So you're eying up that Xbox One X but aren't sure if you can justify the hefty price point. It’s understandable, even with the wave of Black Friday Xbox One X (opens in new tab) deals expected in November. If you’re playing on a 1080p TV – and let’s be honest, the majority of gamers still are – the key question is, do you need a 4K set to really appreciate the X? Short(ish) answer? Kind of: playing games at 2160p offers a huge leap in quality over the 900p resolution many games run at on Xbox One S, yet there remain definite benefits to playing games at 1080p on X. Microsoft’s upgraded console offers a range of visual enhancements and improvements that you'll see the benefits from on a normal HD screen. However, there's a lot more to it than that, so let's go through the details below in... well, more detail. Oh, and if you are in the market for a new television, we’ve got you covered with the best gaming TVs available.
Do I need a 4K TV to play Xbox One X games?
No, like all consoles the Xbox One X will output a signal that can be read by whatever you can plug it into with an HDMI cable. 1080p isn't a problem, so whatever type of TV you're already playing on with your base Xbox One will work just fine. Hell, not only can you happily play games at 1080p and 720p on the X, Microsoft’s supercharged console even accepts a 480p signal. 4K is the peak output, but far from the only option.
Will an Xbox One X make games look better in 1080p?
While you won't obviously get 4K on a 1080p screen, you will still see some benefits thanks to a fancy graphical technique known as supersampling. This is a process whereby the Xbox One X renders an initial image in 4K, then downsizes it to 1080p. Because the original image was a much higher resolution, the 1080p results retain much more detail and appear a lot sharper as a result. For games where aliasing is a problem on the base Xbox One, like Shadow of the Tomb Raider, playing at Full HD on an X with supersampling will radically reduce jaggies, leading do a significantly smoother image.
Take a look at these two images to see what we mean. Note: the benefits of supersampling are a lot easier to spot in motion…
Normal 1080p output
1080p output supersampled from 4K
Can I see Xbox One X HDR without a 4K TV?
If your TV can see it, then yes. HDR isn't a new technology and has been a part of Xbox consoles since the S. As long as you have an HDR ready TV, you can see it with or without 4K.
Of course, the big catch is 1080p TVs that actually support high dynamic range are super rare. The vast majority of HDR televisions on the market are all 4K, which is hardly surprising, given that TV manufacturers can easily produce and sell Ultra HD panels for less than $400/£400 now. If by some minor miracle you do own an HDR ready 1080p TV though, Xbox One X will play games that support the feature just fine.
Will Xbox One X framerates be better without a 4K TV?
In many cases – especially with more recent games – the answer is a firm “hell yes”. If you’re still gaming at 1080p, you’ll find a good number of titles run faster at Full HD on Xbox One X than they do on the base console.
A couple of good recent examples are Just Cause 4 and Red Dead Redemption 2. On the normal Xbox One, Rico’s chaotic South American sandbox frequently dips below 30fps, but on the X, the action sticks to that framerate target far more regularly. Rockstar’s cowboy classic tells a similar story. On Microsoft’s premium console, Arthur Morgan’s adventure holds to a locked 30fps 95 per cent of the time, making it the smoothest console game Rockstar has ever released. However, it’s a different story on the base Xbox One. While general performance in the wilderness is largely steady, travelling to busy towns, like Saint Denis and Blackwater, can see performance drop to as low as 20fps.
Aside from improved framerates, you'll also see a small increase in loading times, although CPU power and HDD speeds mean that won't be a huge jump. Remember, the X’s processor is only 33 per cent faster than the base console’s; a measly jump in power when you consider the supercharged system’s GPU offers a 4.5x upgrade over the Xbox One S’ graphics tech.
So, should I buy an Xbox One X if I don't have a 4K TV then?
If you’re perfectly happy with your 1080p TV, then the X remains kind of a hard sell. The console still retails for around $400/£400, making it around twice the price of Xbox One S. If you’re going to make the upgrade, you need to really value supersampling and slight framerate improvements.
While smoother images and better performance is certainly welcome and can make certain games a good deal more enjoyable to play on the X at 1080p compared to the S, is that really worth $200/£200 to you? If you’ve got the money lying around, then go for it – Xbox One X is a superbly designed piece of kit. Short on cash? Then rest safe in the knowledge the S is still a fine console for gaming on a 1080p TV.