Microsoft’s Xbox One X, née Project Scorpio, has been a major topic at E3 2017. As we’ve previously written, the updated console packs considerably more firepower than anything Sony currently has on the market, though it’ll also debut at a higher $ 499 price as opposed to the PS4 Pro’s $ 399. According to Microsoft’s Phil Spencer, that premium position is no accident. It’s a reflection of who the Xbox One X is meant to appeal to, and should signify that the console really doesn’t have any competition.
“I look at Pro as more of a competitor to S than I do to Xbox One X,” Spencer told Eurogamer in an extensive interview. “This is a true 4K console. If you just look at the specs of what this box is, it’s in a different league than any other console that’s out there. When I think about techniques to somehow manufacture a 4K screen like what some other consoles try to do, this is different than that.
“This is 40 per cent more GPU,” he continued. “The amount of RAM we have in this, the speed of the RAM, the speed of the hard drive, the reaction we’re getting from developers… There’s not a tonne [ton] of work developers are having to do to get to 4K, and then they can spend the extra headroom they have and time to perfect the game they want to build. That’s why we’re able to say, over 30 games will have 4K updates for Xbox One X when we launch it.”
Comments like this suggest Spencer is channeling a bit of Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai’s hubris. When Kaz announced the $ 499 and $ 599 price for the PlayStation 3 he declared, “The next generation doesn’t start until we say it does,” despite the fact that the Xbox 360 had been in-market for a year before the PlayStation 3 debuted.
The idea that the Xbox One S competes with the PS4 Pro in performance is farcical. Even before the PS4 Pro launched, the PS4 was widely recognized as having an edge over the Xbox One, with more GPU hardware, more memory bandwidth, higher in-game resolution and generally smoother gameplay. The Xbox One S may have delivered a small performance uptick compared with the original Xbox One, but the PS4 Pro more than doubled the available GPU horsepower of the PlayStation 4. At equivalent levels of optimization, the PS4 Pro should make hash out of the Xbox One S every single time.
What’s more interesting is that, according to Spencer, Microsoft expects to keep selling a majority of Xbox One S consoles, with the Xbox One X positioned firmly as a premium option for console gamers that demand an uncompromisingly good experience. And while I can hear certain elements of the PC gaming community warming up to snark already, the fact is this: It’s going to be very difficult to build a PC from scratch that can match the Xbox One X’s relative performance from within a $ 500 envelope.
You can certainly upgrade an existing PC to add additional horsepower — re-using components changes the financial equation dramatically. But building a 4K-capable system for under $ 500 including case, power supply, OS license, Blu-ray drive, keyboard, mouse, and equivalent components? That’s not cheap. No console can match the absolute high end of the PC market, but the Xbox One X’s firepower at the $ 500 price point should make it a formidable competitor.
Spencer also admits in the interview Microsoft doesn’t really have any plans for AAA titles that will showcase the Xbox One X as a must-have system over and above the Xbox One S. This is less damning than it may seem. Any time new platforms launch, it takes time for developers to build the kind of AAA experiences that set them apart from the previous generation.
The Xbox One X and PS4 Pro are both further hampered in this endeavor by their own mandates that any game that runs on either refresh must also run on its older predecessor. That’s not a bad thing, from gamer’s perspectives. But it means that developers will be slower to build in features and capabilities that make the newer platforms shine. The industry hits this chicken-and-egg problem every time a new cycle starts, and this is no different.
Evaluating strictly on expected price/performance ratio, I’d personally go for an Xbox One X over the PS4 Pro or the Xbox One S, and it’ll be very interesting to see if demand for the new platform matches Microsoft’s expectations. The Xbox One X should, at minimum, “finish” the generational upgrade by expanding the gap between the top of the Xbox One family and the last-generation Xbox 360. Then again, I’m a PC gamer — if I were to buy a console, I’d buy the console that came the closest to offering equivalent hardware to what I game on already.
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