While Sony India is taking a snooze with the PS5 launch here, Microsoft has surprisingly pulled off a timely launch for one of their most important products of 2020.
Promising generational leaps and many teraflops of power, the Series X is Xbox’s most powerful console till date. Additionally, it costs half a lakh here in India which makes it its most expensive console too. Rubbing shoulders with the absent ₹50K PS5 disc edition.
We’ve been playing all our latest games on the Xbox Series X for about a month and there are some interesting takeaway points from Microsoft’s console.
The previous generation of console battle between Sony and Microsoft was rather one-side. With the PS4 gaining popularity and, for a lack of a better term, crushing the Xbox One X in terms of first-party titles and performance.
This time around Xbox has come armed with a completely different strategy. One that I honestly think should garner more attention in India simply because of its value proposition.
But let’s begin with what’s in the box and if you can fit this box under your telly.
You get the latest controller, Xbox Series X and a power cord. No power adapter here thankfully.
The Xbox Series X looks inconspicuous and will sit in your living room without pulling too much attention. It’ll barely catch your eye after setting up. Depending on how you want your entertainment console to look, this can be subjective. Coming from PC gaming, I already have a so-called battle station up at arms. It’s also the centre point of my room and, to no-one’s surprise, a talking point for many who enter my room.
The Xbox Series X is rather dipping into my old folk’s territory, where the aesthetics and positions of many household gadgets and furniture around the living room are up to their choice. So after having a word with mum, I am happy to report that the Series X doesn’t scream into your eyes, neither will it grab attention from the well-placed flower vase that your cat will eventually knock over. It’s mum-approved that’s all I am saying.
On the flip side, if I got the Series X into my room and hooked it up to my 2K 144Hz BenQ gaming monitor, it starts to feel like a black box. Easily unbecoming of my elaborate, and often colourful setup.
As for the PS5, it’s loud design is not going to be a problem for me. I shall welcome it with open arms but if it's to live under my telly with a picky 56-year-old woman staring at it. I’d say the white finish might need a bit of touch up before getting death stares from my mother.
Either way, this is what you get and the Xbox Series X is better suited for everyone’s taste in my opinion. Moving on.
Teraflops, I can’t hear you should be the title of my review because the Xbox Series X is whisper quiet. Even under 4K game load, the thing doesn’t break a sweat. Microsoft has definitely added owl features for fan blades because it’s spewing hot air but without any of that noisy fan whirling. This is fantastic and, in my opinion, an absolute game-changer.
We ran Assassin’s Creed Valhalla at 4K on a PC gaming rig with Nvidia RTX 2080Ti and then tested the same game at 4K on the Series X. Long story short, I am not going to be visiting my gaming rig as often. The Series X does everything my gaming PC worth ₹2.5lakhs does for nearly one-fifth the price and that’s without the noisy fans ruining the experience.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla ran at 60FPS on 4K without any hassle. There’s a bit of frame drop in some places but I doubt it's the fault of the Xbox. It happens on our gaming rig too, so it’s up to Ubisoft to optimise it for platforms. The dynamic resolution also kicks in from time to time but you’ll not notice it. So much so that I had to put in the effort to spot the differences in the game running on PC and Xbox. It’s negligible.
Gears 5 is an Xbox exclusive title and it has been given a spit shine with Ray Tracing upgrades. The game on the Series X looks gorgeous. If you’re new to Ray Tracing, here’s a tiny TedTalk. It’s basically a lighting tech in video games that exhibit realistic lighting conditions within the game world. Shadows, objects and reflective surfaces like metal and water bounce light realistically. Depending on the game developer, the amount of Ray Tracing in a game can be controlled or not implemented at all too. Thankfully, the 2020 mantra for new consoles is Ray Tracing and its visual benefits. Ray Tracing is also a resource-hungry tech. Which means if you don’t shell out nearly half a lakh on just an Nvidia GPU, you’ll never get to properly experience it on PCs.
