I got an early look at Microsoft’s new Xbox One X in action, and I was not blown away

I’ll never forget the first time I saw a game running on the Super Nintendo.

My older brother rode his bike to our local mall, purchased the SNES and a copy of “Super Mario World,” and returned as quick as he could. I’m still not really clear on how he physically carried the Super Nintendo back home while riding his bike, but he did. And soon enough, he was booting up “Super Mario World.” And then, soon after that, I saw little Super Mario’s bright yellow cape. It was amazing.

Super Mario World (cape)

It was — quite literally — like nothing I’d ever seen before. The graphical jump from the original Nintendo to the Super Nintendo was astounding to my young brain.

I’ve encountered a few other major evolutions in video games across the past 30 years:

  1. When games like the first “Resident Evil” debuted on the original PlayStation they changed everything once again. Not only was 3D gaming possible — it was impressive.
  2. Another major change happened with the introduction of so-called “high definition” (HD) graphics. The difference between games on the PlayStation 2 compared with the PlayStation 3, for instance, was huge!
  3. When VR was first introduced, it understandably impressed those who tried it. While still in its infancy, the promise for VR as a medium-moving concept is clear. You’re no longer the player — you’re there.

When it comes to 4K — the next graphical step up after HD, and the main sell point of new game consoles from both Sony and Microsoft — I remain unconvinced.

Xbox One X
This is the Xbox One X, Microsoft’s upcoming iteration of the Xbox One. It’s capable of playing games in 4K, and powering movies in 4K UHD. Microsoft

Sony’s PlayStation 4 Pro — the 4K version of the PlayStation 4 — has been available for over half a year, and it’s seemingly a success. Sony’s head of all things PlayStation, Shawn Layden, told us in an interview that 20% of all PlayStation 4 consoles sold are of the Pro variety.

Microsoft is no doubt looking for similar or better success with its upcoming Xbox One X console — a far more powerful version of the original Xbox One that’s capable of powering games and movies in 4K.

After spending two hours this evening watching games being played in 4K, a half hour of which was spent in a room watching an Xbox One X press demonstration, the thrill is not coming. It’s not that the games look bad, of course; they look better than ever. But games already look better than ever!

This year’s “Horizon Zero Dawn,” a PlayStation 4 exclusive, looks incredible.

Horizon Zero Dawn

The same thing could be said about Xbox One exclusive “Forza Horizon 3.” It’s a remarkably pretty game that runs smoothly at very high speeds — something that’s especially taxing on processors and hard to achieve.

“Forza Horizon 3” looks insanely good, even on your phone.

Forza Horizon 3

Both of these games look this good right now, on game consoles that cost around half the price of their more powerful equivalents.

Perhaps it’s because 4K is still new, and game developers haven’t had time to take full advantage of what it can do. Perhaps it’s because we’re at a graphical plateau, where visual updates focus more on incremental stuff like lighting, shadows, weather, and other peripheral effects. Perhaps I’m jaded.

Perhaps it’s something else entirely, but I’m just not that impressed with the graphic improvements that I’ve seen displayed on consoles like the Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro. I came out of the Xbox One X press demonstration saying, “OK,” not “Wow.”

Metro: Exodus
‘Metro: Exodus’ is a new game coming to the Xbox One X in 4K. It is very pretty. 4A Games

At $US500, the Xbox One X is delivering a ton of power for a relatively affordable price. Being able to power 4K gaming is an expensive endeavour. If you were building an equivalent PC, it would be costly.

The $US500 price point for Xbox One X doesn’t even make Microsoft any money, Xbox leader Phil Spencer told me in an interview. He was quick to point out that it’s not losing Microsoft money, but that the business model is similar to a razor and razor blades — sell the box at cost, make money on the games/accessories/etc.

So, while I have no interest in paying $US500 for a new version of the Xbox One, at least it makes sense that it costs what it does. I’m not going to bag on Microsoft for pricing the Xbox One X at $US500; it’s a genuinely good price for what you’re getting.

Xbox One X
The Xbox One X (left) and the Xbox One S (right). Microsoft

I’m just not sure who this console is for.

It is indeed more powerful, and the graphics are quite nice, but unless you own a 4K television there isn’t much reason to buy the Xbox One X (or the PlayStation 4 Pro, for that matter). In a year or two, when the price has come down by a hundred (or more) dollars? When more games are in 4K, and more people own 4K televisions? Absolutely. But right now in 2017? I’m not sure.

And for me personally, I’m still waiting for these new 4K consoles to thrill me like so many graphical jumps before.

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