The next year is shaping up to be a huge one for video games with the launch of two new home gaming consoles. Sony detailed its upcoming PlayStation 5 earlier this year, and at The Game Awards last week, Microsoft finally unveiled its next machine: the Xbox Series X. As Microsoft’s executive vice president of gaming, Phil Spencer, had said previously, the company plans for the machine to take the position of the most powerful console of the next hardware generation.
Microsoft gave GameSpot an early look at Series X, although there are still a lot of details the company hasn’t made available yet, like its price. Most distinctive is its form factor — as presented at The Game Awards, it’s a sleek, monolithic box, although designed to stand either vertically or horizontally, so it should still fit into most entertainment centers.
Though Microsoft hasn’t shared many specifics yet, in terms of sheer power, Spencer said the Xbox Series X blows away Microsoft’s current consoles. “We wanted to have a dramatic upgrade from the Xbox One base console,” he said. “So when we do the math, we’re over eight times the GPU power of the Xbox One, and two times what an Xbox One X is.”
Speed is also a major component of the next Xbox. It features an NVMe solid-state drive for storage and uses super-fast GDDR6 memory as RAM, which should make loading games, suspending them to take breaks, and switching between them a quicker and more seamless experience than with current consoles. Integration of Microsoft’s xCloud streaming technology should also help speed things up, with the tech allowing developers to push their games beyond the bounds of the technology included inside the console by making use of cloud-based server. Spencer also said Microsoft’s streaming service should allow developers to make their games playable on more screens, such as smartphones, without significant effort. And the push to put game save data, friend lists, and other portions of the gaming experience online will mean players should be able to easily move their experiences between their home consoles, their PCs, and their phones, without losing anything in the translation. Spencer said Microsoft doesn’t intend for xCloud streaming to replace an Xbox or a PC, but it does sound like the technology will bolster many aspects of gaming to make it easier and more accessible for both players and developers.
As for what else is under the hood, we don’t yet know, but part of the design of the Xbox Series X is geared at making sure it remains quiet and unobtrusive. As Spencer explained, even though more powerful hardware requires a stronger fan to keep the console cool, it remains as quiet as Microsoft’s current high-end Xbox One model, the Xbox One X. That should mean that in a living room setting, you won’t be able to hear the console’s fan keeping it cool most of the time.
Another major part of the reveal of the Series X was its new controller. On first glance, it’s similar to the current Xbox One controller design, although Microsoft says it’s slightly smaller to make it easier to use for more varying hand sizes. The biggest change is the inclusion of a dedicated share button in the middle of the controller. Creating and sharing screenshots and video clips has become a huge part of the gaming experience in recent years, and Microsoft is responding to feedback with a share button to make the process of creating that content easier for players. That puts the Series X more in line with what Sony has offered with its PlayStation 4, the controller for which also features a dedicated share button.
Major questions about the Xbox Series X still remain to be answered in 2020, however. Chiefly, we don’t know what the console will cost, which makes it tough to compare to currently available consoles or to Sony’s PS5. When the Xbox One X launched, its price tag was $500, so it seems likely that Microsoft will aim for a similar price point for its next console.
And of course, the biggest question of all is what games you’ll actually be able to play on the Series X, at launch and beyond. So far, Microsoft has revealed only two games for the new console: Halo Infinite, the next entry in the storied Halo first-person shooter franchise, and Hellblade 2: Senua’s Saga, which Microsoft announced at The Game Awards. We’ve seen neither game in action in terms of gameplay so far, but the trailer for Hellblade 2 during The Game Awards was impressive. According to Microsoft, the cinematic preview wasn’t a pre-rendered CGI cutscene, but rather was running in real-time in the game’s engine, using the Series X hardware — which suggests the new console will be capable of some beautiful, photorealistic visuals that are a major step beyond what’s currently possible. But consoles are only ever as good as their games, so we’ll have to wait through 2020 to see what else the Xbox Series X will offer, and how the games that have already been announced will actually play.
Still, what Microsoft has shown of the Xbox Series X so far is impressive, and 2020 is sure to be filled with more information about what the new hardware can do, what features it’ll offer, and what games it’ll play. That gives Microsoft plenty of time to try to convince gamers to make the upgrade from their current consoles to the next generation; the Xbox Series X is slated for release in Holiday 2020.