Microsoft has begun testing a 4K Ultra HD resolution version of the Xbox system software when run on an Xbox Series X. The updated UI is currently available to Alpha Skip-Ahead testers in the Xbox Insider programme, which means it should be rolling out to all Xbox Series X owners in the next few months.
The lack of a native 4K system resolution has long been a complaint of the Xbox community, with the Xbox console UI sticking with 1080p, even when the Xbox One X, Xbox Series S and Xbox Series X can all output 4K resolutions. While it doesn’t affect the moment to moment playing games or watching film and TV, it’s not as sharp and well defined as users might want. By comparison, the PS4 Pro bumped up the system software resolution to 4K, and the PS5 UI has been overhauled with 4K TVs in mind from the off.
There’s been plenty of speculation as to why this is the case, with various reports and statements that suggest that Microsoft has prioritised giving as many resources over to the active game as possible. This was most pressing for the base Xbox One, where Microsoft gradually reigned in the background processes and system allocation reserved for Kinect and TV to give developers fractionally more resources. That makes less sense for the Xbox One X, which increased the amount of RAM in the system from 8GB to 12GB, but in both cases, Microsoft reserved around 3GB of RAM for the system to run on.
With the Xbox Series X, the amount of RAM has increased even further to 16GB, with an atypical split-speed configuration with 10GB at 560GB/s and 6GB at 336GB/s. Roughly 13.5GB is available for games to use, with the system software only using the slower memory. For the time being, the 4K UI might be restricted to the Xbox Series X as Microsoft can lean on the SSD to load in higher resolution assets more rapidly. While it’s unlikely that a 4K UI will roll out for Xbox One X, it will be interesting if they can also pull the same tricks for the Xbox Series S in time.
One of the next most common complaints about the Xbox UI is that it does not run in HDR. This means that, switching back and forth between a game or app and the home screen forces a TV to switch modes, potentially leading to it cutting to a black screen for a few moments – the PlayStation 4 and 5 UI renders in HDR whenever an HDR game is running. Hopefully 4K support is a step to sorting that niggle out as well, as the system will only output an HDR signal when running at 4K.
Microsoft has continued to iterate on their Xbox system software since the release of the Xbox Series X|S. While the company has maintained a unified visual design across Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One, they’ve quickly added features like FPS Boost for backward compatibility games, a Quick Resume menu, and recently put a night mode into testing that shifts the console’s output to better suit low-light gaming.