This is how Xbox Series S backwards compatibility really works

While Microsoft has been very forthcoming about how backwards compatibility is going to work with Xbox Series X, it hasn’t been quite so clear in how the smaller, cheaper Series S console works in running games from prior Xbox generations. Last week, I had the chance to talk with the developers of the hardware and the news sounds very promising. Enhanced backwards compatibility features aren’t just the preserve of the more expensive console – Series S has an interesting range of features too.

Kicking off with games running on the vintage 2001 Xbox – the ‘OG’ machine – we’ve confirmed that Xbox Series S will run these games at an enhanced resolution. There’s a 3x boost to resolution on both axes, meaning that titles targeting 480p on the original machine will hit a maximum of 1440p on Series S, presumably with a range of performance benefits. The good news continues with the enhanced Xbox 360 titles that were released for Xbox One X. These games will also be enhanced for Series S, this time running with a 2×2 resolution multiplier, bringing titles that ran at native 720p up to 1440p. While this doesn’t match the max 4K we saw on Xbox One X, there is the potential for improved performance elsewhere thanks to the much faster Zen 2 CPU architecture. In scenarios where Xbox One X was limited by its Jaguar CPU cores, Series S has much more headroom.

It’s already been confirmed that the ways in which Series S and Series X handle Xbox One titles varies. Only the Series X will benefit from Xbox One X enhancements to existing games – which typically boils down to resolution boosts, higher quality textures and other graphics-driven effects. Xbox Series S brings its additional horsepower to bear in improving the experience of Xbox One S titles instead. This is more limiting in some respects (a game hard-coded to run at 900p will not run any higher on Series S, for example) but the new console benefits from increased resolutions in games that use dynamic resolution scaling, as well as improvements to texture filtering quality. Obviously, running games from solid state storage reduces loading times significantly, while the Auto HDR feature we’ve seen running on Series X also features on Series S – all games should present nicely on HDR screens, whether they natively support high dynamic range or not. It’s a feature I personally can’t wait to test. Finally, it goes without saying that CPU-limited titles should also deliver more stable performance at target frame-rates.

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