We don't cover gaming a lot on this website, but we readily acknowledge that the gaming and home theater categories are cut from the same, or at least very similar, cloth. Gamers want high-performance big-screen displays. Gamers care about audio performance, albeit for many there's more of a headset emphasis. For some of our readers, games are just as important a source as movies and music. So, when a Microsoft rep reached to ask me if I wanted to review the new Xbox One X gaming console, I didn't hesitate to say yes.
Now, let me stress right off the bat that I'm not a gamer in any way, shape, or form. I'm not exaggerating for effect when I say that the last gaming console I owned was an Atari. I have no intention of reviewing the quality of the One X as a gaming console. There are plenty of experts out there who can do a far superior job in that department.
What I can do is evaluate the One X as an Ultra HD Blu-ray player and streaming media device. What I hope to do is answer this question: Does the Xbox One X succeed as a complete all-in-one media player?
The $499 One X is Microsoft's new premiere player, a big step up in performance and price compared with the $199 Xbox One S released in 2016. Both products can play Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, with support for HDR10, Dolby Atmos, and DTS:X. Both grant you access to the Microsoft Store where you can browse and add a variety of games, movies, TV shows, and apps like Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu, etc. Both have the same connection options.
The One X is Microsoft's most powerful console to date: it's 40 percent more powerful than the One S and supports true 4K gaming (as opposed to upscaled HD, like you get with the One S). It uses an eight-core 2.3-GHz Custom AMD CPU with six teraflops, 12 GB GDDR5 of graphic memory, and 326 GB/s memory bandwidth. It has a 1TB hard drive with 8 GB of flash memory.
Despite being more powerful than the One S, the One X is actually a little bit smaller. It measures 11.8 by 9.4 by 2.4 inches. It's heavier than the One S, weighing in at 8.4 pounds. Overall build quality is excellent, on par with the Oppo UDP-203 and Sony UBP-X800 and more substantial than the entry-level UHD players from Samsung and LG. The One X sports an all-black finish with fans that vent exclusively to the back (apparently the One S also vented to the top, which wasn't so great for those who tend to stack gear).
The front panel features a slot-loading disc drive and an eject button to the left and a power button (that glows white when the unit is turned on), a USB 3.0 port, and a pairing button to the right. Around back you'll find one HDMI 2.0a output and one HDMI 1.4 input, which allows you to route another source through the Xbox. The company intends for this to be a cable/satellite set-top box, as part of the setup process includes choosing your TV provider. However, the input could be used for any SD or HD source you like. There's also an optical digital audio output, two more USB 3.0 ports, an IR out, and a LAN port for a wired network connection. Dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi is built in, as is Bluetooth.
The package includes one of Microsoft's Wireless Controllers, which pairs with the console via Bluetooth. Additional Wireless Controllers retail for $59.99 apiece. The Controller is powered by two AA batteries and features dual joysticks, a navigation pad, A/B/X/Y buttons, and several other buttons and triggers that I could not identify or name at the outset of this review. If you simply can't abide the thought of using a gaming controller for movie watching or music listening, Microsoft sells a handheld Media Remote.
I mated the One X with two different HT systems during the course of my evaluation. For the first half of the review, I connected the console to my living room system, which consists of an older, non-HDR-capable Samsung UN65HU8550 UHD TV and the Polk MagniFi Mini soundbar. In this system, I ran HDMI from the Xbox to the TV and optical digital audio to the soundbar. Later on, I moved the One X to my official HT system, feeding both video and audio via HDMI to an Onkyo TX-RZ900 AV receiver, with video going on to the HDR-capable VIZIO P65-E1 that I recently reviewed and audio going out to my 5.1-channel RBH system.
Now let's get to the actual Xbox setup process. Setting up the One X isn't difficult, but it is time-consuming, especially if you're a newbie like me who doesn't have an existing Xbox account. It certainly involves more steps than your average dedicated UHD player, where you can be up and running in just a few seconds.
The setup process begins with pairing the Wireless Controller, choosing your language, and connecting to your network (I went the wired route). At this point, the Xbox checked for and performed a system update. During the update, I got an onscreen notice encouraging me to go to a certain Web link and enter the displayed code to speed up the setup process. Okay, cool. So I did--through the browser on my iPhone. The link took me to the Xbox app, which then asked me to either sign in or create an account. Nowhere could I find an option to enter that code. Oh well. The good news is that I was now set up with the Xbox app, which I would utilize down the road.
