So You Want to Buy an Xbox?
I see you've heard the news; two Xboxes are out and selling faster than people can get their hands on them. Naturally.
Well, perhaps you've even cracked the method to finding one but just aren't sure which one speaks to your explicit needs. I can relate. Buying a game console can be a tough decision. I mean, presumably, you're going to be living with this hunk of tech for half a decade or more before it gets lost in the sea of aging peripherals in that one closet no one ever speaks of anymore.
What you want is the best return on investment. The box that you get the absolute most use out of and regret the least. I get it. As pre-orders were going live via Gamestop's website in late 2020, I found myself scrubbing the internet for any scrap or sliver of information about these two similar yet distinct beasts.
I'm here to tell you why I went with the Xbox Series S and why it's been my go-to console since then. For reference, the only consoles I do not have are the PS5 and anything older than the Nintendo 64. Emulation and all that.
The Biggest Differences Between Series S and X
Before we get into the reasons why you would want to get one over the other, let's examine what they each offer the end-user more closely.
|Xbox Series S||Xbox Series X|
Zen 2 8-core CPU at 3.6 GHZ (3.4 GHZ with SMT)
Zen 2 8-core CPU at 3.8 GHZ (3.6 GHZ with SMT)
4 Teraflop GPU
12 Teraflop GPU
10 GB GDDR6
16 GB GDDR6
Usable SSD space after OS takes its cut
Upscales Xbox/360 titles
Yes, at higher resolutions than S
Provides One X enhancements for Xbox One titles
Includes Smart Delivery of X/S enhanced titles?
Game Pass capable
Can play cloud titles on console
Can use developer mode to run emulators, Stadia and GeForce Now
Is It Really Just a Power Difference Between the Xbox Series S and Series X?
On paper, sure, there really is a gulf of raw specification difference between the two. In practice, however, this difference is smaller than the numbers tell us. Often the only real difference in how a game functions on one console than the other is largely resolution, sometimes framerate, and rarely granular details such as ground clutter and shadows.
When viewing a video from, let's say, Digital Foundry, one would be able to spot these differences quite handily. In real-world application, this is not the case. I have swapped from a Series S to a Series X with the same game being played on the same 4K Toshiba 55" television, and I am often hard-pressed to tell the difference. That two minutes to switch is enough for my brain to forget what the previous image actually looked like.
Television Have Internal Upscaling Mechanisms
You see, when a 1080p image is sent from your Xbox to a 4K display, the TV does the legwork to upscale it to fit your screen. I'm not even convinced that it isn't magic. So, when playing a Series S on a 4K display, most often, the rendered resolution will not be at a native 4K.
However, most people will not be able to tell due to televisions bringing the picture up to snuff. One popular misconception I see all across the wide webs of the internet is that the Xbox Series S outputs in 1440p. Or targets that. That's just not true.
Developers target whatever resolution they wish to when developing for the S, X, or even a PS5. Ori and the Will of the Wisps renders at 4K and 120 frames-per-second (FPS) on both Xbox consoles. There is nothing technologically stopping the Series S from outputting a game at 4K or even 8K, aside from however a developer decides to build a game.
Lower polygon visuals of a side-scrolling action game will be able to be displayed at a higher resolution, naturally. Something like Cyberpunk 2077 will naturally be a lower resolution of between 900p and 1296p per Digital Foundry's research and expert pixel counting.
These Two Devices Are Functionally the Same, Besides One Feature
As with the Xbox One S All Digital Edition (oft referred to as the SAD edition), the Series S forewent the optical disc drive altogether. This will prevent any and all physical game-playing. Are you sad?
In this increasingly digital and internet-connected metaverse, this was going to happen sooner rather than later. This was the one area as a game collector that I felt extremely iffy about buying the Series S over its big brother. In practice, just like with resolutions earlier, this hasn't been an issue at all. Why? Game Pass. You know. That thing everyone has been talking about the last few years.
The Future Is Xbox Game Pass
At the time of writing, there seem to be several hundred games available on the service. The service starts at $10/month (often available for less) for the base Xbox Game Pass and $15/month for the Ultimate version, which allows you to use it on PC and the cloud as well. Honestly, I've tried every game on-demand service that currently exists—Playstation Now, Stadia, and Luna, to name a few. I can absolutely confidently say that Game Pass is incrementally winning.
In November 2021, Microsoft added 73 more titles to its backward compatibility program, many of which had FPS boost capabilities and are also available to download or play through the cloud. I should also note that the cloud can be used on Xbox, PC, Android, Mac, iOS, and TVs coming soon. Insane.
