Months don’t come much bigger than this one if you’re a gamer, with rivals Sony and Microsoft each releasing hot new consoles.
Some know exactly which one they want, while others are yet to make a decision. If you’re in the latter camp, read on for our guide to the incredible next-gen power that the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S are packing.
Just one glance at the PlayStation 5 and you’ll know immediately that you’re looking at next-generation hardware.
The official product photos and videos of the new console say it all – long, lingering camera pans over gently rounded curves, glowing LEDs and cooling vents that suggest raw power beneath an almost soothing, sculpted exterior.
Sony seems to have had one mission with the design of their new console – make it look like the future. If that actually was the brief, they’ve outdone themselves. And yes, those curved white side panels are user-replaceable, which means we’re likely to see a thriving market for customised PS5 skins and game-themed console releases.
While most are interested in what’s under the hood, rather than the eye-catching piece of living-room furniture the PS5 undeniably is, you may want to start thinking about where you’re going to put yours when you get it home. Because the PlayStation 5 is a very big console. Sitting vertically on its supplied stand, it’s 39cm tall – more than half the height of a 55-inch TV screen. Of course, that also means it could be a challenge to fit it in the space beneath your TV where the old console lived, but you’ll be using the stand regardless, as the PS5’s gentle curves mean it “floats” off the shelf in horizontal mode.
The reason for the hefty size is a seriously big cooling system that takes up the bulk of the space inside the console. It’s designed to keep the PS5 running cool and quiet no matter what – something that’ll be appreciated by anyone who’s endured the fan noise on a PS4 Pro pushed to its limits!
“Sony seems to have had one mission with the design of their new console – make it look like the future”
Under the hood it’s next-level gaming power, with a Ryzen Zen 8-core processor and Radeon RDNA 2 graphics doing the heavy lifting, including support for ray tracing. The PS5 is designed to manage its power intelligently, keeping the console cool while delivering raw power to games when it’s needed.
Storage-wise, PlayStation make the move to using a Solid State Drive (SSD) – and an extremely fast SSD it is, thanks to Sony’s onboard custom chip cleverness, allowing the entirety of the console’s 16GB memory to be loaded up with game data in as little as two seconds. The launch console’s SSD has an 825GB capacity, but you can expand the storage using an off-the-shelf NVMe SSD of any size, as long as it meets the console’s speed requirements.
You can’t store your PS5 games on an external USB drive – they’re simply not fast enough to run PS5 games directly. However, you can put your PS4 library on a USB HDD and run them on the PS5 using the console’s backwards compatibility support – you’ll be able to save that speedy SSD space for the new games that are ready to take full advantage of it! Your trophies carry over to your new console, too, making the upgrade feel even more like home.
The PlayStation 5 comes in two versions, one with no optical disc drive (you’ll need to buy all your games via Sony’s online store) and the other with a Blu-ray drive that, as well as loading games, can also play 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays (and there’s even a futuristic-looking new media remote available for the occasion!).
With its audacious design and next-level tech, the PlayStation 5 is already looking like a winner – and with a batch of great-looking PS5-exclusive games at launch, it’s getting this next generation off to a stellar start.
XBOX SERIES X|S
When Microsoft announced the Xbox Series X, we got something that’s built for raw power – and its bold look wants everyone to know it.
There’s a choice of two new Xbox consoles for this generation and they’re very different indeed, both in external appearance and the tech that’s inside.
Obviously the big headline-grabber is the Series X, which, as the name suggests, is aimed at those who upgraded to the Xbox One X last generation and want to stay ahead of the curve in terms of raw graphics power. If you’ve got a 4K TV or monitor, this is the new Xbox for you (we’ll explain why shortly).
The Series X is a hefty monolith, a plain black chunk of a thing that rises 30cm high when used vertically, and when installed on its side (small silicone feet are built in for this purpose) it’s literally two and a half times as high as the Xbox One X – 15cm versus the older console’s 6cm height. That should still fit into most shelves okay, but make sure you leave space at the sides for ventilation, as this Xbox does most of its heat removal at its pointy ends (with the main fan ominously glowing green under the console’s only non-flat surface).
Alternatively, if you opt for the Xbox Series S you’re getting a classically compact Xbox, almost exactly as tall horizontally as the Xbox One S. So, with such a huge disparity in size between the two consoles, what’s the difference?
“The Series X was designed from the ground up to be as much of a beast as a game console can be”
The Series X was designed from the ground up to be as much of a beast as a game console can be. With its 8-core CPU and latest-gen AMD graphics onboard, it’s for gaming at full 4K at 60 frames per second, with 120fps a very real possibility (the console’s HDMI output supports it on the latest TVs). The Series S backs off on the graphics side of things, capable of up to 1440p for games, upscaled to 4K by the console if needed. It’s aimed more at those who want the power of the new console generation but don’t need full 4K. One other big difference, though – the Series S is digital-only, so you won’t be able to play disc-based games on it. The Series X has a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray drive built in.
Storage is a blindingly-fast NVMe Solid State Drive (SSD) – 1TB in the X, and 512GB in the S. You can expand this storage using a single slot in the back of the consoles, but you can’t use just any old SSD to do it. At launch there’s a 1TB expansion module available. The SSD storage is designed for (and required by) Series X|S games – you can’t store them on an external USB hard drive.
If you’ve got a USB drive filled to the brim with your Xbox One games, though, bring it over and plug it in. The new consoles continue Microsoft’s stellar backwards compatibility support, now letting you play original Xbox, Xbox 360 and Xbox One games on your new console, often with vastly improved frame rates and graphics. If you’re a long-time Xbox fan, your old games will never be forgotten!
Microsoft is taking a big chance by releasing two compatible consoles with such different specs, but it may just turn out to be a smart move – for a second generation in a row you can choose how much Xbox you want, rather than paying for power and features you may never use.