Should you buy the Xbox One S or wait for Project Scorpio?

Microsoft wowed the gaming world with the announcement of not one, but two gaming consoles that are coming to the Xbox One range at E3 2016. The Xbox One S will arrive later in August, while the other, dubbed only as Project Scorpio, won't be here until at least November 2017.

The big question for many is which should you get? It is a tough question, but I'll walk you through the pros and cons of each choice.

Xbox One S – Affordable, here today (almost)

The Xbox One S could be considered at most a 'sidegrade' for a current generation Xbox One. The One S features the same CPU and GPU as the current Xbox One, but brings these new features:

  • 40 Percent Smaller Console
  • 2TB Hard Drive
  • 4K Ultra HD Video and High Dynamic Range
  • 4K Blu-ray player
  • 1 New Streamlined Controller
  • Xbox One S Vertical Stand

Also, you lose the Kinect port, although you can still add a Kinect using a USB adapter (which Microsoft will give you for free if you are upgrading, a $50 value).

Starting price for the Xbox One S is $299 for the 500 GB version, which is not yet available for pre-order, while the 2TB version goes for $399 and you can pre-order it now to get it shipped to your home by August.

Who is the One S for?

If you currently have an Xbox One getting a One S does bring some unique features like 4K streaming and a 4K Blu-ray player. Those features are not completely mainstream, yet, and the streaming depends on your available bandwidth, but they are good future-proofing abilities.

For reference, Netflix recommends an internet connection speed of at least 25 megabits per second or higher for Ultra HD streaming.

The Xbox One S does not, however, do 4K gaming, which would be a big deal. Save that for Scorpio.

Being smaller with a slightly updated design is nice, but hardly a reason to drop $400 on the One S unless you want those space savings. The One S puts the clunky power brick into the unit itself, which certainly makes it more appliance-like for your living room. Some of that clumsiness comes back though if you add a Kinect and its USB adapter.

Because of those reasons, the One S is aimed not at current Xbox One owners, but rather people who still only have an Xbox 360 who are considering going to the Xbox One. And there are a lot of those people out there still using a 360!

Sure, Microsoft will take your money for a new console, but I do not think they are expecting current Xbox One to be the primary audience. Instead, the Xbox One S will be for those purchasing an Xbox One for the first time, and it should do very well around the holiday season.

See at Microsoft

But wait…

Then again, if 4K Blu-ray is your thing consider this: Samsung's new 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player retails for $399.99 and it does not even do "Xbox things". If you were considering a 4K Blu-Ray player, why not just jump for the Xbox One S and get a lot more bang out of your buck?

If you really want to save some money, wait for the $299 Xbox One S with 500GB of storage as you get the same 4K Blu-ray player.

Personally, I am not into physical media anymore so the idea of a 4K Blu-ray is nice, but not something I would use all that often. Sure, if I could buy Star Wars in 4K Blu-ray, I might do that, but the 4K streaming is the selling point for myself not the player. Either way, consider your options.

Project Scorpio is for the Pros

What is Project Scorpio? Microsoft announced new hardware today without actually showing off said new console. Rumor has it this announcement was pushed forward because of Sony's expected "PlayStation 4.5" and leaks suggesting Microsoft also had a next-gen console in the works were too hard to ignore.

With that in mind, let's be clear: Project Scorpio, while sharing Xbox One lineage, is going to be an extreme gaming console. To wit, it:

  • Supports VR hardware like Oculus and HTC Vive
  • Supports 4K gaming at 60 FPS
  • 8-core CPU
  • Boasts a six teraflop GPU (way ahead of Sony's supposed 4.14 teraflops)
  • Interchangeable hardware (rumored)

Project Scorpio is basically a high-end gaming PC with an Xbox interface and Live services. It's a console experience, but finally something hardcore PC gamers will not be embarrassed to use either. If you do not get that joke, then Scorpio is also likely not your first choice.

Folks, this console will cost you a lot of money.

In fact, I would be shocked if Microsoft could bring the price down to $1,000, which would be a bargain. (Although, see below if they go with a lower-cost AMD solution; pricing could go down to the $600 range, which would be impressive).

For perspective, the ASUS Oculus Certified Gaming Desktop (no display) with a Core i7 and GTX 980 starts at $1700. Sure, there are cheaper VR-ready PCs out there, but whatever is in Project Scorpio will likely give any high-end PC on the market today a run for its money.

