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Lifewire / Andrew Hayward
Dazzling 4K gaming
Immersive DualSense controller
Rapid loading times
Great launch games
Cooler and quieter than PS4
Large, awkward design
Limited backwards compatibility
The PlayStation 5 makes a strong impression out of the gate thanks to beautiful, compelling launch games and the enticing new controller, even if the Xbox Series X beats it on a couple of key technical details.
Our expert reviewer purchased the Xbox Series X to thoroughly test and assess it. Keep reading our full product review.
A quarter-century after Sony released the very first PlayStation in North America, the PlayStation 5 is here to try and up the stakes even further for console gaming. Like the rival Microsoft Xbox Series X, the PlayStation 5 packs significantly more power than its predecessor, delivering native 4K gaming at up to 120 frames per second on supported screens.
But Sony has done more than simply load in more graphical prowess than before. The new DualSense controller also represents an evolution from the classic DualShock design, bringing adaptive triggers that tense up and require additional force to squeeze, not to mention immersive haptic feedback all around the gamepad. It’s a potential game-changer, represented initially in the clever and ultra-charming free pack-in game, Astro’s Playroom.
On paper, the PlayStation 5 lags behind the Xbox Series X in terms of peak raw power, but you wouldn’t know it right now: the multiplatform games look the same on both systems. And as of now, there are more compelling games to play on Sony’s console, thanks to exclusive launch titles like Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Demon’s Souls. This console battle will likely be waged for years to come, but Sony has made the slightly more exciting showing out of the gate.
I’m usually all for distinctive gadgets that eschew the bland, black box look, particularly when it comes to home entertainment devices but the PlayStation 5 takes it to an extreme. Depending on whether you prop it up or lay it flat, the PlayStation 5 is incredibly tall or long at more than 15 inches, complete with unorthodox dimensions that make it look like two opposing Pringles chips on one end and the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray disc drive is a bulbous afterthought on the other.
Microsoft’s Xbox Series X is the most simplistic, black box shape the console line has ever seen, but compared to the PlayStation 5’s overwrought design accents, it comes across as thankfully unfussed and relatively compact. Both weigh in around 10 pounds, so they’re densely-packed tech behemoths, but there’s a lot of unnecessary added flourish to the PS5’s shape. The fact that it requires a detachable, packed-in stand in either configuration, either horizontally or vertically, suggests to me that utility was an afterthought in the design process.
Essentially, the console’s design has a glossy black plastic core surrounded by matte white plastic, although there’s no clean way to describe exactly what’s going on here. It provides a lot of space for ventilation, at least. When set up vertically, the disc drive sits at the bottom of the console on the right side, although there is a PS5 Digital Edition that omits the drive, cuts $100 from the price tag, and is a bit slimmer and more uniform in dimensions.
On this standard edition, small black power and eject buttons sit to the left of the drive, while USB and USB-C ports are found closer to the center of the black core. Flip the console around and you’ll find a pair of additional USB ports, an HDMI port, power cable port, and an Ethernet port for wired internet (the PlayStation 5 also supports Wi-Fi).
The aforementioned DualSense controller continues the lineage of the DualShock line, largely resembling the PS4’s DualShock 4 in external features and placement: the parallel dual analog sticks, the touchpad above, the familiar PlayStation button icons, and shape of the trigger buttons. It has been given a curvier, fuller, and more futuristic look akin to the console, however, but it’s thankfully less awkward here. There’s a cool contrast between the white and black plastic and a vibrant glow from the light that borders the touchpad when powered on. It recharges via a USB-C port, and you can charge while playing in case it unexpectedly runs dry.
Collectively, the DualSense is enough of an upgrade over older gamepads that I could see it pulling more people to PS5 over the Xbox Series X.
More importantly, as the name change suggests, there’s more going on beneath the surface of the DualSense controller. Haptic feedback is a big leap forward from traditional rumble functionality, delivering more precise vibration to your hands at varying intensities with more of a positional quality to it than an overall rumble. It’s a subtle difference, but it’s one that feels meaningful when you’re web-swinging as Spider-Man, for example.
The adaptive triggers, meanwhile, are an innovation that actually changes the way that games feel. They provide variable resistance, as set by game developers, to provide a more tactile feeling to performing tasks—such as pulling the trigger of a gun, setting up an arrow to fire, or yes, shooting a web while swinging through Manhattan. You have to feel it to really understand the change, but collectively, the DualSense is enough of an upgrade over older gamepads that I could see it pulling more people to PS5 over the Xbox Series X and its familiar, lightly-updated take on the Xbox One gamepad.
In any case, if I’m buying a multiplatform game, I’ll probably pick the PS5 version for DualSense rather than the Xbox edition. Astro’s Playroom, a whimsical platform adventure chock-full of PlayStation nostalgia, is currently the best demo for the DualSense controller, showcasing the haptic feedback, adaptive triggers, and both touch and tilt controls through charming and clever challenges. Best of all, it’s preinstalled free on the PlayStation 5 console. It put a big grin on my face, and that was before the controller tutorial even ended.
