Xbox Series X: Games, specs, price, and how it compares to PS5 – CNET

valhalla

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is one of the hotly anticipated titles coming to the Xbox Series X in late 2020.

James Martin/CNET

Microsoft’s eagerly awaited newXbox video game console is almost here, and in theory you’ll be able to shell out an as-yet-unspecified amount of money for the Xbox Series X by the end of this year. As of now, we’re in the portion of the prerelease cycle in which Microsoft and Sony — also slated to release its own PlayStation 5 console this year — leapfrog each other with feature and spec reveals. 

Microsoft held the first of its Xbox 20/20 livestreams in early May to highlight upcoming games as well as its xCloud cloud-gaming platform and other related services. Subsequently, the company clarified what we already sort of knew, namely that part of backward compatibility with older games includes its OS-level HDR reconstruction technology, which used Microsoft’s machine-learning technology to create high-dynamic range tone maps for games designed in standard dynamic range.

We have a clearer picture of what to expect from the Xbox Series X, short of the types of answers we can only get by actually booting one up and using it (such as how well backward compatibility works), including specifics like the configurations, storage capacity and so on.  

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Microsoft

The new series logo also appeared, thanks to a new “Optimized for Xbox Series X” badge that some games will bear.

The Xbox Series X enters a game that looks very different than when its predecessor, the Xbox One X arrived three years ago. Though technically it’s competing with other living room consoles (i.e., the PlayStation), in practice it’s now challenged by hugely popular phone-based mobile gaming and the Nintendo Switch handheld console, as well as nascent cloud-gaming options, for your entertainment time and money.

What’s the Xbox Series X release date, and how much will it cost?

Microsoft says it will ship this year, we think likely around the same time as the PS5. In 2013, the Xbox One launched a week after the PlayStation 4, which came out in mid-November. The company has already put up a page for notifications, which will turn into the preorder page once pricing is available.

As for price, that’s also still unknown. The Xbox 360 cost $399 when it launched in the US in 2005 and the Xbox One cost $499 when it launched in 2013, as did the subsequent flagship Xbox One X in 2017. But supply constraints for popular components such as memory and storage were already reportedly impacting the PS5 even before Sony was forced to change its promotion plans due to COVID-19, and shortages invariably drive prices up. Microsoft continues to say that the Xbox Series X launch won’t be affected. Current best guesses peg it at about $500 — a little less than its predecessors when you factor in inflation.

In a podcast with IGN on April 1, Xbox boss Phil Spencer says he’s feeling “good” about the new system’s price. “I feel good about the price we’re going to be able to get to,” Spencer said. “I feel good about the price and the performance capabilities that we have for Series X. I feel incredibly strong about the overall package.”

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What are the Xbox Series X’s specs?

The console’s based around AMD’s current-generation Zen 2 processor architecture plus a graphics processor using AMD’s forthcoming RDNA 2 microarchitecture, so presumably built on the Navi 7-nanometer process. 

The system’s CPU is an eight-core custom Zen 2 processor running at 3.8GHz (3.66GHz with simultaneous mutlithreading). Its GPU is a custom RDNA 2 processor at 1.825GHz with 52 CUs that will create 12 teraflops. This puts Microsoft’s new console among some of the higher-end gaming PCs

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Other hardware includes 16GB of GDDR6 RAM, a 1TB SSD, an HDMI 2.1 connection carried over from the previous model and an optical drive for game discs. The SSD will incorporate a new feature called Xbox Velocity Architecture, which will let developers make use of up to 100GB of game assets instantaneously. There’s also a 1TB expansion drive for the system that will provide even more storage for games and have the same functionality as the internal SSD. 

A proprietary 1TB Seagate expansion drive will be able to plug into the back of the Xbox Series X providing extra storage for games. It’s designed to have the same architecture as the internal SSD, allowing for the same performance. External drives can still work with the Xbox Series X, but they can only store game data and will need to transfer games to the console’s SSD or expansion drive in order to play.   

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The Xbox Series X expansion drive, made in partnership with Seagate.

