Busy Gamer Review: Xbox Series X is NOT an overpowered Xbox One. It's both more and less. (Also, how to get one!)

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 Xbox Series XIf you're expecting the Xbox Series X to be an Xbox One ON STEROIDS--well, it is and it isn't.

In fact, the funny thing is that I can already see that the Series X will force me and my family to use our Xbox LESS. And not just because games and apps load faster, shaving precious minutes off our wait times. But because it's lacking some core functionality that we have grown to depend on over many years.

Did you know that Microsoft cut both HDMI pass-through for cable/satellite TV and 3D Blu-ray support? Plus, on top of that, my favorite streaming app, VUDU, isn't working right. More on those in a bit.

How I got one
OctoShop plug-in I've been trying to get a Series X since launch day: Nov 10, 2020. I've nearly nabbed one about half a dozen times only to have it purchased out from under me while trying to check out with it. Seriously, do modern e-stores not understand the concept of reserving an item in your cart for a reasonable checkout period, say 5-10 minutes (and maybe longer on a launch day when the servers are fully overwhelmed)? Talk to the people who run the Penny Arcade Expo ticket sales... they get it.

For months, I had mostly given up but still checked once a day without very much optimism. Then, thanks to a tip about using the OctoShop plug-in for Google Chrome, I managed to score one in a few days--but only because I didn't give up when all signs pointed to this being yet another missed opportunity.

With OctoShop, you can set up stock alert notifications, and I did this for several online stores (though not the Microsoft Store, where I wanted to make my purchase so I could apply both my Microsoft Rewards rebates and a bunch of gift cards I purchased at Costco for 90 cents on the dollar--but alas that one wasn't on the list of trackable merchants). I figured if an in-stock alert appeared for any particular retailer, I'd decide then whether to go for it.

A few days later I received an alert that the Microsoft Store had Series X coming in and out of availability. Turns out, the app also tracks competitors to the stores you follow and lets you know of any activity! I jumped on it and had a Series X in my cart on the second refresh. Alas, the transaction failed as all others had before it and told me there was no stock. But since the alert alluded to sporadic availability, I kept trying and succeeded/failed the same way a few more times before it seemed no more stock was coming. I had a transaction ID for my most recent attempt and decided to try Store support to see if I had missed the boat. After 10 minutes and several holds while the support agent looked things up, I was informed that there might not have been any real stock and that it was likely due to orders being cancelled (like that happens a lot?!). I was told it was time to give up.

But I kept trying anyway, and five minutes later I had another in my cart... and this time I was able to check out fully! For the next few days, I checked my email constantly, watching for the order cancellation I was sure was coming. Instead, I received a shipping notification, and two days later I unpacked the Series X.

It's big
OK, so the thing is really big. I was concerned that, even sideways, it would be too heavy for the shelf I had my old Xbox on above the TV. But a quick heft check told me it's maybe only slightly heavier that Xbox One X (which is small but dense).

I had watched some YouTube setup videos, so knew some of what to expect. I had all of my games installed on external 8TB drives and I plugged in a 1TB storage expansion card I bought back in November, before I learned that getting a Series X would be a pipe dream for nearly 9 months. I plugged in Ethernet and USB and replaced the HDMI out with the included cable. That's when I realized there was no HDMI input for our cable box. A quick Internet search confirmed: There's no passthrough for television--it's streaming only on the Series X. Fortunately, I already have an HDMI switcher (part of this very elaborate A/V setup I created nearly a decade ago that's still going strong!). So I disconnected my PS3 (which I rarely use anymore), and now watching TV is one of the many things that pulls us away from our Xbox.

A word on apps: None of these will carry over from last generation. All apps need to be (re)installed, and most of them will require you to sign in again (exceptions seem to be YouTube and VUDU, which worked right away without reauthorization). I chose to do the setup using the Xbox app on my iPad, and that did make things a little easier. I mistakenly skipped the app install option as I didn't yet know that they'd all need to be redownloaded from the Xbox store.

Another thing that's big: the games! Any game that is Series X/S optimized will trigger a download to the internal 700GB solid-state drive. Comcast Xfinity caps our monthly usage at about 1TB. We burned through half of that the first couple of days, and I didn't even upgrade Gears 5 yet (next month, maybe?). The good news is that we still have room to spare thanks to that expansion storage card. If you run out of space, you can move X/S games to an external drive but you'll need to copy them back before playing them again.

That VUDU you do (or don't)
VUDU Fandango app If you don't use the VUDU streaming video app, you can probably skip this section. The problem I've encountered is a bit technical and only appears to affect a subset of customers (as VUDU says they were unable to replicate the issue, I can only assume it affects, perhaps, only Xfinity subscribers). I'm a power user with a vast collection of movies and shows from Ultraviolet, Movies Anywhere, and direct purchase so VUDU typically gets daily use in our house--though maybe less due to the problems we face.

