A new console generation comes only once every five years or so, providing newer, cutting edge graphics that PC users have had now for a few years. However, this generation is a little bit different. This week will see both new consoles release into homes, in the middle of a pandemic that has shifted an ever growing focus to in-home gaming.
Perhaps even more interesting is the consoles themselves; they both are effectively more PC-like than ever before, with ultra fast SSDs and Ray-Tracing graphics that will surely make things look beautiful in 4K.
The question then is this: which console to get, and should you truly even need one in your home? For most (including me), you’ve already made the decision. But perhaps you didn’t pre-order day one and are still on the fence.
THE TALE OF THE BIG BLACK BOX AND THE TINY WHITE ONE
Let’s start with Xbox, shall we? They have provided an interesting choice this generation (and a confusing name scheme that seriously, needs to change). We have the Xbox Series X (Not to be confused with the Xbox One X, which apparently many people have been doing) which is the $499 powerhouse console. On paper and in recent testing thus far, the Xbox Series X has more graphical power and even seems to be speedier than the Playstation 5 does. This is the console you’ll want for true 4K gaming, and if you’re really wanting to upgrade to “MORE POWER.”
On the flip side, you have the Xbox Series S, which is dramatically smaller and in most cases, much slower. This is the machine that you’ll want if you want 1440P gaming, but careful here: This baby is all digital, which means no discs. Did we also mention that storage will probably be a concern here? The Xbox Series S only comes with 500GB internal storage, of which much less will actually be usable for installable content. The Xbox Series X conversely has 1TB of storage (again, you won’t be able to use the full amount here.) If you want to expand storage, you’re more than welcome to but it comes at a cost: $219, and guess what, you can only use these cards currently to expand the storage. This is for an additional 1TB of storage.
You may think storage isn’t a dealbreaker here but really, the size of games is going WAY up, not down. The latest Call of Duty, Call of Duty: Cold War sits at a nice and large 200GB for the highest installation size. That’s if you’re wanting 4K textures, multiplayer, and singleplayer all in one package. You can also do a smaller, selective install if you’re doing the Xbox Series S (meaning you’re not gonna be able to install 4K textures when the box itself will only render 1440P).
Interestingly enough, the biggest advantage that Xbox has this go around isn’t really even hardware–it comes in the form of software, namely a service called Xbox Game Pass. This is really a key differentiator in this console race and it’s an interesting one: A “Netflix” style service for gaming, where the highest tier of $14.99 as of this writing is for Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. Ultimate includes a huge library of Xbox games from all generations, and the ability to play a pretty snazzy library of PC titles too. Xbox Live Gold? Yeah, that’s rolled in there as well. Oh, and perhaps the most interesting new feature: xCloud, which allows you to play your Xbox Game Pass Library on the go on your Android device, from literally anywhere. Unfortunately iOS still isn’t supported, because Apple isn’t pleased with having such a service live on their app store. Cuts into their Arcade subscriptions, I guess.
There’s even rumors of a smaller, Amazon Fire Stick style device that would allow you to stream xCloud games. This is an interesting concept: all Microsoft Studio titles (Yes, including Halo Infinite, Forza, Psychonauts 2, etc) are available Day One on Xbox Consoles, PC, AND xCloud. What this means is that if you have a truly fast gaming PC at home, it’s not really necessary to have an Xbox Console for exclusives anymore. Microsoft’s strategy is clear: provide a rock solid service and great hardware for those who need it.
The controller for the Xbox Series X/S remains fundamentally the same shape and size, with only a few modest new additions like texturing on the back for grip and a new, dedicated share button that allows you to share clips and screenshots of gameplay on the fly. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
THE GIANT ALIEN SPACESHIP
The Playstation 5 is Sony’s latest offering, and they seem to be playing it safe, but not? It’s a fine balance it seems. They too, are providing two different consoles this go around but literally the only difference between the two is that one has a disc drive, the other does not. They both are equally the same power level. This somehow drives the price down by a full $100 (the non-digital version retails for $499).
Just like the Xbox, it too uses an ultra fast SSD which is touted to have speeds of up to 5.5 GB/S, which is mighty fast for what we even currently possess in PCs. It also has a special brand of I/O including a decompressor that makes this a very fancy SSD indeed. But does that make the PS5 a better, faster option? Yes and no.
The Playstation 5 may be faster in terms of I/O on paper (read: not necessarily real world performance) but it is lacking in terms of graphical processing power in terms of the Graphics Card. The PS5 possesses 10.3 Teraflops of processing power versus the 12 Teraflops in the Xbox Series X. This may not make a difference day one but I have a feeling we’ll be seeing developers really flex this power later on in the development cycle.
It’s also physically bigger than the Xbox Series X, which seems to have everyone freaking out about just how large this device truly is. In fact, it’s been touted as the largest console ever, but with good reason: there’s a fantastic cooling system at play here which from initial testing makes the console whisper quiet under load. We’ll really have to wait a year or so to see just how it stacks up against the Xbox in the long term, but there’s already been reports of the Xbox running hotter than some would like.
In terms of software library, Sony can’t even come close to an offering that Xbox currently has with Game Pass, but they are lumping in several popular titles that you can download day one with a Playstation Plus account. Popular entries like Uncharted 4: Drake’s Deception, Bloodborne, God of War (2018) and even…Crash Bandicoot N-Sane Trilogy? It’s definitely a small smattering of titles but a welcome one considering the only two original launch titles we’re getting are…a remake of Demon’s Souls and Spiderman: Miles Morales.
From other reviews, the biggest game changer that Sony is offering this go-around is the Dualsense controller. Featuring “advanced” haptic feedback that allows you to tell the difference between, say, skating on ice or walking on dirt through haptic vibration, and adaptive triggers that actually fight back at you depending on the scenario (imagine launching from a spring platform, and the trigger is a spring fighting you), lots of people are saying this is truly the trojan horse of this console generation. Time will tell if this is truly the case.
TIME TO BUY OR TIME TO WAIT?
This is the big question, and frankly, I’m not the best to answer it. I’ve already pre-ordered a Playstation 5, mainly because I wanted to experience games like The Last of Us Part II and Ghost of Thsushima at their best “graphical” quality. That and the fact my launch Playstation 4 sounds like a giant jet engine when trying to play these games.
If you have a backlog of Playstation 4 games and a 4K TV that you want to get awesome fidelity on, get the Playstation 5 now. It makes sense. Otherwise, the paltry list of launch titles for PS5 simply does not make sense to even pursue.
The Xbox on the other hand, is a hard gamble for me. If you possess a nice gaming PC (see: Has a RTX-style graphics card, lots of memory, etc) then the Xbox doesn’t make real sense to me. I would pursue Xbox Game Pass Ultimate over getting a new console because like I said, all of the “exclusive” Microsoft Studios titles are available on the same date for PC too, with a few exceptions. It will probably even run better on your PC.
That being said, if you don’t have that PC or just simply love Microsoft a lot, it makes sense to go gunning for the Xbox Series X on paper. However, perhaps not on launch? Halo Infinite is delayed to who knows when, and that was touted as their big launch title (it’s even heavily advertised on the back of the box). Right now you can only play third party titles and a giant backlog of older titles. Not really necessary at the moment in my opinion.
Let us know what you think though! Are you getting a console launch day? Which one? And if so, why?