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Some of you may have seen that I sold my Series X without ever having laid my eyes on it. Ebay prices were high, I couldn't get home to collect it 'cos of covid, so it went. The markup almost covered the cost of the Series S with an extra controller bundled in, delivered here. I plan to sell the Series S (or maybe keep it?) and get a Series X when stocks return, but it looks like this little guy will be my companion for a few months yet. 

I'm definitely not the target demographic for the Series S, and I'm pretty sure the same applies for 99% of VGchartz. To be deep enough in this hobby to be interested in sales and industry trends probably means you've got the physical games library, storage requirements, and performance expectations that make the Series X a no-brainer by comparison, at least as a primary console. But circumstances have it that I'm away from my GTX 1070 rig, I'm away from my nice displays and sound systems, now armed only with a VG248qe 1080p monitor and my work laptop. Plus I have a flat... or indeed "household" as it has now become, that was frothing at the mouth for a place to play FIFA 21. So I bought in and here are my takeaways:

  • The box has character. It's made of a really really nice plastic, and feels much more durable than either last gen xbox. The OG One used to get scratched so easily and also covered in fingerprints. This one takes bike lock keys, cereal bowls and general desk detritus on the chin. The Series S just gives me that Nokia feeling, of getting stuck-in, being reliable and refusing to be complicated. It might just be peculiar to me, but in the same way that the look of the Switch makes you want to root for it and forgive it, while the Wii U tablet's encumbrance and glossy finish did the opposite, so does the Series S bring a friendly presence that I think will make it a hit. Flatmate said it brought back the Xbox 360 phat edition, but having revived mine recently i'm pretty sure that's just nostalgia talking, because those things were loud and... phat. Nostalgia is definitely not the enemy though if you're trying to sell consoles.

  • The household's response to the gameplay was mixed. They mostly played FIFA 21, which shamefully hasn't been optimised for next-gen yet, and this massively undershot their expectations. This isn't too surprising because it's literally running Xbox One S code in backwards compatible mode, but I think this does speak to the fact that Series S's messaging has got through to causal gamers, and they have reasonably high expectations of it.

  • The title which impressed them most was actually Modern Warfare 2019. It loads warzone games in 5 seconds flat. It's now a clean 1080p/60fps when compared to a very muddy representation on xbox one (I assume 900p). My mate could (accurately) report from memory that the resolution was sharper, the ground was "more detailed" (I think textures are improved but also filtering is so much better) that it was smoother, that the draw distance was further away. He also liked that when sniping the textures don't pop in, which I'm going to chalk down to the HDD in the Xbox one more than anything else. I admit I can see jaggies if I go up to the screen, and that definitely doesn't bode well for 4k displays, but for 1080p it doesn't feel like a compromised experience at all. 

  • Gears 5 and Forza Horizon 4 relish the 60fps. None of them had played a Gears of War game before which to my mind was completely insane. You're definitely getting supersampling here (or really effective MSAA) on a 1080p screen which is great, no aliasing perceptible at all, plus a rock solid framerate. Forza looks great for the extra frames, too. Just this evening I downloaded Valhalla hearing about the 60fps update. Apart from a bit of mushy ground textures the presentation is still sharp. I did two counts and both came in at 962p in the starting area 60fps, which is close enough to 1080p that the image still looked very clean. I noticed it go below that, probably to 900p or maybe below, but I couldn't seem to evaluate it on my HD60s +. It's probably scaling horizontally too. It looks better than the last AC game, Syndicate, that I played on PC on Ultra, even in the 60fps mode, but that's probably just because Syndicate is a seriously ugly duckling and I'm not trying to claim that the Series S is more capable than my PC by any stretch of the imagination. Just that it can deliver nice looking games to someone who roughly knows what he's looking at. 

  • The 1440p marketing route I hope is abandoned because I really think this console shines at parity at 1080p. 120fps is something that I'm happy is present as an option, but results are incredibly patchy. Dirt 5 looks bad in 120fps mode, it comes at too great a cost to image quality. Gears 5 is gorgeous though, even at 120fps, though I think again that on a larger display, people may find the trade off to be too steep on the Series S and better left to the Series X/PS5. 

I want the upshot of these impressions to be this: If I had no desire for 4k gaming, I would be quite content using the Series S for all my multiplayer games. (For singleplayer i'll always be on PC regardless because I love mods and i'm low-key addicted to steam achievements). I finally find myself agreeing with MS that the Series S will outsell the Series X. I think backwards compatibility, however neat it may be for me, is actually not such a big system seller, so lack of a physical disc drive is not so sad a state from the sales perspective. 

I think that this year, Xbox Series X will outsell Series S because early adopters will tend to prefer the enthusiast console, and because production capacities will bias production towards the more expensive machine. But I predict that by the end of 2021, if such figures exist, the Series S will be outselling the Series X, without a doubt. 

I think Series S qua competitor to PS5 is also interesting. The substantial price advantage for Series S won't make any headway amongst gamers that have any strict preference for Sony exclusives, or the aforementioned 4k players, but I do think that especially amongst parents and kids, wanting a console for Fortnite or Minecraft or whatever game comes next, this will be the machine. It will be bundled with minecraft, it will be bundled with fortnite. This is a sizeable chunk of the market, which is incredibly sensitive to price, sensitive to bundling deals, and insensitive to graphics performance.