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PS5 vs Xbox Series X: Performance, price, features, games and more

Who will win the next-generation console war? We compare what we know about the PS5 and Xbox Series X, including specs, design, controllers and more.

The world of video games were forever changed in November 2020. That’s when the PlayStation 5 (PS5) and the Xbox Series X (XBX) launched (and the Xbox Series S.) In doing so, the ninth generation of consoles began. Which one will you get?

I’ve was lucky enough to receive both consoles two weeks before their public launch so I’ve got a complete and hands-on understanding of what separates the two consoles.

Let’s start with a bird’s eye view of how both consoles have approached the next generation.

PS5 vs Xbox Series X: Pros and cons

PS5 pros

  • Immediately feels like a leap forward in gaming
  • DualSense controller is incredibly immersive
  • Solid list of exclusives in launch line-up
  • Retains virtual-reality support
  • Customisable faceplates
  • PS Plus subscribers get 18 classic PS4 games for free at launch
  • Digital Edition is good value for money

XSX pros

  • The more powerful machine
  • Slick look and robust design
  • Backwards compatible with all previous generation games
  • New games can be played with Xbox One controllers
  • All Access and Series S provide low barriers to entry
  • Game Pass service is exceptional value for money
  • xCloud service could make small hard-drive issue redundant
  • Integrated into PC and mobile ecosystems

PS5 cons

  • More expensive in the long run
  • It’s huge and unattractive
  • Stock shortage on peripherals
  • No subscription games service
  • Virtual reality support is complicated
  • Internal hard drive space is too small
  • Backwards compatibility limitations

XSX cons

  • Iteration rather than evolution of the Xbox experience
  • Minimal change to the controller experience
  • No killer exclusive games at launch
  • Key titles look like they’re years away
  • It’s unknown if local Internet speeds will cope with xCloud
  • Internal hard drive space is also very small
  • Hard drive read speed could limit size of game worlds

The philosophy of the PS5

Sony wants to innovate with its new console. The PS5 sports a complete overhaul to the PlayStation user-interface, the controller and the audio experience. Plus, Sony has opted to place a super-fast SSD at the heart of the PS5’s hardware in the belief that being able to load games faster will enable bigger and more complex worlds.

As a result, when you power your PS5 on for the first time and hold the astounding DualSense controller in your hand, the experience immediately feels next-gen. It feels like something you haven’t seen before. And that’s mind-blowing.

The cost of taking this approach has been a higher barrier to entry. There’s less room for consumers to save money when it comes to games and peripherals. And there’s likely to be more ongoing costs, in particular with regards to storage.

For Sony, the next generation is about gaming as an experience.

The philosophy of the Xbox Series X

Microsoft, on the other hand, has a more iterative console. Outside of its new look, when you power it on and hold the controller in your hand, it feels just like an Xbox One. If it wasn’t for the faster loading and shinier graphics, you might not know you have a new console since the like-for-like user-interface between the two generations and the lack of evolution in the controller mask the improvements. It also doesn’t help that there are no blockbuster exclusives in the launch line-up.

But what it lacks in wow factor, it makes up for in accessibility and a low barrier to entry. With All Access, you can pay as you play rather than having to fund your next-gen experience upfront. With Game Pass, you can play hundreds of great games for a low monthly subscription fee. And with xCloud, issues of internal storage space could become obsolete. It’s also backwards compatible with 20 years of games and all XBO accessories.

For Microsoft, the next generation is about gaming as a service.

PS5 vs Xbox Series X: Performance

The long and short of it is that the Xbox Series X has more power (12 teraflops) but a slower SSD (2.4GB/s for raw files), whereas the PS5 concedes power (10.28 teraflops) but has a much faster SSD (5.5GB/s for raw files).

Sony argues that the XSX’s extra power is moot because it’s bottlenecked by the slow SSD. As in, the hardware has slow access to the software. Microsoft argues that its Xbox Velocity Architecture gives its SSD a boost that negates any bottleneck.

Who do you want to believe?

The reality is, even benchmarking multiformat games on both consoles won’t give us a clear indication as results will more likely talk to the developer’s skill with each machine as much as its power. We suspect that the actual moment-to-moment gameplay experience between the two machines with multiformat games will be effectively on par.

Sony’s exclusive games better placed

It’s with first-party exclusives where the PS5 may find its edge. Sony’s internal studios are revered for their talent and are experienced at working with PlayStation hardware. They’re known for producing the highest quality games in the industry. Microsoft does have some veteran internal studios, but the majority are newly acquired and still assimilating.

Therefore, we expect Sony’s studios to do a consistently better job of maximising their console’s performance through the generation – and the DualSense for that matter!

