The Xbox Series X and Series S might look like the future of Xbox, but Microsoft isn't playing just one game anymore with the next generation of, well, gaming. Yes, it has two boxy machines that are launching on November 10 worldwide, including India. But Microsoft has an eye on other avenues too. After all, new Xbox Game Studios games — that covers anything made with Microsoft's backing — will also be playable on Windows 10 computers, and even the Xbox One (for a limited time). You don't even have to pay for many of them; you can get them with the Xbox Game Pass subscription. And in certain North American, European, and Asian markets, you can play a lot of Xbox games on your phones. The next generation of Xbox is wild.
But for those of us with an eye on the two new consoles — Series X and Series S — there are a lot of questions waiting to be answered, like what will I get? Let's see. Better graphics and performance, with true native 4K resolution at 60 frames per second (fps) on the Series X. You can even go up to 8K or 120fps, assuming you have the hardware to carry it.
The Xbox Series S is happy to deliver just over full-HD (up to 1440p) resolution, but it still sticks to that 60fps promise. And it can go up to 4K as well with hardware scaling. Then there's the promise of ray tracing, which equates to true-to-life lighting, dynamic environments, and accurate reflections. On top of that, both new Xbox consoles promise faster load times thanks to a solid-state drive (SSD), taking over from the hard disk drive (HDD) seen in current generation consoles.
All that means your favourite games will look more realistic than ever. After a recent mega acquisition, Microsoft now has 23 studios as part of Xbox Game Studios, from the maker of Halo (343 Industries) to the creator of Elder Scrolls (Bethesda).
Every game — old or new — from those studios will be available with Xbox Game Pass, which is great for those on the Xbox ecosystem. It's the reason some consider Microsoft's Xbox subscription service, which already has over 15 million members, the actual future of Xbox. It not only gives you access to hundreds of games on Xbox devices, but also on Windows 10 and (in select markets) Android phones. It's almost as if Microsoft doesn't care if you buy an Xbox or not. That's in complete contrast to Sony's strategy with the PlayStation 5, which is basically do what has worked before. You can't blame it either, given Sony has sold twice as many PS4s compared to the Xbox One. Microsoft isn't playing by Sony's rules anymore and it's ready to take a new approach to next-gen.
Microsoft's dual strategy with the Xbox Series family should allow it to sell the promise of next-gen at a much lower starting point than usual. The Series S costs Rs. 34,990 in India, $299 (about Rs. 22,000) in the US, £249 (about Rs. 23,800) in the UK, CA$379 (about Rs. 21,200) in Canada, €299 (about Rs. 25,800) in Europe, AU$499 (about Rs. 26,600) in Australia, and NZ$549 (about Rs. 26,950) in New Zealand.
Its more powerful cousin, the Series X, comes in at Rs. 49,990 in India, $499 (about Rs. 36,600) in the US, £449 (about Rs. 42,800) in the UK, CA$599 (about Rs. 33,400) in Canada, €499 (about Rs. 42,900) in Europe, AU$749 (about Rs. 40,000) in Australia, and NZ$799 (about Rs. 39,200) in New Zealand. Mind you, not all these prices are inclusive of sales taxes in every market.
You don't have to pay upfront, though. Microsoft is expanding its Xbox All Access programme to 12 countries with the launch of the Xbox Series family: Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, South Korea, Sweden, the UK, and the US. You can get either the Series X or Series S, which is paired with a two-year subscription to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate.
Xbox Game Pass Ultimate offers access to over 100 Xbox One titles and all upcoming Xbox Game Studios titles, over 100 Windows 10 games, Xbox Live Gold which has monthly free games and is required for online multiplayer, and EA Play that brings more free games and trials for new EA games. And oh, if you're in a supported region, you also get access to Xbox game streaming on Android.
