Microsoft Reveals $299 Xbox Series S
After countless leaks from the Redmond-based firm, Microsoft finally took off the wraps and unveiled the digital edition of its next-generation console. Via a tweet. While I’d have expected a press event with a new game reveal or two, these times are anything but conventional. Microsoft kept their cards close to their chest and it’s easy to see why: the Xbox Series S handily undercuts Sony’s digital PS5 variant with its $299 price point, albeit with some tradeoffs in performance.
True, the 4 TFlops (Floating-point Operations Per Second) machine might sound like a bummer in comparison to the Series X’s 12 TFlops and the PS5’s 10.28 TFlops. It seems like a step down even from 2017’s Xbox One X on first blush, whose 6 TFlops guts let it run a handful of titles at 4K. But that isn’t what the Series S sets out to do. It intends to offer something that consoles have rarely offered in the past: a branched upgrade path. While Nintendo’s 2DS and 3DS handheld machines are proof that such an endeavor can pay off, it has yet to be replicated in the console space. Until now.
It’s the little things
While the new Series S doesn’t promise all the bells and whistles of its bigger chunky brother, rumors point to it supporting most of the new features heading to next-gen consoles later this year. Touted to the be smallest Xbox ever, the Series S looks like a couple of them could easily stack up within the Series X’s monolith of an enclosure. A souped-up CPU that brings it in line with the processor present in the Xbox Series X coupled with a 512 GB NVMe solid-state drive helps bridge the generational gap at an affordable cost.
The machine should certainly be able to trade blows with the Xbox One X, but it’s safe to say that it won’t be winning any Digital Foundry graphics comparisons with the Series X or the PS5. It looks like the Series S is geared towards consumers on a budget, gamers who might not have 4K monitors or screens at home. Features like instant resuming and quicker load times come along for the ride, although it remains to be seen how well this little contraption will be able to handle raytracing, if at all.
A series of small wins
It’s a move that is certainly going to be met with some skepticism, but it opens up next-gen gaming to an audience who might have never been able to afford a $500 console. And in times like these when unemployment is on the rise and jobs are unstable, a cheaper console could make all the difference. Gamers who may have stuck to their legacy Xbox One or PS4 systems now have an enticing choice that offers most of the benefits that next-gen brings, minus the hole in your wallet. It’s also another avenue for Microsoft to double down on its Xbox All Access plans. While Microsoft did try bundling an Xbox console with a subscription service in the past, the pilot program wasn’t as compelling.
For starters, Xbox Game Pass. Giving you hundreds of games in addition to multiplayer support for $15 a month with an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription could change the gaming landscape as we know it. Add a console to that and the possibilities are endless: subscribers could get a new console as it launches, akin to how Apple has been offering upgrade plans to its customers for years. It looks like Microsoft is ready to expand the reach of its ambitious program to more markets this time, perhaps even at launch. The folks over at WindowsCentral have reason to believe that the Series S could show up for an incredible $25 per month under an Xbox All Access financing option while the Series X could cost $35 a month. Unconventional pricing for unconventional times. A move that could let Microsoft undercut the competition by a mile.
Sony’s efforts are no less commendable: they hit the ground running with an arsenal of noteworthy exclusives. Its novel controller and audio tricks certainly pack a punch as well. And with Halo Infinite out of the way, Microsoft lacks a big-budget AAA title at launch. But could the console war be won by price alone? One cannot deny that Microsoft’s Series S is a tantalizing proposition for gamers on a shoestring budget. In an age where Netflix subscriptions cost $13 a month, getting a console with hundreds of releases (bolstered by Microsoft’s latest first-party offerings) for $25 a month sounds like a wild pipe dream come to life. And in the hotly contested console space, competition is good for everyone. Gaming behemoths grappling for market share with meaningful value additions can only help players in the long run.
Ready, player one?