Saturday, April 18, 2020

PS5 vs Xbox Series X: what have we learned about the key differences?

There's a lot of information to digest when it comes to the PS5 vs Xbox Series X competition. And, with both next-gen consoles releasing at the tail-end of this year, there's going to be plenty more on the way in the coming months – but there's also a lot being dropped right now.

Sony gave us a good look at the PS5 specs (though sadly not the console's design) in a live stream held by PS5 system architect Mark Cerny on March 18 – who had lots to say about the console's SSD drive and backwards compatibility, even if it seems like the Sony console won't have quite the power of the next-gen Xbox console. This was followed up in April with the reveal of the console's DualSense controller, which at least gives us some indication of what the console might look like.

Microsoft has been very forthright with Xbox Series X information, revealing the next Xbox's design, name and some upcoming Series X games. We've also got the lowdown on a number of features such as Smart Delivery, which will let you play the "best possible version" of a game you've bought on the Xbox One, without having to purchase it again.

Despite any differences in internal capabilities, their release dates are likely to be at the same time – in the same week, that is – so they'll be going directly head-to-head, most likely splitting gamers once again into camp 'Xbox' or 'PlayStation'.

The upcoming console launches represent big stakes for both manufacturers, with Sony's lead in the current console war up for grabs as new high-powered hardware hits the market. But can the Xbox Series X take the crown, and what will the new consoles actually do differently from the older Xbox One and PS4?

We've put together this Xbox Series X vs PS5 guide to put both next-gen consoles under the microscope, and gauge whether what we know about their pricing (definitely expensive), release date (late 2020), and hardware capabilities (lots) can tell us about the future of console gaming.

Xbox Series X vs PS5: key facts

PS5 vs Xbox Series X

Image credit: Sony

  • What are they? Xbox Series X and the PlayStation 5 are the forthcoming next-gen games consoles from Microsoft and Sony, set to deliver more ambitious and graphically impressive gaming experiences than ever before.
  • Xbox Series X and PS5 release date: Both Sony and Microsoft have confirmed "Holiday 2020" release dates, meaning sometime between October through to December.
  • What can I play on it? So far, we’ve not had many games confirmed. However, both consoles will have elements of backwards compatibility, and we’re expecting games like Cyberpunk 2077 to make an appearance on both machines.
  • Is the PS5 more powerful than Xbox Series X? Their processing capabilities seem pretty similar so far, but Microsoft appears to have a slight advantage.
  • What will the PS5 and Xbox Series X cost? We could be looking at $500 / £500 / AU$500 price tags, but there's no official word so far. The Xbox's higher power might also suggest a slight premium.

Xbox Series X vs PS5: specs so far

Though it was Sony to make the first move, giving the first concrete details about its PS5 back in April 2019, Microsoft’s E3 2019 showcase showed that both companies appear to be singing from the same hymn sheet with their new machines’ internal specs. 

The PlayStation 5 will run off a custom-built version of the third generation AMD Ryzen chipset, packing in 8 cores with the company's new Zen 2 architecture and Navi graphics. The CPU will run at 3.5GHz. The GPU offers 36 compute units running at 2.23GHz and offering 10.28TFLOPs. Those parts are paired with 16GB of GDDR6 with a bandwidth of 448GB/s. It’s a system that will be able to support ray tracing – a performance-intensive lighting technique that has previously been the reserve of expensive high-end PC GPUs, and which we now know will be "built into the GPU hardware" for the PS5.

Sony has also talked of the console setting a new “gold standard” in immersive, 3D audio, particularly for those using a headset whilst playing. (Some leaked patents, too, show off some intense ventilation design for handling all that processing power.) We've learned that Sony is delivering this audio through the Tempest Engine, which can handle hundreds of sound sources, for a more realistic audio environment.