The PlayStation 5 comes with 825GB of internal storage, which is not only an odd number but is a bit stifling considering the ballooning size of larger-scale games—Call of Duty: Black Ops - Cold War, for example, takes up 133GB on its own. That’s nearly 20 percent less space to play with than the Xbox Series X’s 1TB SSD, and once formatted and after Sony’s own software footprint is factored in, you really only have 667GB to play with on PS5.
The PlayStation 5 provides added benefit beyond visuals with the NVMe solid state drive (SSD), which delivers a tectonic shift in loading speeds compared to the PS4.
Currently, you can connect an external hard drive via USB to store and run PS4 games, but not PS5. Luckily, the PS5 has an NVMe SSD slot for additional storage, but Sony has not yet announced any compatible drives that you can install within the console. Until then, you may need to be choosy with your limited space and delete games to download again later.
Right out of the box, you’ll need to decide how you want to position the PlayStation 5, since the included base stand must be mounted in one of two places. If vertical, the stand can be screwed into the bottom of the console to stand it upright, otherwise the stand rotates and can affix to the back of the console and sit beneath to lay it horizontally (no screw required). It’s a cleverly versatile hunk of plastic, even if it ultimately feels like a band-aid for the oddly-shaped console.
Once that’s settled, you’ll plug in the included HDMI and power cables and connect the other ends to a display and wall outlet, respectively. Press the power button to begin the process and follow the on-screen instructions, which will prompt you to connect to a network (either via Wi-Fi or an Ethernet cable), sign into a PlayStation account, and update the console’s software. You can opt to use the PlayStation smartphone app to aid with setup. You’ll also have the option to transfer data from your PlayStation 4 to the PS5 via Wi-Fi or an Ethernet cable.
The PlayStation 5 has similar internal hardware to the Xbox Series X, albeit configured in a different way. Both have a custom AMD Zen 2-based octa-core CPU paired with an AMD RDNA 2 GPU, but the PS5 configured the latter with 36 compute units at 2.23Ghz each while the Xbox Series X opts for 52 compute units at 1.825Ghz. What’s the difference? The PS5’s total graphical throughput adds up to nearly 10.3 teraflops—more than five times that of the original PS4 and more than twice that of the PS4 Pro revision—while the Xbox hits 12 teraflops.
The best-looking games on PlayStation 5 right now truly are stunning, even if the upgrade over PS4 games is largely incremental.
Ultimately, when it comes to raw power, that makes the PlayStation 5 second fiddle to the Xbox Series X in the realm of game consoles. That said, multiplatform games that are available on both systems essentially look identical right now, with the ability to output in native 4K at up to 120 frames per second on TVs with 120Hz support.
Support for 8K content is coming to both consoles in the future. Eventually, we might see more of a difference between the consoles as developers tap every bit of graphical power available, but right now they’re about the same. Note that you will need a 4K TV to see much of the visual benefits of the PS5: the high-resolution crispness won’t land quite the same on a 1080p set.
The best-looking games on PlayStation 5 right now truly are stunning, even if the upgrade over PS4 games is largely incremental. Spider-Man: Miles Morales is the biggest showcase at the moment, with a native 4K resolution mode that uses resource-intensive real-time ray tracing to deliver gorgeous lighting effects and reflections that are accurately rendered in the moment, rather than using canned effects. Alternatively, you can switch to a rock-solid 60-frames-per-second performance mode that is much smoother in motion, but sacrifices a bit of the added visual glow. It’s a tough decision!
Elsewhere, the PS5-exclusive remake of tough-as-nails battler Demon’s Souls delivers some of the most gorgeously-detailed creatures and locales, while Ubisoft’s multiplatform historical adventure Assassin’s Creed Valhalla serves up jaw-dropping environments and lighting effects. They run more smoothly and look more detailed and immersive on PlayStation 5, but a look at the PS4 versions of both Miles Morales and Assassin’s Creed shows that it’s ultimately the same core game on both consoles—it looks better, but at least for these first-wave releases, it’s not transformative.
The PlayStation 5 provides added benefit beyond visuals with the NVMe solid-state drive (SSD), which delivers a tectonic shift in loading speeds compared to the PS4. Miles Morales loads from the menu screen into the vast open city of Manhattan within a few seconds, and Fortnite no longer takes two minutes to get from the console menu to the game menu—it’s more like 20 seconds now. The Xbox Series X delivers the same kind of boost to games, and it means you’re no longer forced to kill time when loading games, levels, and matches.
That said, the Xbox Series X has an added feature called Quick Resume that lets you swap between open, compatible games in a matter of seconds, rather than load every game from scratch. The PS5 has no such function, but given the rapid loading times and similar SSD tech inside, I’m hoping it’s something that Sony can add down the line. Thankfully, the PS5 runs cooler and quieter than the aggressively loud PS4 models before it, although the disc drive still can get loud during use.
The PlayStation 5’s interface is more dynamic than that of the PS4, shifting the familiar, centered row of horizontal game and media icons to the top of the screen to make more room for graphics and infoboxes. It’s a striking look, yet still pretty easy to get around, particularly with the ability to give a quick tap to the PlayStation button on the controller to bring up a navigation bar at the bottom of the screen. It could use further refinement, however; the new PlayStation Store design, for example, needs easier access to deal promotions and game categories.