The Series S Xbox All Access costs $25 (about Rs. 1,850) in the US, £21 (about Rs. 2,000) in the UK, AU$33 (about Rs. 1,750) in Australia, and NZ$39 (about Rs. 1,900) in New Zealand. The Series X Xbox All Access comes in at $35 (about Rs. 2,600) in the US, £29 (about Rs. 2,750) in the UK, AU$46 (about Rs. 2,450) in Australia, and NZ$52 (about Rs. 2,550) in New Zealand. All these prices are per month for a total of 24 months.
Before we dive in, here's a comparison of the Series X vs Series S —
|Xbox Series X||Xbox Series S|
|Price||Rs. 49,990||Rs. 34,990|
|Resolution||4K @ 60fps, up to 120fps||1440p @ 60fps, up to 120fps|
|Disc||4K UHD Blu-ray||None (Digital-only)|
|CPU||Custom 8-core AMD Zen 2 CPU @ 3.8GHz (3.6GHz with SMT)||Custom 8-core AMD Zen 2 CPU @ 3.6GHz (3.4GHz with SMT)|
|GPU||Custom AMD RDNA 2 GPU 52 CUs @ 1.825 GHz||Custom AMD RDNA 2 GPU 20 CUs @ 1.565GHz|
|12.15 teraflops GPU power||4 teraflops GPU power|
|RAM||16GB GDDR6 RAM||10GB GDDR6 RAM|
|Memory bandwidth||10 GB at 560 GB/s, 6 GB at 336 GB/s||8 GB at 224GB/s, 2 GB at 56GB/s|
|Storage||1TB PCie Gen 4 NVME SSD||512GB PCie Gen 4 NVME SSD|
|External storage||1 TB expansion card, support for USB HDD||1 TB expansion card, support for USB HDD|
|I/O throughput||2.4 GB/s (raw), 4.8 GB/s (compressed)||2.4 GB/s (raw), 4.8 GB/s (compressed)|
|Dimensions||151 x 151 x 301 mm (5.94 x 5.94 x 11.85 inches)||151 × 65 × 275 mm (5.9 × 2.6 × 11 inches)|
|Weight||4.45kg (9.8 pounds)||1.93kg (4.25 pounds)|
As you can see, the biggest differences between the two new Xbox Series consoles are in the graphics department. Sure, they both have the same custom-made AMD RDNA 2 graphics unit, but the Series X has more than double the compute units (CUs) of its less powerful sibling Series S: 52 (Series X) vs 20 (Series S).
Moreover, the Series X GPU is clocked faster as well: 1.825GHz (Series X) vs 1.565GHz (Series S). And that's why the Series X results in a total GPU power of 12.15 teraflops, over three times that offered by the Series S at 4 teraflops.
The PS5 too has the same custom-made AMD RDNA 2 graphics unit, which is clocked faster (2.23GHz) but has fewer compute units (36). That results in a total GPU power of 10.28 teraflops, but it's not quite a direct comparison because the PS5 is capable of variable frequency (GHz).
Sony's next-gen console also has the same CPU as the Series X and Series S: custom-made 8-core AMD Zen 2, capable of simultaneous multithreading (SMT). But while the Xbox consoles have two clock speeds — 3.8 GHz / 3.6 GHz with SMT for Series X, and 3.6GHz / 3.4GHz with SMT for Series S — the PS5 again is capable of variable frequency.
It's unclear what will work better, but it will likely vary from situation to situation.
Going back to Xbox Series X vs Series S, the former has 6GB more memory than the latter, and double the solid-state storage. That's despite the fact that the Series S is digital-only which means you'll have to download all your games off the Internet. With the Series X, you get a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray drive.
You can expand the storage up to 1TB with an expansion card. Microsoft has partnered with Seagate on an official one, which costs $220 (about Rs. 16,250) in the US. You can use old hard drives too, but they will only be used for storage. Xbox Series games can only be played off SSDs, though you can play backward compatible Xbox titles off your external hard drive.
