Gaming at 4K

With only a few days to test out the console, and a selection of games which were ready before launch, there’s no way to do a full review of every game launching with the Xbox One X as an Xbox One X Enhanced title, but the list of titles already either in development, or available now as an Enhanced game is growing quickly. Check out the full list at Xbox.com to get the most up to date version.

So what does it mean when a game is titled as Xbox One X Enhanced? It means the developer has done work above and beyond the normal Xbox One title’s efforts to improve the experience for the Xbox One X. That doesn’t guarantee that the game will be rendered at 3840x2160 though. Despite the 4K target from Microsoft, the developer may want to put the extra GPU compute into more complex geometry and scenes. It may mean that the title is designed for a faster framerate. Maybe the Xbox One version launched at 30 fps, but the Enhanced version targets 60 fps, which may be the most important factor in a fast-paced shooter. There’s a lot of things that can be done with the extra power of the Xbox One X, other than pure resolution, but most games are going to target a higher resolution and HDR.

With only the chance to play a few titles, here are some initial thoughts on the Xbox One X gaming.

Overall, it’s much smoother

The extra 31% CPU power can easily be felt on the dashboard, where the Guide and navigation is finally as smooth as you’d expect. The latest Fall Update for Xbox helped out here as well, with overall better performance, especially in the Guide, but the original Xbox can still drop some frames here and there. The Xbox One X, even in the midst of gaming, pretty much always feels smooth.

In games, this can be noticed as well, with much more solid framerates on every title we tested. Certainly, there are going to be games where there’s a lot of on-screen action that can make the Xbox One X drop frames, but on the games tested, that wasn’t the case, at least while gaming. Forza 7 did suffer from some slowdowns, but only when new tracks were loading, and it doesn’t impact gameplay at all.

One game that really struggled on the Xbox One was The Wolf Among Us, from Telltale Games, and to see if the performance issues were solved, this game was loaded up on the Xbox One X. This game in particular still suffered from some framerate drops, although not as severely as on the original console, but it shows that just because there's more power, not every game is going to be perfect without some work by the developer to take advantage of it. It depends on what the bottlenecks were that were causing the performance degredation in the first place.

Loading times can still be an issue

This likely won’t be a shock to most people, but the loading times in games can still be quite long. The new, faster SATA III hard drive does likely help somewhat, but the benefits are likely eaten up by the fact that the 4K assets are generally quite a bit larger as well.

Image quality is far better on Enhanced games

It’s fair to say that the jump in image quality is not as dramatic as the early days of consoles, where new consoles would bring revolutionary updates to graphics, but the improvement from the Xbox One to the latest Xbox One X is very noticeable. If you’re lucky enough to own a 4K HDR television, gaming at higher resolutions means much better image clarity. HDR can have an even more dramatic effect to the overall scene, with deeper shadows, and richer colors.

Let’s take a look at some screenshots of Gears of War 4, which is one of the launch titles bearing the Enhanced logo.

Gears of War 4 on Xbox One

Gears of War 4 on Xbox One X in 4K HDR

First, you’ll likely immediately notice that one of the images seems to have a dull tone to it. This is because original image was in HDR, and it was then converted into a PNG file for sharing by the Xbox, but PNG doesn’t work for HDR images, so it’s poorly tone-mapped down to SDR into an odd color. A software update would be helpful here to add some more options on screenshot outputs, much like they do for the video captures. If you do need access to the original JXR image file which supports HDR, you’ll have to capture your screenshots to an external USB 3 drive formatted to NTFS. We’ll come back to the color part later, but the poorly tone-mapped HDR image helps identify which image is which when we zoom in.

Xbox One X (left) vs Xbox One (right)

Zooming in on the image in a couple of places, and it becomes readily apparent just how much sharper the image is with the higher resolution textures. Once again, this isn’t a big surprise, since this is one of the reasons the console was given an additional 4GB of RAM, but the extra power does result in a much cleaner image. The body armor on the original console is a much fuzzier texture, to stay within the constraints of that console, but the 4K assets on the X really sharpen everything up. If you were able to view this in proper HDR, the effects would be even more dramatic, with deeper shadows, but shadows that are still able to provide detail.

Xbox One X (left) vs Xbox One (right)

Here's another image from the same scene, but a part of the scene that is further away. The result is the same, with dramatically sharper images for the Xbox One X. This scene is in shadow as well, so HDR plays an even larger part in the effect on-screen.

Now, to provide a proper screenshot for this scene, HDR was disabled on the console and the game run again, in order to provide a properly tone-mapped SDR PNG file.

