PlayStation 5 vs Xbox Series X: everything you need to know
The next-gen consoles don’t disappoint but there some notable differences to be aware of
PlayStation 5. Photograph: Sony Interactive Entertainment I/AFP via Getty Images
Xbox Series X
This Christmas is heading for a big showdown. Seven years in the making, Sony and Microsoft are going head-to-head in a next-generation console war that will see both companies vie for the festive market.
Both companies are offering not just one next-generation console, but two: one with a disc drive and one that is a digital-only device. It’s a move that is intended to capture a larger share of the market, appealing to the more price-sensitive consumer who may not feel like shelling out half a mortgage payment on a games device. For Microsoft, it’s the Xbox Series X and the Series S; for Sony it’s the PlayStation 5 and PlayStation 5 Digital Edition.
Preorders for both consoles have been brisk, selling out for the moment. But for the undecided among us, we have tested both consoles to see which one has the edge. So how do the new consoles stack up against each other?
Sony PlayStation 5
Sony’s console is big. Very big. It’s currently taking up practically a whole shelf in the TV unit. Luckily though, you have options. You don’t have to keep it lying down; Sony includes a stand (plus a screw to fix it in place) in the box. It feels a lot safer with it lying down though; the last thing you want to see is your expensive, hard-to-get console smash on to the floor, courtesy of a small child or an over-enthusiastic pet.
When Sony unveiled the console months ago, there was a lot of speculation about its design.
But the aesthetics of the console are a footnote to the overall experience. I’ve barely considered it since I installed it in the livingroom. What’s more important is how it performs.
On that front, the PS5 has no concerns. My initial review consisted of two games: Astro’s Playroom, which is built into the system, and Spider-Man: Miles Morales. The latter is like playing a movie; the former showcases the capabilities of the new controller to perfection. Both are brilliant to play yet aim at completely different markets.
Astro’s Playroom pays homage to the history of the PlayStation. Controlling the small robot, you hunt down pieces of a jigsaw that make up a mural at one section of the game’s hub, and pick up artefacts such as the original PlayStation One, the Eye camera and move controllers to create your very own PlayStation exhibit.
The real star of the show though is the new PlayStation controller. All the Dual Sense controller’s abilities are called into service in this game. In sections where you have to zip Astro into a monkey suit and climb a cliff face, you use the motion sensing ability of the controller; ditto for controlling the flight path of a glider.
When Astro steps on to a platform with a propeller, you blow into the controller – it has a microphone that can be disabled with a switch – to get it moving. The nuances in the controller’s haptic feedback are also noteworthy. When Astro walks, there a slight vibration, but if you switch to skating on ice, the sensation changes just enough to make it feel like he’s actually whizzing over the ice. It’s a small touch that makes a huge difference to the overall experience.
If you want to be blown away though, check out Miles Morales. The game is not exclusive to the PS5 – it is also available on the PS4 – but the difference the power boost has given to it is stark. Miles Morales really shows the power of the console’s graphics. Web-slinging your way through New York, you want to stop and stare at the scenery – it’s the closest we’ve been to the US city in almost a year – because everything just looks so beautifully detailed. Sunsets and snow scenes, how the light changes as you round a building; the game could be terrible and it would be worth it just to take in the sights. (Spoiler alert: it’s not terrible.)
Jumping between cut scenes and gameplay is seamless. Gone are the days when the cinematic footage was far and above the quality of the game itself.
Quite frankly, the PS5 is phenomenal. And while loading screen shaven’t been completely eliminated, they are much less frustrating and are far faster to zip through than before.
One thing to note: the PS5 won’t support expandable internal storage at launch, so be wise with what you choose to install on that solid-state drive. Sony has said it is coming though; it just hasn’t given a timeline yet.
Xbox Series X
Microsoft will get out of the gate a little ahead of the PS5 this time around – two days in the United States and nine days in Ireland – but like the Sony machine, this will probably make little difference to sales. That’s because preorders have been sold out for weeks as Microsoft preps to launch its most powerful console ever.
The Series X comes with some serious stats. It has 12 teraflops of power, a 1TB storage drive and true 4K gaming, and is capable of up to 8K high-dynamic range for video. There’s also the option of a 1TB Seagate expansion card for the solid-state drive, giving you more space for games.
