But things have got better over the past three years. Software updates have greatly improved the Xbox One’s half-baked menu system, even if its remains a tad cluttered and counterintuitive. The much-touted but largely pointless Kinect motion-sensing peripheral has now been relegated to an optional add-on. And the new ability to play Microsoft-published games on either the Xbox One or Windows 10 PCs is kind of cool.
If only the machine itself wasn’t such a butt-ugly behemoth.
Available now, the Xbox One S currently comes in just one colour (matte white with black accents) and three configurations: a 2 TB hard drive model ($ 499), a 1 TB model that includes either the Halo sci-fi shooter saga or Madden NFL 17 ($ 449) and a 500 GB model with the Halo collection ($ 399).
Aside from being 40% smaller than the original Xbox One and a futuristic-looking piece of kit that would right at home on the deck of a Star Destroyer (maybe the S stands for Stormtrooper?), the Xbox One S comes with a host of subtle advancements that, while not game-changers, have made me gravitate back to using my Xbox more often.
For starters, the bigger hard drive is a huge boon, especially in the 2 TB model. With digital downloads and monster-sized game installs now the norm, I found I was often deleting old titles to make room for new ones. While the Xbox One supports external hard drives, having everything inside the slim console itself is very nice.
There are a host of other minor but welcome tweaks, such as the giant power brick being replaced with a single cord, the ability to stand the Xbox One S vertically on its side, and the on/off switch now being a physical button instead of a more finicky touch control. The gamepad that comes with the Xbox One S has a slightly grippier surface, sturdier sticks and better wireless range, yet doesn’t muck around with the otherwise near-perfect design.
But the biggest plus with the Xbox One S, at least for high-tech early adopters, is it supports 4K Ultra HD and high dynamic range video on the newest generation of HDTVs. While this isn’t a huge advantage for games – the upscaled resolution look slightly crisper, but not dramatically better – it’s awesome for video streaming services that offer 4K programming. Netflix shows like Orange is the New Black and Stranger Things look fantastic on a 4K TV with the Xbox One S and the console’s free Netflix app.
Even more dramatic are 4K Blu-rays, especially if you have a TV that also supports high dynamic range (HDR) video. On the sweet LG UH8500 Super UHD TV I used to test the Xbox One S, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice on 4K Blu-ray looked spectacular, with tons of added shadow detail and sharp, vibrant colours.
In fact, if you’re in the market for a 4K Blu-ray player to go with your fancy new 4K TV, the Xbox One S might be the best choice. It’s cheaper than some standalone 4K players, and while it doesn’t have some of the fancier features, you’re basically getting a solid 4K Blu-ray player that doubles as a gaming machine.
All that said, is it worth replacing your existing Xbox One with the Xbox One S? Probably not, unless you’ve made the leap to a 4K TV and want to take full advantage of its power. And even if you’re just now in the market for an Xbox, keep in mind that a significantly more powerful version of the console, currently codenamed Project Scorpio, is expected to go on sale late next year. Bite now, or wait and see?
Also in the mix is Sony, which is launching its own updated version of the PlayStation 4 later this year. This so-called PlayStation Neo will also do 4K video, and might even give some games a slight graphical boost. Details on Neo will likely be unveiled at next month’s PlayStation Meeting event in NYC.
It’s kind of a weird, transformative year for video game consoles. The days when new gaming machines came out every six years or so appear to be over, replaced by incremental upgrades similar to what we enjoy – or endure – with smartphones. Gamers will decide with their wallets how open they are to this new way of doing things. Stormtroopers, too.