It has been more than six years since the launch of the Xbox One, and Microsoft has changed the platform significantly during that time. With the discontinuation of Kinect, the full redesign of the Xbox One S, and the major enhancements of the Xbox One X, the Xbox One has had quite an incredible run.

Revisions like these can only get a console so far, though, and it has us thinking about what comes next. Microsoft is working on the next generation of consoles, and quite a few details have emerged about the system, including its final name and a look at its PC-like design. In this guide, we’re going to answer the question, “What is the Xbox Series X?”

In an April interview, Xbox head Phil Spencer said he expects the console will compete favorably with the forthcoming Sony PlayStation 5 on price and power, and some rumors have even pegged down the price for the Xbox Series X at $499. (We think it might be closer to $400.) Will it hit that mark? And when will it arrive? Here’s everything you need to know.

The hardware: A PC-like architecture

Microsoft continues to blur the line between console and PC gaming, and the Xbox Series X certainly reflects that in its physical design. The console resembles a PC tower, and though it can be placed on its side like the current systems, it appears the standard orientation will be vertical. It is substantially larger than the current Xbox One X and Xbox One S systems, though its footprint in an entertainment center shouldn’t be too much greater.

The system will make use of a custom processor that uses Zen 2 and RDNA architecture via AMD, and it will be capable of ray tracing, Auto Low Latency Mode, and Dynamic Latency Input. It will also come with GDDR6 RAM and an NVMe SSD for super-fast loading, and will be capable of 4K gameplay at 60 frames per second, and up to 120 frames per second on certain games.

The ray tracing support will be through hardware-accelerated DirectX ray tracing, and a variable rate shading system can prioritize individual characters or environments instead of a whole screen, reducing hardware taxing without hurting the final image quality.

As for loading, the console itself comes with 1TB of ultra-fast storage, but you can expand that storage space. In an exclusive partnership with Seagate, Microsoft will sell proprietary external SSDs that slot into the back of the Xbox Series X.

Microsoft

Despite potential 8K capability, head of Xbox Phil Spencer has nevertheless said that the focus for Xbox Series X games will be playability and frame rate. This could mean we see a lower resolution when it would otherwise affect a game’s ability to hit 60 frames per second or beyond. It will support up to 120 frames per second.

If the information given by Andrew Reiner of Game Informer is accurate, the PS5 system could still end up being more powerful than Xbox Series X. On paper, at least, the Xbox Series X is superior.

Dimensions 15.1 cm x 15.1 cm x 30.1 cm
Weight 9.8 lbs
Color Black
CPU 3.8 GHz Custom Zen 2
GPU 12 TFLOPS, 1.825 GHz Custom RDNA 2
Memory 16GB GDDR6
Memory bandwidth 10 GB at 560 GB/s, 6GB at 336 GB/s
Storage 1TB Custom NVME SSD with expandable storage support
Optical drive 4K UHD Blu-ray
Max resolution 4K
HDR Yes
Ports HDMI, USB-A x3, storage, Ethernet, power
Online subscription
Connectivity
Price
Availability Holiday 2020
Digital Trends review Coming soon

Performance

It’s way, way too soon to gauge the performance of an unreleased console that won’t come out for another six months or so, right? Not so fast. A rumor currently making the rounds suggests the PS5 is currently beating the next-gen Series X device — at least according to one insider posting in an online chat to a thread speculating on PS5 and Xbox Series X performance; one user wrote that PS5 is simply better, BGR reports.

“Right now, game performance is better on PS5. I believe that is probably because PS5 development hardware and software are in a more advanced state. I fully expect [Series X] to close that gap once they ship more mature dev kits and software,” the forum member wrote.

Microsoft said in a deep dive feature that the Xbox Series X will target 4K gameplay at up to 120 frames per second, complete with enhancements like ray tracing.

