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Xbox Series S: Next-gen gaming for the budget conscious

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The Series S is the smallest Xbox console EVER. (Courtesy: Microsoft)

(WOAI/KABB) – Microsoft is diving into next generation gaming in a big way this year with the dual release of the Xbox Series X and Series S consoles.

The Series X and Series S are Microsoft's first major new game console since the release of the Xbox One back in 2013. And instead of releasing just one console, Microsoft upped its game and released two that feature superior technical specs and will be able to play the same games at smoother and at higher frame rates that previous consoles.

The monolith tower that is the Xbox Series X is the most powerful gaming console to date that can run those next-gen games, which would push any normal console to its limits.

The Series S is a bit less powerful than its big brother, but you're still going to get that next-gen experience and it could be the best option for many gamers who are not only budget conscious but are willing to trade graphics for performance. You still get access to many of the traditional Xbox titles with a crisp 1440p visual experience.

However, it’s the price of the Series S that is going to be the big draw for gamers and parents alike. At $299, the Series S is the most inexpensive way to get into next-gen gaming compared to the Series X's sticker marked at $499.

It’s the Series S that we’re going to focus on.

DESIGN

First and foremost: The Series S is the smallest Xbox console EVER.

Its sleek design is perfect for people that don’t want their gaming console to take up a lot of space. Gone are the days of those bulky game consoles that you practically had to build its own entertainment center just to store it. Now, it is hard to explain just how small the Series S is compared to other consoles until you get it into your hands. This is small, especially if you put it up against the Series X or even the Xbox 360. It is as wide as a couple of game controllers and it is really light as well. You can place it horizontally or vertically and it will look great, but being able to fit your gaming system into those small spaces in today's entertainment centers is going to draw tons of people to the Series S.

On the rear side, you’ll find the power port, an Ethernet jack, two USB-A ports, an HDMI output and a storage expansion slot, while in the front you'll find one USB-A port and a pairing button for the remote tucked right beside it. The Xbox logo on the front not only glows, but it’s also the power button for Series S.

Also in the box is the new Xbox wireless controller, which looks similar to previous controllers, but with some very cool changes that gamers will love.

The Xbox Series S Controller has a white matte finish with textured trigger buttons and grips makes it feel comfortable in your hands. The hybrid D-pad has a more circular design that feels more ergonomic and is perfect for those precise directions during gameplay.

Another cool feature is the dedicated share button so you can share screenshots or clips a lot more easily with your friends.

And of course, you have your HDMI cable and your power cord.

EMBRACING THE DIGITAL AGE

Just so you know – the Series S is a completely digital console, which means all your gaming is on the cloud via a similar interface that features Xbox Game Pass. Now that means, you don't have to run out to the store and reserve your copy of your favorite game on release day. Just sit there and let the console do the work.

Now both the Series S and Series X are backwards compatible, but if you 've got a ton of games on disk, you won't be able to play them on the Series S unless you purchased them on the cloud.

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Microsoft has recently amped up their digital gaming with Xbox Ultimate Game Pass, which allows you to choose from a library of over 100 games to play for a really low monthly price. And they just merged with EA Play, so you can now play Madden, NHL and FIFA games, not to mention Sims 4 and Star Was Jedi Fallen Order with the same Ultimate Game Pass subscription.

Many gamers have already gone all digital as far gaming, so the Series S being a completely digital system is a plus. No need to worry about losing or breaking your disks. Everything is on the cloud.

And with Microsoft’s Smart Delivery, you don’t have to buy the same game on every console. Now, it will deliver the best version of the game to you – at no charge.

If you look at it against its big brother – the Series X – you can see just how small it is in comparison.

But at $200 less, you would expect there would be some compromises to get the Series S to that price point.

Now to make the Series S so slim, Microsoft had to remove some things, mainly the optical drive. So, if you were expecting to play your Blu Ray or 4K movies like on the previous console, sorry to break it to you.

GAMING AT 1440P

Now, the Series S has a very similar level of specs to the Series X. Both consoles feature a custom AMD RDNA 2 GPU, which gives you the power to play all those next-gen games, but with one big difference: Graphics.

