If you’re a PC-first type of person, there’s really only one reason to buy Microsoft’s Xbox One S: You own or plan to own a 4K HDR TV, and want a relatively affordable but feature-packed media box to show it off.
As a gaming machine, the Xbox One S fills an awkward niche in Microsoft’s lineup. At $299 for 500GB of storage, it’s $50 more than the existing Xbox One for the same 1080p gameplay. Microsoft says the One S will upscale games to 4K, but this slimmer Xbox One will almost certainly be eclipsed in a year’s time, when Microsoft’s more powerful Project Scorpio and its promise of 4K console gaming launches holiday 2017.
Three generations of Xboxen: the Xbox 360 (left), the Xbox One S (center) and the Xbox One (right).
But unlike Sony and its PlayStation 4, Microsoft has always seemed to think of the Xbox One as the living-room gateway to its software and services. Whether touting the system as an all-in-one media box or the best platform for console-exclusive games, the company tied the machine into the Windows ecosystem. In the Windows 8 era, Microsoft provided an app that let you control the console from your PC. With Windows 10, it dangled the lure of features like streaming from an Xbox One to a PC, with new ones continually in the pipeline for launch.
Microsoft has now pushed live its August update for the Xbox One—which some might call the equivalent of the Windows 10 Anniversary Update—and the One S is the first console designed to show off its new media support. This slimmer Xbox One might catch the eye, but being 40 percent smaller by volume than its predecessor isn’t its strongest selling point. The compact design is meaningful, but not as much as the sparkling 4K content that the console can push to your TV.
4K: The reason to buy the Xbox One S
After 3D TVs largely bombed, TV makers began selling consumers on the next big thing: 4K Ultra High-Definition (UHD) displays. To make them even more tempting, the newest TVs feature a new metric of visual quality—high dynamic range (HDR).
HDR is harder for me to appreciate without seeing a direct comparison with non-HDR content, but I sure can see the benefit of 4K. The additional resolution lends an air of reality that even 1080p lacks. More and more 4K content is finally becoming available, too, making it more worthwhile to upgrade. It’s no longer just limited handfuls of Netflix series and YouTube videos, but you now can buy 4K Blu-ray discs as well. To take advantage of the latter, however, you need to buy a 4K Blu-ray player, and they’re not cheap. Prices bounce around between roughly $200 to $400.
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