Today the Xbox One S launches in South Africa and we got to take one for a test drive to see how it handles compared to its much bigger older brother, the Xbox One. So what has Microsoft changed in three years?
Well firstly there are a few obvious changes. The console is smaller, way smaller than the behemoth that is the Xbox One. That footprint reduction is absolutely amazing for people with limited space budget and to make it even better, you no longer need an external power brick. That ugly block that has to be smuggled away behind your TV unit, what felt like a stable for Xbox, is finally gone. Another obvious change is the removal of the Kinect port on the back of the console. If there wasn’t a sign that the Kinect – which used to be a compulsory inclusion – has fallen from grace, there you have it. The whole top of the device has been created with airflow in mind, with tiny holes dotting the top surface to allow airflow to the massive fan that keeps the machine cool.
It is the smaller touches that really excite me, ones that aren’t as apparent when seeing pictures of the console. The front panel has had some work done and it is a much sturdier, well-thought out design that before. The power button, which used to be just a capacitive touch panel has been replaced with an actual button, with the Xbox logo depressing ever so slightly as you touch it. The other change here is an obvious button to the side of the disc slot for ejecting discs. If you have ever had someone ask you how to turn on the console or eject a disc before, because the buttons are so hidden, then you understand why I like these changes.
More power, plus HDR
Then on a hardware level things have changed too. While it isn’t the biggest jump in hardware power, the Xbox One S has a little more clout. While not truly 4K capable the slim can let you open your eyes to the world of HDR gaming. HDR or High Dynamic Range is a technique that photographers are aware of, but the rest of the world is slowly catching onto. If your TV supports it, and the game has been coded to make use of the feature, your eyeballs are about to enter a whole new realm of colour and brightness contrast. While it is hard to show with screenshots due to how the technology works, HDR makes sure that you see the true spectrum and saturation of colours, be it in your Forza car collection or the landscape of Rise of the Tomb Raider. Deeper shadows, better silhouettes, nicer colour contrasts and more all add a richness to your gaming experience. If you are a colour nut, or have an idea of what HDR is from photography, this is something you really want to take advantage of.
So what do I mean by not truly 4K? Well the Xbox One S upscales games to 4K, rather than rendering them at ‘native’ 4K, so while it will look better on a 4K screen, it won’t look as great as it could. For media playback though, like 4K streaming or Ultra HD Blu-rays, you will get a proper 4K experience.
All this could result in a prickly situation for the Xbox One playerbase though. People on the new console have a bit more power to help with lag and load times, as well as deeper contrasts and richer colours, compared to those still on the standard Xbox One. Consoles, by their very nature, have allowed everyone to be on a level playing field, discussing the same moments and graphics without worrying if maybe you missed an amazing vista or moment because your GPU isn’t as powerful as the guy down the street. Now things are divided again.
As an early adopter, this console upsets me. While I have gotten used to the idea that my smartphone will eventually be replaced by a *slightly* better smartphone with pretty much all the same features and operating system, I am not prepared for the same with my consoles. After three years parts of what the Xbox One S have done really appeal to me, but they feel like a kick in the teeth because I won’t realistically ever have one, unless something happens to my current Xbox One. At the same time if I ever were to buy something Xbox related in the near future, I just need to think about Project Scorpio, which sounds like a monster machine that, if the games arrive and appeal to me, I will bow before technolust and buy it. [Caveat: I know slim versions of console are not new, but the fact that this slim version is months ahead of a powerhouse version is new.]
To me the Xbox One S feels like the middle child of a family, but that is probably because I already am in a committed relationship with the eldest of the family. To somebody new to the scene, or who consumes a lot of media at 4K (please tell me who your ISP is), this is a great time to hop into Xbox One, especially if whatever Project Scorpio releases is far too expensive for your tastes. (Though it is an interesting situation if you have a 4K TV, fast net and feel a Scorpio is too expensive.) While this console is definitely not for me, someone who already owns an Xbox One, if I had a choice I would have bought this one instead. Now I have to sit and stare at that power brick taking up so much space and ugh. I really should have waited for the slim version of my new console. Wait, the beefy version is coming later this year. But what if that one gets a slimmed down version too?