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Xbox One S Impressions

This is less of a full review, rather a quick look at the Xbox One S which I managed to borrow off a colleague for the day. So an Xbox One S reviewed in a day so to speak. A day does not seem long, but for the most part I have had the original console for nearly three years and I only needed the S to see if my Hisense TV was capable of handling 4K HDR for gaming/movies.

Granted I could have purchased an Xbox One S during the Black Friday sales to help do a more in-depth analysis, but I decided to wait because my money is on the Scorpio that comes out next year or I may even settle on a new PC upgrade; having seen how good 4K looks with the older titles I tried on my fledgling PC.

Despite its 8-bit Panel my Hisense screen offers FRC (Frame Rate Control) to simulate the 10-bit colour depth, so it was great to see the Xbox One S gave my TV the all clear. So it supported 4K at 60Hz and 10-bit colour with HDR.

For sure I doubt it can match a native 10-bit panel, but I have to admit at this price point (I paid under £300 for the TV) HDR actually did work and unlike the videos I watched from Digital Foundry, showcasing how complicated the more expensive Samsung 2016 TV’s were to setup in terms of HDR, at least the Hisense does not require a science degree in order to enable it; as the TV switches automatically to HDR by default when it detects a HDR source. It even enables a specific HDR Picture mode to get the most from the feature.

Mind you HDR games are so thin on the ground that it's not worth worrying about at this stage and I only manged to get time with Forza Horizon 3 Demo to see what all the fuss was about. Mind you it's still worth getting a 4K TV at some point with HDR to experience the flood of games that will arrive next year.

Design

Seeing the console with my own eyes, as opposed to seeing it from a shop window, I can’t help but feel that the 40% slimmer moniker is an understatement, as to me it looks way smaller than the original! It’s a pretty impressive feat in how the Microsoft Engineers have managed to condense the console into such a small space and I think the black edging of the base, coupled with the white finish at the top, does provide an illusion in terms of making the console seem even smaller than it is.

I was also surprised that given its shrinkage that the console still weighs a ton when you hold it in the palm of your hands. Build quality is top draw, but this weight could be a result of the integrated power-supply which again is an impressive feat given the size of the originals external power brick!

Additionally most of the ports* are still there from the Xbox One, only they have been re-arranged slightly so the side USB 3.0 port now resides at the front and those annoying touch sensitive buttons for the UHD Blu-ray player’s Eject button and on/off power button have been replaced with physical variants.

At the back of the console you have a Kensington lock (for securing your console to a desk) and the remaining two USB 3.0 ports, coupled with a Digital audio out, a HDMI-Out and a HDMI-In port. Using the latter you can effectively plug in an original PS4 to upscale the games to 4K. This may be especially useful if you are waiting for the PS4 Pro to establish itself before upgrading.

Continuing on you have an IR blaster so that you can switch on your TV, audio receiver or STB without rummaging around for all of your remotes. The wireless controller sync button has also been moved to the front of the console to.

According to some reviews I’ve seen you even get a stand that goes with the Xbox One S so it can be placed up-right, however I think the stand is only included with the 2GB model as the 500GB version I had did not come with one.
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*Kinect?

Of course most people will know by now that the Kinect port on the Xbox One S has been dropped and you will need to get hold of an adaptor in order to utilise the Kinect on the latest console. I think Microsoft were doing a deal for existing owners which would allow them to get the adaptor for free, but I doubt this offer will be available now.

However if I'm being brutally honest I would not worry a great deal, as the Kinect is pretty much dead in the water. Mine for example has been sitting on a shelf gathering dust for the past year or so. It's a shame really because I used to enjoy saying 'Xbox Record that' to record my gameplay footage, but my controller's Chatpad does this instantly with a tap of a button, so alongside this and the lack of game/interface support, there is less incentive to use it.

