Xbox One S 2TB Console (4K HDR with UHD Blu-ray)Overview -
The Xbox One S is, as the "S" in its name denotes, a slimmed down version of the original Xbox One. But along with the smaller form factor comes several new features, most notable of which are the 4K HDR display and Ultra HD Blu-ray support. So while the Xbox One S follows a long tradition slim, slick redesigns, it also promises new entertainment options, and even a gaming upgrade in the form of HDR support.
The Xbox One S
While 2016 has seen a rash of rumors surrounding new console hardware (worthy of a three-pronged new generation), the Xbox One S is the first officially announced console, the first one showcased, and the first one to see release. To be clear, this 2TB Xbox One S, like the 1TB and 500GB versions which will follow in three weeks' time, is not the announced Project Scorpio, which Microsoft says will be a Xbox One compatible 4K gaming and VR ready machine, and which has a launch window of holiday 2017. No, the Xbox One S is a slim Xbox One, but it is also a Xbox One that offers Ultra HD Blu-ray support, 4K video streaming, and HDR support for gaming.
The 2TB version of the Xbox One S appears to be a limited time offering (like a launch edition). Out of the box and post 4.5GBs of updates, there was 1.6TB of free hard drive space. I barely noted it as, unlike the PS4, the Xbox One and Xbox One S supports external USB 3.0 hard drives. I use a 4TB external drive (Toshiba 7200rpm drive in an Inateck aluminum enclosure) with my Day One Xbox One, and it was easy enough to move over to the Xbox One S. It did take the new system some moments to recognize everything installed on the drive, and for certain apps and games, a few more moments when first launching on the new console, but the process was easy and ages faster than having to redownload digital titles or reinstall disc games.
The 2TB Xbox One S includes the console, a HDMI cable, a unpolarized power cable, a 14 day Xbox Live trial, a new Xbox One controller which includes Bluetooth functionality, two AA batteries, and a stand so that the console can be positioned vertically. My loaner unit also came with a Ultra HD Blu-ray copy of 'Star Trek.'
Unlike the original Xbox One, the S does not have a dedicated Kinect port. There is a special adapter which uses USB 3.0. The adapter is not included with the system, but I was able to use my 2013 Kinect Xbox One module by using a Kinect for Windows adapter provided by Microsoft. My major takeaway here is that Cortana really does work better, and so, it seems like the Xbox One voice control has become more user-friendly.
(Anyone migrating their Kinect from an older system should look into getting a free adapter from Microsoft here.)
I've never liked power bricks on game consoles, and my original Xbox One's single major fault in its life happened last year when the power brick's fan decided to start being noisy, even when the system was in stand-by. (Microsoft did send me a new one, which was an easy fix.) Still, I love the Xbox One S's diminished footprint as compared with its blocky predecessor. Being rid of the external power brick is a smart turn and makes the slimmer size even more impressive. More to the point it makes the Xbox One S so much easier to fit into both a living room setting and in a household where consoles need to move regularly.
I've been happy to stand up the last two Nintendo consoles, but standing up the PS2 and later the 360 has left me wary of doing so with the newer versions. So it can easily be said that the Xbox One S's ability to be stood up and the 2TB inclusion of the $20 stand as wasted on me. Then again, I can see where, when wanting to fit the Xbox One S in cluttered secondary settings, the vertical placement could be real space-saver.
The stand connects using two snap-in tabs and matches the dark plastic on the bottom of the console.
More important to me, the Xbox One S manages to be small, but also relatively quiet. I threw quite a few things at the console, including Ultra HD Blu-rays, Xbox One disc games, and a disc copy of 'Red Dead Redemption,' and I found that the system did not seem to have that high whirr that comes with taxed-out fans and components. Of course, the system has a 120mm fan to do the cooling, and testing was done in an air-conditioned environment. Still, there was no pausing of a game to find that the system was sounding stressed.
The Xbox One S has an actual power button that can be depressed. It joins two other actual buttons (eject and pairing) on the console's front. The original Xbox One's capacitive touch power button hasn't really every given me trouble, but I like the move all the same. I would like it, if like on the Elite controller, the light of the power button could be dimmed in the settings.
The Xbox One S has three USB 3.0 ports, one in the front and two on the back. Other ports of note include the single HDMI out and single HDMI in. There's also an optical S/PDIF port, an Ethernet port, and an IR Out port for use with the Xbox One S's built-in IR blaster.
