In a press release this morning, Jason Ronald, Director of Program Management for Xbox Series X, said that the company’s next-gen console will launch with thousands of compatible games — going all the way back to the original Xbox — all thanks to backwards compatibility. Not only that, but many of those games will also get a significant performance boost, up to 120 frames per second, and added HDR. Some of those older games could get their resolutions bumped up to 4K, too. I’ll admit, that changes my mind a bit about waiting to buy a next-gen console, regardless if you have an extensive library of Xbox games or not. Older Xbox games that not only perform better but look better? Sounds like a sweet deal.
But whether or not you can actually take advantage of playing those older games at 4K 120Hz once the console launches depends on the HDMI standard in your TV and the actual HDMI cable.
The Xbox Series X is outfitted with HDMI 2.1 support, which includes the ability to run games at 4K 120Hz. If your TV can already do that, then you’re set. Unfortunately, most TVs made in the last few years and available on the market now don’t have HDMI 2.1 support. It is currently only on expensive high-end TVs. So if your TV has the 2.0 standard or lower, you’ll have to invest in a new TV at some point to take full advantage of everything the Xbox Series X offers.
HDMI 2.1 was announced back in November of 2017, but most TVs currently in people’s homes have still have HDMI 2.0, or 1.4 even. Both versions can do can do 120Hz at 1080p easily, which is fine for any older or current games that only top out at 1080p, but both can barely do 4K at 60fps. Additionally, 1.4 doesn’t support HDR nor a wide colour gamut. If you’re still on the 1.4 standard, not only will you miss out on the lovely upgrades to all of these old Xbox games, but you might have already realised that you’ve been missing out on those things for a while now.
On the other hand, HDMI 2.0 does support HDR and a wide colour gamut, thanks to double the amount of bandwidth in the cable. But as I previously mentioned, you still won’t get 4K at 120Hz with 2.0. You’ll get 60Hz, tops, which is fine for the older games that Xbox is able to increase the frame rate from 30 to 60, but games that go from 60 to 120 are out on the HDMI 2.0 standard.
But all this doesn’t matter if you don’t have the right HDMI cable, and it’s not easy to figure out which standard of cable you already have, or need to buy. Gizmodo previously went into detail about that, but instead of looking for the resolution or refresh rate in the description, look for the cable bandwidth. A HDMI 2.0 cable will have a max bandwidth 18Gbps, and a HDMI 2.1 cable will have up to 48Gbps.
If you want to throw down on a good HDMI 2.1 compatible TV, be prepared to spend as much, or more, than the Xbox Series X itself. The PC enthusiast in me generally says build your own rig at that point, but depending on what processor and graphics card you have, you won’t get 4K 60fps out of every game. 1080p on high graphics settings is where you’re guaranteed to get over 60fps in every game, regardless if you’re using a HDMI or DisplayPort cable. If you’re playing on a console with a 4K TV, you want the 4K resolution, not 1080p.
At the very least, the hardware in the Xbox Series X, particularly the console’s custom NVME SSD, will make loading times much faster for those older games. Xbox is also making its Quick Resume feature work with its older, backwards compatible titles, too. The company hasn’t said what older games will be available at launch yet, and I’m sure that will be another huge reason for some people to decide if they want to pick up an Xbox Series X at launch. I’ve bought a console just to play a specific game before, and if Fable II is on the list of backwards compatible games that gets a makeover, that could be enough to tempt me — but not if I have to go out and buy a new TV.