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Xbox One S Controller

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Speaking of controller’s I found the Xbox One S controller was a vast improvement to the original Xbox One controller in terms of build quality. On my Xbox One controller- which was one of the first batch of controllers to be released-it suffered from poor casing, so for example the left side would constantly creak under pressure.

On top of this the Xbox One S controller’s view and menu buttons are also slightly smaller, but at the same time they have more reassuring travel when pressed.

Additionally the power button is now flush to the casing so it fits in with the controller more seamlessly. However for me the flush approach made it harder to press or I should say respond to my button presses, so there was a slight drawback here.

For the remaining buttons they also have a slightly different feel and yet I have to admit I was a little disappointed with the textured grip as I was expecting this to be rubberised. Instead you just get several dimples etched into the back of the handles.

Even so the controller has pretty much the same dimensions as the original and it does provide additional connectivity options with Bluetooth functionality to go with the WiFi direct side of things; so it’s easier to attach to a Windows 10 PC.

Side Note: The question is does the new controller work on the original Xbox One and vice versa? Additionally what about all the original accessories? Thankfully the answer is a resounding yes, and the video below showcases the tests I ran on the console during the time I had with it.

Setting Up
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I was lucky in some ways because the console had already been setup previously by my colleague, which meant that the large upgrade-that your normally have to do when you first plug in the Xbox One S-had been dealt with.

However for those with 4K screens the first step is to plug the console into your 4K @60Hz enabled HDMI port. Without this you won’t be getting the full benefits of the device.

Also once the console has booted you need to head into the Settings > Display & Sound > Video output options to set the console up for 4K 60Hz. And additionally delve into the Advanced settings option as from here you can go into the 4K TV Details section to see what the console will detect in terms of the capabilities of your TV.

As I said before my Hisense was fully supported by the Xbox One S, which meant I could do some HDR gaming.


4K are you sure?
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Technically the console’s interface runs at a native 4K UHD resolution (3840 x 2160) and for compatible films-that tap into the Ultra-HD Blu-ray player-you can get native 4K (HDR) content if your TV is up to par.

Additionally the Netflix App supports native 4K with HDR and I believe the YouTube App does also. However for game these are not running in native 4K. Instead they will be up-scaled and the upscale engine was actually better than my TV’s.

Game Quality
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For games I only manged to run a handful of titles and these included Forza Horizon 3 (so I could test the HDR capabilities)Doom and Battlefield 1 (which ran like a dream in terms of visuals/performance).

Of course I compared all of the above titles (minus Battlefield 1 because of a store difficulty at the time of testing) to my standard Xbox One and I have to admit visually Forza Horizon 3 did benefit from the HDR visuals.

Mind you with HDR you may not be instantly blown away because the differences are subtle to start with until you realise how HDR is implemented. For example it’s only when you start to play the game and you tweak the HDR brightness slider and look at the environment closely that you will see that the sky, the sun and foliage all appear more natural on-screen.

For me the sun and clouds looked real, whereas on the Xbox One version they looked like illustrated drawings.

For sure with Forza running on the two devices side by side you can certainly see that the colours are more vibrant as a result. Yet the standard game without HDR running on the Xbox One S still offers slightly better visuals than the Xbox One version, mainly because of the 4K up-scaling on the Xbox One S was better than my TV's native upscale engine.

I think the key with HDR is that games are enhanced, but unless you have a standard version of the game running next to it the differences won’t be instantly apparent. In other words it’s up to the developers in how they use HDR to benefit the game and there has to be a way for them to signal to the user that HDR is running.

Sadly I would have liked to have tested Gears of War 4 with the Xbox One S, but for some reason there was a store issue at the time of testing that prevented me from running my copy on the console.

Even so the slight upgrade to the Xbox One S GPU does have an added benefit to existing titles that I ran. For example Doom certainly played smoother in my mind than it did before.

Additionally because of the up-scaling graphics also have a slight boost in visual fidelity. It’s certainly not going to benefit all titles but the Xbox One S will support your 4K screen a lot better than your standard console.