The Series S Is Meant to Be Paired With Game Pass
This is what Microsoft wanted when they designed this little guy. They want us to be sitting in a gaming buffet and just download whichever title sounds fun today. That's the future of gaming. Paying $70 for a title that I'm not totally sure I'll stick with or enjoy for more than a few hours is a thing of the past. Gone are the days of milling around Blockbuster or Gamefly's aging website for a title to hold my interest. I'm done with all that. I have Game Pass now.
Plus, with the sick feature called "Quick Resume," players are able to hop from one title to the next, with supposedly eight titles in total able to be held in the hopper. In practice, with my Series S, I can reliably have 3-4 titles in the hopper as I hop like a degenerate back and forth as I feel like fiddling with a particular title. This is freedom. This is life. I cannot go back to the old ways. PlayStation fans, be jealous.
5 Reasons to Buy the Series S Over Series X
Let's get down to it, then. Here are my reasons. I've teased you long enough.
1. It's Cheaper
Seems like I could have said that earlier. $200 is a whole lot of Game Pass, folks. How much? If you, like a total rube, pay full price for the console-only version of the service, that's 20 months of the service. What are you going to be doing almost two years from now? Buying more Game Pass, obviously.
2. It's Easier to Find
I'm sure you're sick to death of hearing about supply constraints and global whatevers. Me too. Having said that, it's actually pretty nice to be able to get my hands on a new piece of kit without having to fight really all that hard for it. Besides anecdotal research by others, I have seen the Xbox Series S on console resale sites (not scalpers) almost as often as I've seen One X consoles. That's amazing to me.
3. It's So Dang Cute
I mean, just look at it. Don't you just have to have it? Twitter has been abuzz with gamers showing off their Xbox Series S setups and how well it goes with their eclectic feng shui. I'd do the same, but all you'll see is a big TV with an Xbox 360, Series S, PS4, and Wii U hogging a small space.
I'm also not about to trash the Series X's design, but that's because everyone else has already done it for me. Microsoft doesn't care, as evidenced by its willingness to create a Series X-inspired mini-fridge. Kudos, Phil Spencer and Co. Kudos.
4. It Plays All My Favorite Games
While naturally, everything I'm about to say here also applies to the X variant, it's just something I have to talk about. In the last two weeks, I've played Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Pillars of Eternity, Dragon Age: Origins, Halo: Infinite, Forza Horizon 5, Knights of the Old Republic (I and II), and dozens more. All of these titles besides Pillars of Eternity (for shame, Obsidian!) are upscaled or have had auto-HDR or doubled framerates. Often all three. Most of these are available to play instantly via the cloud, so you don't have to spend SSD space on them, either.
I can't emphasize enough that having the ability to play four generations of Xbox has been an absolute joy for me. Some of the best games ever made were on the OG Xbox and its successor, the 360.
5. It Takes 15 Seconds to Get Into a Game
From the moment I press the Xbox button on my controller to the point that I'm actually in a suspended game is about 15 seconds. Sometimes faster. Another few seconds if I want to pop into a different game in my Quick Resume queue. For someone who is tired from a long day and doesn't want to power on their desktop PC and watch the 16 on-boot apps load while my SSD gets inundated by requests. Oh no, now I need to get my steam login code from my Pixel phone. Okay, now which game do I want to cold-boot?
The Series S removes all that frustration. Fast boot. Pick game. If it's in suspend already, you're in the game. Great. No frustration. No stress. Isn't that why we game?
The Biggest Reason to Buy a Series S
Microsoft is investing in future-proofing its technology via its cloud infrastructure. This means that even in the last year, they have changed the driving tech behind the scenes of their xCloud from running Xbox One S instances of titles to running Series S ones. They upped the rendering resolution from 720p to 1080p at 60 FPS. They are working on making the cloud a show-stopper of an experience for every type of gamer. With Game Pass Ultimate, you have access to the cloud and can therefore have cross-continuity amongst your PC, Xbox, and any of your mobile devices.
The Xbox Series S is the first step toward the future that Microsoft is selling us on. A console that doesn't need physical media, nor does it need to be all-powerful. It's powerful enough to play things natively at good to great quality. In the future, it can even be expanded to be able to play 4K 120 FPS titles through the cloud.
It's here that you and I will be playing Starfield, Elder Scrolls VI, and Avowed. The future is bright for our little Xbox console. Never have I ever felt so positive about a $300 investment.
© 2021 Alistair Torrance