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Xbox Series S is the right next-gen console for 2020

Microsoft realized something. You could launch a much more affordable next-generation console if you reduced the emphasis on resolution. The company has now taken that realization and acted on it with the $300 Xbox Series S, which it finally confirmed today after months of rumors. This entry-level Xbox is launching November 10 and should kick off the next generation of console gaming.

So what is the Xbox Series S? Well, let’s go over the bullet points:

  • All-digital: You won’t get a disc drive with the Series S.
  • 1440p at up to 120 FPS: Series S has less power, but it doesn’t need as much to run games at 1080p and 1440p.
  • DirectX Raytracing: Xbox Series S supports the same physical light rendering as Series X.
  • Variable Rate Shading: Xbox Series S will run games better by rendering darker and less visible areas at a lower resolution.
  • Variable refresh rate: Xbox Series S supports adaptive sync with modern displays.
  • Ultra-low latency custom 512GB SSD: Microsoft is using the same NVME PCIe 4.0 SSD on the Series S as it does with the Series X.
  • 4K Streaming Media Playback: Xbox Series S supports Netflix and other 4K HDR video services.
  • 4K Upscaling for Games: The console can output 1080p or 1440p images as 4K for modern TVs.

Put more succinctly, the Xbox Series S is just as much of a next-gen experience as the Xbox Series X — but set to a lower resolution that matches most people’s current TVs. It gives gaming fans a way to get ray tracing and fast loading times but at $300 instead of the still-rumored $500 of the X.

This system also fits well with the Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass subscription service, which acts like a Netflix for games for $10 per month. This enables you to download games and play them from a growing digital library, which is why you won’t need a disc drive.

How can a less-powerful system still be next gen?

The Xbox Series S isn’t something we should take seriously, right? Well, I wouldn’t dismiss it as the option for casuals and children. Resolution is overrated for gaming, and Microsoft is smart to exploit the power-requirement gap between 1440p and 4K’s 2160p.

At 4K, a console needs to render more than 8 million pixels per frame. But 1440p is approximately 3.1 million pixels. And most of the horsepower of the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 is going toward powering those 5 million extra pixels. But you aren’t really going to notice that much of a difference between 1440p and 4K. Especially in fast-paced action games. So why not give people the option to save money to get what is essentially the same experience they would get with a full-blown Xbox Series X?

This makes the S the obvious console for anyone who is still using a 1080p television. If you are happy with your display and have no plans to upgrade, do not waste your money on a 4K console. It doesn’t make sense.

But even if you do plan to upgrade — or even if you already have a 4K set — the S might make more sense for you. This next generation is going to be more about improvements to feel and less about visuals. Games will load faster and have better AI thanks to an improved CPU. The Xbox Series S has all of that, and — based on what Microsoft is saying — it shouldn’t fall behind in those regards even late in the upcoming generation.

When it comes to providing that next-gen feel, the Xbox Series S is more than enough for most people. So why not save $200? Especially in a world where people are losing jobs and income due to the pandemic. In this reality, where money is tight for millions, the Series S could prove the right choice for most of us this holiday.

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