Dirt 5 too ran on a stable 60FPS at 4K but occasionally taking frame hits when the weather system in the game starts to ramp up. Dirt 5’s tracks are gorgeous and they change weather and time of day rapidly within one race. It’s only when the snow starts to bash your windscreen and the sun takes a nap, the heavy snow particles within the game world nudge the Series X. It’s nothing alarming, to be honest. Once the spit second dip is gone, the Series X runs super smooth and, again, whisper-quiet.
Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs: Legion is a GPU wrecker. Our RTX 2080Ti was barely limping through 35+ FPS on 2K ultra settings so we were not very keen on dipping back into the game on the Xbox. The Series X experience is somewhat similar. Hard dips in performance during demanding situations and a fairly noticeable dip in resolution too. This may sound like a no-no but I am quite surprised by the Xbox Series X’s performance here. We had the Ray Tracing bit and everything cranked up for pure 4K fun and the game runs at a playable frame rate. It’s not crisp and detailed as the PC version but at least you’re getting more than 30FPS here.
It’s also worth noting that many of the games that are launched in the initial periods of a console launch tend to be poorly optimised and buggy. That’s from the developer side mostly and rightly so because a lot of third party games are developed for multiple platforms. Sinking in the tech for old and new hardware is rather punishing on developers. That said, by the time I’ve uploaded this review, many games like Watch Dogs: Legion, AC Valhalla and Dirt 5 have gotten patch updates with quality and performance improvements.
Now you’re wondering what about the 120 frame rate promise? Well, so far to pull through 120Hz the Series X is a bit shorthanded, not only the tech to pump 4K at 120Hz is a vague promise but it’s not there yet. Especially for the massive blockbuster titles from Ubisoft and alike. Even PCs can’t do it. But smaller indie-ish games like Ori and the Will of the Wisps can do 4K at 120 or upscaled 6K at 60Hz because they’re less resource hungry. You’ll also need an HDMI 2.1 supported telly to fully take advantage of the Series X’s performance at 4K 120Hz.
If you wish to play games on 120Hz on the latest console, resolution compromise is the way, and honestly, a lot sensible since televisions that do 4K at 120Hz are very, very expensive. There are a handful of games on the Series X that can do 120Hz on 2K or FullHD resolution. Games like Destiny 2, Gears 5 Multiplayer and Fortnite are a good starting point to trade resolution for higher frames. If you’re rocking a 2K monitor like us, the deal is sweeter. You barely notice the compromises in resolution and you get the smoothness of higher refresh rate.
That said, if your aim is 4K gaming, the Series X will not disappoint one bit. Especially when playing optimised titles and even some old ones like Devil May Cry 5 resurfacing with special editions that are retouched with Ray Tracing for the new consoles.
Worried about finding games to play? The Xbox Game Pass will solve that problem and to be honest, it’s literally the best deal in gaming. For ₹489 you get a massive library of games with new games coming all the time. It’s like a Netflix for games subscription. You also get member discounts and ALL of Xbox’s first-party titles with new ones coming to you on the day of launch! Additionally, if you cough up a decent ₹699 per month for the Game Pass Ultimate, you also get access to EA Pass games. And if you have a PC, you also get the Game Pass for PC included in there too.
This makes the Xbox a very, very strong contender in this console battle. The Game Pass, backwards compatibility and new console features like Quick Resume make it a tempting bargain.
What is Quick Resume you ask? Well, you can swap between games instantaneously. Let’s say you’re in the middle of a mission in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and your buddy calls you over for some multiplayer on Destiny 2, you can simply pause Valhalla and then jump into Destiny 2, play a few rounds and then switch back to your mission on Valhalla right where you left it. This all happens without ever quitting the game or spending a lifetime on loading screens. It’s fast and instantaneous when it works. We couldn’t get it to work 100% of the time but when it did, it really felt like something next-gen. Only games that are optimized for Series X|S can take advantage of its Velocity architecture.