When the system update was complete, I was prompted to sign in or create an Xbox account. I set up a new Xbox account, which was easy enough to do via the TV screen--although in hindsight, I should've done it through the app, using the virtual keyboard.
The next step is to set up some privacy and sign-in controls and then, finally, to customize the user interface. Here the Xbox detected that I was using a 4K TV and asked if I wanted to switch to that resolution, which of course I did. Then you land on the Xbox Home page.
It's at this point where the experience really differs from that of a dedicated Blu-ray player or streaming media box, where you're taken to a Home menu that has already been preloaded with a variety of apps/services. With the Xbox, you're greeted with a mostly blank slate, and it's your job to fill it with the games and apps of your choosing.
The Home page has five menu options along the top of the screen: Home, Mixer, Community, Entertainment, and Store. To load games and apps, just head on over to the Store and browse what's available in the different categories. I immediately went to the "Browse apps" area and looked for the apps I use on a regular basis: Netflix, Amazon Video, Sling TV, Tablo (my OTA DVR service), VUDU, HBO Now, Pandora, and YouTube. Happily, they were all available. Just to name a few more options, there's Hulu, You Tube TV, Spotify, Fandango NOW, Showtime, iHeartRadio, and HBO Go. It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that PlayStation Vue is not available, and neither is Google Play. All of the apps loaded pretty quickly.
If you've connected a cable/satellite box to the Xbox's HDMI input, you can configure your TV listings via the OneGuide app. You can also designate whether, upon power-up, the box should go to the Home menu or directly to TV playback, which is a nice touch.
In lieu of browsing for content, you can also use the Search tool to look for a specific app, game, or title. At this point I should mention that the Xbox One X does not come with the Kinect voice/motion/camera accessory, as the original Xbox One did. You can add one for $99.99. If you don't have one, you have to perform searches the old-fashioned way, via the onscreen keyboard.
Or, you can use the Xbox app on your mobile device. Once you sign in to your account through the app, you can perform many of the same search/setup/community functions via the app so as not to disturb the onscreen viewing experience. Microsoft provided me with codes for a few popular games, as well as subscriptions like Xbox Game Pass and EA Access, and it was much faster to enter these code keys using the app's virtual keyboard than the onscreen interface.
To use the One X as a Blu-ray player, you need to add the Blu-ray app. If you don't load the app in advance, that's okay--when you load a disc into the drive, you'll be prompted to add the app. The Blu-ray app plays DVDs but not CDs; for that, you'll need the Groove Music app. Also, if you want to access personal media files from a USB or DLNA-compatible NAS device, you can use Microsoft's own Media Player app or a popular third-party app like PLEX or VLC.
Let's wrap up the Hookup section with a quick breakdown of some AV settings that are available to you in the Settings area. Under Displays & Sound, you can choose the video resolution (4K UHD, 1080p, or 720p), color depth (8-, 10-, or 12-bit), and color space (standard or PC RGB). You can choose to "allow" 24Hz output, 50Hz output, HDR, YCC 4:2:2, and 3D. The Advanced Video Settings section has an area called "4K TV detail" that tells you exactly what the connected TV can and cannot do. This is a helpful tool that I'd love to see on more UHD players. When I first connected the Xbox to the VIZIO TV, the page said that my TV doesn't support HDR or 4K at 10-bit, which it most certainly does. That instantly told me that the specific HDMI input I had selected on the VIZIO was not properly set up for "Full UHD Color." When I went into the TV menu and enabled full color, the Xbox info page confirmed that the TV could do everything it's supposed to do.
On the audio side, your choice is either HDMI or optical digital. You can set the HDMI audio output for stereo uncompressed, 5.1 uncompressed, or 7.1 uncompressed to access the box's internal PCM, Dolby 5.1, DTS 5.1, and Dolby TrueHD/Atmos decoders (you need to download the Dolby app to set up Atmos support), or you can set the player for bitstream. The problem with choosing bitstream here is that you then must designate DTS, Dolby Digital, or Dolby Atmos, and everything gets passed in that format. That's why most people seem to recommend choosing the uncompressed PCM option that fits your speaker setup.