I’m usually all for distinctive gadgets that eschew the bland, black box look, particularly when it comes to home entertainment devices but the PlayStation 5 takes it to an extreme.
Thankfully, Sony managed to wrangle a few big exclusives for the PlayStation 5 launch, which stands in stark contrast to the Xbox Series X launch lineup. True, Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Sackboy: A Big Adventure released on PS4 the very same day, but at least they’re not older games simply given a graphical bump as Microsoft did with its lacking Xbox Series X lineup. Miles Morales is excellent, a thrilling and beautiful spin-off from Insomniac Games’ original Spider-Man game that packs a lot of heart and character, too. And there’s a limited edition version with a visually-remastered version of the first game, too. LittleBigPlanet spinoff Sackboy, meanwhile, isn’t particularly thrilling, but it’s lightweight, family-friendly fun.
The brutal Demon’s Souls won’t appeal to everyone, but those with a masochistic streak may appreciate its tough-but-rewarding combat. Astro’s Playroom is also a PS5 exclusive, and while it’s a freebie, it’s a must-play for anyone picking up the console—not only for its alluring use of the new controller, but also its charming homage to PlayStation history. And Bugsnax, a strangely delightful indie game from the makers of Octodad: Dadliest Catch, is another PS5 launch game you won’t find on Xbox. It’s also free at launch to PlayStation Plus subscribers.
Elsewhere, a lot of the same multiplatform games from Xbox Series X and PlayStation 4 alike are available on PS5 with upgraded visuals, from Assassin’s Creed Valhalla to first-person shooter Call of Duty: Black Ops - Cold War, hoops sim NBA 2K21, and off-road racer Dirt 5. Sony has already announced an array of heavy-hitters for future release, including new God of War, Horizon, and Final Fantasy games, so there’s sure to be a steady flow of big games for the console in 2021 and beyond.
When it comes to older games, Sony isn’t quite as keen on backwards compatibility as Microsoft. The PlayStation 5 supports most major PS4 games, and some—including God of War, Ghost of Tsushima, and Final Fantasy XV—see smoother frame rates thanks to the added power of the new console. But while the Xbox Series X allows games all the way back to the original Xbox and provides automatic loading and frame rate boosts, the PlayStation 5 sticks to PS4 games and only improves those that developers patch with enhancements.
PS5 owners who subscribe to Sony’s PlayStation Plus service, which unlocks online multiplayer action and awards free games to download each month, will also have access to a new PlayStation Plus Collection that lets you download 20 of the PS4’s most popular and critically acclaimed titles. That bundle includes God of War, Persona 5, Ratchet & Clank, The Last of Us Remastered, and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. It’s a stellar library that you can tap into when you need something new to play, or want to revisit a modern classic.
You’ll also find an array of streaming video services on the PlayStation 5, including Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, Disney+, and Twitch, plus the disc drive can play 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, standard Blu-ray discs, and DVDs.
The standard PlayStation 5 sells for $499, while the Digital Edition sells for $399. Aside from the disc drive, there’s no difference in performance, storage, or other specs, so the Digital Edition may be appealing to anyone who has already given up on physical media. It’s also a bit slimmer, as mentioned, given the lack of an optical disc drive.
While the visual enhancements are relatively modest compared to the PlayStation 4, the PS5 makes a better argument at launch than the Xbox Series X thanks to a more robust library of PlayStation-exclusive games and the awe of the DualSense controller. That said, because most of the games are also available on PS4, you might consider waiting until the PS5 secures more true exclusives before spending upwards of $500 on new hardware that mostly plays the same games.
The PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X collectively represent the current pinnacle of console gaming, delivering impressive native 4K performance with immensely crisp, detailed, and smooth-running games. And the speedy SSD storage in both means that games load faster from the start and serve up fewer delays along the way.
As mentioned, the Xbox Series X has more raw power available to developers, even if games look the same on both platforms for now. The expanded backwards compatibility and Quick Resume feature are also great perks of Microsoft’s hardware, not to mention the more compact, streamlined physical design.
On the other hand, the PlayStation 5 has compelling exclusive games from day one, and the DualSense controller feels like a true innovation compared to the familiar, largely-unchanged Xbox Series X gamepad. There’s a little bit more of a next-gen spark with the PS5, whereas the Xbox Series X—at least for now—put more focus on making your existing, older games look and run better than before.
Check out our guide to the best gaming consoles you can buy today.
Dawn of a new generation.
For the PS5, $499 is a lot to ask for a new game system that has a lot of the same games as your old console, just with better graphics and faster loading times. But those enhancements are excellent if you don’t mind investing the cash now. The PlayStation 5 makes a slightly stronger case for the spend today thanks to dazzling exclusives like Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Demon’s Souls, and Astro’s Playroom, and the DualSense controller provides an added layer of excitement to the equation. The Xbox might eventually win out on raw power, but at least right now, Sony provides more compelling reasons to make the early upgrade.
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