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Review: Microsoft Xbox One S

Microsoft Xbox One S

A review of the Microsoft Xbox One S console on Son-Vidéo.com? Not exactly, even if we did indeed bring the latest Microsoft video game console into our living room, where we connected it to an LG 4K Ultra HD television. Instead of evaluating the gaming experience, however, we focused on testing the streaming and audio/video playback possibilities offered by this console. Can it be used as a multimedia video player? Is it compatible with 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray discs? Is the number of films and TV series available for streaming satisfactory? In short, can this console be integrated into a high-quality hi-fi or home cinema installation?

Microsoft Xbox One S: Ultra HD HDR10

One of the strong points of the Xbox One S is clearly its compatibility with ultra high-definition formats (4K Ultra HD 2160p) and High Dynamic Range (HDR) technology. In addition to its ability to display images with up to 8 million pixels (as opposed to about 2 million for the Xbox One), the Xbox One S can also deliver a wider color gamut and higher contrast via its HDMI 2.0a output. Detailed dark zones, highly textured (and not burnt) bright zones, the benefits associated with HDR images are indisputable. At least, they are for users who possess an Ultra HD Premium certified or HDR-compatible television, the absolute requisite for displaying HDR images. OLED TVs, with their infinite contrast, are probably the best choice at the moment.

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However, owning an Ultra HD Premium LG or Samsung (for example) TV is not all that is required to activate the Xbox One S’s HDR mode. The content viewed (game, film) must be encoded in HDR format. Currently, about a dozen video games (Battlefield 1, Final Fantasy XV, Gears of Wars, Scalebound, etc.) are available, and while their native resolution is nonetheless 1920x1080p (HDTV 1080p), they benefit from the Xbox One S’s 4K Ultra HD upscaling capacities.

Microsoft Xbox One S

Microsoft Xbox One S: 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player

To enjoy 4K Ultra HD and HDR images with the Xbox One S console, the first solution is to watch 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray films and TV series. For example, most American blockbusters (The Revenant, Batman vs. Superman, etc.). The Xbox One S is fitted with a “slot-in” Blu-ray player which is compatible with Ultra HD discs (as well as with Blu-ray, DVD and CD-Audio). Note that playing this HDR content is possible with a non-HDR Ultra HD or HDTV display, as the console will transmit 8 of the 10 bits contained in each image to the screen accordingly.

Microsoft Xbox One S: video streaming

Second solution, use the Xbox One S to connect to the Microsoft store, which offers movies and TV series for rent or purchase and should soon propose 4K Ultra HD content. But it’s moreso Netflix and Amazon Prime Video (subtitled content) which provide 4K Ultra HD content, as both platforms produce their original TV series in very high definition.

Amazon Xbox One S

Microsoft Xbox One S: Plex compatibility

If you’ve stored your dematerialized collection of DVDs and Blu-ray films on your home’s NAS and installed the Plex Media Server app, take note that the Microsoft Xbox One S console is compatible with the Plex playback server, which can be downloaded from the Microsoft store. This app is free. While the app doesn’t handle Ultra HD content yet, Plex has been working to change this. Pending the availability of Ultra HD content, it is possible to make the most of the console’s high-quality video capabilities to watch movies in HDTV 1080p.

Xbox One Plex

Microsoft Xbox One S: integrated multimedia player

Microsoft has brought back the Xbox One’s multimedia player, now compatible with 2160p (4K Ultra HD) and HDR content. However, support for multiple audio tracks and subtitles integrated into MKV files is lacking. It’s not always possible to choose a track, whether it’s from a USB drive or DLNA server. Opting for VLC for the Xbox One S should thus be seriously considered.

Microsoft Xbox One S

The Microsoft Xbox One S’s power button is back-lit

The same multimedia player handles playback for audio files, transferring digital audio stream via the HDMI or S/PDIF output. It is thus the quality of the external DAC or the DAC paired up with the amplifier which will determine this console’s sonic performance.

Microsoft Xbox One S: presentation

40% smaller than the Xbox One, the Microsoft Xbox One S’s particularly compact format makes it easy to slide into place right below your television. The console’s front panel features the optical player’s entry slot, a USB type A port and an IR receiver. The latter enables the transmission of control commands from the console to other HDMI devices. A mini-jack IR output located at the back of the console allows for connection to the IR input of an amplifier or compatible player.

The back panel also includes two HDMI jacks, an input to connect a set-top box, for example, and an output compatible with 4K Ultra HD 2160p content. Two USB ports are available, along with a Toslink optical S/PDIF connector and an RJ-45 Ethernet connector. The console’s WiFi antenna has been incorporated into the device.

Microsoft Xbox One S

Practically invisible, the entry slot of the Xbox One S’s Ultra HD Blu-ray player is located in the center of the device’s front panel.

Microsoft Xbox One S: test conditions and impressions

We connected the Xbox One S to a nearby WiFi router. As soon as it was powered up, the Xbox One S connected to the Internet in order to check for updates. An update was available and 1GB of data was downloaded, with atypical variations in the data transfer rate which were  probably linked to Microsoft’s servers overloading. After an hour, installation continued, and the joystick’s Bluetooth firmware was also updated. Our first game took about 20 minutes to install, as about 18GB of data was transferred to the internal hard drive.

Microsoft Xbox One S

A full hour was necessary to completely install the Xbox One S console

Copying generates a relatively significant amount of noise, as the disc inserted spins at high speed. During animated sequences, the console is quiet, and the sound produced by the games completely covers all background operating noise. When reading a Blu-ray disc, however, the player is not discreet, which makes the possibility of using this console as an optical player merely theoretical in our eyes. Moreover, the only Ultra HD disc we had on hand at the time of testing, The Revenant, was simply not read, even though the “Blu-ray player” app had been correctly installed on the console when the disc was inserted. As for 1080p Blu-ray discs, the image seemed suitably defined and contrasted, and rather neutral on our 65” LG display. Image fluidity was very good.

We downloaded and installed the Plex app for Xbox from the Microsoft store. Our various Plex servers were accessed without difficulty and the browsing interface was identical to that of Plex Home Theater (Windows, Mac, etc.). We were thus not in uncharted territory and playing 1080p movies was not at all an issue for the Xbox One S.

As for games, once the wait was finally over for their installation or update with several GB in tow, each naturally unfolded on a very large Ultra HD display. The Xbox One S’s approach to upscaling from 1080p to 2160p is impeccable and has no negative effects on the frame rate. The colors and textures are impressive.

Battlefield

Microsoft Xbox One S: conclusions

The Microsoft Xbox One S is without a doubt an excellent video game console for those who like to wage wars and tussle with monsters. We can only praise the quality of its graphics and there is plenty to enjoy paired with a 1080p HDTV display, as there is with a 4K Ultra HD display. On the other hand, it seems unwise to use this console as a main Blu-ray player (Ultra HD), especially in light of its inability to read certain Blu-ray discs and the noise it generates. At the same time, we did appreciate the Xbox One S’s compatibility with Plex and NetFlix.

This post is also available in: French

About the author

Tristan Jacquel

Tristan est rédacteur chez Son-Vidéo.com. Passionné de musique, d'acoustique et de high-tech, il réalise notamment les tests matériels pour notre blog.

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