Lastly, the Xbox Series X is a lot bigger than the Series S. They are about the same height, but the Series X is much wider (or deeper, depending on how you see it). As a result, it's much heavier too, though you likely won't have to move it around a lot.
There are some common things between the two new Xbox consoles as well. Both support Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos 3D sound for gaming, and hardware-accelerated ray tracing for more realistic lighting in games.
Overall, the Xbox Series X is a much more powerful console than the Xbox Series S.
A new console generation also means a new controller, though Microsoft is keeping things pretty much the same with the new Xbox Wireless Controller. It's largely got the same design as the Xbox One controller, except that it's slightly smaller, which should be good news for those of us with small hands. It has a USB-C port for charging and its D-pad is now more like the one from Xbox Elite controller. And taking a cue from Sony, Microsoft has added a dedicated share button in the centre.
The new Xbox Wireless Controller will be available in black, white or blue at launch. You will get one when you purchase a Series X and Series S. There's no word on India availability at the moment if you want additional controllers. They will cost Rs. 5,390 (black / white) or Rs. 5,890 (blue). It costs the same as the Xbox One controller elsewhere: $60 (about Rs. 4,400) in the US, £55 (about Rs. 5,150) in the UK, CA$75 (about Rs. 4,150) in Canada, €60 (about Rs. 5,160) in Europe, AU$90 (about Rs. 4,700) in Australia, and NZ$100 (about Rs. 4,850) in New Zealand.
You don't have to buy additional controllers. Microsoft has said that all officially licensed Xbox One controllers are backward compatible with the Xbox Series family.
If you do end up purchasing the Xbox Wireless Controller, you will need two AA batteries to play wirelessly. Alternatively, you can buy the “Xbox Rechargeable Battery + USB-C Cable” kit. It costs $25 (about Rs. 1,840) in the US, £20 (about Rs. 1,870) in the UK, CA$30 (about Rs. 1,660) in Canada, €23 (about Rs. 1,975) in Europe, AU$30 (about Rs. 1,570) in Australia, and NZ$40 (about Rs. 1,940) in New Zealand.
To answer that, we have to look at three big questions. First up, what kind of TV do you have? The Xbox Series S is targeting 1440p at 60fps while the Xbox Series X is designed for 4K at 60fps gaming. Technically, 1440p is 2560 x 1440 pixels while 4K is 3840 x 2160 pixels. While the Series S can still do hardware upscaling for games to 4K, it's not native 4K.
That means you should only get the Series X if you already have a 4K TV or you plan to upgrade soon. The Series S, meanwhile, is great for those who have a full-HD 1080p TV or a 1440p monitor. This means that the Series X should deliver more detail than Series S with 4K displays.
Even if you don't have a 4K TV, both new Xbox consoles should deliver a smooth experience regardless, thanks to the 60fps output.
You can upgrade to an even smoother experience, as both Series X and Series S will support up to 120fps for gaming. The Series X can also go up to 8K resolution. But you will need more advanced displays, with 120Hz refresh rate and support for 8K resolution, to make use of those features. You'll also need to make sure it's an HDMI 2.1 compatible display.
The second question you have to answer is your Internet speed. If you pick up the Xbox Series S, you will need to download every game you play, as there is no disc slot. Of course, even with the Series X, you will still need a good Internet connection to download updates and patches. But with the Series S, you are looking at a greater need for fast broadband.
And with both new Xbox consoles capable of 4K gaming, that means game sizes are going to increase. The big games today, such as Red Dead Redemption 2, are already over 100GB. Expect that to be the norm going forward, with download files only going to further soar as we go deeper into next-gen.
Lastly, since the Series S is digital-only, that means you can't share games with your friends. There's no possibility of reselling games too or buying second-hand games. This is great for game publishers but not so much for consumers. With both Microsoft and Sony refusing to localise PlayStation and Xbox game prices (unlike Steam for PC) in markets such as India, the used games market can help you save money.
We've talked a lot about hardware but what ultimately matters with any gaming device is what games you can play.
