In a surprise move this morning Microsoft finally acknowledged the existence of its long-rumoured second next-gen console: Xbox Series S. While details of the device are still under wraps (though widely debated in rumour form), Microsoft dropped a huge surprise in the form of the price, just $299.
It’s hard to find any comparison or precedent for such a price. No one has ever launched a two-tier next-gen after all, and even if they had, we still (incredibly) don’t have a price for its bigger sibling, the Xbox Series X.
That said, $299 is an incredibly low price for anyone wanting to buy a new Xbox this winter. It allows anyone to jump in [sorry] to this console generation, safe in the knowledge that their device will be supported for many years to come, but without the increasingly high price point of high-end graphics.
Currently, rumours point to that graphics premium pushing the PS5 and Xbox Series X prices to at least $500 and maybe beyond. In a historical context, the PS4 and Xbox 360 both cost $400 at launch and did very well at that price, while the more expensive PS3 and Xbox One both floundered at first.
So with the next-gen looking to cost amounts that will worry internal analysts at the best of times (and economically this isn’t the best of times), having a lower-cost option looks to be an intriguing solution for those who would otherwise wait years potentially before upgrading.
Based on what we can see today, and previous rumours, it’s worth noting that the Series S does not have a disk drive, which does potentially push the mainstream gamer into a purely digital world, which will make a non-starter for some. It also may partly explain why Microsoft can sell the console so cheaply, as it knows the returns down the line will be much higher per unit.
THERE CAN BE ONLY… TWO
Of course, for all the benefits, Microsoft will have a marketing mountain to climb in terms of explaining this exciting new approach to next-gen to consumers. It now looks certain that Microsoft will both beat Sony on price (with the S) and on performance (with the X), but that’s not to say that the PS5, with its singular focus won’t be more appealing in its simplicity.
My first take is that it simply reinforces once again how different in philosophy Sony and Microsoft’s approaches are to games consoles now. And that’s a great thing.
Sony has a single device its incredible internal studios can focus on. A single device that will supersede all that has come before and provide a single, simple canvas on which to create masterpieces.
While Microsoft will enable access to a huge library of games across two generations of multiple devices, allowing anyone to grab a controller and jump into a world of gaming without a second thought or great expense.
They are hugely different visions of gaming, both valid and not ones that need to be seen in competition with each other (though inevitably they will battle for market share). But if that market keeps growing, and with two different visions (three with Nintendo) it should grow faster than ever before.
For those who haven’t been keeping up with the rumoured specs of the consoles here’s a great summary from Tweaktown.
The key difference is in the GPU, with the Series X designed to bring 4k 60 fps gaming with bells and whistles such as ray-traced lighting, the Series S will likely (thanks to more advanced hardware) match or exceed the current Xbox One X, and provide Full HD or 1440p gaming, or something similar to the way PS4 Pro upscales a 2K resolution to 4K on most of its titles.
Yes, players will notice the difference onscreen if they really care, but the S actually looks very well positioned to fulfil the needs of many gamers, while still seriously impressing anyone who didn’t make the mid-gen jump to Xbox One X or PS4 Pro.
One remaining question mark is how much storage Microsoft can afford to put into the Series S. Game installs keep on getting bigger, so it would be good if it could match the X’s 1TB but we suspect it will come in below that, or (less likely at launch) come in multiple storage capacities.