s the most powerful console you can buy. But is that enough?

For a long time, Microsoft’s mysterious machine codenamed Project Scorpio promised to be the most powerful game console around, offering native 4K gaming and HDR10 support.

But it’s not just that elusive 4K promise. Microsoft says cross-platform games will look and perform best on Xbox One X ($ 629 on Amazon) and older Xbox One ($ 375 on Amazon) games will play better too. No 4K TV? No problem. Microsoft also says the Xbox One X will use supersampling to reduce a 4K signal to 1080p, so those who don’t yet own a 4K TV will still enjoy the benefits of better visual fidelity.

Now that we have the Xbox One X in house and have been playing around with the hardware, we’ve seen some evidence that supports Microsoft’s “more powerful” claim, but we’re still not sure it’s worth it right now.

Editor’s Note: At the time of the embargo, the selection of games to test remains sparse, so we’ll update this review with our results, plus a score, after spending some time with more software to compare.

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Comparing Xbox One S and X side by side.

Sarah Tew / CNET

Is it much better than Xbox One and One S?

On paper, Xbox One X is light years ahead of launch Xbox One in terms of processing power. The Xbox One S ($ 585 on Amazon) it’s slightly more advanced than the original because it can handle HDR and output a 4K signal, but that’s where it ends. For all intents and purposes, the One and S are both far behind the X.

I compared an Xbox One X to a playing Xbox One S Gears of War 4 (which has been updated to take advantage of X’s hardware) side by side using two nearly identical 4K TVs. From the start, the difference in sharpness and detail was very noticeable. In some cases, the texture comparison between the two consoles was day and night.

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The details in the Xbox One X version of Gears of War 4 have greatly improved.

Sarah Tew / CNET

For me, the most striking difference is the HDR lighting enhancements that really make the explosions pop in Gears 4. Although when I turned on HDR with the Xbox One S, the dramatic difference between the two narrowed.

Gears of War 4 has an advanced video option that lets you choose between improved performance and better visuals. I think it’s safe to assume that enhanced games for Xbox One X give you similar menu options that you can mess around with, not unlike what many games that support PS4 Pro offer.

When I chose performance over graphics, there was barely a difference in graphics prowess between the two standing still. But once the action started, the X ran the game at silky smooth 60 frames per second compared to the comparatively shaky 30 frames the S was displaying.

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HDR has a big impact.

Sarah Tew / CNET

Improved for Xbox One X

To be clear, Xbox One X can play any Xbox One game, but which titles are “improved” is another story. You can safely bet that most, if not all, first-party Microsoft games will receive the advanced treatment, but there’s no guarantee that every third-party game will offer support. They do not have to. That said, many of the triple-A games coming this holiday season (like Star Wars Battlefront II, Wolfenstein II, Call of Duty: WWII, etc.) will be updated. If you want to make sure your favorite game gets support, you can check out Microsoft’s list on its site.

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