Microsoft have revealed more about their plans for backward compatibility on Xbox Series X, going far, far beyond simply preserving games. Instead, the console can actively enhance some games to run at higher resolutions, higher frame rates and even add in HDR where there was none before.
Writing on Xbox.com, Jason Ronald, Director of Program Management for Xbox Series X said, “Backwards compatible games run natively on the Xbox Series X hardware, running with the full power of the CPU, GPU and the SSD. No boost mode, no downclocking, the full power of the Xbox Series X for each and every backward compatible game.”
At a base level, this will work to help iron out the kinks that many games have as they push their original console hardware to the limits. We’ve seen dynamic resolutions become standard, and even then frame rates struggle to meet their targets of 30fps or 60fps. Xbox Series X will help any and all games to run at their maximum resolution and at their target frame rate, and if the game is installed to the NVME SSD, load much quicker as well.
However, Microsoft haven’t been content to sit on their laurels here. As we’ve seen with backward compatibility on the current generation, they’re able to selectively enhance games through the emulation and compatibility process. For Xbox One X, Xbox 360 games could be enhanced to run at native 4K and to even have things like anisotropic filtering applied to smooth out textures. The same applied to original Xbox games, too.
For Xbox Series X, the Xbox Advanced Technology Group can go a step further, with a HDR reconstruction technique to feed HDR support into games with no penalty to performance. HDR was introduced to Xbox with the Xbox One S, but the concept has existed within game engines, resulting in bloom lighting and other visual effects. It’s possible that the Series X is able to analyse what the game is doing and adjust the colour balance on the fly. However it’s happening, it can be applied to Xbox 360 and original Xbox games. Digital Foundry previewed this technology back in March when applied to the HDR-less Halo 5 for Xbox One, but now Microsoft are plainly stating this will be universal.
Unlike Xbox One X Enhanced games, where titles were cherry-picked and enhanced, Microsoft say that things like HDR and Quick Resume support are on a platform level, requiring no additional work.
However, they will be having to be selective about the Series X’s other trick, to double the frame rate of games from 30fps to 60fps or from 60fps to 120fps – for this you will need a monitor or TV that supports 120Hz playback. They’ve improved their techniques for running older games at higher resolutions and with improved image quality, while also creating the ability to double the game’s frame rate. However, they will need to tread carefully and be selective with the games that it is applied to, and there are countless examples of games that tie in-game elements like physics or animation to the game’s frame rate.
Microsoft officially ended their backward compatibility programme for Xbox One around this time last year, adding one final batch of games to the line up. All of those games will also be supported by Series X, but Microsoft note in this new post that they will start considering new titles to dig out and re-release despite technical and licensing difficulties.
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