They’re finally here. After years of rumors and anticipation, Microsoft (MSFT) and Sony (SNE) have officially launched their latest next-generation consoles. The new systems, dubbed the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 (PS5), promise a number of similar improvements over their predecessors including ray tracing technology for more impressive graphics and super-fast solid-state storage drives to cut down on load times.
All of that means you’re likely asking yourself, “What’s the difference between the two and which should choose?” And that’s where I come in. So let’s break down the big differences and similarities between the two systems to give you a better idea of which is right for you.
The biggest differences come down to price, the PS5’s impressive new DualSense controller, and, understandably, the kinds of exclusive games you can expect from the two systems. And that last one will likely be the most important distinction that determines which console you choose.
Two versions of each console
The first thing you need to know about the new Xbox and PlayStation is that there are actually two versions of each console. The $499 Xbox Series X is the high-end model, while the $299 Xbox Series S is the entry-level offering.
The main difference between the Series X and the Series S comes down to graphics performance. With a more powerful processor, the Series X can run games at true 4K resolutions. The Series S, meanwhile, runs games at a resolution of 1,440. For gamers who want an incredibly sharp viewing experience, the Series X is likely the way to go.
Still, the Series S can play games at 120 frames per second, just like the Series X, and can output video at 8K resolutions with HDR, though you’ll need to purchase an ultra high-speed HDMI cable, something the Series X includes in its box.
The Series X also gets a larger 1TB solid-state drive, while the Series S has a 512GB drive. What’s more, the Series X includes an optical disc drive, so you can buy physical games, while the Series S doesn’t. Meaning, you’ll need to download all of your games for the S.
Sony also offers two distinct versions of its console: The $499 PlayStation 5 and the $399 PlayStation 5 Digital Edition. The difference between the two is literally in their names. The standard PS5 comes with an optical disc drive so you can play physical media, while the Digital Edition sacrifices its disc drive for a nice price cut.
Outside of that, and a slight aesthetic change due to the Digital Edition’s lack of a drive, the two consoles are identical.
Graphics and performance
Microsoft touts the Series X as the most powerful console ever made. Both the Series X and the PlayStation 5 run on AMD’s (AMD) Zen 2 processors and use that same company’s RDNA 2 graphics processing unit. But Microsoft squeaks out a few more teraflops than Sony, 12 teraflops to 10.28 teraflops.
What the heck is a teraflop? In a nutshell, it’s the measure of the performance of a graphics chip. But it’s not the end all, be all way to determine which system has more oomph.
Certain games are bound to play better on one system or the other, regardless of power, so relying on teraflops isn’t the best way to look at things here.
Instead, you should look at what the systems offer in terms of overall capabilities. They both feature ray tracing technology, which allows games to generate more realistic lighting effects; can play games at up to 120 frames per second making for far smoother gameplay; and support HDR and 4K gaming.
In reality, the systems are stacked up pretty evenly. And after playing games on both, I can confidently say they offer incredible graphics and performance, with truly little difference.
Now here’s where things get really interesting. Both the Xbox Series X and the PlayStation 5 get brand-new controllers. The Series X’s is a kind of beefed up version of the Xbox One X controller but features an improved directional pad, Bluetooth Low Energy to connect to your PC or other devices, and reduced latency. All respectable upgrades.
Sony, however, went just a bit further with the PlayStation 5’s DualSense controller. Not only is this a heftier remote than the PlayStation 4’s DualShock 4, but it features some truly impressive new capabilities.
There’s the haptic feedback actuators that replace the old rumble motors and give players a more accurate sensation of what’s happening in their game, whether that’s trudging through sand or firing a rocket. In my experience, the controller modulates feedback far better, so you can feel slight vibrations for small in-game interactions and powerful shocks for in-game moments like crashing a car or firing a tank.
Better than that, though, are the DualSense’s adaptive trigger buttons. Now, the L2 and R2 buttons build tension when you try to depress them depending on the situation. In “Spider-Man: Miles Morales,” for instance, the triggers build tension when you press them to fire your web shooters.
From a gameplay standpoint, I can see this impacting everything from horror games to racing titles and everything in between. It could be as big of an advancement as adding vibration feedback to controllers, though that all depends on how developers take to it.
What about the games?
Right, the most important question you probably have. Well, out of the gate, you’re not going to see many exclusives for either console. Microsoft’s biggest launch title “Halo: Infinite” has been delayed until next year due to COVID-19-related slowdowns, a major letdown for the company.
Sony, meanwhile, has “Spider-Man: Miles Morales” and its “Demon Souls” remake, but nothing that’s truly a new must-have masterpiece. Both consoles, however, enjoy some high-flying new third-party titles in “Assassin’s Creed Valhalla” and “WatchDogs: Legion.”
Both consoles also offer backwards compatibility, with Microsoft promising games as far back as the original Xbox will work with the Series X and Series S. PlayStation says PlayStation 4 games will work with the PS5.
Microsoft’s ace in the hole, though, is its GamePass subscription service, which allows you to play more than 100 titles on your Xbox at any time you want for $9.99 per month. It’s a ridiculously good deal, and one I can’t recommend enough if you’re an Xbox gamer. Jump up to GamePass Ultimate, and you get access to those same games and Microsoft’s cloud gaming service, which lets you play your titles on your smartphone, tablet, or laptop.
Sony has its own service called PlayStation Plus, which gets you two PlayStation 4 games a month. And with the PlayStation 5, Sony is adding the PlayStation Plus Collection, a group of 20 of the best PlayStation 4 games that get improved load times and more stable frame rates.
Sony’s offering is certainly impressive, but you really can’t beat Microsoft’s GamePass deal, and that gives Microsoft a slight edge out of the gate. On top of that Microsoft is expected to close its deal to acquire ZeniMax Media by the middle of fiscal 2021, which will give Microsoft access to titles from the likes of Bethesda and Id.
Which console should you get?
Ah, the most important question of all. Like the divide between Android and iPhone users, Xbox and PlayStation users are loyal to their favorite console brand. If you’re that type of person, you already know what you’re going to get.
For everyone else, it comes down to the future titles these systems have to offer. With crossplay, in which players on Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo, and PC can all play together, becoming more common, third-party games shouldn’t be an issue. In that case, it comes down to the exclusives. And with Microsoft getting ZeniMax, it has seriously bolstered the Xbox’s games library.
But Sony pumps out some of the best first-party titles in the industry, so you can never count them out.
I’m a fan of both, and so would get both. But if that’s not for you, take a close look at what the consoles have lined up for future releases, and base your judgement on that. And don’t forget, have fun!
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