The PS5 will also support screen resolutions of up to 8K – far higher than the standard 1080p HD of most people’s televisions, let alone that of the increasingly popular 4K. It’ll also work at 120Hz refresh rates, allowing for super-smooth movement in games. These are incredibly performance-intensive specs, so we wouldn’t expect a game to hit these standards regularly (not to mention requiring an expensive TV that will support them), but it’s good to see what Sony is aiming at.

Perhaps the most interesting element of the Sony build is its commitment to using SSD storage. The solid state drive in the PlayStation 5 will again be a custom-built piece of hardware, offering up 825GB of storage with a raw 5.5GB/s throughput (and up to 9GB/s worth of compressed data). Sony has already been showing off its technical prowess with a demo of its existing Spider-Man PS4 game. On PS5 hardware, the game is able to race around an incredibly-detailed New York City at incredibly high speeds without any delay in geometry loading or texture streaming, something that would never be possible on PS4.

PS5 vs Xbox Series X

We've seen the reveal of the console's controller, too, which drops the DualShock name for DualSense. As you'd expect, the new name has been reflected in the controller's new design which is quite different from anything we've seen from PlayStation before. 

As far as technology is concerned, the DualSense controller will use haptic feedback, replacing the DualShock 4's rumble technology. Simulating touch, haptic feedback means the controller will output vibrations or movements to replicated a real-life touch experience thereby improving feedback and immersion.

Haptic feedback simulates touch, meaning the controller will output vibrations or movements to replicate a real-life touch experience. This aims to improve the controller's feedback and therefore player's immersion. 

The PS5 controller will also feature adaptive triggers which Sony says have "been incorporated into the trigger buttons (L2/R2)". These adaptive triggers will allow developers to program the resistance of the triggers to simulate actions more accurately.

It'll also still have a headphone jack and will include a built-in microphone which Sony says will make it possible for players to talk to their friends online more easily.

Although we haven't seen the PlayStation 5's design just yet, we think the DualSense could give us a pretty good idea. Generally, controllers are some reflection of their console so we're expecting the PS5 to be futuristic and sleek, perhaps even with that two-tone black and white design like the DualSense controller. 

The Xbox Series X, meanwhile, is looking incredibly impressive on paper.

It too will use custom AMD internals using the same Zen 2 and RDNA 2 architecture of the PS5, making it 4x more powerful than the Xbox One X – this generation’s most technically-impressive gaming hardware. 

We now know that the Xbox Series X GPU boasts 12 teraflops of compute performance, with 3328 shaders allocated to 52 compute units. It will run at a locked 1,825MHz, and unlike most GPUs, won't fluctuate between speeds. Instead, it will deliver the same clock speed regardless of the temperature of the unit or the game you're playing. 

The processor is a customized AMD Zen 2 CPU, with eight cores and 16 threads. Interestingly, developers can choose to disable simultaneous multithreading (SMT) to reach a peak speed of 3.8GHz, or hit a base speed of 3.6Ghz when it's enabled.

It will be able to run content (if not games) at an 8K resolution, and it will also support 120Hz refresh rates at 4K. The Xbox Series X will match the PS5 by offering DirectX ray-tracing capabilities, and it’ll have a super-fast internal NVMe SSD (which can be expanded with a propriety NVMe card), and can be utilised as virtual RAM to lift load times by up to 40x. Standard RAM will be of the GDDR6 variety, with the Xbox Series X including 16GB - a pleasing upgrade over the Xbox One X's 12GB GDDR5. These specs show a slight lead for the Xbox Series X over the PS5 in terms of raw performance, but we'll have to see how that translates to real-world performance in games.

Microsoft hopes to make latency a thing of the past on Xbox Series X, with forward-thinking features such as Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM), communication improvements to the Xbox controller, and Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) support taking advantage of TVs with HDMI 2.1 support.

The next Xbox will also be backwards compatible with the Xbox One’s supporting hardware accessories, meaning that you won’t have to rush out and buy new pads and headsets to accompany the console at launch. The Xbox Series X controller will include a few new features, though, such as a dedicated share button and textured bumpers and triggers. 

