Sony has released the PS4 Pro, a supercharged 4k-ready version of the original PlayStation 4, and later this year Microsoft will release Project Scorpio – the most powerful console ever made.
However, the truth is the best console to buy in 2017 might already be here; I'm talking about the Xbox One S. As its S suffix implies, it’s a slimline version of the current Xbox One, albeit with a few added extras. An astonishing 40% smaller overall, the Xbox One S is positively tiny compared to its hulking forebear. It's a gorgeous bit of modern console design, and I actually greatly prefer its white angular chassis to the rather more rounded layer cake design of Sony's newly-announced PS4 Slim.
It's also pretty attractive compared to Sony's PS4 Pro, and not just in terms of its looks. In a rather surprising move from Sony, neither of its new consoles come with a 4K Blu-ray drive, making them incompatible with UHD Blu-rays. The Xbox One S, however, does come with a 4K Blu-ray drive, giving it a unique advantage over its PlayStation rivals. I'll explain more about what this means and how it works below, but right now it's pretty safe to say that if you're thinking about upgrading your film library, the Xbox One S is definitely the best console for the job at the moment. It's also pretty attractive compared to Sony's PS4 Pro, and not just in terms of its looks.
In a rather surprising move from Sony, neither of its new consoles come with a 4K Blu-ray drive, making them incompatible with UHD Blu-rays. The Xbox One S, however, does come with a 4K Blu-ray drive, giving it a unique advantage over its PlayStation rivals. I'll explain more about what this means and how it works below, but right now it's pretty safe to say that if you're thinking about upgrading your film library, the Xbox One S is definitely the best console for the job at the moment.
Design, Controller and Ports
Getting back to the Xbox One S's design for a moment, though, you'll be pleased to hear that it rectifies many of the issues I had with the original console. The physical power button, for instance, is no longer touch-sensitive, so you'll never accidentally turn it off while you're dusting, and there's now a USB port on the front of the console rather than the side, making it easier to plug in your controller when you want to charge it.
Likewise, its new controller now supports Bluetooth, making it extremely easy to pair it with your PC or laptop - including Microsoft's own Surface devices like the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book - so you can game on the go or take advantage of Microsoft's cross-buy Xbox Play Anywhere initiative.
Not all digital games support this yet, but compatible titles will give you both an Xbox One and Windows 10 PC version of the game at no extra cost, allowing you to pick up your save on either format without having to buy the game twice. Previously, you had to plug it in via its micro USB connection or buy one of Microsoft's wireless adapters if you wanted to use your Xbox One controller to play games on PC, so the added flexibility is certainly very welcome.
The controller also has a new textured grip on the rear of the controller. It's pretty subtle, but it does feel nicer to hold in your hand compared to the smooth plastic of Microsoft's standard Xbox One controller. The good news is that these controllers will be available to buy separately as well, so you don't necessarily have to buy an entire console just to benefit from these couple of small tweaks.
Round the back, you'll find almost the same number of ports, including HDMI input and outputs, a pair of USB ports, an optical S/PDIF out, Ethernet port and an infrared output. The only thing missing is the port for Kinect, which has been ditched here to help streamline the console's overall dimensions. You can still use Kinect with the Xbox One S, but you'll need to buy a separate USB adapter. There's also a standard figure of eight power connector, signifying the fact that Microsoft has finally moved the power supply inside the main chassis, negating the need for that pesky power brick.
Noise and Power Consumption
It still kicks up a fair amount of noise during those quieter moments of operation – when you're browsing the menus or searching for apps, for instance – but once you've got a game or film going, you'd be pretty hard-pushed to hear it. Indeed, our Dr Meter Sound Level Meter recorded the Xbox One S at between 44dB and 47dB up close when it was playing a Blu-ray disc (with the background office aircon hum at 41dB), which is around the same as the original Xbox One.
One thing the Xbox One S does improve on is power consumption. When sitting idle on the menu screen the Xbox One S drew only 30W of power from the mains, which barely changed when I put in a Blu-ray disc. The original Xbox One, however, drew 46W of power on the menu screen and up to 55W when playing a Blu-ray, so the Xbox One S should be slightly less expensive to run over the course of a year.
4K Blu-ray drive
However, the Xbox One S is much more than just a streamlined Xbox One. It also has a 4K Blu-ray drive packed into it as well as high dynamic range (HDR) support. With HDR enabled content, the colour gamut becomes considerably wider than your standard sRGB palette, showing brilliant whites, blacker blacks and a whole lot more colour content in between. This translates into brighter, more vibrant images and a more detailed picture overall, as highlights are less prone to clipping around very bright objects like sun flares, for example, and darker scenes will have a much smoother shadow gradient.
It also happens to be the cheapest 4K Blu-ray player you can buy today. Until now, those in search of a 4K Blu-ray player only had two choices: Samsung's UBD-K8500 player, which currently costs £350, or Panasonic's £379 DMP-UB900. That's a lot of money for a standalone Blu-ray player, but the Xbox One S finally opens things up to the masses, with the 500GB version costing £249 and the 1TB version £299, knocking off at least £100 the price of entry. Both of these consoles will be arriving on 22 September (the initial run of 2TB Xbox One S bundles has now sold out) so that alone is a pretty compelling reason to go out and buy one. It's also worth bearing in mind that Panasonic will be releasing a cheaper 4K Blu-ray player very soon in the form of the DMP-UB700, but there's currently no word on how much that will cost in the UK yet.
Of course, it goes without saying that you'll also need a 4K TV to take full advantage of the Xbox One S and preferably one that supports HDR. However, bear in mind that this doesn't mean it will play Xbox One games in 4K. I repeat, it WILL NOT play games in 4K. Instead, it outputs games at their original resolution, leaving your TV to do the extra legwork of upscaling them to match its 4K resolution – much like it does with standard TV content.
The 4K Blu-ray drive is a real win for Microsoft, as we now know that neither Sony's PS4 Slim or even the PS4 Pro will have one built-in. This leaves the Xbox One S as the only current console that's capable of playing UHD Blu-rays, and it seems absolutely mad that Sony has followed suit - especially as both the PS2 and PS3 were the first consoles of their kind to come with a DVD and Blu-ray drive respectively. Of course, Sony's new consoles still support HDR, so games on the Slim will still look largely the same as its Xbox One S counterparts.
How the Xbox One S will compare to the PS4 Pro, however, is a little more complicated. With its upgraded internals and beefier GPU, the PS4 Pro is, supposedly, capable of rendering games in 4K. However, so far Sony's been pretty vague on whether this means outputting at a native 4K resolution or whether it's employing some clever kind of upscaling technology. I'll update this review as soon as I've had a chance to test the Pro, but based on the information available, it looks as though the PS4 Pro will be able to deliver a superior gaming experience compared to the Xbox One S, even if it can't play 4K Blu-rays.
See also: Sony PS4 Pro review: Beats the PS4?