Xbox One Software & Accessories
I went out of my way to trip up the both the Xbox One S and new controller using various accessories and games without much in the way of drama. Games like 'Fallout 4,' 'Forza 6,' 'DOOM,' 'Call of Duty: Black Ops III,' the 360 disc version of 'Red Dead Redemption,' EA Access games like 'Peggle 2,' and even that tricky bit of DLC called 'Rock Band 4.' There were no issues with any of the games though it did take a little while to pull down my 'Fallout 4' save file from the cloud.
Even having just received several new updates, the Xbox One S felt more poised during usage than what I was used to on my Day One Xbox One. Apps and games seemed less likely to crash to the dashboard or to temporarily lock up. This likely has to do with the system being brand new. While playing 'Fallout 4,' saving, loading, using the Pip-Boy, etc. felt more reliable in a placebo type way. There was not, however, a massive jump in performance, especially in a challenging game like 'Fallout 4.'
Although the functionality has always seemed like an undercooked novelty, I did test out the HDMI In using a Uverse receiver. While it worked, the snapped-in feed would still hitch in time with starting a game and doing anything like loading. Netflix no longer offers snap usage, but both Amazon and Cortana worked.
Though not unique to the Xbox One S, Cortana is now available to be used with any mic. I'd say Cortana works as well on the Xbox One S as on other device.
I used a Xbox Elite Wireless controller and a Lunar White controller without missing a step. I used the Rock Band 4 Legacy Game Adapter and 'RB3' Fender guitar controller, a Wii USB mic and Logitech mic without a hitch. The Turtle Beach Elite 800x Wireless Headset worked great as did several USB hubs and cables. The IR-based 2014 Xbox One Media Remote still gets the job done so to speak.
It was with the new controller that I ran into a snag. No matter what I did, it would not recognize or power the Xbox Chatpad. I take this as an issue with my specific controller or else something that will be fixed quickly, but I am sure that the Chatpad works fine with the aforementioned Elite and Lunar White controllers on the Xbox One S. Other controller connected accessories like the Astro M80 and a trio of audio adapters from Microsoft, Turtle Beach, and Polk, all appeared to get along great.
The New Xbox Wireless Controller
Aside from not recognizing the Chatpad, this new Xbox Wireless controller performed well. The underside textured grip is quite subtle, especially compared with the Lunar White. I was surprised to find that all the face buttons, especially the Menu and View buttons, have been raised slightly. The controller looks and feels good, but it's not an obvious upgrade. I've been fortunate to have good wireless performance in all my half dozen Xbox One controllers, and this new controller fits right in with that experience. Where it gets interesting is the new Bluetooth feature. The new controller offers Bluetooth for non-Xbox devices, and I was impressed by being able to pair the controller with my LG G5 in mere moments.
This is indeed a big change from the launch of the Xbox One. The new controller carries forward the 2015 addition of a built-in 3.5mm port, better bumpers (which may now be even better), and can now be used via Bluetooth on a PC.
4K HDR Set-up
So far, I've covered the console as a "Slim" model and how it does filling the role of the original Xbox One. But beyond the console's sleek looks, there is its more important purpose. The Xbox One S is a 4K HDR device.
When I first hooked the device up, I connected it by HDMI to the Denon S910W, which was connected to the LG 65UH7700 with LG's HDMI Ultra HD Deep Color setting enabled, I did not get a picture. I decided then to hook up the Xbox One S directly to the LG TV and turn the TV's HDMI Ultra HD Deep Color setting off.
As the console came to life, I was met with the typical Xbox One update screens, complete with images of the old hardware. After two updates, a 3.4GB update and a 1GB update, the onscreen images of a console and controller changed to match the new Xbox One S hardware.
Upon reaching the dashboard, the system immediately prompted me to "Switch to 4K?" I did so, powered down and connected the Xbox One S to the AVR, but I did not enable the TV's HDMI Ultra HD Deep Color setting. As a result, the Xbox One S reported via a new 4K details screen in the settings, that my TV supported 4K UHD but did support 4K 10-bit video (at 24Hz, 50Hz, or 60Hz), HDR video, or HDR gaming.
I then enabled the TV's HDMI Ultra HD Deep Color setting and rechecked. At which point everything in the 4K details section was green with the exception of 4K 10-bit video at 50Hz.
Other set-up things I had to do include signing in with my gamertag (using two-step verification) updating the new controller (via USB) and downloading the Blu-ray app. Sadly, the Sound options are the same as the original Xbox One. (5.1 and 7.1 PCM are the top options. Dolby Digital and DTS bitstreaming options are there for optical devices.)
The upswing here is that after updating, I had a device that could handle certain 4K content and certain HDR content, and could upscale everything else. I found the Xbox One S to overall be more aggressive in activating the TV's HDR mode than the other devices I used, but the results were mostly smooth.
