Xbox head on why Xbox Series X removes HDMI-in and optical audio

Xbox Series X Ports
Xbox Series X Ports (Image credit: Microsoft)

What you need to know

  • Phil Spencer, executive vice-president of Gaming at Microsoft, has provided additional context around the removal of HDMI-in, SPDIF optical audio, and the IR blaster with Xbox Series X.
  • Spencer attributes the decision to low usage, alongside efforts to streamline the design and cost.

Xbox Series X introduces countless advancements over the Xbox One family, on track for a release this holiday, kickstarting Microsoft's next-generation gaming plans. But its arrival also removes some hardware features commonplace across existing consoles, including the HDMI-in port, SPDIF optical audio, and IR blaster. While primarily remnants of Microsoft's early ambitions for Xbox One, positioned as a media hub, their removal hasn't gone unnoticed.

Executive vice-president of Gaming at Microsoft, Phil Spencer, has provided additional insight into the decision to remove the trio, discussing how their absence aids the form factor while keeping down per-unit cost. Spencer's response comes via IGN's Unlocked podcast, when the discussion shifted toward the removal of the optical port, and its implications for optical-based accessories, like Astro headsets.

"The optical audio port — we had a conversation with headset manufacturers before all of this," said Spencer. It comes after Astro already confirmed plans to introduce USB compatibility via an update, working with Microsoft to overcome the removal of optical audio. "So, when we stood up and said your accessories are going to work, we weren't walking a tightrope there. We'd already had the conversations. We saw so much of the energies going into so many of the codecs, delivering those over either HDMI or USB."

"We also frankly know how many people use it today on the console. We also do the math of, we have to put a part in every console that x-per cent of the people use. Is there a better place for us to spend that money if we can support it in a different way?"

Xbox Series X Teardown

Source: Microsoft (Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

Spencer explains how a similar philosophy led to the removal of HDMI-in, previously used as HDMI passthrough for cable boxes, and the IR blaster for select accessories. With both heavily centered around Microsoft's former TV and general entertainment focus for Xbox One, it appears usage failed to justify its inclusion for the next generation.

"The decision about HDMI-in, decisions about the Kinect port, decisions about IR blaster on the front — all of these decisions are things that we think through very deeply and try to figure out where the plans are. And I know with everything that we don't do, that we used to do, there is going to be somebody who's disappointed. It's not the funnest part of the job, but I think we have to plan for the future."

Xbox Series X is currently set to launch holiday 2020, with pricing and release dates to come.

Xbox Series X/S


Matt Brown is Windows Central's Senior Editor, Xbox & PC, at Future. Following over seven years of professional consumer technology and gaming coverage, he’s focused on the world of Microsoft's gaming efforts. You can follow him on Twitter @mattjbrown.

