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Microsoft's new Xbox One X is a beast, but faces an uphill battle

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor

After months of anticipation, Microsoft (MSFT) unveiled its newest game console, the Xbox One X, at E3 2017 in Los Angeles, California, over the weekend.

Microsoft is pushing the One X as the world’s most powerful system. And that power will cost you a pretty penny: $499 to be exact.

Officially slated for release on Nov. 7, the One X faces some stiff competition in Sony’s (SNE) incredibly popular PlayStation 4 and VR-ready PS4 Pro, not to mention the still hard to get Nintendo (NTDOY) Switch. And while the One X might be more powerful than the PS4 and Switch, its biggest features probably won’t benefit the majority of gamers.

Microsoft unveils the Xbox One X at the annual E3 gaming convention in Los Angeles, California on June 12.

The Xbox One X basics

Previously known by its code name Project Scorpio, the Xbox One X is a new console, but it’s not considered a full-fledged next-generation system. Instead, the One X is a member of the Xbox One family, which includes the $249 Xbox One S.

The One X is designed to be a premium offering with a 30% faster CPU and 4.6 times more powerful graphics chip than the standard Xbox One. Microsoft says the One X uses that horsepower to run games at native 4K resolutions and with high-dynamic range (HDR) images at as much as 60 frames per second, which means titles will look sharper and offer brighter, more saturated colors.

Microsoft’s Xbox One X.

Microsoft is using a slew of buzzwords like True 4K and teraflops in its marketing of the One X. But those don’t mean much to the average consumer. See, “True 4K” and, I guess we’ll call it “regular 4K,” are the same thing.

4K is simply a measure of screen resolution. Whereas a game running at 1080p can display 1,920 x 1,080 pixels on a screen, a 4K game can push 3,840 x 2,160 pixels. That’s a good thing for gamers, as more pixels makes for crisper images.

But there’s a problem. You’ll only benefit from the Xbox One X’s 4K capabilities if you have a 4K-capable TV. Microsoft says the console will also improve the image quality of games on 1080p televisions, but don’t expect the same level of visuals. The same issue comes up with HDR. If you don’t have an HDR-capable TV, you won’t see any image improvements.

The sci-fi-sounding term teraflops, meanwhile, is actually a measure of performance for a system. It stands for a trillion floating-point operations per second. The Xbox One X is capable of 6 teraflops, while the standard Xbox One could perform 1.31 teraflops. Sony’s PlayStation 4 Pro is capable of 4.2 teraflops.

Basically, the more teraflops, the greater the performance developers can wring out of a console. That translates to smoother running, better looking games.

Is it worth $499?

Well, that depends on what you’re looking for in a game console. The less expensive Xbox One S isn’t as powerful as the One X, but still upscales 1080p resolutions to 4K and supports HDR images. That’s not the same as native 4K, but it’s better than standard 1080p.

What’s more, Microsoft hasn’t shown off any games exclusive to the One X. That means any new games that come out for the One X will run on the Xbox One S as well.

What about the PS4 Pro and Switch?

Microsoft isn’t the only console maker offering a premium mid-cycle refresh of its console. Sony did the same thing when it released its more powerful PlayStation 4 Pro, which is also designed for 4K, HDR gaming, as well as virtual reality.

But instead of charging $499 for the system, Sony dropped the price of the original PS4 to $249 and set the price of the PS4 Pro at $399. Granted, the Xbox One X is more powerful than the PS4 Pro. But I’m not sure how much of a difference that will make for most gamers — especially when you consider that Sony’s console is easily the most popular of this generation.

Then there is Nintendo’s Switch. Unlike Microsoft and Sony, Nintendo doesn’t design its systems to outperform its competitors in terms of pure performance. Instead, the company tries to create unique use cases for its consoles.

For the Switch, that means a system that can be used as both a traditional home console and handheld unit. The Switch won’t blow you away with its performance, but the fact that you can play high-end console games on the road makes it an intriguing purchase. Its $299 price tag is also $200 less than the One X.

Is more power worth it?

That’s all relative. If you’re thinking about getting an Xbox and have a 4K, HDR capable TV, then the One X certainly seems like it could be worth the investment. Microsoft also revealed a slew of interesting and downright cool-looking games during its One X unveiling, so the system will have plenty of offerings. What’s more, Microsoft says the One X will be compatible with Xbox 360 and original Xbox games.

That said, Sony’s PS4 Pro is $100 less expensive than the One X, offers many of the same games and has a virtual reality system. The Switch is also a solid proposition, though it’s currently suffering from a dearth of high-quality games outside of “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” and “Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.”

Until I get my hands on the One X, I can’t say whether it will be worth the $100 premium over the One S or PS4 Pro. But I’m absolutely excited to see what the One X can do.

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Email Daniel at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.