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Xbox Series X review

Posted on 29-Dec-2020 11:11 by M Freitas | Filed under: Reviews

Xbox Series X review

The new top of range gaming console from Microsoft, the Xbox Series X (Xbox from now on), is a real statement when it comes to design. It's sleek, simple and elegant on the outside, a real powerhouse in the inside. It may not fit in your existing gaming or TV cabinet but you will want to make space for it. This is because the new model measures at 15.1 cm x 15.1 cm x 30.1 cm (yeah, that's a rectangular cuboid). You can set it on its base or sideways (thanks to rubber pads on one of its sides).


On the top (or side, depending on how you fit it) you will see holes for airflow, with a super quiet fan underneath, so make sure to have plenty of space for hot air to escape while using your console - because it will need it.  


There are so many things to experience with the new Xbox - the size and shape is just the beginning. Let's start at ports and connectivity - in the back of the Xbox Series X you will find an HDMI 2.1 port, three USB 3.1 ports and an ethernet adapter - which to my surprise supports up to gigabit speeds. In terms of connectivity, it also supports 802.11ac wireless network (which is good but I always prefer to use ethernet for more stable, interference-free connections).


I have plugged the Xbox Series X to a Panasonic HZ1000 OLED TV - with 4K and HDR10 support - for testing. Setup was a breeze and I recommend using the Xbox mobile app to help the process. You will see a code on the screen, log into the app and use that code to link the Xbox to your Microsoft account (and I recommend you use the Microsoft Authenticator with your Microsoft and Office 365 accounts so you can have passwordless login too).


Once this is done you are ready to play. For this testing, I received an Xbox Games Pass. That's a sweet deal as you pay a monthly (or annual) subscription and get access to a huge number of games. Those games rotate and some come in and some go out but there's always something interesting (and I mean it, it's a huge list of games). Anyway, I also had a few games from my Windows PC account (including State of Decay) available to install through the store.


Store you will also give you access to other entertainment apps - including Netflix, Spotify, Amazon Prime Video, TVNZ On Demand, YouTube, Plex and Kodi. These plus the option to rent or purchase streaming movies make the Xbox a full entertainment system. But if streaming is not your thing, the Xbox can also play DVD, Blu-ray and 4K HD Blu-ray discs (the system will offer to download the media player the first time you insert one of those into the optical disc slot).


You seriously wouldn't need another box to keep the family entertained unless you had some specific requirements - for instance, an app not available here such as Spark Sport.


The Xbox will work with any TV that supports HDMI but paired with a good TV you are in for some treat in terms of picture - and sound. OLED technology is known for having good picture thanks to well defined black and greys and the Panasonic HZ1000 is great. With 4K resolution and HDR support, some games are just stunning on the screen. 


In terms of sound, the Xbox supports Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, Dolby Atmos with up to 7.1 L-PCM. In my case, I don't have a setup like this but my TV is connected to an Amazon Echo Studio via optical out and the sound was terrific. Well defined, clear and really goes around you (the Amazon Echo Studio has great sound support including Dolby Atmos).


Remember how I've used the Xbox mobile app to configure and link the Xbox to my account? You can also play games on your mobile device (Android and iOS but not Windows laptops) by streaming the games directly to it. You need to use the new Xbox controller to play the games - which can be either paired via Bluetooth or (as I did) plug in a USB-C to USB-C cable to use it directly. 


This works well for most games, although I found a couple of very old games that were capable of streaming and in a couple of games the controls didn't work at all - but in the majority of games I tried it worked really well. It actually worked on a larger screen as I also installed the Xbox mobile app on a Samsung Chromebook, logged in and was able to play the games on a 14" screen (a lot better than the smaller 6" screen on my smartphone). If you only have one TV at home and crave a gaming session at the same time as the rest of the family wants to watch something else on TV this feature will help you.


All games I tested were downloaded and you will likely want to be connected to a fibre (or HFC) service because some games will require quite large downloads. Thanks to its gigabit connection game installs were very fast and can be queued up to happen while you are playing something else. 


The controller is really good, easy to connect and responsive. You will likely go through batteries rather quickly so I am using rechargeable ones and they work fine (just be aware they can stop providing charge very quickly unlike the disposable ones so make sure to keep an eye on battery level). You can also buy a rechargeable pack that allows you to recharge it directly on the controller, via USB-C. Its firmware can be updated either via the Xbox itself or via your Windows PC if you have the Xbox accessories app installed (you can use this controller with your PC games as well, via Bluetooth or USB-C).


This Xbox is very fast - thanks to a 7 nm 8X Cores @ 3.8 GHz (3.66 GHz w/SMT) custom Zen 2 CPU, 16 GB GDDR6 RAM and to its 1 TB internal SSD. This combo, plus a  52 CUs @1.825 GHz custom RDNA 2 GPU (capable of 12 TFLOPS) makes it so fast some games will start instantly and (it didn't happen to me) some people mentioned it loading so fast some intermediary screens were just flashing through. According to the tech specifications I received the memory is capable of moving 10 GB @ 560 GB/s, 6 GB @ 336 GB/s and 2.4 GB/s raw disk I/O. All this generates quite some heat so that explains the large fan and design - which has fresh air intakes at the bottom with the hot air rising and being pushed out by the fan on top.


Storage can be expanded with a Seagate 1 TB external card, which I have not experienced. I have not experienced the new 4K @ 120 FPS mode either - but that's because the TV I am using, not the Xbox.


As I said before, this is a full entertainment unit - games, content streaming, optical disc-based content and mobile gaming - and you wouldn't be wrong to use it as your main entertainment hub at home. 


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