After months of hints and speculation, the second next-generation Xbox console was announced Tuesday morning after an unceremonious leak Monday night.
The Xbox Series S will launch for $299 on Nov. 10 alongside its more powerful big brother, the Xbox Series X, which will cost $499. This two-console launch philosophy will allow Microsoft to market the fact that it has the most powerful next-gen hardware and the most affordable, as well. Unlike Sony, which will also release two versions of the PlayStation 5 — one with a disc drive, and one without — there is a significant power difference between the two Xbox Series consoles.
Everyone knows the majority of the details about the Xbox Series X. It will be the most powerful console hardware ever released, even eclipsing the PS5. It will feature a 1 terabyte NVME SSD. In layman’s terms, that’s an extremely fast hard drive, which will allow games to load much, much faster, and give developers the tools to create new experiences that aren’t bound to loading. The Series X will be designed to run most games in native 4K resolution, along with some form of hardware-based raytracing for better lighting and reflections.
There has been much speculation about what a proposed Xbox Series S would include, especially if it were to launch at the affordable $299 price tag — a level that even the Xbox One X hasn’t managed to meet yet. Somehow, the technical wizards at Microsoft have managed to create a next-generation console that — while significantly “underpowered” compared to the Series X — will be able to play all next-generation games with little compromise.
The Series S is about 60 percent smaller than the Series X, making it the smallest form factor for any Xbox console ever. Packed in that little hardware frame will be a 512 GB NVME SSD. It’s the same design as the SSD in the Series X, but about half the size. This could pose a problem if next-generation game file sizes balloon, as they have this generation. I’m looking at you, “Call of Duty Warzone,” with your more than 200 gigabytes of updates and content.
All games played on the Series S will natively render at 1440p resolution — still higher than the standard 1080p resolution of most games today, but not as high as the 4K standard of next-gen. The console will be able to upscale games to 4K resolution for those owners who have a 4K television. It will also be able to stream 4K media from services like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+.
The biggest omission will be a disc drive. The Series S is an all-digital console. That might have been a concern in 2009, when Sony released the PlayStation Portable Go without any sort of media drive, but today is a different world. Around 60 percent of game sales are now digital, with that percentage being even higher for more online-focused games like “Destiny.”
As rumors picked up earlier this year about a less powerful complimentary Xbox console, many began to wonder how this would affect development of next-generation games. Industry journalist Patrick Klepek stated Tuesday that developers are extremely impressed with the new hardware and don’t feel it will hold back development. Compromises will have to be made in order for certain games to run on the Series S, but not in the way many may think.
While the Series X is focused on brute force power and rendering most games in native 4K, the Series S won’t need to devote as much power to resolution. The amount of power required to render most modern games at native 4K is insane. Even powerful gaming PCs with the Nvidia’s RTX 2080ti, the most powerful graphics card on the market, can struggle to maintain solid framerates with many games at 4K. So while the Series S is less powerful, it will only have to render games at 1440p — a much more manageable resolution.
As the generation continues forward, some games will almost certainly see some sort of scaling back of graphical effects for the Series S. But it won’t affect development of the PS5 and Series X versions. Developers are much more adept today at developing games to scale to various hardware specifications, as almost every game is made for the PC too. No longer are games specifically tailored to set console hardware, where “coding to the metal” became a meme. The idea that the Series S will prevent developers from taking advantage of the more powerful hardware is a foolish notion.
The Series S is designed to reach that mass market consumer that likes playing video games, but simply isn’t interested in the most powerful hardware on the store shelf. At $300, it will give next-gen consumers a great jumping in point, where they can still enjoy all of their previous Xbox One games through backward compatibility, and immediately start playing new releases. The Gamepass Ultimate subscription, at $15 a month, will unlock hundreds of new games on day one. This system isn’t for the hardcore, who have been salivating over the idea of the most powerful console ever. Thankfully, Microsoft has a console for that, the Xbox Series X. For the average consumer, the Series S is the perfect opportunity to enjoy the latest games without compromise, or excessive cost.
Josh Rouse lives in Lawton.