Xbox Series X will support multiple games running at the same time with a feature called Quick Resume. Multiple games can be paused and restarted almost instantly, which lets multitasking players jump between games without having to reboot them from the opening screen.

New controller

Microsoft

The Xbox Series X will come equipped with a new controller, which offers tweaks on the Xbox One’s controller design without changing it drastically. It will feature a share button, similar to the button on the Switch and PS4 controllers, and it has a new directional pad that is based on the design of the latest Xbox One Elite controller. Its shape has also been changed slightly, but it should be instantly recognizable to current Xbox players.

The new Xbox Series X controller will also be forward-compatible, meaning it will function on the Xbox One and PC. The console will also support existing Xbox One accessories, so any existing controllers players have will function on the new system.

Project xCloud

Sony’s PlayStation Now subscription service allows PS4 users to stream games from the cloud instead of buying and downloading them outright — and in Japan, the Nintendo Switch has even flirted with this for Resident Evil 7.

No such service exists on the Xbox One, at least not in a commercial setting, but during Microsoft’s E3 2018 presentation, Spencer revealed that his team is currently developing cloud gaming technology that will let you play console-quality titles from several devices.

This service was later revealed to be called Project xCloud, and it will allow Xbox games to be played on a variety of lower-powered devices such as mobile phones. Games will support the use of Bluetooth-powered Xbox controllers, as well.

Project xCloud runs on blades made from Xbox One S hardware, which should ensure a gameplay experience similar to local Xbox One systems. It is not being created as a replacement for consoles and will be compatible with Xbox systems. A price point has not been revealed yet, but we estimate it will cost around $15 per month to maintain a subscription. With Google pricing Stadia at $10, and xCloud likely coming with an Xbox Live subscription, $15 sounds reasonable.

It’s possible Project xCloud will be under the same subscription as Xbox Game Pass. At the very least, we know every Game Pass title will make its way to Project xCloud at some point. Project xCloud is currently in closed beta. The only way to try the service is to sign up and hope you hear back.

Xbox Series X will not abandon discs, however. Microsoft’s Matt Booty confirmed the system will have an optical drive during an E3 2019 interview with Eurogamer, stressing that the company knows players enjoy “building a collection” of physical games.

Backward compatibility

The Xbox One introduced backward compatibility with Xbox 360 games a few years ago, and it eventually added backward compatibility with original Xbox games, as well. This policy will continue on Xbox Series X.

During E3 2019, Microsoft confirmed that Xbox Series X will be compatible with all three previous generations of Xbox games, albeit not necessarily all of the games released for that system. The same team that brought backward compatibility to Xbox One will be doing so for Xbox Series X, and you can anticipate that all the games you could play through backward compatibility on Xbox One will also work on Series X.

We also know now that the Xbox Series X will not be getting any generational exclusives for at least a year, possibly longer. All games that launch on the system will also be playable on Xbox One and PC, according to an interview Xbox Studios chief Matt Booty gave with MCV.

Xbox Series X will also support your Xbox Game Pass games from previous generations, in addition to the program continuing with new games once the console launches.

VR support

Mike Nichols, Microsoft’s chief marketing officer for Xbox, squashed the rumors about virtual reality support by telling Gameindustry.biz that “We don’t have any plans specific to Xbox” for VR, or even mixed reality.

The “specific to Xbox” phrase could give Microsoft an out, since the company could bring over technology from Windows. Still, that seems like a long shot, because Microsoft has struggled there, too.

Buy one game, get two versions

Xbox Series X will feature a service called “Smart Delivery,” which offers a different version of a game depending on whether it’s running on Xbox Series X or Xbox One. Purchasing an Xbox game — including Halo Infinite — gives players access to both versions at no extra cost, and it will be supported on all exclusive Xbox titles.

This technology will also be available to outside companies, and thus far Cyberpunk 2077 has confirmed support. Those who buy the game on Xbox One will receive a free Xbox Series X upgrade when it is available.

