Updated

Xbox One S review: The Xbox One moves into the 4K generation

But it's only worthwhile if you own or plan to own a 4K TV.

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Granted, I’ve had better luck playing games like the slower-paced The Witcher 3 over streaming, which probably places less stress on the connection. So much of the experience when streaming games depends on the game, the network quality and bandwidth, and other factors. But for me, the experience wasn’t quite as good.

I will say, however, that the wireless connection between the controller and the Xbox One S is excellent. While the One S controller can connect wirelessly to your PC via Bluetooth (click the pair button on the controller to initiate it), you may find, as I did, that it will first successfully connect to the console. That may have played a role in my streaming issues, since I had better luck connecting a wired Xbox 360 controller to my PC and playing that way.

Yes, the One S plays games just fine

We haven’t forgot that the Xbox One is a game console. Perhaps you like to play the occasional console game (Halo, after all, has yet to come to PC)—maybe you like to play more often than that. If so, you’ll be happy to know that the One S is virtually the same gaming experience as the Xbox One.

There are some minor differences, due to improved hardware. The launch edition of the Xbox One S has a massive 2TB hard drive, which allows games to be stored locally and launch quickly. (That said, the cheap USB external drive attached to my original Xbox One does provide the equivalent amount of storage with acceptable performance.) Games that advantage of the One S’s HDR capabilities are also on their way, like Gears of War 4 and Forza Horizon 3—though it’ll take months before they arrive.

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And the One S is supposed to upscale games if you’re playing on a 4K TV, but so far, I haven’t seen anything that indicated that is indeed happening. I connected the Xbox One and the One S to different HDMI ports on the same 4K display, then played the same games to try and discern any difference. Of the games I tried, all looked identical between the two systems, and I noticed no differences in frame rate.

(In a report, Eurogamer found that the One S clock is 7 percent faster than the One—914 MHz versus 853 MHz, resulting in small frame rate increases of 2 to 5 fps in certain games and under specific conditions. Again, I noticed no differences between the two consoles in terms of frame rate.)

“Upscaled experiences will vary based on the game or app,” Microsoft said, when I asked whether my experience was out of the ordinary. So this feature’s appeal will depend on how well and pervasively it’s supported in the future.

Should you buy this console?

For me, the One S is the equivalent of retooling an American automobile for the European market, shrinking it down while adding the latest gizmos to appeal to a fresh audience. 

For PC fans who already happen to own an Xbox One and don’t own a 4K TV, I’d say to hold onto your money and wait for Project Scorpio in 18 months. By then, 4K TVs should be even more advanced and potentially cheaper, and in the meanwhile you can still play whatever console exclusives you love on the original Xbox One.

But if you’ve already invested in 4K hardware, and either want to get your hands on Halo  or just a much more versatile 4K Blu-ray player, then why not? The One S has taken Microsoft’s original concept of an all-in-one entertainment device and improved it nicely for the 4K generation.

Updated at 11:14 AM to note the differences in clock speed between the two Xbox consoles.

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At a Glance
  • Microsoft's Xbox One S may be physically smaller than its predecessor, but it's essentially an Xbox One remastered for the 4K generation.

    Pros

    • Massive 2 TB Launch Edition should store most of your games
    • Its 4K, HDR capabilities are perfect for the 4K generation
    • Space savings with no apparent cooling issues

    Cons

    • Without a 4K TV, One S advantages go away
    • Attaching the stand feels permanent, even if it isn't
    • Next-gen Project Scorpio is little more than a year away
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