Microsoft has been making waves recently for its much-talked-about $7.5 billion (about Rs. 55,150 crores) acquisition of ZeniMax Media, which holds the licenses to The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Doom, Quake, Dishonored, Prey, and Wolfenstein. Those titles will come to Xbox Game Pass in the near future, but whether future entries in those franchises will be Xbox exclusives will be evaluated on a “case-by-case basis”, Microsoft has said.
And that's some time away. At launch, there aren't many Xbox Game Studios exclusives. With Halo Infinite now delayed to 2021, we're left with Tetris Effect: Connected, a co-op and competitive multiplayer version of the popular puzzle game; and the Gears of War spin-off Gears Tactics, which has been on Windows 10 since April.
Xbox does have one more exclusive in Yakuza: Like a Dragon. Though a Japanese, Chinese and Korean PS4 version debuted back in January, Microsoft has snapped the English-language version of the next Yakuza game as a timed exclusive for the Series X and Series S. It will eventually release on PS5 at some point.
Every other Xbox Series launch title will also be on the PS5. That includes Assassin's Creed Valhalla, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War (November 13), Destiny 2: Beyond Light, Devil May Cry 5: Special Edition, Dirt 5, Fortnite, Marvel's Avengers, and Watch Dogs Legion.
That said, Microsoft does have a lot of Xbox Game Studios exclusives in the works, including new entries in Fable, Forza Motorsport, Psychonauts, Stalker, and State of Decay, in addition to Everwild from the Sea of Thieves developer and various other indie efforts, but most of them don't even have a release window, let alone an exact date.
And we can look forward to many more exclusives from Xbox Game Studios. Here's the full list of the aforementioned 23 studios now owned by Microsoft. Eight of the following have been acquired during the Xbox One era, and the eight from ZeniMax are set to officially become a part in 2021.
Not every game will make use of every new hardware feature — 4K / 8K resolution, 120fps, and ray tracing — but expect them to support at least one, if not more.
The next-gen of gaming consoles is also leading to a price increase for games. Some publishers, such as 2K and Sony itself, have upped the bar from $60 to $70. We don't know what that exactly means for India; the ceiling was Rs. 3,999 but we might see Rs. 4,999 or more now. Moreover, Microsoft hasn't talked about prices for next-gen Xbox Game Studios titles as yet.
If you were worried that you would only have a handful of games on your new Xbox at launch, well, Microsoft will let you play thousands of older games too. They come from the Xbox One, Xbox 360, and even the original Xbox. You can find the full library on the official Xbox site.
But how these games would actually run, may vary. The best possible variant is a free upgrade scheme known as “Smart Delivery”. If an Xbox One game is also made for the Xbox Series family, game publishers can opt into Xbox Smart Delivery and offer a free upgrade to the next-gen version. FIFA 21, Marvel's Avengers, Assassin's Creed Valhalla, and Watch Dogs: Legion are on board with this.
Then there's “Optimised for Xbox Series X|S” games. While this label also covers all new titles that are purpose-built for next-gen, it also applies to old titles that have been redesigned for Series X and Series S. That means they will support 4K HDR, up to 120fps, and faster load times (thanks to the SSD). The complete list can be found on the Xbox site.
Now, these benefits won't apply equally to the new Xbox consoles. Microsoft has said that the Series S will play the Xbox One S version of backward compatible games, not the Xbox One X version. That means you won't benefit from 4K textures, but you will still get “improved texture filtering, higher and more consistent frame rates, faster load times and Auto HDR.”
Now that we have covered every aspect of the Xbox Series X and Series S, some of you with an Xbox One already at home might naturally be wondering: should I upgrade? That depends on which Xbox One you have and what you are looking for.
If you want to be able to play all new Xbox exclusives, there's no immediate need to jump on the Series X or Series S. Microsoft is adamant that it won't force gamers into the next generation. Xbox chief Phil Spencer said as much in July, noting that every Xbox Game Studios title in “the next couple of years” would release on both Xbox One and Xbox Series (and Windows 10).
