The Xbox One S launched in 2016, with all-new 4K capabilities, including UHD Blu-ray and support for 4K media streaming, including Netflix. At the same event, the Xbox One X was announced, built to power 4K media, Blu-ray, and games, wrapped in the smallest Xbox console ever made.

At face value, the primary differences are price and power. The Xbox One S can be purchased for around $249, whereas the Xbox One X clocks in at $499. The Xbox One S is only slightly more powerful than the Xbox One of 2013, outputting games at around 1080p. The Xbox One X is far, far more powerful, outputting games at full 4K with enhanced textures, visuals, and other effects.

Still, there are many other nuances to consider when examining the differences between the two, and we'll go through and work out which might be best for you.

Xbox One X vs. Xbox One S: Spec showdown

Category Xbox One X Xbox One S
Processor 8-core Jaguar "Evolved" CPU at 2.3GHz 8-core Jaguar CPU at 1.75GHz
Storage 1TB 500GB, 1TB or 2TB launch edition
Memory 12GB of GDDR5 RAM 8GB DDR3 RAM
Graphics 40 CUs (1,172Mhz) 6 TF GPU 12 CUs (914MHz) 1.23 TF GPU
Ports HDMI-in; HDMI-out; one front-facing USB 3.0 ; two rear-facing USB 3.0; IR receiver/blaster; SPDIF digital audio; Ethernet HDMI-in; HDMI-out; one front-facing USB 3.0; two rear-facing USB 3.0; IR receiver/blaster; SPDIF digital audio; Ethernet
Optical drive 4K UHD Blu Ray 4K UHD Blu Ray
Price $499 From $249

HD vs. UHD

With the Xbox One X being twice as expensive as the Xbox One S, it's fair to expect some massive gains, and it seems like Microsoft has delivered. The Xbox One X packs well over 130 visually enhanced games with more on the way, taking advantage of the console's beastly 6 TF power. By comparison, the Xbox One S only has around 1.2 TF, which often struggles to handle games at a native 1080p resolution. But what does all of this mean?

Resolutions, charted. 4K/UHD in red, 1080p/HD in bright green.

4K is referred to as "UHD" or ultra-high definition, because the images contain many millions of additional pixels (8,294,400 to be precise) vs. standard high-definition (2,073,600). Each pixel represents a single point of colored light, which combines to create the images on-screen. More pixels means sharper images, more detail, and thus, more immersion. Both consoles also support HDR, which allows games to achieve more vivid colors and leverage more realistic light tones and contrasts, producing spectacular effects.

Xbox One @ 1080p (left) | Project Scorpio @ 4K (right).

Even owners of 1080p TVs can get in on the Xbox One X action to some degree.

It's hard to replicate what 4K truly means without viewing the images on a 4K screen, simply because the display doesn't have enough pixels to show the images natively. While it doesn't really do true 4K justice as the images are squashed, you can see in the above slider that the 4K image is far more crisp than the 1080p image. Microsoft used these images to demonstrate the differences between 4K and 1080p on the Xbox One X to developers earlier in the year, showing how resolution bumps could instantaneously enhance visual quality. It isn't all about raw resolution, however, and even owners of 1080p TVs can get in on the Xbox One X action to some degree.

Some games on the Xbox One X enhanced list won't output at native 4K resolution, instead, they will either use checkerboard rendering techniques or use sub-4K resolutions, using compute power to add physical details and improved effects instead (or in addition). Even if they are using UHD resolutions your HD set can't accept, the Xbox One X will use a technique called supersampling to take the 4K image and improve its visual quality at a HD level. You'll also benefit from faster loading speeds, due to the X's upgraded HDD.

Additional features

So, we know that dozens and dozens of games will look significantly better on the Xbox One X, but what about other features?

The first thing to note is that the Xbox One X is slightly smaller than the S. It's not so much smaller that you'll choose based on that fact alone, but it's worth being aware of. Both consoles can also be positioned vertically with an additional vertical stand.

Both the Xbox One X and Xbox One S run incredibly quietly, despite the X's slim form factor. The X comes with advanced cooling features to help with this, which no doubt, in part, has impacted its price point.

Both consoles support HDMI-in for TV pass-through, meaning that you can connect your cable box or TV receiver to your console, and use it to navigate channels and TV schedules. However, using the Xbox One's TV tuner accessory, you could eliminate a separate TV set-top box altogether in some territories. Both consoles also have an IR blaster to communicate with other devices, such as televisions, sound systems, and remote controls.

Neither console has a port tailored specifically for the (now dead) Kinect, sadly, but you can pick up a Kinect USB adapter for that purpose if you still have one. Both the X and the S have the same number of USB ports: two in the back, one in the front.

The Xbox One S was updated with support for 1080p 30 FPS game DVR clip recording, after years of being restricted to 720p. The Xbox One X however supports full 4K 60 FPS video recording options, complete with HDR. With current technology, the best 4K capture devices are either PCI-e based (for desktop PCs) or professional grade-standalone solutions that cost hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars.

Games upgraded for the Xbox One X like Forza Motorsport 7 will be truly stunning at 4K.

Additionally, the Xbox One X will support FreeSync variable refresh rates — Xbox One X enhanced games could offer options for frame rates between the standard 30 and 60 FPS without screen-tearing. This will provide a smooth experience even if developers decide to offer sub-60 FPS frame rates to achieve 4K or other visual enhancements in their games. While support for this sort of display technology isn't yet widespread in combination with 4K and HDR, it should see more adoption in 2019 and beyond.

So, which should you buy?

The real issue here is whether or not you have a 4K television. There are gains to be had by using the Xbox One X with a 1080p set, but they will be nowhere near as pronounced as they would with a 4K display with HDR. I would argue that, unless you're going to get a 4K TV or monitor in the near future, that you should stick with the Xbox One S. However, as time goes by, more and more games have "60 FPS" options that enhance games significantly even on a 1080p TV. It should also be noted that the X has a faster hard drive, which has a big impact on load times.

If you're on the fence about whether or not to join the 4K resolution revolution, it depends what you want from your console experience. If you're the type of console gamer who buys all the latest, biggest games and wants the best visual experience possible, the Xbox One X with a 4K TV is the best option by far this year. If you're a content creator, the Xbox One X will provide you with 4K video clips and screenshots as an added bonus.

However, if you're a little more casual and are more interested in maybe just picking up one or two games per year and playing occasionally in the evenings after a hard day at work, consuming media on the side, the Xbox One S might be a more cost-effective solution. You can always invest in a 4K TV and an Xbox One X later, since all games and all accessories will be fully compatible across both devices. You'll get the 4K upgraded visuals included. 4K panels and the Xbox One X will eventually come down in price.

It all boils down to personal preference, but the Xbox One S is going to be the true bargain console for the remainder of the year. The X will compete for the hardcore audience against Sony's less-powerful PlayStation 4 Pro and even some higher-end gaming PCs.

As someone who has been lucky enough to experience the Xbox One X in 4K with HDR, I frankly never want to see a 1080p, HDR-less game again, especially after playing enhanced games like Wolfenstein II and Assassin's Creed: Origins. But I'm also the kind of guy who has spent his entire working life picking up all the latest games and consoles too. It all depends on how invested you are in the hobby, but 4K is truly something.

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Updated July 17, 2018: We've updated this article to reflect the latest information and prices.

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