The Series S is a 4 Teraflop console, while the Series X is 12.1 Teraflops, which means that the Series S is still better than the Xbox One S it is replacing, but on par with its big brother. The Series S is not aiming to run games at 4K but is targeting for upscaled 1440p resolution at 60 frames per second, which makes a huge difference on a 1440p monitor.

Now what does that mean to a gamer

It means that the Series S will give you all the features of next-gen just at a lower resolution, and of course, a lower price.

And don't forget, the optimized games from the previous console, like Gears 5, look remarkably better.

It is much like buying a smart phone. You have a higher priced smart phone that has a few more bells and whistles, but they also offer a cheaper model that gives you all the features of the phone, but maybe at slightly slower speeds.

STORAGE WARS

Now let’s look at storage space.

The Series S comes with 512GB NVME solid-state drive (SSD), but you actually only get 364 gig of useable space due to the operating system.

Now that isn’t a lot of space when you figure that a lot of next-gen games can reach 100 gig per title. What it does mean is ultra-fast load times and there aren’t any moving parts inside.

Now if you're still fixated on the storage space of the Series S, there is a silver lining.

Microsoft has addressed the storage issue by telling us that the games for the Series S are smaller than those for the Series X due to the lower resolution textures and files that you won’t need on the Series S.

Xbox News put out a report that shows that Gears 5, which has a file size of 64 gig on the Series X is only 39 gigs on the Series S. And Sea of Thieves is 64 percent smaller than the Series X version.

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Developers will decide which assets to include as part of the installation, and since the Series S doesn't need 4K assets, the shrinking of game sizes should be a little more common in future titles.

The Series S still has ray tracing support, which is a huge building block for game programmers. If you’re not familiar with ray tracing, it is a technique that makes light in video games look and behave like it does in real life.

So, a ray of light can help cast realistic shadows and create those lifelike reflections that we’ve come to know and love in games like Forza Motorsports, Gears 5 and even when you see the sweat rolling off the forehead of a player in NBA 2k21. And because the Series S and Series X are running the same CPU’s, the games that you like will have plenty of CPU power to run those games really well, it just won’t have that more elaborate graphic settings as in the Series X.

Many titles are optimized for Series S, meaning they’ll take advantage of the improved hardware inside to deliver stunning graphics and faster experiences. Those titles include Assassins Creed: Valhalla, Forza Horizon 4, Gears 5, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Sea of Thieves and The Falconeer.

Now, the one thing the gamers are truly going to notice right away are the load times.

The Series S is five times faster than the Xbox One S and the reason it is so fast is the Xbox Velocity Architecture.

Microsoft developers have called the velocity architecture “the soul of the new Xbox consoles.”

What XVA does is it offers more than 40 times the bandwidth than the Xbox One, which means not only faster load times, but you won’t get those glitchy graphics as you would on other consoles. To give you a hint at how fast the load times are on the Series S, Microsoft did a bench test for the load times of the game Outer Worlds on the Series S and Xbox One S.

The Xbox One S had a load time of around 53 seconds, while the Series S clocked in at a super-fast 11 seconds.

The other impressive thing is that many titles support Quick Resume, so if you want to switch out of Forza Motorsports and want to play Minecraft, it will take about 10 to 20 seconds. Quick Resume lets you bounce around from game to game and it instantly puts you back where you left off.

That is something that every gamer is going to get hooked on.

FINAL DECISION

So, when it comes to choosing between the Series X and Series S, you first have to ask yourself “What kind of gamer am I?”

If you’re a gamer that craves the highest resolution possible and pushing your game console to the limit, then the Series X is perfect for you. But if you’re someone who wants all the same next-gen features as the Series X – except the resolution – and without the high price tag, you won’t be disappointed with the Series S. At $299, the Series S is still a HUGE leap from some of the previous consoles and delivers a lot of value for the money.

I wouldn’t be surprised if we see the Series S outsell its big brother at some point and I can’t wait to see the evolution of this console through the years and to see just what the game developers have in store for it.

I guess we’re just going to have to wait and see!

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