XBOX ONE AND THE AGE OF THE INCREMENTAL UPGRADES

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For a while now, Microsoft has been teasing us with their upcoming premium 4K gaming console, code-named “Project Scorpio”. Scorpio was said to be the flagship device in the “XBox One family”, which includes the original XBox One (released in November, 2013) and the XBox One S (released in August, 2016). At E3, 2017, Microsoft made Project Scorpio official, dubbing it the XBox One X, and announcing a November 2017 release date.





This incremental approach to hardware is relatively new for home consoles, but it’s pretty common in the smartphone and portable gaming markets. Traditionally, home game consoles are part of a “generation” which usually promises at least a four year life cycle before a better iteration comes along to replace them. For example, the PlayStation 2 was released in 2000, the PlayStation 3 made it's debut in 2006, and the PlayStation 4 came out in 2013. The original XBox also came out in 2001 and the XBox 360 came along in 2005. 

Game Boy
But, when it comes to portable systems (particularly those from Nintendo), incremental upgrades are pretty common. The original Game Boy enjoyed a nine year production run, including the “Play it Loud!” colored variations and the Game Boy Pocket slim revision. The Nintendo DS featured the original model from 2004, the DS Lite, the Nintendo DSi, and the DSi XL. Then, there’s the complicated “Nintendo 3DS family” that has the original 3DS, the 3DS XL, the 2DS (lacking the 3D functionality), and then a whole new upgrade called the New 3DS XL (followed this year by an upgraded New 2DS XL). Wow! All of that kind of makes your head spin, huh?

Still, until very recently people expected game consoles to enjoy a decent lifespan and not be immediately replaced by a new system with games that could not be played on another. Sony released the PlayStation 4 Pro last year, which featured 4K playback (among other features), but recently Sony made it clear that there would be no “PS4 Pro exclusive” titles, and that games that could take advantage of the 4K hardware in a PS4 Pro would still play just fine at 1080p on a regular PS4 model.

So, how does Microsoft’s new console fit in with this approach? Well, essentially, the XBox One S and One X are just more powerful iterations of the original XBox One hardware. The One S features 4K upscaling, HDR10 support, and a built-in 4K Blu-Ray player, whereas the One X takes things up a notch and delivers true 4K game rendering, a more powerful AMD processor to make this happen, and a massive 12GB of GDDR5 video memory to deliver 326 GB/s of bandwidth. As powerful as the One X may be, there won’t be any games created for it that won’t be able to run on a regular XBox One console. Instead, the One X will have additional horsepower to allow developers to create games that can take advantage of its features, giving games native 4K and HDR playback while still being able to run at 1080p on lesser hardware. 

XBox One X
To think of it in another way, it’s a lot like how AAA PC games feature settings that allow you to tailor a game to the hardware you have. Have a 4K display, a beefy CPU, and a beastly graphics card? Crank the settings to the highest level and enjoy a stunning gameplay experience. Have a traditional 1080p monitor or TV, a mainstream CPU, and a mid-tier graphics solution? You should be good to go on decent settings at 1080p. And, of course, for those playing on a budget, settings can always be turned down a bit to compromise between smooth gameplay and pretty graphics. So, essentially, the XBox One X (and the PS4 Pro, for that matter), are following this pattern but simplifying things a bit more for the end-user!

What results in Microsoft’s case will be a choice between three gaming experiences that are all capable of enjoying the XBox One library of titles. Those that don’t have a 4K TV and don’t care about wider color ranges can grab an XBox One on the cheap and start gaming today. Those that do have a 4K TV but perhaps don’t want to invest the $499.99 to buy a One X can meet in the middle with the One S, which itself has features that are nothing to snub. And, of course, if you want to go for broke, the XBox One X will be available this November.

XBox One S
At $499.99, the XBox One X will give players a taste of what PC gamers have had for a while: the ability to enjoy games at stunning resolutions. Of course, they won’t quite get the customizability that a PC gamer will have at their disposal and the graphics, while certainly a solid leap beyond 1080p, won’t quite stand up to what would be capable to render with a powerhouse GPU like a GTX 1080 or 1080 Ti. Yet, at a fraction of the cost of an expensive gaming rig, the One X is certainly an appealing offering.

As to whether I’m sold on this developing trend in home gaming for incremental tech upgrades, I’m still not sure just yet. However, so long as these companies stay true to their word of supporting hardware generations across the board and not putting out exclusive titles (as Nintendo tried to do at first with the New 3DS platform) I’m fine with it and I’ll be interested to see where they take things. Meanwhile, I’ll be just as interested to see what they have in store for us with not-yet-announced platforms like the PlayStation 5.

Nonetheless, we are at an interesting point where our technology is evolving to the point where costs can come down and we can get a graphically stunning (and smooth!) gameplay experience on a home console for a relatively-reasonable price (given the hardware required to push 4K rendering in the first place). It’s going to be very interesting to see how the XB1X is received when it finally hits store shelves later this year!



Anyway, those are my thoughts on the topic. Stay tuned for more crafty content coming your way! This installment of Jessica's Journey was written by Jessica “Allahweh” Brown from GamingGoddess.Net.

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