If you’re thinking about finally entering the next generation of gaming and buying an Xbox, you’re faced with a tough decision: Do you buy the old, reliant workhorse – the original Xbox One – or should you opt for the shiny, 4K-ready Xbox One S despite it costing a little extra?
It’s a tough question, but you don’t have to lose sleep (or gamerscore) over it.
Microsoft has made a bevy of minor tweaks to the original Xbox One and while some might go unnoticed, others will actually have a real effect on in-game performance.
Here’s what’s changed – and, more importantly, worth paying for – on the Xbox One S.
Xbox One S vs Xbox One: Design
Let’s get the elephant out of the room first. The Xbox One S is a decidedly smaller system. At 17 x 11.4 x 4.4 inches (L x W x D), it’s about 40% smaller than the original Xbox One. That’s given rise to the nickname “the Xbox One Slim.”
But despite shrinking the casing and cooling mechanisms by 40%, much of the system’s exterior remains largely unchanged. You’ll still find HDMI In and HDMI Out ports that allow you to pass in a cable TV signal, two Super Speed USB, S/PDIF and ethernet ports.
That said, you won’t find a place to plug in your Kinect if you’ve bought one from someone second-hand or kept it from the original. In order to make Microsoft’s motion-tracking peripheral play nice with Xbox One S, you’ll either need to buy an adapter from your favorite electronics retailer or reach out to Microsoft directly to request one.
Also consider that the Xbox One S doesn’t have an exterior power brick taking up room on your shelf. If you hated finding space next to the original Xbox One or lack a lot of room in your entertainment center area, you’ll appreciate the lack of an external power source.
One last possible selling point is that the launch edition of the Xbox One S has a 2TB hard drive – 1TB more than the special edition of the Xbox One that went on sale last year.
Xbox One S vs Xbox One: Performance
And while a lack of a power brick and 40% smaller form factor are cool, you probably want know what’s going on inside the box that make the One S the best system Microsoft has ever made.
Games with unlocked frame rates performed 7-11% better on the Xbox One S than on the original system
Inside a smaller, more efficient CPU and a slightly faster GPU give the Xbox One S a slight edge, performance-wise, over the original Xbox One. While Microsoft seems hesitant to acknowledge the difference in power itself, reputable tech breakdown site Digital Foundry found that some games with unlocked frame rates performed 7-11% better on the Xbox One S than on the original system. To some, the difference between 40 and 46 frames per second is a noticeable one. Others might not care as much.
What everyone can appreciate, however, is that the Xbox One S is the first console to support 4K playback. It has a 4K Blu-ray player built-in for high-density media playback, supports Netflix in Ultra HD and upscales games to 3,840 x 2,160.
Starting this fall the Xbox One S will also play some games in High Dynamic Range (HDR), essentially offering better contrast, color and brightness in some of your favorite games. At its keynote during E3 2016, Microsoft said that both Gears of War 4 and Forza Horizon 3 will play in the expanded color gamut technology with more first-party titles to follow next year.
If you’re worried that Microsoft will release games for one system and not the other, don’t be. Microsoft has said that both consoles will get exactly the same games going forward.
Xbox One S vs Xbox One: Controller
Another entry in the “tweaked but not totally different” category is the all-new Xbox One S controller that sports true Bluetooth capabilities and a textured backside.
So what, exactly, do I mean by “true Bluetooth”? In the original Xbox One controllers, the only way to connect them to a Bluetooth compatible device like, say, your PC, was through a first-party wireless dongle that only Microsoft was allowed to make.
The new controllers support a more egalitarian Bluetooth technology that will allow them to connect to Bluetooth devices without the extra dongle.
On the exterior, however, little has changed. All of the main face buttons remain exactly where they were on the original Xbox One controller, and while it’s a bit lighter overall, the difference will be almost imperceivable to some.
Now, that said, on the back of the controller on the wings are tiny raised bumps that are used to help you grip the controller for longer periods of time without feeling fatigued. Again, this is more of minor change rather than something Microsoft expects to sell the system on its own.
Xbox One S vs Xbox One: Price
Now that we’ve covered the differences in hardware, let’s talk about the difference in price.
The Xbox One S 2TB version that’s available right now retails for $399 (£349 / AU$549), while the 1TB version goes for $349 (£299 / AU$499) and the 500GB model that’s coming sometime later this year will sell for $299 (£249 / AU$399).
You can compare those numbers to the current price of the original 500GB Xbox One which, at the time this article was published, was $249 (£199, AU$399).
Should you upgrade to the Xbox One S?
That’s the $399 (£349 / AU$549) question, isn’t it? So the answer to this question depends on a few factors. If you own a 4K UHD TV with HDR capabilities, the Xbox One S is absolutely worth its sticker price.
If you don’t own a ultra-high resolution TV, but want moderately smoother gameplay, then the Xbox One S is probably worth the extra money.
If neither of those two facts are important to you and you see no need to plunk down extra for a larger hard drive, the original Xbox One is probably a safe bet.
All that said, there’s an even more powerful console, Microsoft’s Project Scorpio, that’s right around the corner – if you can hold off until Holiday 2017.
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