To make it more confusing, the settings above don't necessarily apply to the Blu-ray app. If you plan to use this as a Blu-ray player mated with an AV receiver, there's one more step to take, audio-wise. You need to go into "Disc & Blu-ray," click Blu-ray, and make sure that "Let my receiver decode audio" is checked. This allows you to pass all your BD/DVD audio signals (including Dolby Atmos and DTS:X) in bitstream form to your AV receiver for decoding. For a long time, the Xbox platform did not support bitstream audio output from its Blu-ray app, which is one of the major reasons why it was hard to endorse it as a full-fledged BD/UHD player. But thankfully that hindrance is now behind us.
That Hookup section seemed kinda long, huh? There are certainly more steps in the Xbox's initial setup, but how does it perform once you've got everything loaded and configured the way you want it? Because the Xbox can do so much, the user interface isn't as clean and simple as that of, say, an Oppo Blu-ray player or Roku streaming box. I wouldn't say it's complicated, but it's certainly cluttered and comes with a bit of a learning curve. Pop in a disc, and the Xbox will open the correct app for you, so that part is simple enough. But when it comes to playing apps and games, in my first few days of using the One X, I felt like the act of moving from one app to another involved a few more steps than the same process on a dedicated player. However, the more I used the device, the more I learned all the little shortcuts that allow you to move quickly and fluidly between apps, games, and settings.
From a user-friendliness standpoint, one of my biggest concerns going in was having to use the Wireless Controller as a remote. Sure, I knew what the joystick, directional arrows, and A/B buttons did from playing with other people's Xboxes, but that was about the extent of my game-controller knowledge. My eight-year-old has grown accustomed to me switching out one streaming media player for another as I review the latest models, and she takes to every new remote control like a champ, with no fear. I was curious to see how she would react to the game controller, but it didn't faze her. She dove right in and was jumping from app to game to app in no time.
Truth be told, it didn't faze me, either. I got the hang of using all the buttons, joysticks, and triggers pretty quickly. I actually grew to appreciate the two-handed control aspect--navigating up/down/left/right with one hand while accessing enter and back with the other makes the navigation process just a step quicker. And I appreciated intuitive touches: the left/right trigger buttons function as reverse and fast-forward, while the left/right bumper buttons handle chapter skip. The View button brings up a virtual remote on the screen that gives you access to Top Menu, Pop-up Menu, the color functions, etc. You can even remap the Controller's buttons in the Settings menu to suit your preference.
As for the Xbox's performance as a media player, I didn't encounter any major issues. Programs loaded quickly, and there were no major system crashes or freezes. The One X loaded most every UHD and BD disc quickly and reliably. I had some trouble with disc one of Planet Earth II until I cleaned off some fingerprints, but that was the only hiccup in playback reliability. With every UHD disc I tried, the player successfully kicked my TV into HDR mode as it should, and the audio formats correctly passed as bitstream to my Onkyo receiver. 3D discs worked fine, as well.
I tested the One X's video processing just as I would any Blu-ray player. It did a very good with the deinterlacing and upconversion of DVDs, passing all my test-disc and real-world demos. DVDs like Gladiator and The Bourne Identity looked clean and had solid overall detail. With 1080i content, the One X was slower than average to detect the 3:2 film cadence, so I saw some moire and jaggies at the start of each test. My Oppo UDP-203 performs much better in this respect. With BD and UHD BD discs, I found the quality of the picture's color and detail to be on par with the standalone players I've tested.
As a streaming media player, apps also loaded quickly, and the Xbox supports the 4K versions of Netflix, Amazon Video, VUDU, YouTube, and FandangoNOW--and you can order UHD titles through the Microsoft on-demand store. It also supports HDR10 playback from Netflix, Amazon Video, VUDU, and the Microsoft Store, and I encountered no issues when streaming this high-quality content.
As a CD player, the Groove Music app shows basic song/album/artist metadata but no cover art. The interface is clean and simple, but it certainly doesn't hold a candle to Roon or Kaleidescape. Since the One X lacks analog outputs and internal DACs, the audio quality ultimately will be determined by your external audio processor, be it an AV receiver, preamp, external DAC, etc. I will note that, even when I set the box for 5.1 PCM audio output, it still output stereo music in 2.1.
