How the Xbox Series X and Series S backwards compatibility works
The gaming console race has brewed up once again. Microsoft and Sony have successfully launched their latest gaming machines and the demand is at an all-time high. One of the biggest talk points of the new Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, and the PlayStation 5 is the ability to play older-generation titles. I am primarily a PC gamer, but I completely understand how important it is to have your old games run on a next-generation console. There are two reasons for that- games are not cheap, and there aren’t enough new titles at launch to justify the cost of your new console. Backward compatibility becomes all the more important while new titles trickle in.
Microsoft has been pretty confident about backward compatibility when it comes to its new $499 Xbox Series X and $299 Xbox Series S. The company claims that the new consoles will be able to run all of the original Xbox, Xbox 360, and Xbox One games. That’s a massive lineup that goes back to 2001 when the original Xbox console was released. While that does sound tempting, the reality is a bit different. Certain titles (read: many), including the ones that require the Kinect motion sensor, will not be supported. Here’s an initial list of backward compatible games shared by Microsoft.
After 500K+ hours of testing, we’re are excited to share that all Xbox, Xbox 360 and Xbox One games playable on Xbox One today, except for the handful that require Kinect, will be available – and look and play better – on Xbox Series X|S at launch.
— Jason Ronald (@jronald) October 28, 2020
The Xbox Series X with its 3.8GHz octa-core CPU and 12-teraflops of graphics performance will be able to handle older titles with ease. Even the Series S, with its more compact form factor, is confirmed to bring the same support. Microsoft has clearly said that gaming titles from the original 2001 Xbox will run at an enhanced resolution on the Series X and Series S. Gamers can also expect a big boost in the resolution which means that games that once ran at 480p could be upscaled to higher resolutions. Now don’t expect all of your older titles to now run at 4K. It is said that the Series S does have the capability to upscale a game to 1440p and 2160p on the Series X with some performance benefits. Having said that, it will all depend on the developers to update their respective games. Similarly, games released on the Xbox 360 will also be enhanced for both the consoles.
As for Xbox One titles, we already know that there would be certain differences between Series S and Series X. The Series X will be able to benefit from Xbox One X enhancements to existing games including a boost in resolution, improved textures as well as various other graphics effects. The Series S on the other hand would capitalize on the performance of the Xbox One S titles. This means that the new console will offer increased resolution in games that use dynamic resolution scaling, alongside improvements in texture filtering quality. Notably, games hard-coded to run at a certain resolution will not be able to run any higher. Thanks to the Auto HDR features, all the older supported games will offer an enhanced visual experience, even if they don’t natively support high dynamic range. It goes without saying that load times will reduce significantly thanks to the SSD storage and best of all, the Series X and Series S will be able to run select Xbox One titles at double the frame-rate!
All of this has been achieved thanks to the new powerful hardware. The new consoles have been made in such a way that they can run older Xbox One titles by utilizing the full power of both the new CPU and GPU. According to system architect Andrew Goossen, “We designed the Series S to enhance the Xbox One S games in a way that the Xbox One X can’t do. We made it easy for existing Xbox One S games to be updated to run with double the frame-rate when played on Series S as well. When games are updated, existing games can query to determine whether they’re running on the new console. And in terms of performance, the Series S provides well over double the effective CPU and GPU performance over the Xbox One, making it pretty straightforward for the games to do this. And in fact, the Series S GPU runs the Xbox One S games with better performance than the Xbox One X.”
Gossen also said that the older-gen games don’t require any real performance tuning and it is as easy as changing three lines of code. In certain cases, the fixes are quite small. Microsoft is working with various game developers and publishers to update their titles. While select games on the new consoles will run at double the frame rates, it will be up to the developers and the proportionate demand from the community to actually make that happen.
In short, the Xbox Series X and Series S are definitely bringing a strong suite of features that will make them compatible with previous-generation games. They will not support every single Xbox title from the past, but expect some of the more popular names to hit the consoles in due time. There will be some obvious enhancements, but both the Series X and the Series S will handle those differently. Personally, we are most excited about the fact that certain games will present double the frame rates and of course, bring along Auto HDR capabilities. Stay tuned as we are currently testing out the Xbox Series S and should push out the review as well as some opinion pieces soon.