Xbox Series X won't have SPDIF optical audio, or an IR blaster (update)

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

Updated March 31, 2020: Astro Gaming confirmed to multiple users on Reddit that it was working with Microsoft to make its headsets compatible through USB.

Yesterday, Microsoft blew the lid off the Xbox Series X, giving us a deeper look into the console than ever before (while also confirming the majority of our previous leaks). The Xbox Series X will sport 12TF of graphical computational power, atop some powerful storage enhancements, ray tracing technology, and much more.

A while back, a bunch of photos leaked giving us a proper look at the ports on the Xbox Series X, although there was some confusion over what some of them were. Now we know the long strip is for expansion cards, but we've also learned that the prototype ports weren't final. In a bad way.

Source: Microsoft (Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

Some users noticed in today's footage of the Xbox Series X that the SPDIF optical audio port was missing on some of the pictures. We reached out to Microsoft for comment, and a spokesperson confirmed to us that indeed, the SPDIF optical audio port will not be available on the retail units.

No. Xbox Series X will include ports for Networking (Ethernet), HDMI out, Seagate Storage Expansion Card and three USB 3.1 ports.

We also asked if the Xbox Series X will feature an IR Blaster, given that some accessories like the Xbox Media Remote use the IR Blaster to send commands to compatible television sets. Unfortunately, Microsoft confirmed that this too, has been removed. Microsoft will opt for HDMI-CEC controls instead for the Xbox Media Remote. HDMI-CEC stands for "Consumer Electronics Control," and allows devices to send signals over a HDMI connection for things like power and volume control. Different TV manufacturers use a variety of different names and brands to describe HDMI-CEC, but most modern sets are capable of using it.

Source: Windows Central A handful of headsets use the Xbox SPDIF optical port, including the Astro A50 wireless dock. (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

For those of us with speaker systems and headsets that have SPDIF optical audio connections such as the Astro A50 wireless dock and certain audio controllers, it looks like our headsets and accessories won't work with the Xbox Series X, despite Microsoft's prior statements that all existing accessories will be compatible. There's a chance some of them could be updated via firmware to work via USB instead, as many of them have PC configurations designed to work that way instead, but it remains to be seen whether or not manufacturers will offer those capabilities as an alternative.

Microsoft probably has data that only a small portion of users were utilizing the IR Blaster and the SPDIF port on the Xbox One consoles, leading to their ultimate demise. Removing them may shed a few pennies off the final cost of the Xbox Series X, but it's a bit sucky if you're someone who picked up a SPDIF device hoping it would be forwards compatible.

