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close-up of Xbox power button on Xbox One X Photo: James Bareham/Polygon

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Why Xbox One X is a great first console

A buyer’s guide to Microsoft’s fastest hardware, paired with Game Pass, for a great first step into gaming

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There has never been a better time to get into video games. The hobby is cheaper, more ubiquitous, and more accessible than ever before.

Plus, we’re all stuck inside. Entertainment can be hard to come by, and games provide a welcome distraction from the world, as well as offering a way for friends and family members to play together, whether or not they’re quarantined in the same house.

Since so many folks are in the market for gaming consoles for the first time, we thought it would be a good opportunity to make a case for all of the current-generation consoles, explaining what makes each unique, and which may be the best fit for you and your family.

We’re starting with the most powerful gaming console currently available — the Xbox One X.

Can Xbox One X play games in 4K?

Yep, and that’s probably the system’s biggest selling point. Anyone who cares about getting the most visual oomph out of their games with the current generation of consoles, anyone who owns a 4K television or wants one, or folks who want to try, or just play, a lot of games without a lot of cost due to the advantages of Game Pass are going to want to consider this option.

The Xbox One X may be one of the most expensive options in terms of hardware, but having a buffet of games from which to select helps to offset that initial cost. It’s also the most powerful gaming console on the market right now, offering better gaming performance in 4K than its closest competitor, the PlayStation 4 Pro.

Xbox One X is a great combination of processing power and online services, and is well suited to homes where everyone may want to play something different. The Xbox One X is a good way to keep everyone happy, without spending thousands on games.

What if I don’t have a 4K TV?

You can always fix that as well, although buying a 4K TV can still be a little tricky. Different folks look for different things out of their televisions, sure, but for simplicity’s sake here’s a solid, dependable pick for a high-quality 4K display that will get you where you need to go, and will work well with your brand new Xbox One X.

Is the Xbox One X backward compatible?

Yes, although not every game from past Xbox consoles will play on the Xbox One X. You can check out the full list here, and Microsoft has stated that the upcoming Xbox Series X will be fully compatible with Xbox One games and accessories, so everything you buy for the console today will also be forwards compatible, which is a nice touch.

What if I just don’t care about playing games in 4K?

If you don’t have a 4K TV or don’t want to buy one, and don’t mind playing games in 1080p — the resolution of a standard television these days — then you’ll be good picking up the original Xbox One.

Or if you just want to play movies in 4K but not games, you can save some money by picking up the Xbox One S, which is a smaller, less expensive system that’s not as powerful as the Xbox One X, but can still output Blu-ray discs and streaming services in 4K. You can get one with, or without, a physical disc drive.

Don’t I need an HDMI cable?

The good news is that the Xbox One X itself comes with a good HDMI cable, so you should be fine if you’re keeping your system right next to the TV.

But if you need a longer one, be sure to buy online — although you probably don’t have much choice right now — because HDMI cables tend to be marked up to ridiculous prices at physical stores. They’re a high margin item, and the $50 cable you see at an electronics store rarely offers an advantage over the same cable being sold for $15 or less online.

Sounds good, and I can play with my friends/partner/kids?

You sure can, but just remember that the system itself only comes with a single controller, so if you want to have four-player family night, you’re going to need extra controllers.

The good news is that buying an extra controller doesn’t require a lot of thought. You always want to stick with the first-party controllers. You can sometimes find them on sale, especially around Black Friday, but they’re almost always the same price, so just pick up however many you’ll need, and then be sure to keep them in a safe place between sessions if you have kids. You don’t want the controllers getting all sticky and, as you can see, they’re not exactly cheap.

Do Xbox One controllers need batteries?

Yep. Xbox One and Xbox One X controllers still take AA batteries, so you’ll want to either stock up — even though the batteries last a pretty long time, you don’t want to be stuck without some if you’re in the middle of a game — or pick up a set of rechargeable batteries if you want to go that route. Our recommendation is below, and it’s a product that can be used in conjunction with for the Xbox One as well as the PlayStation 4.

OK, but what Xbox One games should I play?

This is probably the most important question to ask yourself when buying a new console, and Microsoft has one of the best answers in the business with its Game Pass subscription. Microsoft is putting all of its newest, first-party releases on Game Pass, and even huge games like Red Dead Redemption 2 seem to be coming to the service with increasing regularity, and you only need to pay the single subscription fee to install and play any game being offered on the service.

You don’t get to keep the games if you let your subscription lapse, but the variety of games, and the quality of the games that are already on the service or are on their way, makes that a small price to pay.

I have a big family, with ages ranging from six to 18, and the kids love to go through the selection to try new games, and they’ll often find things they love that I wouldn’t have even thought of trying to get them to play. Farming Simulator? Sure. Totally Reliable Delivery Service? I wouldn’t have guessed, but OK!

Part of the joy comes from discovering things you may not have thought you would like, and the ability to explore so many games without having to pay for each one makes this the perfect option for many people’s first console. It’s like a wine tasting, but for games, and Microsoft’s selection and dedication to including its own latest games makes Game Pass one of the best deals in the industry.

You’ll find something good to play no matter what you’re into and, maybe even more importantly, you’ll get to figure out what you’re into if you’re new to gaming.

Cut to the chase: What are the must-have Xbox One X games?

If you want to get right down to it, our Essentials list for the Xbox One platform is a good place to start for recommendations.

OK, what if I’m going to be playing online, or after the kids are asleep?

Then you’re going to want a decent headset to keep the audio down, or to be able to chat with people online. The system itself comes with a basic headset, but it’s only designed for voice chat and is easily broken or lost. Our recommendation for a good entry-level headset is below. It’s not too expensive, it’s comfortable as heck, and it sounds good for the price.

Where am I going to put all these games?

That’s a good question, especially since Game Pass is a digital service, which means the games will be downloaded directly onto the system’s hard drive; there won’t be any discs to keep track or manage. But it does mean that storage space is going to fill up quickly, even though the Xbox One X comes with a standard 1 TB hard drive. It’s easy to connect an external hard drive to store your games, however, and external storage has never been less expensive.

You don’t have to get fancy and spend a lot of money here, you just need a good amount of storage at a good price. Our pick is below.

But does Xbox One X play Blu-ray discs or DVDs?

Absolutely. You’re going to be playing most of your games without discs if you’re signing up for Game Pass, but the Xbox One will still play physical DVDs or Blu-ray discs, although you’ll need an Xbox One S or Xbox One X if you want to watch them in 4k.

Is Xbox One X better than PS4, though?

It’s certainly more powerful, which may or may not matter to you, and Game Pass is arguably a more versatile service, with more and better games, than the competing subscription services on PlayStation 4. Whether or not that makes it better is up to you, however, as PlayStation 4 as a platform as a number of exclusive franchises and games that will never be on the Xbox platform.

All the power in the world won’t make Xbox One a better deal if you want to play the latest big-budget Spider-Man game, for instance, or the upcoming Last of Us 2. The best advice when picking a console is always the simplest: Look at the game selection, and pick the system with the most games you want to play. It’s also worth pointing out that there is no VR hardware for the Xbox platform, while PlayStation VR has been a strong seller for Sony.

The reason Xbox One is such a strong contender for new players right now, in fact, is that Game Pass makes it so painless and affordable to try so many games right off the bat to figure out what you do and don’t like in a game.

The rest is up to you.