It’s a quiet Monday afternoon in February so what better time for Microsoft to drop a shed-load of new information about the Xbox Series X, its next-generation console.
“At Xbox we value being open and transparent with you, and I’m proud to be able to share details about some of the technologies we are enabling for the next generation, and look forward to boldly sharing more as we head towards E3,” says Phil Spencer, head of Xbox.
Xbox Series X Specs
First of all, let’s start with the specs, or what we’ll call ‘specs adjacent’. Microsoft hasn’t gone into the finer details just yet but we now have confirmation the XSX will be packing a 12 TFLOP GPU, a sort of ethereal performance number which pegs the console at twice the GPU performance of the Xbox One X. The Xbox Series X GPU will be based on AMD’s RDNA 2 architecture, which will also be used on AMD’s next-gen Radeon graphics cards. Going from previous leaks, we’re probably looking at a 3584 Core Navi GPU clocked at 1674 MHz. This would make it around 20% faster than a AMD Radeon RX 5700 XT 8GB.
Also on the custom processor will be a Zen 2 CPU with 8 Cores / 16 Threads, providing what should be a huge, huge upgrade over the current-gen consoles.
Variable Rate Shading (VRS)
The Xbox Series X will support Variable Rate Shading (VRS), also known as Adaptive Shading if you’re of the green persuasion. VRS is Microsoft’s patented variant which can provide performance boosts by prioritising the most important pixels on the screen. Rather than spending a GPU cycle rendering each and every pixel, special effects, characters and environmental objects can be prioritised. This can allow for higher frame rates and resolutions while maintaining stable performance.
Hardware-accelerated DirectX Raytracing
We’ve known for some time now that the XSX will support raytracing. We now have confirmation it’ll use Microsoft’s own DXR API, obviously enough. Raytracing will be used for lifelike lighting, reflections and audio.
Xbox Series X Key Features
SSD Storage - Again, a known quantity. SSD storage will be the default for the Xbox Series X, meaning games can be specifically designed to utilise faster loading drives. This allows for larger game worlds and faster travel that just isn’t possible while relying on mechanical drives.
One of the best features of both the PS4 and Xbox One is Suspend/Resume. You can put your console to sleep, turn it back on, and then pick right up where you left off. With the Xbox Series X, this feature goes one step further - Quick Resume will allow multiple games to be in a suspended state simultaneously, allowing players to return to gameplay “almost instantly”.
Dynamic Latency Input (DLI)
This is just a fancy pants may of saying the wireless Xbox controller will have minimal latency. This should mean more precise and responsive controls. Now you just need to sort out those mushy face buttons, Microsoft. People were over the moon the Xbox 360 controller for years though, so maybe they’ll take anything.
Fairly boilerplate but HDMI 2.1 opens the door to Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM) and Variable Refresh Rates (VRR). Both features are already available for the Xbox One so there’s not much to see here.
120 FPS Support
Now we’re talking. It’s going to depend on developers actually taking advantage of it, of course, but the Xbox Series X will support up to a maximum of 120 frames per second. You’ll need to pair it with a high refresh rate monitor to take advantage of this.
Xbox Series X Software Enhancements
Backward compatibility with all three previous generations of Xbox. The XSX will be play Xbox, Xbox 360, Xbox One and Xbox Series X games. Older games on Xbox Series X can benefit from steadier framerates, faster load times and improved resolution and visual fidelity.
A spin-off from Microsoft’s partitioning of game downloads, Smart Delivery is essentially the software tool which automatically gets you the version of the game you want. Whether you’re playing on the Xbox One or the Series X, you can buy one copy of a game and it’ll work across both systems, automatically downloading the right version for the console you’re on. CD Projekt RED has already confirmed those who buy the Xbox One version of Cyberpunk 2077 will receive the Xbox Series X upgrade for free when it’s available. Incidentally, this is our first confirmation that there is a next-gen version of CP2077.
Xbox Game Pass
Xbox Game Pass is a known quantity but Microsoft will, naturally enough, be continuing to support it with the Xbox Series X. We’ve got confirmation that Halo Infinite will be an Xbox Game Pass title on launch day. Now we’re just bracing to hear Microsoft announce Game Pass subscriptions thrown in with the consoles.
It’s quite the info dump from Microsoft here, and certainly some intriguing propositions which could have Sony worried. We’ve got top notch performance, full backward compatibility, cross-gen purchases, quick resume and 120 FPS support.
The cynical part of me suspects Microsoft has caught wind of an imminent PlayStation 5-related announcement and sought to get out there in front of it. Donning my tinfoil hat for a moment, I also wouldn’t be surprised to find out the PS5 has less compute performance. Money can’t buy Microsoft the sort of headlines that would be generated if the PlayStation 5 is announced and it’s weaker than the Xbox Series X. It would turn Sony’s hardware announcement into a rasping wet fart. Again, just spit-balling here, but there’s always a reason behind these seemingly innocuous hardware announcements.