Xbox Series X/S

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Jez Corden
Managing Editor

Jez Corden is the Managing Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

40 Comments
  • No optical audio?? I don't use it anymore, but that seems incredibly strange.
  • I guess like you, many others don't use it either :( or maybe Microsoft wants to try and push headset manufacturers into using its wireless signal next gen.
  • We will have to bypass with our A50 directly in the OneConnect box or the spidif right on the tv now. There's a bypass out to surround sound systems on the A50 base without lag... But im curious of how more MS lag it will introduce instead of directly plug it into console vs tv.
  • I use optical whenever possible. Sad to see it go.
  • yeah i use it for everything, but i think ps5 will have it
  • The loss of optical makes no sense, now you can’t use a sound bar. That’s an integral part of many setup. Many of them have optical in, no hdmi out to tv for Xbox into soundboard then to t. like a full blown receiver. Rather disappointing.
  • How? You can just have your TV push it to your sound bar.
  • They're just killing anything like Rocksmith due to the introduced sound lag...
  • Xbox into TV, TV out to soundbar.
  • What if your TV doesn't have the capability of a HDMI out for sound? Ah, didn't think about the Optical on the TV.
  • Always sad to see older tech go away, but it's inevitable. Optical is limited to lossy surround sound, and does not support Atmos. Today's soundbars usually have HDMI in/out.
    Glad to see the IR blaster will be replaced with HDMI-CEC. I still don't understand why Microsoft didn't use it with the Xbox One.
  • It didn't have wide adoption when the Xbox One came out. They could have used it with the One X but probably didn't want to cause a potential incompatibility problem.
  • No HDMI-in on the new Xbox is the fatal flaw for me. HDMI-CEC is dramatically less useful if it's only to control the volume for Xbox games and videos and loses the ability to control the TV and other video inputs. Now we'll need one remote for the Xbox and at least one other remote for everything else (unless we can now control Xbox video with a traditional universal remote). Serious downgrade. I get that not everyone cares about that, but for those of us that do, please, Microsoft, offer an edition that preserves this critical capability. I don't mind paying extra for it. Could it be handled through a USB 3 add-on? Even though it uses fiber, SPDIF is less capable than copper HDMI for audio and doesn't support all the protocols that HDMI supports, so I can understand phasing out SPDIF. Windows 10 already doesn't properly support surround sound via SPDIF on PC's (only gets stereo using Microsoft's latest drivers, and this has gotten WORSE with newer updates to Windows 10, not better). That said, I get that if your audio system doesn't support HDMI-in with video passthrough to your TV, that's a problem.
  • Most TVs have optical outs. So you can run to TV and then run from TV to audio. You might get some slight extra latency for music rhythm games, but that's about it.
  • For comparison's sake, auto HDMI 2.0 switchers (with or without a remote) are roughly $50 online, less if you only need 1080p. Or MS can charge more $$ for the HDMI-In port (royalties + silicon + engineering) for a feature that isn't in widespread use. I respect your point of view, from a business perspective, and the positioning this as a gaming console, this doesn't make sense. Sony never offered this feature, and the solution for PlayStation owners with few HDMI ports would still require the same kind of solution.
  • good thing smart tv's have SPDIF. Or this would be a disaster. Not that I use a xbox but wow :O
  • I don't think it's be a disaster even if tvs didn't hadn't it
  • Sad to see it go too. I use a projector and use optical to a soundbar just above the xbox and a long hdmi to the projector. That solution is out of the window now :(
  • Not liking this at all. My Astro Mixamp is literally at the heart of my gaming audio. My PC, Xbox and PS4 all feed into it for a single control and headset output. So yeah, I guess that's getting yeeted in the bin.
  • Why can't you use the TV's optical out to connect to it for both the Xbox and PS? Or are you running on a monitor for everything?
  • I don’t play on a TV. All of my gaming is in my office on gaming monitors. Butt ton of streamers will be in the same boat. I couldn’t game on a TV if I tried anymore.
  • Didn't think about that, this really makes the decision kind of silly.
  • This Xbox is a serious departure from a media hub and becomes only a gaming console. I hope the new iterations include one model with media hub users in mind. Xbox M edition?
  • This isn't on their roadmap. Positioning the One as a media hub was a huge failure for Microsoft and the source of overwhelming disappointment to customers (go back and watch launch videos of the XBO) and added a lot of frustration for the Xbox team. Since then, they've made great strides to remove those features on current hardware, buried or discontinued media apps/features (Groove can't even stream OneDrive anymore) so deep they're not easily exposed to customers any longer or no longer exist.
  • WTF? Hopefully, they have a dongle or something to close this gap.
  • This is a huge disappointment as I use both of those things. Not really sure what I will do when this thing releases.
  • This really isn't that huge of a deal. If you look at the cost to implement a feature that a very small, vocal group still uses to run older (but still useful) audio hardware, it doesn't scale and jacks the price up for the vast majority who don't need it. I can also make an argument that purchasing such an advanced piece of hardware only to connect it to equipment that can't process HDMI in any of its various forms (1080/4k/8k, VRR/HDR, etc) would be looking for workarounds, regardless. The answer is for the few who are happy with their current setup/aren't ready to or cannot yet afford to modernize your entertainment equipment, AND truly need this sort of solution, go to Amazon and get an appropriately-versioned HDMI to Optical Audio extractor for $20-$50 depending on your needs.
  • So firstly, an additional expense. Secondly, do we know absolutely without question that such a device won’t affect the HDMI that’s then passed to the display? Genuine question because for me, this may end up being what I’m forced to do. I’m not surrendering my current audio setup.
  • The issue is always financial. Do you have a more or less expensive Xbox? Should it always keep every piece of tech prior Xboxes had, for legacy purposes? They're the ones with the data that suggests which features are widely used or not, then make design choices based on that. I've been in this situation before when vendors cut features due to low uptake. Ever use a Google product that didn't survive (long list)? Ever have a smartphone and have to replace your USB cables/chargers every two years? We are always going to have to upgrade or augment tech over time, it will be a never ending cycle. To answer your question - these conversion products are very available, address specific use cases, are reliable, and relatively inexpensive. I have an HDMI audio extractor, an HDMI 4k->1080p downscaler, and an HDMI mirror/extender all chained together and experience zero reliability issues, no lag, no quality issues that I can perceive. My use case being able to play my Xbox on the TV in the living room as well as in my office on my nice 1080p no-speaker monitor. $20 for a decent extractor isn't much to ask. PlayStation users on the new slim PS4 model went through this as well. Optical is old hat, all we can do is adapt or upgrade.
  • First: I have to use the optical port to connect my wife's audio equipment so she can HEAR. Period. There is no point getting the next Xbox if that port is not there. Second: We have no idea if your second suggestion will even work with HDCP and the new HDMI standard. I'm already paying for the equipment necessary for my wife to be able to hear the TV. The least Microsoft can do is include the damn port that is on EVERY other device in the world.
  • I'm not as familiar with HDMI-CEC. Will I still be able to use my Logitech universal remote to control more than just volume with the Series X?
  • I actually find the missing HDMI pass-through more of an issue than the optical out.
  • I’m pissed with this, I’ve around a month ago upgraded to the new Astro A50s after being told by MS that all accessories would work.. clearly they now won’t with the optical port missing !
  • Why on earth did anyone think they meant anythij gout side the Xbox One family. They clearly meant controllers etc. Not Amps, receivers and soundbars.
  • I am very disapointed. I use a JBL soundbar (JBL Boost TV) in my XBOX setup (Monitor+small soundbar+xbox). It's perfect the way it is. What am I going to do with my soundbar? Let's see if PS5 will have the SPDIF. I can't believe I am saying it, but maybe I will have to buy a Playstation :O
  • It's all HDMI now. Dolby Atmos etc. It does suck. But that's the future. Especially for Surround sound receivers and TVs.
  • When MS said existing accessories would work, they meant Xbox accessories. Not Amps and receivers. Clearly they meant Xbox One accessories.
  • This sucks. My wife uses the S/PDIF port for a streamer for her Cochlear Implant. Without that port, Microsoft has seriously decreased the usability of this device for my family and I will be re-evaluating my plans to upgrade now. I'm very disappointed in this decision. Given the cost of the end device, I can't imagine the S/PDIF port was going to add that much expense.
  • Removal of two ports I use most. I guess I'll just stick with the XOX.
  • I can't see HDMI passthrough either.....