  • I don't get the removal of the IR blaster. If they can get the console to turn on and off my TV and soundbar in another way (through HDMI maybe), then I'm ok with that, but going back to multiple controllers seems like a huge step backwards.
  • They are implementing HDMI-CEC finally, which does exactly that and which most tv's and soundbars are compatible with. I'm looking forward to this as the lack of HDMI-CEC makes my XB1X the odd duck in my entertainment center.
  • Doesn't Xbox one x and s do this already?
  • Yes it does. I do about everything a Xbox media controller can with my Samsung controller. You have to activate hdmi-cec in your tv options.
  • no it doesn't use CEC.
  • Yeah I was going to say, I upgraded to an XB1X and it certainly isn't able to communicate via CEC. If it's there and I'm doing something wrong, please tell me but I'm pretty certain it wasn't added. Edit: Just did a quick look in case they added the feature later, and no, there is no such option in my TV options, and looking online as of September of 2019 no such feature had been added.
  • It looks like it is named differently depending on the TV manufacturer. Samsung calls it Anynet+. It has HDMI-CEC after it in parentheses now, but I don't think it used to. I always thought it was just a Samsung proprietary thing with their Blu-ray players. I'll have to try it with my Xbox One X, which goes through my Samsung sound bar first. The OneRemote works with the Xbox a little bit, but it isn't as reliable as my Talon Media Remote.
  • It does not matter, the point is the Xbox does not support it, so turning it on on your tv won't change anything. My tv supports it also, and I use it with my Amazon FireTV to control it and my soundbar. Nothing on the Xbox however for it.
  • CEC works fine for me with my X and an older LG tv.
  • Question: How do you know it's using CEC vs IR? I checked and in my tv settings I noticed it has automatically detected the IR input codes for my tv and soundbar and seems to be using them. According to all the documents I can find as of late last year CEC was explicitly not supported on any Xbox including the X. If you can find a place to enable it I'd love to know.
  • Xbone doesn't support CEC. Only IR. CEC is definitely a welcome feature although hopefully they'll give options on which CEC features can be enabled like the Nvidia Shield. I ended up disabling CEC on my PS4 after it would unintentionally power on or change my input.
  • The Nintendo Switch even supports it.
  • Welp, there goes my beloved 300$ turtle Beach xp 510.
  • Did you not see the part where they are partnering with accessory makers to get a USB compatible option? If you're due for a display upgrade can always go the route of SPDIF out from the TV as well. It won't be obsolete.
  • I'm wondering if there is any hope of them supporting bluetooth headsets. I have Sennheiser BTNC4.50's and it would be really nice to use them as my regular headset.
  • Bluetooth, I'm afraid will not be supported for headsets for the Series X. The reason given was that Bluetooth is too weak. I too was looking to use my spendy noise cancelling over the ear bluetooth headphones when the Series X came out. I sadly discovered that's not an option. If your headphones also have a wired option, you could connect it to your controller. I just bought a Turtlebeach 600 that is wireless to the XB One X. It uses whatever XB uses to connect wireless controllers, etc. Just got it yesterday and loving it!
  • The IR Blaster removal is a shame, I love using my Harmony remote when I'm just watching Netflix or whatever as it controls my whole entertainment unit and I don't have to worry about the controller turning itself off due to inactivity (which is really annoying, I might add, I hate devices that turn themselves off, if I want to turn something off I will turn it off myself). But I'll deal, because I basically have to, unless I have access to xCloud from the One X in which case I don't even need to buy a Series X.
  • Any word on HDMI CEC?
  • Series X supports it, it was in the spec sheet and is their argument for removing the IR Blaster.
  • This is going to kill my setup. I have DISH running through the XBOX for OneGuide. My talon remote has been used for years and my wife loves it. I occasionally play games and I hate smart devices like TV's. Luckily there's a version of XBOX for me. The XBOX One X. I hope they continue to produce application surrounding media otherwise there's no reason for me to upgrade.
  • Same. I'm going to upgrade my Xbox One X once I can find one for about ~$220 out the door and then sell off the S. The HDMI-In and integrations it provides, let alone not needing to change input is more important to me and my family than having the latest gear.
  • Some folks still use the optical port... it's weird cause it's just a little port haha they could've kept it all and made the systems universal to everyone... the HDMI in could essentially open up an HDMI port on your tv... instead of having the cable box and the xbox plugged into separate ports... and some people actually spent the extra for the kinect sensor at original xbox one... and some even spent the $200 for the sensor alone... and it was a waste of money... they dont need to sell the sensors anymore but at least an existing port so the folks who invested money in it can use it... all they're doing is if they DO make a new accessory or bring a more consumer friendly Holo Lens headset I won't be buying it because microsoft just gonna stop supporting it.
  • I loved having the chromecast available on throught the HDMI in, the only time I need to switch inputs on my receiver is to switch to the PS4 (which is like never). Now I'm going to have to teach my wife how to swap inputs on the receiver and how to use the Xbox app to navigate since our remote won't work anymore... Maybe it'd just make more sense to get an Xbone S to use as the entertainment hub and have the Series X for games alone.