There’s more than one Xbox One. You can already buy the Xbox One S, a redesigned Xbox One with a few upgrades. Microsoft is also working on a major upgrade scheduled for late 2017 called “Project Scorpio”.
All Xbox One models will play the same Xbox One games. However, newer models may play those same games with better graphics or other features. Here are the main differences.
Xbox One (Released November, 2013)
You’re probably already familiar with the original Xbox One. The console itself is a a large, black, VCR-style box. All Xbox One packages originally included the Kinect, Microsoft’s solution for voice recognition, motion tracking, and controlling your cable box or other TV service with its integrated IR blaster.
The Xbox One was released a week after the PlayStation 4, and the two consoles directly competed with each other. The Xbox One was a bit slower and $100 more expensive than the PS4 (no thanks to those TV and Kinect features). As a result, and Sony pulled ahead in sales.
Microsoft has shifted gears since then. Microsoft dumped the Kinect from most Xbox One bundles and matched the PlayStation 4’s price. In fact, Microsoft has all but abandoned the Kinect. You can still buy a Kinect for about $100 and connect it to your Xbox One afterwards, if you like, but don’t expect to see any new Kinect-enabled games any time soon.
Xbox One S (Released August, 2016)
The Xbox One S is a streamlined, slightly faster Xbox One with some other improvements. It costs around $299, about the same price as the original Xbox One now costs.
Where the original Xbox One was black, the Xbox One S is white. The console itself is about 40% smaller than the Xbox One, and it doesn’t have the Xbox One’s massive power brick. The console has been redesigned in small, smart ways. There’s now a USB port on the front of the console instead of on the side, for example, making it easier to plug in USB sticks. You can also stand the Xbox One S up vertically, if you like.
The Kinect is missing in action here. No models of the Xbox One S ship with a Kinect. The Xbox One S does not have a dedicated Kinect port on the back of the console, as the original Xbox One does. If you buy a Kinect and want to use it with your Xbox One S, you’ll need to get a Kinect-to-USB adapter from Microsoft.
The new controller bundled with the Xbox One S is white, too. It includes a few minor improvements, such as a textured back for easier grip. It now supports Bluetooth, which means you can connect it directly to a Windows PC without buying the Xbox Wireless USB adapter. However, you can use any model of Xbox One controller with any Xbox One console.
Under the hood, the big new improvements are support for 4K resolution and HDR color. You’ll only be able to see that 4K improvement if you have a 4K TV, and you’ll only get HDR content if you have a 4K TV that supports HDR-10. You won’t notice any difference otherwise. If you have a TV that supports only Dolby Vision HDR instead of HDR-10 HDR, you won’t be able to view HDR content. Blame your TV’s manufacturer for not supporting both.
The Xbox One S isn’t actually powerful enough for 4K gaming, unfortunately, so games will still play in their normal resolution. The 4K support is mainly for movies and TV shows from Netflix or 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray discs.
While games can’t take advantage of 4K, they can use HDR when running on the Xbox One S. This requires the game developer to enable support for HDR. Some game developers have gone back and added this feature to their existing Xbox One games with patches, but not all developers have.
Technically, the Xbox One S is a bit more powerful than the original Xbox One. Its graphics processor unit (GPU) runs about 7.1% faster. Microsoft says its internal testing shows this may result in minor improvements to some games, and Eurogamer found that to be true. This isn’t a big reason to upgrade, and you might not even notice the difference in many games.
Overall, the Xbox One S is a redesigned, streamlined console with support for 4K and HDR on modern televisions. It can’t actually play games in 4K, but it’s a decent stopgap until Microsoft releases a console that can. Considering it costs the same amount of money as the Xbox One, it’s definitely a better choice than the original.
Microsoft is working on a major upgrade to the Xbox One. Planned for release in late 2017, it’s currently known as “Project Scorpio”. Microsoft dubs it “the most powerful console ever built”. It will be significantly faster than the original Xbox One, and promises support for actual 4K gaming, with content rendered in 4K rather than simply being upscaled.
While this is a major upgrade, it isn’t a new console generation. Project Scorpio won’t have any exclusive games. You can continue playing Xbox One games on the original Xbox One and Xbox One S, although Project Scorpio will be able to play some games at a higher resolution and with more graphical detail. Microsoft is promising “6 teraflops” of processing power, a four and a half times improvement over the current Xbox One.
This speedy hardware will be the only Xbox One powerful enough to run “high-fidelity VR”. So, technically, virtual reality games will be exclusive to the Scorpio because they can’t run on any other Xbox One hardware. It’s unclear what headsets will be supported on the Xbox One, although Microsoft is pushing a whole new ecosystem of $299 VR headsets with Windows 10’s Creators Update.
This is Microsoft’s answer to Sony’s PlayStation 4 Pro, a more powerful PlayStation 4 console that can play games in 4K (and is already available to purchase). Microsoft hopes to leapfrog Sony and have the most powerful console hardware. Scorpio will reportedly be about 40% faster than the PS4 Pro.
Project Scorpio will be more expensive than the original Xbox One and Xbox One S, and the Xbox One S isn’t going anywhere. Microsoft hasn’t announced a price, but Sony sells the PlayStation 4 Pro for $399 and the PlayStation 4 Slim for $299. That’s no guarantee Microsoft will charge $399, however—they might charge more and justify it with Project Scorpio’s greater hardware power.
None of these details are final yet, as the Project Scorpio console is still in development. Microsoft will likely reveal more information about Project Scorpio at E3 2017 in June.
Which Xbox Should You Buy?
If you want to buy an Xbox One today, you should probably buy the Xbox One S instead of the original Xbox One. The Xbox One S should be about the same price as the original Xbox One. However, you may find old models of the Xbox One priced a bit cheaper, especially if you’re willing to buy used or refurbished. The original Xbox One is will likely vanish from store shelves one day.
However, if you already have an Xbox One, the Xbox One S isn’t a huge upgrade. While it is an improvement, all you’re really getting is support for watching 4K videos and viewing HDR content in games—if you have a modern TV that supports these features and games that support HDR.
Project Scorpio is on the way and should be released in less than a year. That’s something to weigh when considering your purchasing decisions. If you’re considering the Xbox One S, you may want to hold off and wait for Project Scorpio hardware less than a year down the road, especially if you’re upgrading from an original Xbox One.
But, if you don’t care about Project Scorpio, feel free to buy an Xbox One S. It will still be able to play games released after Project Scorpio, so you won’t be buying into a dying console. Those games will look better on Project Scorpio, but much of the improved image quality will likely come from 4K. If you don’t have a 4K television, it’s unclear just how much better games will actually look on the new console.
Image Credit: Microsoft