Microsoft has also teased that existing Xbox One games like Gears 5 could be enhanced for the Xbox Series X to take advantage of the console's new power. And, if you’re a sucker for buying boxed games over making digital purchases, it’s already confirmed to have a physical disc drive included. Just like the PS5, that will be a 4K UHD Blu-ray drive.

Microsoft did pull back the curtain on a few features in February 2020 too. Those features included Smart Delivery, which allows current-gen gamers to play the "best possible version" of purchased games on future consoles. So you can buy a game like the Cyberpunk 2077 for Xbox One, safe in the knowledge you'll get to play the souped-up version on the Xbox Series X at no additional cost.

Microsoft also announced a Quick Resume feature that will let you have multiple games paused on the console at once, and pick up where you left off "from a suspended state almost instantly, returning you to where you were and what you were doing, without waiting through long loading screens." We'll be getting Variable Rate Shading (VRS) to "prioritize individual effects on specific game characters or important environmental objects" too.

It’s worth mentioning that rumors surrounding Xbox Series X have also involved the possibilities of there being another disc-less console on the horizon codenamed Project Lockhart. The theory here is that the Xbox Series X will be a high-end machine, while Lockhart would be a budget option focusing on streaming (possibly in the vein of the Xbox One S All Digital Edition). At this stage however, they remain merely rumors, as Microsoft is yet to confirm or deny the existence of a duo.

If you're concerned about being eco-friendly then the Xbox Series X may not be the best choice. While Sony has claimed the PS5 will be much more energy efficient than its predecessor, the PS4, analysis by Digital Foundry suggests Series X will be pulling twice the power of the Xbox One X – and putting out more heat as a result.

Overall, the Xbox Series X is looking like the more powerful console on paper but there's also the matter of ease of development. In an interview with Vigiato, Crytek rendering engineer Ali Salehi pointed out that the Series X is actually a more complicated console to work with which makes hitting that 12 teraflop theoretical peak can be difficult, while reaching the full potential of the PS5 is easy.

All of these specs, though, won't mean a whole lot until we can get our hands on the consoles and test them for ourselves.

Xbox Series X vs PS5: games we expect to see

PS5 vs Xbox Series X

It’s early doors for the new next-gen consoles, but already we’re getting a picture of the sort of experiences you can expect to see on the Xbox Series X and the PS5. 

Let’s kick off with the Xbox, as Microsoft has been a little more open with its line up upfront. First off, Microsoft has confirmed that Halo Infinite, aka Halo 6, will be a launch title for Xbox Series X. The Halo franchise is a unit shifter for Microsoft, a big-budget FPS series that will have been left on a bit of a cliff hanger for five years come the ‘Holiday 2020’ release of Halo Infinite. This is a very big deal. In addition, we also know Senua's Saga: Hellblade II will be releasing for Xbox Series X.

Perhaps just as much of a big deal as Halo is the fact that Xbox Series X will be backwards compatible with all existing Xbox platforms from launch. If you have games for the original Xbox, the Xbox 360 and the Xbox One, there’s a good chance they’ll work on Xbox Series X – especially your Xbox One library. How deep Microsoft goes on the libraries of the other generations remains to be seen, but it’s been relatively generous in their support during the Xbox One’s lifetime.

We currently don't know any of the PS5's launch titles but we do know the likes of Watch Dogs: Legion and Godfall will be making their way to Sony's next-gen platform. Sony has also confirmed that its PS5 will be backwards compatible, at least with your PS4 game library. How far back it will support the PlayStation family’s game history remains to be seen, but it’s been a little less supportive in this regard during the current generation, aside from within its paid-for PlayStation Now streaming service. 

Which brings us onto the conversation surrounding game streaming. With Google entering the gaming fray with its Google Stadia game streaming platform, Microsoft and Sony have actually entered a partnership to share and collaborate on game streaming technologies for the next generation. Exactly how this will play out remains to be seen. But with Sony already hosting PlayStation Now, and Microsoft pumping cash into its Project xCloud, don’t be surprised if a good chunk of your game playing time is streamed in over the web during the next generation.