Unfortunately, while some big titles coming this year will offer HDR gaming via the Xbox One S, namely 'Gears of War 4' and 'Forza Horizon 3,' (and in 2017, 'Scalebound') there is nothing available to try or demo at launch. The 2TB Xbox One S loaner unit reviewed here has yet to be tested in terms of HDR gaming. The new console has some power set aside just for HDR gaming, but we'll have to wait a bit longer to see it.
The earliest I expect for that to change would be early to mid-September, when a demo of 'Forza Horizon 3' will hopefully mark the public debut for HDR gaming.
Ultra HD Blu-ray
October 27th 2017 Update: The media and Atmos capabilites, including Ultra HD Blu-ray, have been revisited review-wise here. The updates are significant.
I wanted to be able to able to review the console without being entirely fixated on Ultra HD Blu-ray playback, so I have a separate feature detailing my verdict. (See here.) Being brief here, I think with the console having only one HDMI out, it's going be tough for anyone who has a new 4K HDR set but is trying to use an AVR that doesn't have HDCP 2.2. Likewise, since I enjoy Atmos and DTS:X, it's frustrating that both the original Xbox One and now the Xbox One S lack support for those formats. I wish that Microsoft would add direct bitstreaming and add it soon. (October 26th 2016 Update: Audio bitstreaming has been promised as "coming soon" in an official announcement. That means Dolby Atmos support. See here.)
Those faults aside, the Ultra HD Blu-ray playback is quite competent. I tried seven different discs, including 'Star Trek,' 'The Martian Extended Edition,' 'Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut,' 'Sicario, 'The Revenant, Creed, 'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition', and 'Chappie' and the only issue I could turn was a brief judder that occasionally followed up manual scene selection.
The two year old Xbox One Media Remote worked well enough for Ultra HD Blu-ray playback and in some ways, the experience was better than with my Samsung UBD-8500.
The Blu-ray app will not allow any app snapping aside from Cortana, but that's hardly a loss for me. Spinning up an Ultra HD Blu-ray would engage the TV's HDR mode, but a regular Blu-ray would not. (If HDR mode engaged, playing a regular Blu-ray will disengage it.)
Ultra HD Streaming
The Xbox One S is a HDR10 device, but the initial streaming video options don't reflect that. Netflix will output 4K, but not the HDR part of their titles. At launch, Amazon and Vudu remain 1080p apps. This should change soon.
The continued lack of Atmos support for both Blu-rays and now Ultra HD Blu-rays is frustrating. It may be that Microsoft does not want to come to terms with a Xbox console the doesn't have the familiar Xbox sounds for each part of the UI. Still, I think that Microsoft should have added both Atmos (and DTS:X) support for video as well as games. Atmos for console games and gaming in general has yet to be realized, which is shame because games really already use object-based audio.
Going back to the 2013, when the Xbox One and PS4 debuted, it did seem like the new consoles would be out of sync with home theater trends. Like when the Xbox 360 debuted without HDMI, but that omission was later corrected via updated designs. That the Xbox One S is a HDCP 2.2 HDR capable device is an important step. With so many 4K TVs and 4K HDR10 TVs making their way into consumers' homes, the Xbox One S is an obvious consideration.
I did try hooking up the Xbox One S directly to the TV and then using the ARC for audio to the receiver. This HDCP 2.2 AVR workaround could only manage Stereo PCM and bitstreaming 5.1 Dolby Digital or DTS.
When hooked to the AVR while the TV's HDMI Ultra Deep Color setting is engaged, my Uverse Motorola VIP2250 receiver does not output sound via HDMI. I get around this by using the optical out on the Uverse receiver. Using the Uverse receiver with the Xbox One S HDMI In while hooked up to the AVR with the TV's HDMI Ultra Deep Color Setting engaged caused that same issue. (Turning off the HDMI Ultra Deep Color setting did allow audio to go via HDMI from the Uverse box to the Xbox One S and to the AVR.)
The Xbox One S is a sexy, slick game console and Ultra HD Blu-ray player. The compact, quiet, and capable hardware makes for a natural companion for 4K HDR TVs beyond the media players already on the market. The lack of Atmos, DTS:X, and direct bitstreaming support along with a complete dearth of HDR game content mar an otherwise impressive upgrade over the original Xbox One. (Direct bitstreaming is now supported fully and there is a multitude of HDR content. This along with other changes are explored here. The review score has been updated to reflect this.) It's no wonder that the Xbox One S feels like a relaunch. For 1080p sets, the Xbox One S is a worthwhile "Slim" upgrade over the original Xbox One.
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