Launch games

Thus far, only one launch game for Xbox Series X has been revealed: Halo Infinite, along with a port of Gears 5Halo Infinite will release alongside the console in holiday 2020, and it will also be launching for Xbox One and PC. It’s the first time a Halo game has launched with an Xbox console since the original game in 2001. Other games have not been confirmed, but these are titles we anticipate launching with the system, as well:

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2

Announced during The Game Awards 2019 but not explicitly called a launch game, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 is the sequel to Ninja Theory’s original game and will release for Xbox Series X. The game was shown in a trailer running completely in-engine, and will once again star protagonist Senua in a dark and disturbing world.

Forza Motorsport 8

2019 looks to be the first year we have not seen a full new Forza title since 2010, and this is almost certainly so that Microsoft can launch Forza Motorsport 8 with Xbox Series X. The series features incredibly realistic visuals, making it an obvious inclusion.

State of Decay 3

Undead Labs became part of Microsoft just before E3 2018, and State of Decay 2 was an ambitious if unpolished zombie apocalypse game. What better way to show how the series improved with Microsoft’s backing than to make a sequel a launch game?

Fable 4

Playground Games is also part of Microsoft now, and we have heard rumors that it is developing a new open-world Fable game at its second studio. It was a no-show at E3 2019, but this could very well be because Microsoft wanted the game to be announced alongside a full reveal of Xbox Series X.

Optimized for Xbox Series X

On June 25, Microsoft announced games on the new console will be branded as “Optimized for Xbox Series X” to show they take full advantage of the system.

When you see the optimized badge, you’ll “know that the developer has either natively designed or fully rebuilt their game to take full advantage of the unique capabilities of our most powerful console ever.”

These games will have various benchmarks to showcase: practically no load times, higher frame rates up to 120fps, and heightened audio and visuals through “DirectX raytracing powered by our custom, next generation GPU.”

The visuals are powered by DirectX 12 Ultimate, which Microsoft calls “future proof” and said allows for the creation of more believable worlds.

Here’s a list of games that Microsoft says will be Optimized for Xbox Series X:

  • Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
  • Bright Memory Infinite
  • Call of the Sea
  • Chivalry 2
  • Chorus
  • Cyberpunk 2077
  • Destiny 2 
  • DiRT 5
  • FIFA 21
  • Gears 5
  • Halo Infinite
  • Hitman 3
  • Madden NFL 21
  • Marvel’s Avengers
  • Outriders
  • Scarlet Nexus
  • Scorn
  • Second Extinction
  • The Ascent
  • The Medium
  • Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2
  • Yakuza: Like a Dragon

Release date

The Xbox Series X will launch during the holidays in 2020. A price has not been given yet, but based on pricing structures for consoles this generation, we anticipate it costing about $400.

A second system?

It appears that a second Xbox system could be in the works, confirming earlier rumors we’ve heard on the subject. According to Kotaku, Microsoft is planning to launch a second version of the console with less power and no disc drive. This console, tentatively called the Xbox Series S, will not be capable of hitting 4K resolutions consistently, but it will be designed for those who don’t need the raw power expected from the more expensive variant or are planning to make use of Project xCloud. We have heard that the second system will have a substantially weaker GPU — possibly around 4 TFLOPS — but this remains unconfirmed.

The Series S alleged specs were leaked by TweakTown and The Verge’s Tom Warren. The specs indicate the Series S will be similar to the Series X as far as storage components and CPU are concerned, though there will be no disc drive for the Series S, which is generally defined by less power than the Series X.

Those loading times

One of the key features touted for the Xbox Series X is its custom NVMe SSD, which will not only allow games to load faster, but will look better, too. With custom architecture, developers are able to much more easily stream game assets from the SSD, meaning less pop-in (when objects and textures suddenly pop into view instead of smoothly appearing) and farther draw distances, among other things. You can see how much faster State of Decay 2 loads in the video above.

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