Xbox Series S: the right product at the right time?

It seemed to take Microsoft forever to finally decide to unveil its long-rumoured second next-gen console – the compact, cut-price Xbox Series S. And yet when the reveal did come this week, it was earlier than planned, as Microsoft scrambled to respond to a leak of its form factor and price.

Digital Foundry’s Rich Leadbetter and John Linneman were first introduced to the machine over six months ago, when they travelled to Microsoft HQ in Redmond, Washington for an exclusive look at Xbox Series X. Now they finally get to break their silence on this most unusual new console in a special episode of Digital Foundry Direct.

Featuring segments filmed in Redmond back in March as well as a conversation taped this week breaking down all the latest information – including Microsoft’s pricing and positioning of Series S – there’s lots to chew over in the video. (As an added bonus, check out the Crimewatch-style reconstruction of the moment Series S was revealed to the pair in Richmond – when a Microsoft rep produced the diminutive console out of a handbag.)

Despite its unplanned outing, Series S has met with a pretty warm reception this week – and small wonder. It’s an attractive little machine that offers compelling value – and harks back to an earlier age of games consoles, both in its price (the same launch price as PlayStation 2 and the first Xbox) and its tidy, toylike form factor. It’s surprisingly full-featured, too, sharing the fast storage, ray tracing hardware and next-gen CPU tech of Series X, aimed at delivering visuals at lower resolutions (and with much greater power efficiency). This week, we got to see some decent footage of games supposedly running on Series S, too – including Gears 5 at 120fps.

The compromises? Beyond the lack of an optical drive, its 8GB of memory is going to be a tight squeeze for games developed for next-gen – as will the 500GB of on-board storage. Beyond that, there is much we still don’t know and it’s hard to say how the gaming experience might be impacted on Series S. It’s worth pointing out, amid Microsoft’s talk of Series S’ 1440p target resolution, that the famous Unreal Engine demo on the much more powerful PlayStation 5 was also running at 1440p. Could S deliver anything like that experience? Time will tell.

What we do know now is that Microsoft’s pitch for Xbox Series S – and to some extent, Series X too – is quite unlike any we’ve seen for a new-generation console before. Instead of aiming to wow the core gamers with new experiences, it is addressing a much broader market and talking about the value offered by Game Pass and the All Access subscription plan – and the affordable, adorable Series S fits that message perfectly, especially in the current economic climate. It might just be the right console at the right time.