Microsoft

Unsurprisingly, it incorporates Microsoft’s DirectX 12 Ultimate, the latest version of the company’s graphics programming interface (which is in Windows 10), notably its GPU support for DirectX ray tracing and Variable Rate Shading (DXR 1.1). In combination, these all will allow the Xbox to drive higher frame rates — 4K resolution at 120 frames per second — with variable rate refresh support when connected to compatible TVs or monitors (i.e., they have an HDMI 2.1 connection). 

As for the actual size of the new console, it will measure 151mm by 151mm by 301mm (approximately 6 by 6 by 12 inches).       

Specifications

Processor 8-core AMD Ryzen Zen 2-architecture CPU at 3.7-3.8GHz
Graphics AMD Navi/RDNA 2-family GPU with 52 CU at 1.825GHz (12TFLOPS FP32)
Video memory 16GB GDDR6 with 14Gbps 320-bit interface (10GB at 560GB/s allocated to GPU, 6GB at 336GB/s allocated to rest of system with 3.5GB for GPU)
Storage 1TB NVMe SSD; proprietary 1TB SSD add-on module; USB 3.2 external HDD support
Optical drive 4K Blu-ray
Maximum output resolution 8K
Maximum frame rate 4K/120fps
Audio Ray traced
New controller features Share button, Dynamic Latency Input
VR support Unknown
Console Streaming Yes
Backward compatibility Xbox One and supported Xbox 360 and Xbox games
Subscription tie-in Xbox Game Pass
Release date Thanksgiving 2020
Price Unknown

With all the updated components, the Xbox Series X certainly seems like a big step up from its predecessor. The solid-state storage will allow faster startup of games and shorter loading screen times compared to the previous models’ hard disk drives, even for older games. While the updated processor vaguely has “four times the processing power of the Xbox One,” any speed update helps and will apply to all games as well.

For games that incorporate it, the DXR acceleration gives developers the opportunity to render far more accurate lighting, shadows and reflections without negatively affecting performance and without a lot of the optimization overhead otherwise required. And VRS lets developers choose where they can save processing power while rendering a frame based on how visually important an area is and how noticeable a slightly rougher render might be. That means that games integrating it may also be able to sustain higher frame rates with better-looking graphics in select scenes than they might otherwise have had.

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In addition to supporting variable refresh rates — which lets the console sync game frame rates with compatible TVs or monitors to minimize artifacts like stutter and tearing caused by mismatches — HDMI 2.1 adds ALLM, or Auto Low Latency Mode, which automatically sets the display to its lowest latency mode, and has been available in TVs from manufacturers like Sony and LG for at least a year. Keep in mind that to run 4K/120p, you’ll need an HDMI 2.1 connection in the TV or monitor as well. 

Microsoft’s bringing back Quick Resume, a feature it introduced and then deprecated about five years ago. Previously, it allowed you to suspend (rather than exit) a single game and pick it up exactly where you left off, but now it will be able to do so for multiple games.  

Will Xbox One and older games work on it?

Microsoft says yes, going back as far as the original Xbox, and that many of them will play and look better, thanks to the aforementioned upgrades that apply to every game running on the console. Of course, the devil’s in the detail when it comes to compatibility, so we’ll have to wait for hands-on tryouts to find out how broadly it applies.

Unlike the transition from earlier generations, though, this one should go more smoothly. The new hardware is mostly just faster versions of the previous components, and the last Xbox One operating system also used DirectX 12 and supported HDMI 2.1, or at least nothing that requires emulation or rewriting. 

Microsoft has announced at least two new features to improve the experience of running multigenerational games: The aforementioned HDR reconstruction, for automatically tonemapping SDR games to HDR, and Smart Delivery. When you pay for a game, it gives you the rights to that game for both Xbox One models and the Series X and automatically chooses the correct version — but it’s also optional for developers and publishers, and isn’t clear whether it applies to older games you’ve already paid for. It also seems to be intended to encourage upgrading from the Xbox One to the Series X without discouraging game-buying for the older console: “This technology is available for all developers and publishers, and they can choose to use it for titles that will be released on Xbox One first and come to the Xbox Series X later.”

Thus far, 12 games have announced support for Smart Delivery, including Microsoft’s Halo: Infinite, CD Projekt Red’s upcoming sci-fi RPG Cyberpunk 2077, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Hellblade 2 and others.

Will there be a new controller, too?