As for other titles? We can make some educated guesses that some of the more ambitious games that are currently slated as swansongs for this present generation of consoles will make their way over to the newer machines in "remastered" or "definitive" editions. 

We're expecting a lot of games that are currently in development, and due for release next year, will be cross-generation titles. That means we're expecting to see the likes of Cyberpunk 2077, Ghost of Tsushima and The Last of Us: Part 2 on both current and next-gen consoles.

Xbox Series X vs PS5: price expectations

PS5 vs Xbox Series X

At this point, talking about the Xbox Series X price or the PS5 price is an exercise in speculation. It’s simply too early to tell, and there are too many missing factors in their make up for us to make an informed decision on the specifics of their final price. 

There have been plenty of supposed leaks of the prices for the consoles from online retailers and a couple of PS5 leaks have put the console in as high as $1043/ £837 and as low as US$396/£318. We don't think these leaks can be trusted, not least because Sony and Microsoft are yet to announce any official RRPs. 

But what we can say for certain is that the specs teased above don’t come cheaply. These are going to be high-end machines at launch, and will have significant price tags attached to the Xbox Series X pre-order as well as the PS5 pre-order bundles as a result.

What we can also do is look back at the comparative pricing of the Xbox One and PS4 at launch. One of the reasons the PS4 proved the more popular console during this generation was the fact that it launched at the more attractive price point of $399.99 / £349.99. That was a relative steal compared to the $499 / £429 Xbox One, which at launch had to factor in the cost of its ill-fated (and relatively short lived) Kinect motion tracker. The Kinect was initially hailed as one of the key differentiators between the consoles, but proved unpopular with both developers and gamers, leading to Microsoft slowly phasing it out in an effort to drive the price of the overall package down with later console revisions.

Microsoft will not want to make similar mistakes again – its launch pricing (along with its strange initial focus on entertainment capabilities over gaming software), were key factors to its initial struggles, which it’s spent this entire generation fighting against. 

A recent report from Bloomberg said that Sony will not be making as many PlayStation 5 consoles for launch as it did for the PS4's launch back in 2013, despite no delay to production or on sale date being expected.

Bloomberg's sources are anticipating shipments to max out at six million consoles through to March of 2021, whereas the PS4 sold 7.5 million over the same post-launch time period.

It seems that Sony is simply anticipating less demand, potentially because of what is expected to be a higher asking price for the PS5 than the PS4 launched with—could Sony be the one with the higher price tag this time around?

One company will inevitably undercut the other, but with specs at this stage looking similar enough, don’t expect it to be so dramatic a difference this time around.

Gut feeling

PS5 vs Xbox Series X

Image credit: Sony

There’s so much yet to learn about the PS5 and Xbox Series X. But at this stage, the similarities between the two consoles are striking.

Sony and Microsoft's joint commitment to SSD tech suggests a parity across both consoles for third party developers to work with. Both consoles will be the result of great efforts to offer deep backwards compatibility across their archives. And the astonishing fact that they’ll be sharing streaming technologies is the sort of collaboration that would once have been unheard of. Microsoft and Sony have clearly been listening to their fanbases – people don’t care about inter-company politics, they just want the best gaming experience possible.

But there’s still a tribalism among the fans, and so, as ever, first party gaming content is going to be perhaps more important than it’s ever been. With so many ways to play, from remote access to streaming, the hardware becomes far less important than the experiences they offer – especially when the two platforms are looking increasingly similar. Microsoft is the first out of the gate to announce a platform exclusive title with Halo, but Sony absolutely destroyed the competition in the PS4 generation with its exclusives. Hope for, and expect, nothing less in the console wars to come.

  • Google Stadia: could the platform-agnostic streaming service take on consoles?


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