Of course, the elephant in the room is the HDMI 2.1 port. It’s on your new console, but is it on your TV? Chances are if your TV was bought before 2020, the answer is no. And if you want to see 8K resolution games, or 4K at 120fps, and if you want lossless audio, then you need a display that can receive an HDMI 2.1 cable.

If you don’t, any difference in performance may be lost on you anyway.

PS5 vs Xbox Series X: Controllers

This battle is a lay down misere; Sony has crushed it. Sony’s take on a next-gen controller is the real deal. What reads on paper like a host of gimmicks translates to meaningful improvements in gameplay immersion. It’s the best controller ever made by a stretch, with haptic feedback and adaptive triggers leading the charge.

For Xbox Series X, Microsoft’s changes to the Xbox One controller are so minor you’re hard-pressed to see, let alone feel, the difference. A lower latency connection is its biggest win, but elsewhere you’re only looking at a share button, textured triggers and mass adoption of the Elite Controller’s d-pad.

But the controllers are priced accordingly, with the Xbox Series X Wireless Controller around 20% cheaper than the DualSense. And while Sony’s controller is brilliant, it remains to be seen if developers will consistently code for its features in profound ways through the generation. There is a chance, as unfortunate as it would be, that the DualSense could become a gimmick through lack of developer effort. See Kinect as a classic example of brilliant tech going to waste.

PS5 vs Xbox Series X: Design

While the technological innards of a video game console are usually every gamer’s primary concern, let’s not discount the importance of looks. After all, if a console has been forged in the fugly house, you’re the one who’ll be forced to look at it for the better part of a decade as it leers at you from your entertainment unit.

Microsoft gave its grand reveal of the Xbox Series X back in 2019. It’s a monolithic, tower-like beast with a green-flourish along its top. The top grill errs towards the convex “inhaling” design aesthetic that was used with the Xbox 360, but it’s built from the same plastic shell of the main console. It’s sturdy as a result and surprisingly nice to touch. While the overall console has a dense weight to it that screams “power!”

We like it, even though Microsoft has given us the impression the console should only be stood vertically, which is unusual for a console. (Vertical consoles don’t fit in entertainment units, you see.)

There’s method to this madness, however. A PC tower-style configuration keeps the XSX whisper quiet. Plus, its shape is efficient, allowing it to be crammed to the hilt with next-gen components – not to mention the power box, which was external in previous generations.

(Note: You can stand almost any console from the PS2 onwards upright, but they also offer a central, symmetrical horizontal stance. It has been confirmed that your XSX will function perfectly fine if you keel it over on its flank. Just expect one viewing angle to look amazing and the other to look considerably more boring.)

Elsewhere, we also like the discrete USB-port on the front, nestled down in the corner. While the expandable storage slot in the back will make upgrading the hard drive a heck of a lot easier than it is on the PS5, too. There’s no digital optical port, which is a shame, but optical cables aren’t up to the standards of modern audio anyway.

Xbox Series X has the better design

As you may have gathered, we think Microsoft has landed on the better design. Sony’s PS5 is less easy on the eye. And it gets even more troublesome when you get it in your house and realise how big it is. The console is huge! The XSX is solid, but the PS5 is obese.

The reverse Oreo design sees a rectangular black console sandwiched between two large, curved, white faceplates. They look curvier in images than they are in real life, but if the PS5 has a futuristic design as Sony states, then the future isn’t here yet. At least the faceplates are sturdy, and they have a textured feel to them that is nice. They can even be easily clipped off and customised if you’re so inclined.

The PS5 also gets deducted a point for placing its front USB port right in the middle of the console; although, it earns it straight back by being more attractive horizontal than vertical.

The overall sensation when you hold both consoles in your hands is that the XSX is a powerful, expensive, masterfully designed beast, whereas the PS5 feels cheap and plasticky. It’s hard to believe the Xbox is the American one and it’s the PS5 that was built in Japan! Has the world gone mad?!

PS5 vs Xbox Series X: Games

Microsoft suffered a massive blow to its launch line-up when Halo Infinite was delayed into 2021. It has left a huge hole in the library of exclusive games available in the initial months. It’s left to the likes of niche titles such as Tetris Effect: Connected, Yakuza: Like a Dragon, The Touryst and The Falconeer to lead the next-gen push. With all due respect, that’s hardly inspiring.

Elsewhere, the launch line-up is swelled by updated, cross-gen titles like Gears 5, Bright Memory 1.0 and Ori and the Will of the Wisps. As well as the big third-party games such as Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Watch Dogs Legion, Dirt 5 and NBA 2K21. Of course, all these titles are also available on PlayStation 5 (and with DualSense support, no less).

