Did you finally get your hands on an Xbox Series X or S? There’s a lot packed into this gaming console from Microsoft, so let’s take a look at the features that will help you get the most out of everything your new console has to offer.
On whether Game Pass is technically a Properties, but given that you get a $1 monthly subscription to Microsoft’s all-you-can-eat service with your console, it might as well be. Game Pass might be the best deal in gaming, and it means there’s always something to play.
A Game Pass subscription allows you to download and play new and old games as they are added to the service. Games are added several times a month, including brand new releases and older titles. Game Pass Ultimate includes access to the service on PC plus EA Play, which lets you play even more titles from EA’s back catalogue.
Once your free trial ends, the service costs $14.99 per month for an Ultimate subscription, which is roughly the price of three full games per year. Game Pass is a free-to-graze buffet, allowing you to try out and fall in love with titles you might never have bought otherwise. You also get access to all of Microsoft’s first-party titles (including major releases from franchises Halo and Forza) on the first day.
RELATED: What is Xbox Game Pass and is it worth it?
Sony was the first to add a Share button to the controller with the release of the PS4, and now everyone is doing it. Use the Share button to take screenshots as well as short gameplay clips. By default, a single tap captures a photo, while a long press saves a video.
You can customize this behavior using the Xbox Accessories app that comes pre-installed on your console. Tap the Xbox button, then select My games and apps > See all > Apps and search for it. To change the format and size of saved clips and screenshots, tap the Xbox button on your controller and go to Profile & System > Settings > Preferences > Capture & Share.
Once you’ve saved your clips, you can easily access them on your mobile device by downloading the Xbox app for iPhone or Android for easy sharing.
Microsoft has put a lot of work into making the Xbox Series consoles compatible with the Xbox One family. This means you have a huge number of games from the previous generation, many of which have received improvements and patches to take advantage of the faster hardware. You can download Xbox One games from the Microsoft Store as a native Xbox series title.
In addition, you have a large number of Xbox 360 games and original Xbox games. Many of these are available through Game Pass, including classic games Psychonauts (Xbox) a Viva Piñata (Xbox 360), but many more can be found in the Xbox Backward Compatible Games Library.
Many older titles can use improvements that newer games have baked in as standard. One of them is Auto-HDR, which adds a level of HDR brilliance to titles that never supported it. This is done using machine learning. It works well most of the time, elements like the sun and flashlights appear brighter than other objects on the screen.
Most titles that support this feature have Auto-HDR enabled by default. Before you can use this feature, you need to set up HDR on your Xbox, then you can manage it for each game using the “Manage Game” option, which is available by tapping the “More” button on your controller while browsing your game library.
You can also turn off Auto-HDR completely by pressing the Xbox button on your controller and going to Power & System > Settings > General > TV & Display Options > Video Modes and unchecking the “Auto-HDR” switch. Purists and night owls may prefer this option, but we recommend giving your old games a more modern look.
Besides Auto-HDR, Microsoft also developed another feature called FPS Boost to make old games run better. You’ll find this option in the same “Manage Game” menu you’d use to toggle Auto-HDR, allowing you to enable or disable it for individual games.
As the name suggests, FPS Boost boosts the frame rate of older titles for a smoother and more responsive gaming experience. It does this with some system-level tweaks (rather than software fixes) that take advantage of the more capable hardware of the Xbox Series X and Series S consoles.
Most titles that support FPS Boost have the feature enabled by default, but for others you’ll need to enable it. Due to the nature of this tweak, you may experience some glitches and stability issues, and many games don’t support it at all, as systems like game physics or weather cycles are directly tied to frame rate.
RELATED: How do frame rates affect the gaming experience?
Xbox Cloud Gaming
If you’re a Game Pass Ultimate subscriber (including a $1 trial), you get access to Xbox Cloud Gaming, which lets you play games over the Internet without having to download and install them first. How well this works depends on the speed of your internet connection (20 Mbps or better) and how far you are from the server.
Native gaming will always provide a more stable and responsive experience, and some games (like burst shooters or competitive beat ’em ups) will never quite fit into the mold of cloud gaming. But for trying out a game before committing to a big download directly from the Xbox dashboard, Xbox Cloud Gaming is a useful tool at your disposal.
Xbox Cloud Gaming also lets you play Game Pass titles virtually anywhere, including PC or Mac, Android, iPhone and iPad, and some smart TVs. All you need is a compatible controller, a good connection speed, and an active Game Pass Ultimate subscription. Because Microsoft stores your saves in the cloud, you can even pick up where you left off.
RELATED: Why I prefer cloud gaming over PC or console
Retro game emulation using RetroArch
Not only are the Xbox series consoles great for backwards compatibility, but they’re also a great way to play retro titles. By putting your Xbox in developer mode and installing the RetroArch multi-system emulator, you can play everything from classic arcade games to PlayStation 2, GameCube and Dreamcast games.
This has a few small drawbacks. To unlock this mode, which allows UWP (Universal Windows Platform) apps to be installed on your console, you’ll need to pay a developer fee of $19 to Microsoft. You’ll also need to restart your console into developer mode to do this, which may take a few minutes each time.
Still, it’s worth having access to a large number of older platforms on your Xbox. Just make sure you are aware of the legality of using ROMs and emulators.
While high refresh rate gaming has been a mainstay on PC for years, the Xbox Series and PlayStation 5 generations are the first time we’ve been able to go beyond 60Hz gaming on a console. This depends on two important metrics: the refresh rate of your display and the presence of an HDMI 2.1 port.
120Hz means the display refreshes 120 times per second, as opposed to 60 times on the older 60Hz monitor. 120Hz modes require high frame rates to be useful, and not all games can take advantage of this. In order to reach higher frame rate targets, many games need to reduce visual fidelity, such as render distance or overall render resolution.
Although not many games support this feature, many such as Halo: Infinite on Xbox Series X and an independent title Tourist have dedicated 120Hz modes. These provide a smoother and more responsive gaming experience at the cost of high-fidelity graphics. You can find out if your Xbox can use these modes by running the calibration tool in Xbox settings.
Preload games before purchase
Preloading a game means downloading it before it’s released so it’s ready to go. This will avoid long download times on release day. You used to have to commit to pre-ordering a game in order to load it, but with more and more publishers withholding preview codes and embargoing reviews until release day, that can be a recipe for disaster.
But if you’re using the Xbox app for iPhone or Android, you can search for titles and download them to your console without having to buy them first. Once the game is released, you can turn to trusted review sources and decide whether to pay full price, wait for a sale, or skip the game.
Using hard drives as cold storage
Microsoft has gone the proprietary route when it comes to expanding the storage space of the Xbox Series X and Series S. This means that you have to buy expensive purpose-built expansion cards to expand the storage space you have available to run native Xbox Series titles. Fortunately, there is a cheaper way to increase storage.
By using USB hard drives as “cold storage”, you can move games to and from the internal SSD as and when you need them. This allows you to archive games for later use without having to download them all over again. If hard drives are a bit slow for you, consider using an external SSD as a good compromise between performance and price.
The best external SSD in the Xbox series
WD_Black P50 gaming drive
The WD_Black P50 Game Drive beats the competition with incredibly high speed and compact dimensions.
You can also use external drives to run older titles like Xbox One, Xbox 360, and original Xbox games (although you’ll have faster loading times if you transfer them to an internal drive first).
The Xbox Series X is a great buy
Xbox Series X is more affordable than PC, provides high-fidelity graphics, lets you use your existing TV or monitor (even if it’s not 4K), and a Game Pass subscription means you’ll always have something to play.
That’s why Microsoft’s top-tier console is a great buy, provided you can get your hands on one.