The UI though is not very ‘next-gen’. There are some things I like and some things I don’t. The overlay menu that presents itself when you press the Xbox button on the controller is fantastic and thoroughly useful. The home screen, however, is rather messy. Too often creating shortcuts on its own and also dumping unnecessary information on the screen. This can be customised but it doesn’t fit my personal taste. I still find the PS4 home screen a lot easier to navigate.
What I really like is that the console has no sleep mode. Even when it's turned off from the UI, it’s practically in Sleep mode. So you can jump back in without a moment's delay. The boot time is also fast, really really fast. My TV would take longer to start.
Speaking of speed, games benefit greatly from boot times and also look better with Auto HDR. There’s literally a massive cut in load times. You spend more hours gaming than starting at a black screen or on the home page. All games load rapidly and when the Quick Resume feature works, the Series X starts to chime its next-gen prowess. It’s powerful, alright.
The maximum storage you can get out of the Series X is 802GB of usable storage for games and apps. I was able to fit six new triple-A titles and still have 50% storage remaining. But it heavily depends on the games. NBA 2K21 was a hundred-something GBs and COD is probably taking more space in our storage than our hearts. I don’t have a problem with 1TB of storage but if you’re looking to expand then your only option is the custom 1TB Storage Expansion Card from Seagate for Series X and S. It takes care of the Velocity Architecture and you’ll get all the benefits of the Series X’s rapid load times and Quick Resume. The Seagate Storage Expansion Card for Xbox Series X and S comes with a three-year warranty and will be available in India on Amazon India website from February 8, 2021 onwards. It'll cost you though. The final price is ₹23,499 but during the launch period, it will sell for a promo price of ₹22,999 on Amazon between February 8 – 14, 2021.
The Series X also supports variable refresh rate for TVs and monitors that can take advantage of it. If your TV has a variable refresh rate, you’ll see less or no screen tearing in the game.
Not that 4K televisions don’t pack their own features but it would’ve been great if the Microsoft Store of the Xbox had more than just Amazon Prime, Apple TV and Netflix. Hotstar, Sony Liv and other local OTT apps are gravely missing here. Although, if you’re rocking an Android telly or a FireStick TV then I guess it hardly matters but it’s not improving as a home console in those areas. Although, it does support Dolby Atmos and DTS: X for spatial surround right out of the box. So if future games can support that, your surround system won’t be wasted.
Sony surely refined the PS5’s DualSense controller to feel truly next generation because other than the visual upgrades, the only thing tethering the real world to the virtual one is the controller. Xbox went with the classic ‘if ain’t broke don’t fix it’ mantra. Although I personally prefer the Xbox controller for its thumbstick placement, the PS5 DualSense is truly a tool for more immersive gaming. And the Xbox Controller still has swappable batteries, which is rather surprising. In just about three weeks, I have almost depleted the two batteries that come with the console. So you’re looking to get rid of that battery anxiety and avoid wasting paper and plastic with packaging, better get yourself the Xbox rechargeable battery back. It works with the Series X controller as well.
So far the Series X has felt like a massive leap in performance. It’s not exactly offering any new features that improve the gaming experience, rather speeding it up and giving it a spit shine for the coming video games. It was to be expected, like PC hardware upgrades, the Series X offers a massive boost in load times, better visual fidelity and higher resolution and frame rate support.
The Velocity Architecture offers Quick Resume feature that lets you game effortlessly, whereas the SSD speeds slash load times. It all works in tandem to deliver a fast and reliable gaming experience.
The Microsoft Store on the Series X is also the only place where your internet speed can truly stretch its legs. It’s the only place my 100Mbps internet connection was fully utilised and downloaded games at a rapid 85Mbps at all times. Even on the PC, the Microsoft Store servers are always fast for downloading games.
The Series X is not making any headlines with its familiar approach but one that works in my opinion. Aside from the dated controller, the Xbox family is as tempting as Sony’s side in terms of performance and features. The massive library of games on the Game Pass and the promise for new ones to come is putting the Series X as our top recommendation in the console race.