Is this just too good to be true? After a Microsoft media briefing with so many spectacular moments, we couldn’t help but wonder. As the briefing progressed, new Xbox One X titles arrived thick and fast, the majority promising 4K visuals with high dynamic range rendering – a target that has proved a touch elusive for PlayStation 4 Pro. But some of the major reveals went further – they showed us a level of visual accomplishment we hadn’t seen before, in addition to that stratospherically high 4K resolution. The more we watched, the more we began to wonder: can the reality of Xbox One X match what we were shown? Perhaps more pertinently, how much of what was shown was actually running on Microsoft’s new hardware? How much was authentic, dare we say it, real?
In at least a couple of respects, Xbox One X defies the norms set by current-gen hardware. Even the form factor of the machine challenges belief: had pictures of the unit leaked in the weeks leading up to E3, there’s a strong chance that they would have been dismissed as an elaborate fake – but it is real, and even better in the flesh. The small, discrete unit you first saw in a flash, glitzy rendered sequence, we first saw at the end of March, at the tail-end of the Project Scorpio hardware deep dive we’ve previously reported on. After Leo Del Castille, general manager of the Xbox hardware team, constructed a console in front of us, we were directed to two Xbox One consoles – the initial set-top box model, and its S successor. It turned out that the OG model was simply an empty shell, which was lifted off to reveal the tiny Scorpio console.
Frankly, it was a brilliant piece of theatre – and we had wondered whether Microsoft would repeat the trick on stage. Side-by-side with the Xbox One S, it’s instantly apparent that the new X is actually smaller, despite its enormous increase in performance – and it’s the final flourish of craftsmanship on a beautiful piece of kit. And there’s a nice story surrounding that Xbox One fake shell; beta testers of the console taking their machines home were compelled to hide their prototype Scorpio hardware under the empty casing, to ensure that the chances of inadvertent leaks were kept to a minimum.
From our perspective, the only unknown left concerns the performance of the cooling assembly, and how acoustics may vary between consoles. The ‘Hovis Method’ technique of matching each individual Scorpio Engine to its motherboard with tailored power delivery is a remarkable innovation, but not all silicon chips are created equally – power and cooling requirements will vary between every processor that comes off the production line, and some units may be louder than others (this is already noticeable between otherwise identical PS4/Pro units). Thermal management profiles were still being tested when we visited Microsoft, and back then, prototype hardware simply ran with fans maxed. This will not be the case on final hardware.
And there’s no doubt that the Scorpio Engine at the heart of this beautifully constructed unit is capable of hugely impressive performance. Forza Motorsport 7’s media reveal and initial trailers are only showing a 30fps game, but make no mistake, this is a full-fat, native 4K 60Hz experience and it looks stunning. We’ve already covered how well a basic port of FM6’s core technology ran on prototype Xbox One X hardware, and it’s nice to see just how Turn 10 is extracting from the hardware using the extra ‘couple of milliseconds’ the engineers discussed shaving off the per-frame render time. The team wanted to add new features into the game, and the implementation of fully dynamic lighting and weather – which should appear in both Xbox One and One X versions – is a massive win for the new game. Forza 7 is, in effect, our first validation that Xbox One X can indeed live up to Microsoft’s heady claims.