The Xbox Media Player app supports USB drives and the wireless DLNA protocol. As with the Groove Music app, the Media Player interface is quite basic. It's better than the folder-centric interfaces you get with a lot of the media apps in TVs and Blu-ray players, but it's not as good as PLEX or VLC. File support is good--including MP3, AAC, ALAC, WAV, FLAC, and WMA (no AIFF) on the audio side and MP4, M4V, MOV, and AVCHD on the video end.
The different audio setup options for games/app on the one hand and BDs/DVDs on the other is confusing. Speaking purely as a home theater fan, it would be nice if this device functioned more like a standard disc player, where I can set it for bitstream and pass all audio signals natively to my receiver to decode--but I also get that the gaming element and the need to mix in different audio cues complicates this. On the plus side, the Blu-ray bitstream output is great and works exactly as it should for disc playback. And for me and my setup, setting the box to output 5.1 uncompressed PCM for everything else worked just fine.
As I said above, I got used to using the Wireless Controller as a remote and even came to appreciate many aspects of it. The one thing I did not appreciate is the fact that it powers itself off after a while to save battery life, and you have to physically turn it back on to use it again. This probably isn't an issue for gamers who are using their Controllers constantly, but for movie and music fans who are more likely to set it aside for long periods of time, this can be bothersome. That's when the $25 HT-style remote might come in handy.
As a streaming media player, the Xbox does have some downsides. For one, unless you add the optional Kinect, the One X doesn't support voice search the way Roku, Amazon, NVIDIA, and Apple do. Also, the search function is not universal--i.e., it does not provide results from multiple services. If you search for a movie title, the only results you get are from the Microsoft Store. Also, the first time I rented a movie through VUDU, I had to put all my account info into the Microsoft Store instead of it just accessing my VUDU account info. The Amazon Video app only shows Prime Video content, not pay-per-use titles to rent or buy--although, if you rent/buy Amazon content through another means (like a Web browser), you can access it through the Xbox app.
Finally, the Xbox is not a true universal disc player; it does not support high-resolution DVD-Audio and SACD playback.
Comparison & Competition
The Xbox One X really does not have a direct competitor that offers the exact same complement of features. Of course, the primary gaming competitor to the Xbox One X is the Sony Playstation4 Pro ($399). The Sony box does support 4K and HDR through apps and games; however, Sony chose not to support Ultra HD Blu-ray playback.
In the Ultra HD Blu-ray category, Oppo's $549 UDP-203 would be the logical competitor, price-wise. The UDP-203 has neither the gaming element nor the streaming media apps of the Xbox, but it offers a more comprehensive, higher-quality AV package. It adds Dolby Vision HDR support, dual HDMI outputs, and universal disc playback, and it possesses superior video processing, better audio file support, and an AKM 32-bit DAC and stereo/multichannel analog audio outputs.
The 4K-capable NVIDIA Shield TV player ($179 to $199) omits the UHD disc playback but combines 4K/HDR streaming media and gaming in a more affordable package. The SHIELD TV is an Android TV-based player that includes support for Chromecast and Google Assistant.
To fully answer the question "Does the Xbox One X succeed as an all-in-one media player?" I lived with it as my sole media device for over a month. Since I'm a cord-cutter, I didn't need to feed a cable/satellite signal into the box's HDMI input, so I truly had a one-box solution. And after spending all that time with the One X, I can say, yes it does succeed.
If you look at each category--UHD Blu-ray player, streaming media player, and audio streamer/player--there are better performers you can find within each. Products that offer better AV performance or easier setup or a more stylish interface. Still, the Xbox One X does a very good job of combining all that functionality into one box and still performing each task well.
Of course, the audience for the Xbox One X is specific. If you aren't a gamer, there's no reason to spend $500 on this box when there are other less expensive choices ... unless you think there's a chance you could be turned. Even though I didn't evaluate the One X as a gaming console, I couldn't resist trying out some of the family-friendly games. True 4K titles like Star Wars: Battlefront II and Super Lucky's Tale were fun to play and sure did look good on my big-screen TV. Maybe there's a gamer in me after all.
• Visit the Xbox website for more product information.
• Check out the Blu-ray Player Reviews category page and the Streaming Media Player/Apps category page to read similar reviews.