Having to disable HDR on the console in order to provide proper screenshots is a bit of a chore, and hopefully something that can be fixed in a future update.

What if I don’t own a 4K HDR TV yet

Not everyone owns a flashy, new 4K HDR TV yet, so are there any benefits to using this console on 1080p TVs? Yes. The Xbox One X will still render the game at the targeted resolution for the Enhanced title, but then apply supersampling to the output and scale it down to the lower resolution of the connected TV. The increased quality of the textures will still be a big improvement over the original Xbox One, even if all of the detail is not able to be saved. Plus, the extra performance will help in almost any title to prevent any frame rate drops.

But I like older games

Well if you like older games, the Xbox team has some good news for you. Not only will all existing Xbox One titles work, but so will any of the compatible Xbox 360 backwards compatible games, and just recently, original Xbox titles are now available in backwards compatibility. Hypervisors are amazing things.

Powering Xbox One X: Custom AMD APU Enjoying Media
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  • cmdrdredd - Saturday, November 04, 2017 - link

    PS4 is doing the same thing. Reply
  • ncsaephanh - Friday, November 03, 2017 - link

    Very cool how they basically put a 480's worth of gpu performance and still are able to run the console as quietly as they do. More competition is always a good thing, and I can't wait to see where we are 5 years from now. Reply
  • Drumsticks - Friday, November 03, 2017 - link

    Thanks for the review, it was a nice read.

    Look at that power draw in Gears of War 4 (172W). I know that we can't make direct comparisons, but I wish we could find out if the One X was pegging the GPU at full load during that time. If so, a fully loaded GPU with slightly more hardware (6TF vs like 5.6?), and an 8 core CPU is drawing less power from the wall than an RX 480/580 draws by itself?

    It's hard to say for sure unless we could somehow view GPU/CPU load at the same time, but still, how? It's hard to not come to the conclusion that this APU is much more efficient than Polaris. Just how much worse is GloFo versus TSMC Finfet?
    Reply
  • InlineV - Friday, November 03, 2017 - link

    Microsoft has developed a process for matching the power supply to the CPU/GPU to optimize the power profile at the factory. They haven't released details for how they do that but the results seem to speak for themselves. Reply
  • Stochastic - Friday, November 03, 2017 - link

    I just wanted to chime in and say well done! It's great to see Anandtech publish articles on popular consumer tech in a timely fashion. This is the best Xbox One X review I've seen yet--all the details you include are the reason I've continued reading Anandtech after all these years. Reply
  • Brett Howse - Friday, November 03, 2017 - link

    Thanks! Reply
  • Wolfpup - Friday, November 03, 2017 - link

    Fantastic article, as we expect from Anandtech!

    So bizarre about that Netflix bug, that they haven't fixed it (how hard can it be?) and replicated it on the PS4 Pro?!?

    I love that the Xbox One has at least some backwards compatibility. Love that they're worrying about noise the system makes. Love the use of normal non-proprietary batteries.

    Only aspects of the design I don't like are the non-replaceable hard drive (makes me parinoid it's going to die...although IF they do backwards compatibility from here on out, that's less of an issue) and the weird save system. I like being able to manually back up my saves! These cloud servies are flaky in my experience, and that's besides that I might not always want a save on someone's server, nor to use GB of bandwidth backing up saves (and how much space do they give us?)

    But mostly it's a great design, and pretty darned exciting.

    I'm controlling myself and not buying it until next year, as I've got a huge backlog, and among other things want to get through my PS4 exclusives first, but I'm going to standardize on Xbox One X for the backwards compatibility and controller with normal batteries.
    Reply
  • Chad - Friday, November 03, 2017 - link

    Great article!!

    Very impressed with msft right now, it seems they really took their time and properly engineered this thing. Low power, low noise, compact and efficient design packing a ton of power. Both hardware and software (the new OS) are homeruns for a (relatively) low cost. Impressive!
    Reply
  • Rufnek - Monday, November 06, 2017 - link

    This would have been more impressive if they had attempted to do this for the actual One release.
    Instead the users got a HUGE console, with external power brick, a useless Kinect and garbage DDR3 ram with a 'special' 32mb bandwidth boost. What a joke that was compared to the smaller, faster, power brick included, GDDR5 console. The X is what M$ should have been aiming for. Hind sight is 20/20
    Reply
  • Brett Howse - Friday, November 03, 2017 - link

    Yes I'd like them to add removable storage, but I can also understand they want the packaging as clean as they can make it. USB storage is simple and effective.

    I've never had an issue with game backups to Xbox Live and to be honest I kind of prefer having it synced, especially with Play Anywhere now being a thing.
    Reply

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