Microsoft is sticking to its tried-and-tested black aesthetic for the Xbox Series X, but it has made a few changes. It has shrunk the size of it to a more rectangular shape, with a dip in the top of it and a series of what we can only describe as ventilation holes that are designed to draw air through the console.
The good news? It doesn’t sound like it is about to take off after 10 minutes of playing.
One disadvantage of the Xbox is that it doesn’t have a strong exclusive game at launch. With so little between the two in terms of hardware, the games will be what it is all about.
That may be one area where the Xbox falters a little. But all the Xbox One games will be compatible with the Series X, and some are due an update to take advantage of the increased power in the console.
A quick play of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla on the Xbox will give you a good idea of what to expect. The game runs in 4K, so if you have the right TV to take advantage of the upgraded graphics, prepare to sit back and wonder.
Assassin’s Creed is a long-running game series that has spanned the Crusades, Renaissance Italy, the American Revolution, the open sea and now the Viking era.
In general, you know what to expect from the Xbox controller, and Microsoft hasn’t done anything much new here, unlike Sony. But the increased power makes for an altogether better game. Not only is it faster to load, but it looks more detailed and rich. Even the games transferred over from the Xbox One load faster on the Series X, or feel as if they do.
One thing Xbox does have is Game Pass, a subscription service that has been likened to Netflix for gamers. A quick search through the catalogue shows a wide variety of games, from Overcooked! 2 to Final Fantasy XV. You can take a wander down memory lane and get to all the games you never had the time – or funds – to play before.
Head to head:
This is going to be purely a personal choice. The Xbox Series X will probably slot more easily into your existing home entertainment set-up, but neither of these consoles are sylphs. Would you prefer the white and black of the PS5 or the rectangular tower of the Xbox Series X? The Xbox would certainly be more convenient to cram into your home entertainment set-up, and it doesn’t require a stand to stay upright.
On paper, the Xbox Series X has the edge on pure power. It has 12 teraflops to the PlayStation 5’s 10. But it doesn’t all come down to the raw numbers. The PlayStation 5’s custom solid-state drive allows for fast access, which also counts. Both support ray tracing, a graphics rendering technology that delivers much more realistic lighting and shadows. All early indicators are that this technology is certainly working well for both consoles, and the results are stunning.
You can have the most powerful console in the market, but if you don’t have the right games, you won’t get the players. Sony has a couple of titles exclusive to the PlayStation, but not necessarily the PS5.
Xbox was supposed to have a Halo title at launch, but the project has been delayed. That leaves Microsoft with non-exclusives and cross-platform titles too. But Microsoft also has Smart Delivery, a system that allows you to upgrade a game you bought for Xbox One for the Series X. Microsoft will automatically install the version optimised for the Series X on your machine, which takes a bit of the effort out of it for players.
What about the digital-only consoles?
You may have heard about the digital consoles that ditch the discs altogether and require you only to download your games digitally. Sony is sticking with the PlayStation title for both; Microsoft has the Series S as its digital-only version.
There are pros and cons with that one. One benefit for both consoles is that losing the disc drive means you have a smaller console to deal with. It also means a price cut, €100 in the case of the PlayStation 5. The Xbox Series S is €200 cheaper, but it’s not as powerful as the more expensive Series X; it not only ditches the disc drive but also the native 4K gaming. It has a drive half the size of the Series X at 512GB. It’s less powerful too, at 4 teraflops to the Xbox Series X’s 12.
Could that mean that it won’t support some of the more advanced games that will come in the future? Microsoft doesn’t seem to think so, as both systems share the same architecture.
Price difference aside, it’s worth considering whether the digital console would be a good fit. Both PlayStation and Xbox consoles will have backwards compatibility with the discs from the previous generation, so you can play your Xbox One games on the new console along with some Xbox 360 titles, and ditto for the PlayStation 4 discs littering your house – opting for the digital console means you shut off that avenue.
It also effectively cuts off the second-hand games market, which can be a source of cheaper games. The new titles aren’t cheap, with many costing €70 and more for the standard version of games, with special editions costing upwards of €100.
With the PS5 launching without support for expandable storage – to come later – it also means you will have to use any storage you have wisely. The Xbox doesn’t have the same problem, with a 1TB Seagate Storage Expansion Card already lined up.