Way back in the technical dark ages of 2001, Microsoft launched the first Xbox console. Over the years, Microsoft has achieved video game dominance through a combination of exclusive titles, innovative features, and a strong community of gamers, but at the heart of it all, there's always been a solid gaming console.
The current generation of Xbox, the Xbox One, comes in three flavors: the original Xbox One; the faster, more entertainment-oriented Xbox One S; and the pro-gamer-focused Xbox One X. The differences go beyond good, better, and best, however. Each Xbox One console has its own pros and cons. If you need help finding the console for you, our guide has you covered.
Considerations when choosing Xbox consoles
Microsoft makes three different versions of the Xbox One console, each tailored to specific uses. To find the right model, answer these key questions.
Do you plan on mostly gaming or mostly streaming and watching media with your Xbox One?
Believe it or not, the Xbox One is as powerful a streaming box as it is a video game console, and many consumers buy consoles with no intention of gaming. If you're looking for an Xbox console mostly for entertainment, your best bet is the Xbox One S. It's affordable, it plays nice with just about every streaming service, and it's got a 4K Blu-ray player on board. (The Xbox One X also includes a 4K Blu-ray player, but it's almost twice the price of the S.)
What types of games do you play?
Consider the video games you play most frequently. Is it mostly first-person shooters, or do you prefer puzzles and platformers? Do you play a lot of sports titles? What about driving games? Every Xbox One model will play every available title, but it's important to remember that the Xbox One X is the only model that plays games in 4K. Also, some titles may take longer to load on an Xbox One or an Xbox One S. If you prefer graphics-heavy games with a lot of action, go for an Xbox One X. It is, hands down, the most powerful video game console available. If you mostly play low-resolution games like puzzles and platformers, a standard Xbox One will work fine.
How much do you want to spend?
There's an Xbox console for every budget. The Xbox One S typically retails for between $250 and $300. The Xbox One usually costs around $400, while the more powerful Xbox One X typically starts at around $500.
If you're still having trouble deciding which Xbox console is right for you, consider the niche features you might want to pay more for.
HDR, or High Dynamic Range, is a feature found on some modern TVs. It vastly improves the depth, color, and contrast of your TV's picture. If you have a 4K TV that supports HDR, you may want to take advantage of the improved video hardware in the Xbox One S and Xbox One X. Streaming HDR content on Netflix and watching 4K Blu-rays with HDR is definitely an incredible visual experience.
A growing number of video game titles support 4K gaming, and to enjoy every last pixel you'll need an Xbox One X. Games in 4K have four times as many pixels as their 1080p HD counterparts, and the difference is huge.
While all three consoles play the same games, each generation of the Xbox One is more powerful than the last. You'll feel the improvement if you play intense, graphics-heavy games, but if you're just using your console to stream Netflix, they'll behave identically.
The bottom line: if you're a hardcore gamer, get an Xbox One X. If you're a moderate gamer, an Xbox One S will be fine. If you buy an original Xbox One, be prepared to wait through some slow-loading menus.
Q. Can I play my Xbox 360 games on an Xbox One, Xbox One S, or Xbox One X?
A. It depends on the game. The Xbox One platform is compatible with some legacy Xbox 360 titles. To see a list of backward-compatible games, visit Microsoft's website.
Q. Do I have to pay for an Xbox Live membership to play games on my Xbox console?
A. Microsoft's Xbox Live subscription service is not required to play games you purchase, but if you want to join any online matches or play online with friends, you'll need to pay. Members of Xbox Live also receive free games each month as well as exclusive freebies and discounts.
Q. What is the Microsoft Kinect? What do I need to buy to play Kinect games?
A. When the Xbox One was first released, it came with Kinect, a motion sensor for playing motion-oriented games like Fruit Ninja or Dance Central. It never really took off, but the hardware is still available for purchase separately. If you're planning on adding Kinect to an Xbox One S or Xbox One X, you'll need an adapter to connect it.
Xbox consoles we recommend
Best of the best: Microsoft Xbox One X
Our take: The Xbox One X is a gorgeous console with technical chops that are way ahead of its time. This is the most powerful console in gaming today, bar none.
What we like: The 4K gaming is smooth and motion feels natural. The menus are fast, and there is no wait time when loading games.
What we dislike: The Xbox One X isn't cheap and might not be worth the investment if you don't already own a 4K TV.
Best bang for your buck: Microsoft Xbox One S
Our take: An impressive compromise between a high-end console and a capable streaming media box. It's one of the best 4K Blu-ray players available.
What we like: This Xbox console is great for 4K media, and it's surprisingly affordable.
What we dislike: It can't play 4K games, and it is noticeably slower than the Xbox One X.
Choice 3: Microsoft Xbox One
Our take: The first Xbox One brought us an impressive platform and top-notch games, but its hardware--and its price--haven't aged well.
What we like: It's a solid 1080p streaming media player and handles basic gaming.
What we dislike: It's not as fast as newer models. The lack of a 4K Blu-ray player in the original Xbox One makes the less expensive Xbox One S a much better value.
Jaime Vazquez is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. BestReviews and its newspaper partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.