The future of Sony's consoles: Here's a brief once-over on the PlayStation 5
What's there to say about the PS5?
Note: This feature was first published on 8 July 2020.
After seven long years, it seems our trusty PlayStation 4 consoles will finally be getting a well-deserved break as our shelves make way for the PlayStation 5. It's been just over three weeks since Sony made their big reveal, and the community has indeed had a field day discussing every aspect of it.
From the hardware to the console exclusives, and even the design (which has proved to be somewhat...divisive), the PS5 certainly has its work cut out for it when it arrives during the holiday season. But what exactly about it have people been talking about for the past few weeks? Let's have a look.
Size does matter. A lot.
If you cast your mind back to two weeks ago, you might recall that the entire Internet was laughing itself silly over Sony's departure from traditional black box consoles. More specifically, they poked fun at the absolutely meme-able appearance of the PS5. It sparked an entire lifetime's worth of humourous comparisons, from Yu-Gi-Oh!'s Seto Kaiba to Bleach's Sosuke Aizen and even the Pokemon Duraludon at one point. But putting all that hilarity aside, what's there to be said about Sony's new direction in console design?
For starters, we can always look at the size. Measuring an estimated 15 inches tall by 3.5 inches wide, the PS5 is much bigger than the original PS4, which measured only 10.4 inches high when placed on its side. It's as edgy and futuristic as we've ever seen from a Sony console and perfectly contrasts its biggest competitor in the Xbox Series X, which features a simple, minimalist box design.
But like kids on Christmas who see bigger presents under the tree, people were curious about the increased bulk of the PS5 as compared to its predecessor, which led some to suspect that Sony had something more in mind for it. A separate memory cartridge of sorts was one of the popular speculations from the community, but the official justification from PlayStation's vice-president of UX design Matt MacLaurin was that they needed more space for "thermals" to help keep the device cool under the intense loads presented by next-gen games. It makes perfect sense - after all, you're basically playing games on a 15-inch tall supercomputer in your living room.
This way up
So bulk is one thing, but the primary orientation of the PS5 is another. Conventionally, Sony's consoles have always been designed to lay flat on a surface, and although they've come forward to clarify that the PS5 can (obviously) still be positioned as such, the console's bulkier profile means that users might have to make some adjustments to their shelves - it might not fit into that little nook that your PS4 used to. Naturally, this last bit varies from setup to setup but the point is you'll definitely have to give this one a lot more room than its predecessors, even if you're getting the Digital Edition. However, it is worth noting that its circular base certainly indicates it was meant to be placed upright rather than sideways.
Anyway, the last box to check on the aesthetic to-do list is, of course, the colour. Sony has NEVER gone with a white base console before (not at launch, anyway), and although we understand the whole "new generation, new direction" vibe they're going for, associating white consoles with Sony is still a little odd (for now). In our opinion, that seems like more of a Nintendo thing, but there's no harm in them (Sony) giving it a go too. This further raises the question of whether white will become the new norm for future consoles too, although we can certainly assume that community feedback will play a big part in this regard.
Putting players behind the controller
Of course, we can't talk about the console without mentioning the new DualSense controller. Compared to the DualShock 4, the DualSense appears to be a bit rounder and larger, and this is the first time we've gotten a two-tone default colouration as well. The light bar, which you might recall was previously situated above the touchpad on the DualShock 4, has been moved down to encircle it instead. This makes the DualSense feel a little bit bigger, and the mini-holographic effect it creates ties in very well with the PS5's futuristic vibe. However, while that's certainly neat - it's the adaptive triggers and the haptic feedback that's worth discussing.
The DualSense's new adaptive triggers sound like a really cool feature, although whether they'll pull their weight in real life remains to be seen. No pun intended. Basically, they are able to simulate various levels of tension depending on the in-game context - if you're drawing a bow as Aloy does in the Horizon: Forbidden West trailer, it might simulate the tension in the bowstring on the right trigger, giving the impression of drawing an actual bow. And although this isn't a completely new thing (we've seen previous renditions of it before, like in the Nintendo Wii's Nunchuk, for starters), one would think it'll be more prominently featured in games this time.
Then there's the haptic feedback, which presumably pays dividends in racing sims like Gran Turismo. Correct me if I'm wrong, but there's nothing quite like feeling the ground rumbling in your hands as you drift along at two hundred kilometres an hour. Of course, that's just one example - there are lots of other ways developers can work this feature into their game plan to boost immersion and realism. On the whole, though, the DualSense looks and sounds pretty slick - I'm feeling the futuristic vibe loud and clear too.
Here come the numbers
With the aesthetics done and dusted, the next topic is quite naturally "technical design", which is just a fancier way of referring to the features and specs. As you might know, there was (and probably still is) a lot of debate going around on how the PlayStation 5 stacks up against its closest competitor in the Xbox Series X, but at this point, the general consensus heavily favours the latter in terms of performance and output. For now, though we'll stick to comparing only one or two aspects - a full-blown discussion deserves its own article.
