PC verses Console banter aside, it's become expected for the major console developers to create a "mid-life refresh" of the latest consoles. When the Xbox One and the PS4 were released, they had a feeling of slightly improved horse power, with a flavor of "it doesn't feel like anything new". Often, the refresh versions of the consoles bring what we consumers were more expecting at the launch of the "all new", "top of the line", "totally awesome", "so sick!", launch versions.
I had already joined the Xbox 360 world a bit late, purchasing my first original 360 from a friend in 2012. The slim was already out, and was a major improvement to the original 360. With most, if not all, of the famed "Red Ring of Death" causing issue's resolved, the slim brought the bonus of a much quieter system, reduced power consumption, and far less heat output. It was a welcomed goodbye to 360 hot pocket warmers. Perhaps fixing "RRoD" was enough to truly warrant the model, as it didn't bring much else new to the table. The processor of the slim was newer, but was carefully restricted to not dominate the older 360. It was only slightly ever so faster and better at handling games. Things finally felt stable at the least. Yet, it was pretty much the same as the original. Games were the same. Potential hard drive capacity was the same. It did finally come with an HDMI port, and a dedicated Kinect port. But the only new feature was 3D support, and I'll admit, testing the 360 Slim on a 3D TV was super cool. Cool enough that I wish video games had taken the leap into 3D more than of movies have tried to.
Fast forward a couple years, and we are presented with the Xbox One! The glorious, new, "future of gaming" machine! Without any backwards compatibility for 360 games at launch, new games were released for both consoles for a good year or two. Even though it introduced consistent 1080p gaming, and a new Kinect, and a more robust operating system for multitasking, it still had the feel of being a system refresh. The ability to switch between games at ease, view friends or "snap" apps to a side of the screen was a huge improvement from the 360. Bearing in mind, the original Xbox required a complete restart to manage the system or switch games. The 360 required you quit the game to access most dashboard features. The Xbox One brought to light how a seamless gaming experience should be! (or how it has been on PC for nearly two decades... beside the point here). The inclusion of Blu-ray was a welcomed benefit as well.
This brings us to the hype of the current day. The Xbox One S! 40% slimmer! (kind of) "4k" Gaming! 4k Blu-ray! Other Hype words! Down to the nitty-gritty of this article: Is the Xbox One S worth the plunge?
The Xbox One S offers three improvements over its original counterpart:
- Smaller size.
- 4k Blu-ray and streaming support.
- High Dynamic Range (More color, if your TV supports it)
In tests that others have done, the hardware performance improvements are only seen in game load times, which is a matter of mere seconds. Not nearly enough to encourage better gaming experiences. Console games are specially engineered to look the same, since they are finitely programmed for the one console. So, there's no real improvement in graphics quality. They can be up-scaled to 4k (meaning the image is processed to stretch a 1080p twice its size to haphazardly create a 4k image). In my tests, the Xbox 4k scaling is slightly clearer than the 4k scaling feature built into my TV. But, the gains are still miniscule, as the graphics themselves can't really be up-scaled to improve performance, the scaling usually applies better to text on the screen. If your TV supports HDR, the difference in color clarity really is stunning!
The only reason I decided to trade my Xbox One for the One S was for the desire to use my 4k TV to it's 4k potential when I watch movies. But this did reveal its own caveats. 4K Blu-ray requires buying new 4k copies of movies I might already own. The greatest issue many are having, is owning a 4k TV from the start of the 4k hype before the "4k standard" was completed. Meaning, just because you may have a 4k TV, it does not mean the Xbox will allow you to use that 4k feature. I'll spare you the truly technical mumbo-jumbo, and skip to the important details to watch out for. The Xbox One S wants to do HDR, which requires a 10-bit HDMI capable TV. This specification was not well documented upon release of the Xbox One S. The next thing to be on the look for is HDCP 2.2 support. This hardware feature is what allows protected 4k content (Blu-rays, and Netflix included among others) to work on a TV.
Lastly are my thoughts about the Kinect. Kinect and Cortana may have not been as well improved in the Xbox One as many of us desired. The hype was high, and the delivery has been low. In my opinions, the Xbox One Kinect is not much better than the Xbox 360 version. Voice commands are barely unusable unless the room is completely quiet, which is especially sad when compared to the impressive voice capabilities of Apple Siri, Amazon Alexa, and Google Home. It's even more saddening to see the Kinect no longer has its own port on the Xbox One S. At the least, Microsoft will mail a free adapter to you, after proving you had owned the original Xbox One, Xbox One S and the Kinect (all based on serial numbers). The drop for a dedicated port makes me wonder if Microsoft is going to stop Kinect support down the road all together.
To summarize my thoughts: If you already have the Xbox One, the only reason to plunge to the One S would be purely for aesthetic reasons. IE, if you use your Xbox to watch movies and wish to watch in 4k, or if saving space in the size of a console is very important to you. If you can be really patient, I might suggest waiting for Xbox Project: Scorpio. If you do not yet have an Xbox One, and are in the market to buy, it might not be so bad to buy the One S, but you certainly can save some money by purchasing the original version, and be just as happy with gameplay.