Yup, though not as radically redesigned as the console, and it will be backward-compatible with older models. It’s based on the current Xbox Elite Wireless model but has a reworked D-pad and a share button. Microsoft has also done some work on reducing the wireless lag — and thereby increasing the responsiveness — between the display and the controller with what it calls dynamic latency input.

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The new, but slightly different, Xbox controller.

Microsoft

The D-pad, triggers and bumper also have a tactile matte finish to give the controller a bit more grip when playing.

Another aspect of the controller staying the same is the use of AA batteries instead of a built-in rechargeable battery. Microsoft says this choice was to keep the flexibility for those gamers who want disposable batteries and those who prefer rechargeables. 

Games? Games!

Microsoft has all 15 of its studios working on games for the console, but we had the first significant reveal of third-party games in early May.  

Microsoft’s list of partner studios and publishers.

Screenshot by Bryan Van Gelder/CNET

In addition to Halo: Infinite, expected to be a launch title, we also know about a sequel to Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice from its Ninja Theory studio, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II, that will be an exclusive. Here are the notable titles confirmed for the console (those available at or near launch are in bold):

Xbox Game Pass will continue to be the major vault subscription option for the console. Though Microsoft hasn’t mentioned it explicitly, it’s also likely that the Series X will offer Xbox Console Streaming — a feature that lets you play Xbox One games on your phone that are running on your console — which is currently still in preview. You’ll also be able to hand off games from the console to PC or mobile device via Project xCloud integration. (The service, also in beta, lets you play Game Pass games on your phone or tablet that are running on remote pseudo Xboxes rather than on your local console.)

How does the Xbox Series X compare to the PS5?

Broadly speaking, the two consoles offer roughly the same specifications vis-a-vis processing power, storage and new graphics features like ray tracing. One potential performance advantage the PS5 might have is its new hardware decompression silicon, which could speed up loading of high-resolution textures even more. Sony also overhauled the controller, now dubbed DualSense, to add some intriguing sounding haptic feedback and adaptive triggers.

But it really comes down to games, and we still don’t know a lot about the PS5’s game lineup. Sony was slated to reveal more during a livestream in early June, but it was bumped due to protests over institutionalized racism and violence against black people in the US.  

Read moreSony PS5 vs. Microsoft Xbox Series X: Next-gen consoles power up

Comparison of PS5 and Xbox Series X

PlayStation 5 Xbox Series X
Processor 8-core AMD Ryzen Zen 2-architecture CPU at max 3.5GHz 8-core AMD Ryzen Zen 2-architecture CPU at 3.6 or 3.8GHz
Graphics AMD Navi/RDNA 2-family GPU with 36 CU at 2.23 GHz (10.3 TFLOPS, FP unit unknown) AMD Navi/RDNA 2-family GPU with 52 CU at 1.825GHz (12TFLOPS FP32)
Video memory 16GB GDDR6 with 256-bit interface (448GB/sec) 16GB GDDR6 with 14Gbps 320-bit interface (10GB at 560GB/s allocated to GPU, 6GB at 336GB/s allocated to rest of system with 3.5GB for GPU)
Storage 825GB SSD at 5.5-9GB/sec; NVMe SSD slot; support for USB HDD 1TB NVMe SSD; proprietary 1TB SSD add-on module; USB 3.2 external HDD support
Optical drive Yes, 4K Blu-ray Yes, 4K Blu-ray
Maximum output resolution 8K 8K
Maximum frame rate 4K/120fps 4K/120fps
Audio 3D, accelerated by custom Tempest Engine hardware; for headphones only at launch, supplemented by virtual surround for speaker audio Ray traced
New controller features Haptic feedback, adaptive triggers, USB-C connector Share button, Dynamic Latency Input
VR support Yes, compatible with PSVR headset Unknown
Console streaming Yes (Remote Play) Yes (Console Streaming)
Backwards compatibility PS4 games Xbox One and supported Xbox 360 and Xbox games
Notable launch game(s) Godfall Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Cyberpunk 2077, Halo: Infinite, Rainbow Six Siege, Madden NFL 21, Yakuza: Like a Dragon
Subscription tie-in PS Now Xbox Game Pass
Release date Holiday 2020 Holiday 2020
Price Unknown Unknown

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