Based on the information that's currently available, the PS5 brings 10.3 teraflops of GPU output, an 8-core 3.5GHz AMD Zen 2 as well as an 825GB custom SSD to the table. Meanwhile, the Xbox Series X brings 12.0 teraflops of GPU output, a slightly beefier 8-core 3.8GHz AMD Zen 2 and 1TB custom NVMe SSD. Accordingly, it should be obvious that the Series X wins in terms of flat numbers, although that's not nearly enough to bag Microsoft the win outright.
As for the rest of the specs, both consoles sport pretty much the same things, such as 16GB RAM, a 4K UHD Blu-ray disc drive (excluding the PS5 Digital Edition), up to 8K resolution gaming and up to 120fps with regard to frame rates. Coupled with the fact that we don't have the exact pricing for both consoles at this point in time, we can't really make any noteworthy distinctions between them yet.
Do we really need to go all the way back?
What we do want to focus on, however, is the Xbox's Smart Delivery feature as well as the backwards compatibility aspect offered by both consoles, since they're bound to affect the "value perception" side of things.
First of all, Smart Delivery isn't a new-fangled way of getting pizza or mail sent to your front door. Instead, it's a feature that allows you to play the best and latest versions of the games you own. Sounds complicated, but it isn't. Suppose you have an Xbox One game that also has a Series X version, but you purchased it just before it got announced. Normally, that'd be a bummer, but with Smart Delivery, you'll be able to download and play the Series X version as soon as it's available, even though you didn't actually buy it per se. The console will automatically detect and download the best possible version of the game for your hardware, and you'll be able to enjoy it as per normal.
On paper, the Series X might appear to be a clear winner, since Smart Delivery allows you to get immense value out of your old games, assuming they're supported by the game's developer/publisher. But then again, this feature essentially becomes just another smatter of fancy words when it comes to dedicated Series X titles, simply because the latest version of the game in question, like Halo Infinite, for instance, is already the one you bought in the first place.
Even so, it would appear that the Series X sports the numbers advantage right now, since it features full backwards compatibility for games from any previous Xbox model, as compared to the PS5 which is only backwards compatible with PS4 games. However, quantity isn't everything - it is worth noting that the PS4 outdid the Xbox One in terms of its console exclusives and overall quality of its games at the very end.
Which suggests that we might be seeing a similar trend this generation - the Series X certainly has the advantage in the short-term owing to its backwards compatibility and Smart Delivery value-adding to users' old games, but as time passes and more console exclusives drop by, those features will presumably lose value, which leaves it open to the PS5 pulling the rug out from under its feet by virtue of its "higher quality console exclusives".
Adding on to that, it's not even guaranteed that the Series X's advantage will translate to victory in that short window of time. The reason for it is simple: while the ability to play Xbox 360 or Xbox titles on the Series X definitely sounds appealing on paper, it might not actually resonate in reality, especially among younger gamers, who will probably veer towards the latest and best games on the market.
Of course, this is one of those factors that vary from individual to individual, and there's no "one size fits all" answer at this point in time, especially not with Microsoft yet to show off any of its first-party exclusives on a proper stage. As such, we'll look into the whole console comparison again after Microsoft holds its Xbox 20/20 event on July 23. The games showcased then, which includes the much-hyped Halo Infinite, might very well change the community's outlook on the situation, and even then we've easily got another three to four months to talk about it before either console releases.
I like the edgy white console more
However, in terms of console design alone, I have to say I'm siding more with the PlayStation 5 than the Xbox Series X, simply because I'd like to come into my living room and see something futuristic compared to just a simple black box. Don't worry, it's just me; the latter does have a certain elegance, of course, but I'd much rather play next-gen games on a console that looks next-gen too. Personal preferences aside, the current situation is that Sony is obviously losing the hardware game to Microsoft, so the Series X appears to be the more "value" draw on paper. Still, what we've already seen from the recent PS5 showcase in June remains exceedingly impressive and exciting (I'm all in for Ghostwire Tokyo), and at the end of the day, people are going to end up buying the console that can run the games they want.
Which is to say that even if the hardware and post-launch gaming odds aren't in Sony's favour at the moment, the PS5 might still come through and snag a win by virtue of its excellent first-party offerings and overall user experience in the long run. It's certainly less beefy than the Series X when it comes to specs at the moment, but we should remember that those are just words and numbers on paper. After all, if players are already satisfied with what the PS5 can deliver, then having a processor that is just marginally better on the Series X probably wouldn't sway their opinions.
The same logic applies for Smart Delivery and backwards compatibility - for both consoles, the greatest value in terms of backward compatibility is presumably derived from games created in the preceding generation, which is the PS4 and Xbox One. So, while it's good that the Series X can run games from the original Xbox and Xbox 360, you probably wouldn't need to go that far back anyway - yes, it's a bonus, but one I believe most gamers can live without.
All of it comes back to the main question in our heads: which console offers the better deal in the long run? As we've said, Microsoft has yet to really show off the Xbox Series X, but just because they've got a running start on Sony in terms of hardware numbers and one or two other features, it doesn't necessarily mean they won't run out of breath before the finish line. As such, the answer to that question is still up in the air because when push comes to shove, everything hinges on whether people like what the console has to offer and the games that are available for it.