Personally though I would not upgrade the Xbox One just yet as for me the Scorpio would be a better option, unless you needed a cost effective Ultra-HD player that is.
Forza HDR2Forza NoHDR2

Loading times?

Before I forget one thing that I did notice was that games seemed to load a tad faster on the Xbox One S. Considering I have an External USB 3.0 drive running on the Xbox One (which is faster than the internal drive) it would indicate that the Xbox One S could perhaps feature a new SATA controller, but who knows.

I only noticed this when I was editing the comparison video below. Even though both consoles were started at the same time, in terms of loading Forza 3 the Xbox One S loaded quicker.


Movies!

The Ultra-HD Blu-ray player at this price point is certainly one of the reasons why the console has been selling well.

Sony really did miss the boat on this and underestimated the amount of people that want physical media still. While 4K streams are great, they are still no match for a physical copy in my opinion and at least with the Xbox One S you have a choice.

Despite this I did run into a slight issue with running standard Blu-ray discs on the console. I don’t know if it was an issue with my TV but 24Hz films would produce a slight stutter when the camera pans across the screen in certain scenes.

However I narrowed down the problem to the Xbox One S cable. Swapping this out for a KabelDirekt 2m High speed cable that I purchased seemed to cure the issue. Yet it’s strange that this only affected Blu-rays and not Ultra-HD films; which played fine through the default cable.

Anyway once again I had the opportunity to test two films on the console i.e. ‘Pan’ and ‘The Martian’ in Ultra-HD and compare these to the Blu-ray versions running on the Xbox One.

To be honest unless you have both versions lined up side-by-side they look equally as good on their own. Yet in the Martian's case you can see in the photos below that the HDR Ultra-HD film edges it slightly.
TheMartianUHD 1TheMartianBlu ray 1
In my opinion the HDR simply enhances darker and lighter tones, so more detail comes out in background specific scenes. You can also see more detail on the helmet’s, the suits and the colours in general have more of a natural tone.

Netflix
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Netflix however benefits the most from the Xbox One S as this supported HDR. So it eliminated one of the problems I had with the built-in Netflix App running on my TV. So the over-darkness in programs such as Luke Cage was replaced by greater detail and easier to view backgrounds.

Amazon?

As for Amazon I can’t really tell you if this was any good because the App simply wouldn’t’ work!

I’m not sure why, but nothing I did would allow me to view programs on it, so I’m not sure what went wrong here.

Summary

I can’t really score the Xbox One S because of the short time I had with it, but from initial impressions it will definitely support your 4K (HDR) enabled screen a lot better than your standard Xbox One would. Especially if you are into your movie content, be it Netflix or via the Ultra-HD player.

The latter Ultra-HD player is the key for the console's success in my opinion. Even if you don’t want the gaming side of things, the Xbox One S is still one of the cheapest options on the market to tap into Ultra-HD films, so it’s a no-brainer really in this regard.

Standard Xbox One games though do get a marginal visual upgrade and a slight boost to performance (more so for unlocked frame-rate titles). HDR enabled titles are still thin on the ground but at least if you get hold of a title the Xbox One S will edge the Xbox One here as well.

Personally I was thinking of buying an Xbox One S at the time of testing, as there were some great deals around Black Friday. Yet, at the end of the day I decided to wait for the Scorpio next year as I believe the prospect of native 4K gaming holds more appeal for me.

I suppose it all depends on price and Microsoft made the right decision giving people the choice of a cheaper console now or wait for the premium product next year.

Thus if you don’t own an Xbox yet the Xbox One S is still a great buy, but if you do own the original Xbox One I would wait until next year for the Scorpio. 4K HDR TV’s at this point will also be cheaper, then again my 4K TV cost just under £300 for a 43” set, but it’s all down to your individual requirements. However it's still good to have the choice in this regards!

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