Now the operative words here are “couple of years” and “Xbox Game Studios”. Xbox Game Studios' July event revealed that the next Fable and Forza Motorsport might only be available on the new Xbox Series consoles. Additionally, third-party developers like EA and Ubisoft have no obligation to keep supporting the Xbox One.
Of course, simply having support isn't everything. As you can expect, the upcoming Halo Infinite could look very different, depending on if you've a Series X, Series S, One X, One S, or One. There is simply no way a seven-year-old console like the Xbox One could keep up in terms of performance with a high-end one like the Series X launching in November.
These differences will minimise as you come towards the centre. Xbox Series S should outperform Xbox One X in many regards, but it can't deliver 4K gaming across the board. Though to be fair, the One X was only capable of 4K at 60fps on paper. In reality, most big games never hit that number, as the CPU was a bottleneck.
Rise of the Tomb Raider and Middle Earth: Shadow of War dropped to 30fps at 4K, and could only manage 60fps at 1080p. Even its in-house title, Forza Horizon 4, was the same. Gears 5 was a little better as it had a variable resolution with a minimum of 1584p, while Fortnite topped at 1728p, according to Eurogamer's Digital Foundry.
With the Xbox Series X, Microsoft is promising that games will run at 4K 60fps, so you won't have to deal with such compromises. And with its capabilities stretching up to 8K / 120fps, expect the Series X to hold its own even as we go deeper into next-gen.
The Xbox Series S is a different story. It's prioritising performance over resolution, what with its 1440p 60fps target. That means games running on a Xbox Series S wouldn't have that much more detail over the Xbox One or One S — which managed 1080p, albeit with their own compromises in the final years — but they should be a lot smoother. And you'll have other benefits too, such as faster load times and ray tracing.
You can choose to not upgrade at all too, depending on where you live. In mid-September, Microsoft rolled out cloud gaming support, previously known as Project xCloud, as part of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. It's currently available in 22 countries, including Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czechia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Korea, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, and the US.
This means if you subscribe to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate — $15 (about Rs. 1,100) in the US, £11 (about Rs. 1,030) in the UK, CA$17 (about Rs. 950) in Canada, €13 (about Rs. 1,120) in Europe, and ₩16,700 (about Rs. 1,060) in Korea — you can play all the games available under the subscription, on compatible Android devices. Xbox game streaming is not available on iOS due to Apple's restrictions.
Xbox game streaming relies on servers consisting of Xbox One S consoles at the moment, but Microsoft plans to upgrade to Series X in 2021.
Of course, you will need a fast and reliable 4G / 5G connection, given input lag can be a real issue with cloud gaming.
But here, you are not just paying for cloud gaming. With Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, you get access to all the benefits we discussed earlier, including over 100 Xbox One titles and all upcoming Xbox Game Studios titles, over 100 Windows 10 games, Xbox Live Gold which has monthly free games, and EA Play that brings more free games and trials for new EA games.
And if cloud gaming doesn't work for you, Xbox game streaming also works locally. You can use your existing Xbox One or any of the new Xbox Series consoles to stream games to your Android device.
None of this is new or exclusive to Xbox. Sony offers the latter as PS4 Remote Play and this will be available on the PS5 too. And Sony also has its own cloud gaming service: PlayStation Now. It's been around for much longer (since 2014) and has over 800 games, but it's never really taken off because Sony only offers older titles.
Microsoft has changed the field with Xbox Game Pass. New Xbox Game Studios titles are available to download or stream on the day of release. Nearly 170 games currently support Xbox game streaming through the cloud. You can access the full list on the Xbox website. Select “Cloud-enabled” after you open the page.
Best of all, there's no need to update games with Xbox cloud gaming. They are always ready and waiting for you to hit play.
Will Xbox Series S, PS5 Digital Edition fail in India? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.