One of the fastest video cards available right now is the new GTX 1070 and it can do 6.5 teraflops. The GTX 1070 starts for around $400 (the faster GTX 1080 can do nine teraflops and starts at around $600), so you could imagine something comparable being in whatever Scorpio is when it launches in 2017.

Update: One possible strategy here may involve Microsoft using something from AMD along the lines of the new RX 480, which starts at $200. While the RX 480 falls short of six terflops (it's "just over five") it is close enough to think Micorosoft may go with AMD in 2017, as has been rumored, to keep the Scorpio price lower

Remember, that $600 is just for a GPU, no CPU, PCB board, RAM, storage, or any components like a 4K Blu-ray player.

It is worth mentioning that on stage it said "Beyond Generations" for a reason. Scorpio should have user-upgradeable hardware making it the one device to last a long time. The idea here is to get rid of hardware generations and let the user decide just like a real PC. That feature could be a huge selling point.

My point is this: Microsoft is not cannibalizing Xbox sales with Project Scorpio. If you are holding off for Project Scorpio, you are likely going to be giving Microsoft 2x to 3x more money for the experience, and that is being conservative.

If you are a casual gamer who wants 4K media, you will spit your drink out when you see the price tag for Scorpio.

Who is Project Scorpio for?

The answer to this question is easy: Scorpio is not targeting teenagers or casual gamers, it is going for the lucrative and premium hardcore PC gaming crowd. These are the people who routinely consider dropping $3K on a high-end gaming laptop, who spend $800 on video cards for their PCs every other year, who constantly tweak their hardware to push gaming to the extreme.

Some of this may vary, of course. I would not be surprised if Microsoft offers different configurations of Scorpio, possibly knocking the price down a bit.

Just take into consideration that if you find the $399 tag for the Xbox One S Launch Edition a bit pricey, Scorpio will likely make it look like chump change.

And that's okay.

Microsoft said Scorpio, which is fully backward compatible with all Xbox One games, is one of a few Xbox One consoles targeting different customers. Now that Windows 10 and the Xbox One overlap in features and even games (see the current list of Play Anywhere game) it makes sense for the company to make a console that can be upgraded and compete with high-end PCs. Why not, either? We have $100 Compute Sticks and $600 Compute Sticks too for the same reason.

What you should do

If your budget is ample and you do not mind spending money, I am sure that an Xbox One S will be a great holdover for the next 16-18 months before Project Scorpio will hit store shelves. Even then, you may want to tack on a few extra months for special deals, reviews, and to see if Microsoft launched it with any issues that need to be addressed. That begins to push the two-year mark for an Xbox One S, which is not crazy.

Later, you could then move your Xbox One S into your bedroom, which is a great second-use scenario for the powerful media device.

For those with an Xbox One already who think they want a very pricey Xbox at some point, I would start saving now for Scorpio and skip the One S. Its pricing won't be near the entry-level Xbox One consoles, it's a different league.

Xbox 360 owners would likely benefit from buying the Xbox One S. After all, if you are still okay with gaming on the 360 in 2016, you are likely not going to be the first in line to go for the most extreme version on day one in 2017.

What about PC gamers? Well, your situation is unique. For some, gaming on a PC will never be the same as using a console in your living room so Microsoft has a lot of work to do to convince you otherwise. If, however, you always wanted a console with the power of a spec'd out PC, you may finally get that chance in late 2017.

Just remember, Project Scorpio is mostly undefined at this point. We don't know what it will look like, what it will cost, and its full capabilities. We do know that in order to hit 4K gaming at 60 FPS and handle VR it will have to pack some serious, and seriously expensive, hardware. That's it.

For now, let's just wait and see.

What are you Xbox plans and rationale for them? Let us know in comments!

Don't forget to catch all our E3 2016 coverage on our main landing page.

Daniel Rubino

Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central. He is also the head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft since 2007, when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, laptops, next-gen computing, and watches. He has been reviewing laptops since 2015 and is particularly fond of 2-in-1 convertibles, ARM processors, new form factors, and thin-and-light PCs. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics, watched people sleep (for medical purposes!), and ran the projectors at movie theaters because it was fun.