Microsoft's Xbox One X makes case for 4K gaming, but who wants to play?

When it launches this November, Microsoft's Xbox One X will be the most powerful gaming console on the market. But what does it offer consumers?

High-powered version of Xbox One console launches Nov. 7 at $599

Gamers at this year's E3 conference in Los Angeles got a glimpse of the new Microsoft Xbox One X, which will go on sale in November. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

During E3 last week, Microsoft was so focused on hyping the processing power of its new console, they put it on T-shirts.

Many guests at the company's press conference during the E3 industry event in Los Angeles walked around in shirts that read, "I witnessed the most powerful console ever."

On stage, Microsoft used a ludicrously pristine, 20-metre, 4K resolution screen to show off the car racing game Forza Motorsport 7 on the Xbox One X, the new, supercharged version of the gaming console released in 2013.

Xbox head Phil Spencer made it clear: The Xbox One X, out Nov. 7, will be the console of choice for gamers who crave the highest fidelity visuals and smoothest frame rates — all in 4K.

But at $599, how many gamers are willing to make the jump?

Who owns a 4K TV?

Paul Harris, senior manager for Xbox Canada, said the company was looking "for the next logical step on our upgrades, and 1080 pixels to 4K was naturally the upgrade path."

But sales will depend on how many people opt for 4K TV.

According to Paul Gagnon, an analyst for IHS Markit, of the 125 million households in North America that have TVs, about 11 million have a 4K TV.

TV prices in Canada are higher than in the U.S., so the adoption rate has been slightly slower than the North American average, said Gagnon.

The racing game Forza Motorsport 7 runs in native 4K resolution on the Xbox One X. (Turn 10 Studios/Microsoft Studios)

But by the end of 2017, Gagnon estimated that out of the 14 million Canadian households with a TV set, 1.4 million will own a 4K TV.

"What's happened is, in the last couple of years, the price point has fallen quite a bit for 4K sets. So now you can buy a relatively large 4K TV for well less than $1,000. And that puts it more into the mainstream," said Gagnon.

"We haven't seen staggering year-over-year numbers, but I do think that part of it has to do with the refresh cycle of TVs," said Emily Taylor, an analyst for IDC. "When they're done with their current sets, they'll probably be upgrading to these 4K sets."

The 4K TV adoption rate has slowly been gaining momentum over the last two to three years, thanks to a growing amount of 4K content coming from providers such as Netflix, Amazon and YouTube.

The gaming value of 4K

The addition of video games rendered in 4K could provide added incentive for some consumers to plunk down money for a new TV.

"Gamers can see the value in [4K] in a way that maybe others can't," said Taylor.

Digital Foundry's meticulous breakdown of frame rates, interlacing and motion blur in Bioware's Anthem demo from E3 seems to support the notion that when developers boast that their games run in 4K, gamers listen.

"Something like 4K gaming really adds a lot of value to buying a 4K TV," says Gagnon.

Some guests sported T-shirts with the words 'I Witnessed the Most Powerful Console Ever' at Microsoft's E3 press conference. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

Still, only a small handful of games receive a noticeable graphical bump from the Xbox One X.

Forza Motorsport 7 was the only game at Microsoft's E3 presentation that ran at a native 4K resolution.

The company announced that some games already available — including Minecraft — will receive an update to take full advantage of the One X's increased processing power.

They haven't yet detailed what that will look like, however, or whether the difference will be enough to pay the premium for an Xbox One X over the cheaper Xbox One S, currently selling for $329 to $449.

PlayStation leads Xbox in sales

Coming out of E3, Microsoft has the most to prove in the console sales race. The company hasn't shared numbers for Xbox One unit sales in a while, but research firm Superdata estimated in January that Microsoft has sold 26 million Xbox One consoles worldwide.

That's significantly fewer than Sony, which announced last week that it had sold more than 60 million PlayStation 4s. Nintendo's newest console, the Switch, only hit stores in March, but has sold better than initial projections, moving 2.75 million units worldwide.

Consoles historically have trouble selling when the price point is higher than $399 US. In 2013, the Xbox One launched at $499 US, and lagged behind the PlayStation 4, which cost $100 less.

Microsoft has said it expects only hardcore gamers will likely upgrade to the pricey One X.

Xbox chief Phil Spencer made his case for 4K gaming at E3 this year. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

"The majority of our consoles that are sold next year will be [Xbox One] S. That has always been the plan," Xbox head Spencer told Eurogamer.

That prediction falls mostly in line with Sony's two PlayStation 4 models. The Japanese company said that about one in five of its new console sales were for the PS4 Pro, its 4K entry, compared to the basic, cheaper model.

With so few games available that take full advantage of the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro's beefy hardware, sales will likely remain limited to early adopters who bought a 4K TV ahead of the curve — or those planning to buy one in the very near future.

"It will be interesting to see if [Microsoft and Sony are] going to sell those $500 4K gaming consoles, how quickly the content will follow and if that future-proofing behaviour helps reinforce buying that 4K television," said Gagnon.