Here's how it surfaced. In early March, on my Xbox One X, I took the latest VUDU app update and found a bug. When I play a video, it's fine--but as soon as I stop it or it ends, I cannot play another video unless I force quit and reboot the app. If you're an active VUDU user, you can see how this can be a real problem with binge-watching as the next episode of a TV series isn't added to your watchlist until you actually play a few seconds of it. When the video player fails to load the next episode, you then need to go find the series and figure out where you left off... which can be time consuming and more than a petty annoyance.

It's worse if you want to watch ad-supported content as the first ad counts as the first video. When that's done, nothing else will play (be it Ad 2, or the movie/show you wanted to watch). Force quitting the app resets the cycle. You get no credit for ads you've watched so basically you can't watch any ad-supported content.

I promptly reported this bug to VUDU and Xbox back in March. VUDU took its sweet time responding, first with the typical "blame the customer" approach to Tier 1 support that most companies begin with no matter how much detail you provide up front. Eventually I convinced them that I had reset everything more than once, reinstalled the app, ruled out any larger networking issues by direct connecting the Xbox to my cable modem, etc. I also confirmed that VUDU is running fine on other devices, including a PS4, on the same exact network. So clearly the bug must be a code difference in the Xbox app affecting subsequent streams. After four months of back and forth in email, I called their support line, filled in some details they needed, and did server ping tests for them. Then it supposedly was escalated to their engineering department. (For the record, Xbox never followed up though they rarely do.)

The saving grace was that anytime I updated to the latest version and the issue hadn't been fixed, I could copy the pre-March version of the app from my second Xbox One back to the Xbox One X. Remember above where I said that all apps need to be freshly installed for Series X? This means I cannot copy the old working build to it (and because I didn't have a Series X before March 2021, I can't source any earlier working build of the app).

My best guess is that someone at VUDU rewrote the streaming code so that your first play goes to a server I can reach but subsequent streaming calls go to a server I cannot (there was a set of servers that failed the ping test as unreachable). I expect that the other versions of the app always call a server I can reach. If many/most Internet providers can reach the secondary servers, that would explain why it's been hard to lock down. Whatever the cause, VUDU is in the process of rebranding as VUDU Fandango so it's doubtful they will roll back to the earlier last known good version... here's hoping they eventually identify the cause of the issue and fix it.

Until then, if I want to watch more than a little bit of VUDU, I need to switch to my PS4 (or iPad, or web browser). Because the Xbox Series X version is just not capable, at least for us, in its current form.

TV and 3D Blu-ray are dead
 HDMI splitter We knew Kinect was gone with Series X, so a few months ago we unplugged ours and replaced it with an Echo Dot so we'd get comfortable using the new digital assistant voice commands before getting a Series X. We were thrilled to find that the Echo immediately recognized the new Xbox in place of the old one.

Alas, our days of saying "Alexa, Xbox, Watch TV" are over. Cord cutters, you're fine. But if you passed your cable or satellite HDMI into your Xbox One, be prepared to find another way to watch TV. Might I suggest an HDMI switch similar to the one I used in my 2013 A/V project?

I also noticed that even though my Xbox One X would support 1080p (which I mostly used for 3D Blu-rays, which require it) I cannot get my Series X to go above 720p. It still looks really good but I recently upgraded the kitchen monitor (when the old TV finally died) so was expecting the ability to run steady on the higher resolution. Now I can't even get it to work when the other TV isn't connected (as it did on the Xbox One). I'd move to 4K but they don't make 3D TVs anymore, and I'm not ready to give that up since there are still quite a few 3D movies I want to watch. So I guess I'll be doing that on my PS4, and sticking with 720p on my Series X.

Still great
Even with the drawbacks, the Series X is pretty solid--and not just in its bulkiness! There's a new section in the Guide menu called Quick Resume, which shows some of the recent games that are still resident in memory and can be played really fast. Mostly it's just Forza Horizon 4 and Gems of War, which I play daily.

And ultimately that's why we got the Series X: to save time getting to the things we love to do. We only wish it really were an Xbox One X on steroids so we wouldn't need to find annoying, disruptive workarounds to access much of the entertainment we enjoy.

1 Comment


I was lucky enough to pre-order from Microsoft store before release. (I may have taken the day off and tried Bestbuy, Gamestop, and Microsoft websites, with MS finally letting me fully checkout.) I love the new controllers and that my old ones are combatable. I also enjoy playing some classic games with next to zero load times. I never used the Xbox for cable, but sounds pretty handy.

I recently played through Mass Effect Legendary Edition on the Series X, the quick resume makes the game think you have been playing the whole time the game was suspended, so makes your hours in game quite high. Honestly, everything loads so fast, I rarely use the quick resume feature.

I also didn't know you posted to this page still, life got a little busy..

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This page contains a single entry by Gamewatcher published on August 14, 2021 11:26 AM.

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