We know enough so far about what to expect that some eager anticipation is fully justified.
Two of the major living-room game console companies, Sony and Microsoft, will be fighting over whatever holiday shopping dollars you have — or at least those that aren’t already earmarked for a Nintendo Switch. That’s when we expect both the highly anticipated PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. We already know a lot about the PS5 and new Xbox thanks to recent deep dives and game reveals by both companies, and we’ve finally gotten a look at the PS5 with its family of accessories. But we’re still missing the biggest critical piece of information: price.
Neither of the new console designs was greeted sans mockery, which is funny given that they’re polar opposites: the PS5 is predominantly white, slender and curvy (which Sony’s PlayStation CEO Jim Ryan calls “bold, daring and future-facing”), and the Xbox Series X is a boxy black tower. Interestingly, Sony left the long, lingering videos of the console and its accessories until the very end of its stream, highlighting the upcoming games instead.
Microsoft held the first of its Xbox 20/20 livestreams in early May to highlight upcoming games; the next is slated for July.
Complicating the availability situation is the possibility of higher-than-expected prices for the PS5 thanks to ongoing trade disputes and the continuing phone-driven shortage of memory and storage options. Plus there could conceivably be production delays resulting from steps being taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, not to mention it decimating the world economy, rendering tens of millions of people likely unable to afford it when it ships.
This next chapter of the console wars may be especially important. Not because 8K-resolution video or ray-traced audio for more natural sound will be must-have features, but because the gaming landscape is more complicated and fragmented since the last generation of boxes came out.
In addition to competing with PCs, consoles now face challenges from new hardware-free cloud gaming services such as Google Stadia and Nvidia GeForce Now, as well as Microsoft’s own still-in-beta Project xCloud. To a lesser extent, they also compete for your time with mobile game-subscription services such as Apple Arcade.
Aside from its striking design, the most novelty seems to be in the new DualSense controller. Sony has replaced rumble with more sensation-specific haptic feedback and adaptive triggers, which may deliver a much better gaming experience as long as developers opt to support them; the only title for which it was mentioned was Insomniac’s Ratchet and Clank: A Rift Apart. Plus, it’s got new speakers and mics for chat and a USB-C connection. The PS5 is jumping to solid-state storage, too, making it a better match for large game downloads.
While many of its upcoming titles overlap with the Xbox’s, it does have quite a few exclusives including Gran Turismo 7, Horizon Forbidden West (the sequel to Horizon Zero Dawn), Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, plus timed exclusives for a good number of new titles.
The game event also confirmed that Sony will be offering a digital-only version of the console.
On the downside, the PS5 has a relatively small 825GB solid-state drive. Its NVMe SSD expansion slot is standard-ish, but because it needs to meet specific space, thermal and power requirements, Sony will need to validate it, and we won’t know until some time after launch what you can use or how much it will cost. Read our ongoing coverage of the PS5.
While the specs are quite different in places, ultimately we still don’t know how many of them will translate into actual differences in experience. For example, it’s tempting to say that the PS5’s graphics processor is less powerful than the Xbox’s because it has fewer compute units and less arithmetic power (as measured by the floating-point operations performance spec, aka TFLOPS).
But the two platforms have different hardware and software architectures, so you don’t know how the components will affect their respective performance or visual quality, or where tradeoffs will hit hardest.
Xbox Series X
The Xbox Series X looks like a bookshelf speaker rather than the DVD-player-esque Xbox One line. Microsoft has also talked about its controller enhancements, which are more about reducing latency (with its Dynamic Latency Input tech) than tweaking feel and feedback like Sony. Another new feature Microsoft’s touting is Smart Delivery, which precludes you from having to pay to play a game on the Xbox One if you’ve already ponied up for a Series X version, and it will automatically serve up the right version for your box.
As for games, we have a more complete list of ones that are coming, with an idea of what we’ll get around launch time, with some notable ones such asAssassin’s Creed Valhalla, Call of the Sea, Chorus, Cyberpunk 2077, Dirt 5, Halo: Infinite, Hellblade II, Outriders, Scarlet Nexus, The Ascent, Yakuza: Like a Dragon and more. Read our ongoing coverage of the Xbox Series X.
No matter how it balances out, though, they’ve both taken a big leap in power over their predecessors. They’re based around roughly similar AMD Zen 2-architecture processors plus AMD Radeon Navi-generation graphics processors with 16GB of memory. They both support ray-tracing, decompression acceleration, whizzy new proprietary SSD implementations and a whole lot more. Toss in backwards compatibility with older games (which gain a lift from the faster hardware and technologies like Microsoft’s HDR reconstruction), and all of this adds up to the PS5 and Xbox Series X promising noticeably better visual quality, faster frame rates and generally speedier operation than before.
As always, however, the games drive much of the real interest, especially those that will be available at launch. And price will be key, too, not just for the boxes but for the ancillary add-ons; for instance, the Xbox’s 1TB SSD storage add-on uses a proprietary design, which may make it more expensive than we’d like. Right now, most educated guesses place the price at about $500 for both the Xbox and PS5 — it’s likely they’ll be the same in order to compete with each other.