This is not a gamer's review – I don’t have the expertise for that. Rather this is trying to answer the question “What else can it be used for?” as it seems to be a staple of many home entertainment systems. In fact, Microsoft has repositioned it as "an all-in-one entertainment system".
The answer lies in the fact that under that attractive white box lies a Windows 10 Xbox (version) computer with some reasonably impressive specifications – 4K Blu-ray, HDR support, DLNA server support, 8GB RAM, AMD Jaguar/Durango CPU/GPU, 500GB/1/2TB hard disk, HDMI and Optical Toslink sound output and a vast array of sound codecs up to 7.1 - DTS-HD Master Audio, Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD High Resolution Audio, Dolby Digital Plus, DTS, Dolby Digital, and recently Dolby Atmos.
All this starts at $399 and real flexibility comes from, adding a digital TV tuner ($39), external SSD/HDD, Miracast (W-Di) adaptor, and, OK, thousands of Xbox One games, a growing list of Xbox 360 games, and Xbox Live online games.
The base unit has:
- One console
- One controller
- One HDMI cable
- One power cable
There are various bundles with games and hard disks from 500GB, 1TB and 2Tb.
Specifications – Model 1681
- 1.75 GHz AMD "Jaguar" 8-core CPU
- Overclocked 914 MHz Radeon Graphics Durango GPU with HDR10 video
- 8GB gDDR3 SDRAM
- 8GB eMMC NAND flash memory (short term accelerator storage)
- 500GB, 1TB and 2TB, (Seagate SATA III, 5400RPM, 6GBps) HDD (note that an SSD can be fitted but the firmware does not support SSD management features like trim so lifespan may be shortened)
- BD-ROM (4K Blu-ray)
- Wi-Fi AC, dual band, 2 x 2 MU-MIMO, Bluetooth 4.x, IR Blaster
- 1 x HDMI 2.0a input and 1 x HDMI 2.0a supports 4K @60Hz output (to TV)
- IR blaster port
- S/PDIF Toslink output
- Gigabit Ethernet port
- 3 x USB 3.0 – will accept external HDDs
- 4K game and video upscale, HDR support dependent on content
The unit does not have a 3.5mm analogue audio output but the hand controller does (this uses the controller battery) to connect external wired stereo sound devices – headsets, chat sets, and powered speakers.
It uses Bluetooth for its own purposes and will not connect to Bluetooth speakers or headsets etc. The two options for digital sound are via HDMI or Toslink Optical cable.
Hooking up a 4K TV
Initial reports indicated some issues with older 4K TV sets – recognising HDR was top of the list. The best solution is to make sure the TVs are running the latest firmware. There may be two other tweaks that may be needed.
First, is to see if the TV has a specific “deep colour” or UHD setting needed to make it work. This was needed to recognise HDR on a Star Trek Beyond Blu-ray.
Second, you may have to adjust the Xbox to output 10-bit colour instead of the 8-bit default.
Little ticks and crosses show whether your TV can handle 4K at 60Hz, 50Hz and 24Hz, and whether it is compatible with HDR10 video. It will tell you whether you can watch video and/or play games in 4K and HDR.
In any case, it will play the highest resolution your device supports and on 2016/17 4K TVs that will be 4K.
4K 3840 x 2160 Blu-ray player
As a 4K player with HDR, its picture is very good – it is a computer with a Blu-ray drive so it does “more” than the excellent stand-alone Samsung UBD-K8500 4K Blu-ray and can even be controlled by the new OneRemote in the 2017 Samsung Smart TV line-up. I got the opportunity to try the Xbox One S beside the Samsung UBD and there was no visual picture difference.
In early-mid 2016 there were some alleged 4K titles that would not play in Xbox One S but would play in a Samsung UBD K8500. The issue was investigated and it was found that these were not shot in 4K but remastered. Xbox has addressed the firmware to play these in 1080p and upscale. I tried a range of disks and all were fine.
It will stream video content from a DLNA server and automatically found on the network a WD MyCloud, as well as USB plug-ins of a Samsung 1TB T3 SSD and a WD 2TB My Passport.
It has apps for Netflix, Stan, iView, Foxtel Play, Plex (media client), Blu-ray player, media player, and more. You can buy movies, music and games from the Store.
The external DLNA/SSD/HDD interface is a little boring – black and white folders but it does show colour video and music covers. It plays all DRM (digital rights management) formats – a list is here.
It will attempt to upscale lower resolution content to the attached screen resolution. It is very good and even worked well on older 480 and 720p TV shows.
1080p content looks very good upscaled to 4K. It appeared to upscale better than a 4K TV could do - the GPU has more than enough grunt to handle this.
Control and User Interface
At the start, it is a little daunting to only have a games controller and an on-screen keyboard. But you can add an USB keyboard. Interestingly, an USB mouse will not work as the menu system is designed for nested folder by folder access.
Cortana is enabled by adding a Kinect (it has a mic) or 3.5mm audio plug-in headset/microphone – she can be quite useful.
Using the controller for games is fine but it lacks a little intuitiveness for video playback until you get used to it – you need to learn how to use the controller and navigate through menus and more. It’s not bad but it is not plug-and-play.
The Xbox will output up to 7.1 digital sound via HDMI or Toslink optical cable. The hi-fidelity was excellent.
I wanted to test Dolby Atmos after being spoiled by Samsung’s amazing A$1999 500W, HW-K950 5.1.4 soundbar and satellite speakers but unfortunately, these are selling faster than supply.
I also tried a range of DVD and CD music titles and all were crisp and clear, the unit neither adding or taking away from the sound and there was no induced noise.
I did find myself sneaking a game of Grand Theft Auto but was able to tear myself away – kids will love this. The nice thing about this console is that you can play Xbox Play Anywhere digital games and play on a Windows 10 device too.
- Price – from $399 it is excellent value
- Plays 4K video and all other music
- Amongst the best upscale I have seen with accurate colours and HDR
- Nice looks
- Controller – once you get used to it
- Does more than a standalone 4K Blu-ray player
- Need to be Xbox literate and put up with boring menus
- Needs a good sound system attached that supports PCM stream– would have been perfect if it supported Wi-Fi and Bluetooth sound
- Initially a little daunting to use until you get used to it
To buy or not over a dedicated 4K, HDR Blu-ray player? Its prime feature is that it has additional features at a price that is hard to beat – games, apps and more so on that basis go for it. In fact, even if you have an HD TV it is a good investment over a standard Blu-ray player.
I think it is a fine alternative provided the main users are Xbox literate – otherwise stick to an idiot-proof dedicated device that plays 4K Blu-ray but does little else.
The caveat is that you will want a 4K TV as well and perhaps a Dolby Atmos capable soundbar – so at $399 it is a no brainer.