Microsoft has finally revealed the Xbox Series S, and the big surprise is the price – $299, or £249.99 in the UK. That’s way lower than I was expecting, way lower than anyone was expecting. To give it some context, it’s the lowest launch price for a next-generation console since the GameCube in 2002. Nintendo’s machine debuted at £129, which is the equivalent of around £210 today when adjusted for inflation.
It’s all the more surprising when you consider that the Xbox One S All-Digital edition launched at £199/$249 just over a year ago in 2019. The disc-drive-less version of the Xbox One S was only £50 cheaper than the full-fat version, and naturally it was far less powerful than the Series S.
Of course, the Series S is itself a less-powerful cousin of the Series X, but its stats are still pretty impressive, and it’s undoubtedly next generation. Microsoft claims it will do 1440p at 120fps, provide 4K upscaling and support DirectX raytracing. The kicker is that it only has a 512GB SSD, and it doesn’t have a disc drive, so there’s no way to play your existing Xbox One discs (that we know of yet, at least).
By comparison, the Series X is much more graphically powerful – after scrabbling around the internet trying to find tech specs, it looks like the X will have a 12 teraflop GPU compared to 4 teraflops on the Series S. And of course the X will do native 4K (or even 8K) games and have a bigger SSD. And have a disc drive, natch.
But do these beefy specs really matter that much to the average consumer? I only actually know one person who owns a 4K TV at the moment, and I suspect that many people will struggle to tell the difference in graphical fidelity unless they own an absolutely giant beefer of a telly.
The price, on the other hand, is a massive game changer. Microsoft’s next-gen console is cheaper than a Nintendo Switch. £250 suddenly puts it into the realm of Christmas present rather than ‘I’ll save up for a few months to get one’. Couple that with a Gamepass subscription – which is currently £7.99 a month in the UK – and suddenly it seems incredibly appealing.
It also leaves Sony in a bad spot. Their digital edition of the PS5 is essentially the same version as their full-fat one, so consequently the two PS5s are going to be much closer in price. That means the Series S will look like a much more appealing prospect compared with the PS5 digital edition, even if the latter is more powerful.
But most interestingly of all, the Series S could be the real watershed moment for the rise of digital gaming. An attractive price point coupled with the amazing deal of Gamepass could see a generation of people flocking towards an all-digital console and leaving behind the days of physical media for good. Previous attempts at drive-less consoles, like the PSP Go and the Xbox One S All-Digital, were never particularly appealing, chiefly because they were so close in price to the full-fat disc drive versions. But now we have an all-digital console for a bargain price – it could be huge. And then we have xCloud, too, which has been cunningly tacked on to Gamepass Ultimate. With high-quality streaming as an option, that paltry 512GB SSD doesn’t seem like such a drawback.
The Xbox Series S is a fantastically bold move from Microsoft, and that price point is an enormous advantage for them, particularly in these hard-hit times when money is a big issue for a lot of consumers. It will be fascinating to see how Sony responds. What a difference from seven years ago.
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