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Should you buy new Xbox when even more powerful Project Scorpio is due in 2017?

Earlier in August, Microsoft launched the Xbox One S: a leaner, meaner update of 2013’s original Xbox One console that packs a little extra juice into a 40 per cent smaller shell.

It’s a huge improvement over the original Xbox One in just about every way. Normally, I’d say you should buy it without reservation. But back at this year’s E3 video game conference, Microsoft made the extremely atypical move of pre-announcing a new, mysterious Xbox console, codenamed “Project Scorpio”, to be launched in 2017.

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Project Scorpio is promised to be “the most powerful console ever”, bringing a lot more graphical horsepower to the table. We don’t know what it looks like, what it will cost, or which games are coming to it, but we do know that it’ll deliver ultra-high-definition gaming in full 4K resolution, among other graphical feats. 

That leaves people considering getting an Xbox with a difficult choice: buy an Xbox now, and risk being left in the cold when Project Scorpio comes out next year; or wait for more details on Project Scorpio but miss out, in the interim, on upcoming Xbox-exclusive games like Gears of War 4 and Scalebound?

Here’s what you need to know when choosing between buying an Xbox One S now versus Project Scorpio later.

Don’t sweat it too much

Seriously, don’t stress out here: Microsoft has promised that Project Scorpio and the Xbox One will share a games library.

That means it will play all your Xbox One games, past, present, and future. It’ll also play those select 200-plus Xbox 360 games that are currently playable on the Xbox One. All your Xbox One controllers will still work with it, too. 

And Microsoft has given strong indications that any games for Project Scorpio will also work with all models of the Xbox One. We don’t know exactly how that will work, but Microsoft has hinted that certain newer games simply won’t look as good when played on an older console. 

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So no matter which Xbox One you choose to buy, there’s still going to be a steady stream of games. You won’t be left in the cold. Plus, Microsoft is pushing a new initiative where buying a copy of an Xbox One game will also net you a copy of Windows 10, so you’ll be able to play wherever you’d like, on either PC or console.

“No one gets left behind,” said Xbox boss Phil Spencer when Project Scorpio was announced.

That said …

Lookin’ good

Even going on the few details we have available, Project Scorpio definitely has a major edge in graphical horsepower: to judge by Microsoft’s specs, it’s six times as powerful as the original Xbox One.

What this means for you is that you’ll be able to play (certain) games in full, glorious, “true” 4K/UltraHD resolution, the next huge step up from our modern and more common HD technologies. And in general, it’ll be able to support yet more gorgeous graphical effects than we see on the modern Xbox One.

That also means Project Scorpio has enough juice to support high-end virtual reality headsets, like Facebook’s Oculus Rift. And while Microsoft hasn’t specifically announced support for that headset, the two companies are tight enough that it seems like a safe bet something is in the works. 

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The Xbox One S supports 4K/UltraHD too, but only for movie playback from specially marked Blu-ray discs, not for games. That said, it does support high dynamic range, or HDR, a technology for displaying super-vivid colours that is said by some to be better than UltraHD.

Of course, if you don’t have a cutting-edge 4K/UltraHD TV, or a US$599 Oculus Rift headset, and you don’t have any plans to get either, you won’t get the most out of Scorpio’s phenomenal cosmic power. 

Which brings us to the next point …

Cheaper vs more powerful

The Xbox One S is clearly the value option here, with lots of options for bundled-in games and hard drive storage space.

According to Amazon, the best-selling Xbox One S model is a US$349 configuration with 1 terabyte (1,000 gigabytes) of storage, and a copy of Madden NFL 17. Other configurations include a US$399 model with 2TB of storage, or a US$299 version that comes with Halo: The Master Chief Collection and Halo 5: Guardians and 500GB of storage in a neat little package.

Meanwhile, Project Scorpio is being billed by Microsoft as a premium product, which is code for “not cheap”.

All of Project Scorpio’s power is going to come with a price tag, and it seems fair to assume it’ll cost significantly more than the Xbox One S when it launches next holiday season.

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If it helps, you can think of the Xbox One S as the iPhone SE of the Xbox line: powerful enough and cheap enough to be attractive to a lot of people, but not necessarily right on the cutting edge.

So, the bottom line is that if you really need that cutting-edge aspect, and you’re already investing heavily in the world of 4K and virtual reality, waiting for Project Scorpio is the thing to do.

If you don’t care about any of that stuff and just want to play the latest games on the latest Xbox available, you can’t go wrong with the S.

Finally, the Sony PlayStation 4 is going to have similar issues, with a new slimmer model slated to be announced very soon, and with the more powerful PlayStation 4 Neo launching next year. But that’s another story.