The future does look bright, however. Microsoft has made some major developer acquisitions in the years leading up to the XSX launch, none more notable than Bethesda. It should ensure a consistent run of big exclusives through the end of 2021 and beyond. That will start with Halo Infinite and continue with announced games like Forza Motorsport 8, Fable IV, Avowed, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II, Everwild, The Elder Scrolls IV and Starfield.

PS5 has the best launch line-up

Sony has much more going for it. As mentioned, it has all the big third-party games just like Xbox Series X and with added DualSense support. However, it also has a solid and diverse catalogue of exclusives already released. It’s led by the blockbuster sequel Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, which is joined by a remastered version of its predecessor for good measure.

The console also comes with a fantastic, kid-friendly platformer in Astro’s Playroom that is built-in to the console. So, you’ll have something to play immediately. Elsewhere, there are the exclusives Godfall, Sackboy: A Big Adventure, Bugsnax, The Pathless and a Demon’s Souls Remake. Then shortly after launch, Worms Rumble on 1 December.

Looking forward, Sony has already announced that a number of its big gun franchises are making comebacks. This includes Gran Turismo 7, God of War: Ragnarök, Horizon: Forbidden West and Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart. At some point, we can also anticipate a big second launch of PSVR, too.

When it comes to Sony’s first-party developers, there’s a history of quality and variety that goes back decades. PlayStation owners can have faith that even though Sony has fewer internal studios than Microsoft, those studios make consistently great games for a range of demographics. Sony will likely also get preferential treatment from its fellow Japanese developers, such as Capcom, Square Enix, Konami and Namco.

Game Pass vs PlayStation Plus Collection

While Sony may have the edge when it comes to launch games and quality exclusive franchises, it can’t match Microsoft’s biggest weapon: Game Pass Ultimate. With Game Pass, you get access to a revolving library of over 150 games – including every first-party title – for a monthly fee of $19.95. There are other bonuses, too, like xCloud, EA Play access and online play. It’s great value.

Game Pass Ultimate
Game Pass Ultimate
A must-own for all Xbox Series X owners, providing the best value for money experience.

Buy now

Sony has looked to fight back with a free game offering of its own. If you’re a PlayStation Plus subscriber, you’ll get access to 18 backwards compatible classics from the PS4 era for free. They’re really great games, too.

PS5 vs Xbox Series X: Price

The Xbox Series X price in New Zealand is $799. There is also the less powerful, disc-free Xbox Series S at $549.

The standard edition of the PlayStation 5 will cost $819 in New Zealand, so there’s not much in it. However, the PS5 Digital Edition comes in at $649. Yes that’s $100 more expensive than the Xbox Series S, but the two consoles are not truly comparable. Where the Xbox Series S has a third of the power of its bigger brother and no Blu-ray drive, the PS5 Digital Edition is equally as powerful as the PS5. You just miss out on a Blu-ray drive, which is – let’s be honest – dated tech.

PS5 vs XSX hidden costs: Which is the cheaper console in the long run?

Regardless of whether you choose a PS5 or an Xbox Series X, you’re up for the same initial cost. The games for each console are priced the same. And in order to maximise the best resolutions and frame rates of both consoles, you’re going to need the same HDMI 2.1 ready TV or monitor. In terms of potentially needing to upgrade your TV, there’s no benefit to either console.

From here, however, the PS5 begins to pull ahead when it comes to ongoing costs. Additional controllers are almost 20% cheaper on Xbox Series X and not even necessary if you have an Xbox One controller already.

Within six months to a year, most gamers are going to want to add to the internal hard drive space, too. You may get away with the internal HD for a bit longer on XSX, but they’re still both light on storage. The new hard drives are expensive! And an additional PS5 internal SSD is around 15% more expensive than the XSX cartridge card for the same amount of space.

Seagate Storage Expansion Card for Xbox Series X|S
Seagate Storage Expansion Card for Xbox Series X|S
If you want to expand your Xbox Series X hard drive storage space and retain all the next-generation features, this is what you need.

Buy now

Importance of Game Pass

But the real saving for Xbox owners comes with Game Pass.

Game Pass gives you access to all the first-party exclusives, and plenty more, for a monthly fee that’s around the same as a Netflix subscription. With Sony, you will need to buy each game at full retail price. If we assume that 10 full-priced first-party exclusives came out in 2021 for each console, playing them on Xbox with Game Pass would end up being around 70% cheaper.

Meanwhile, xCloud – which is included in Game Pass Ultimate – allows you to stream games to your Xbox Series X console (or phone or monitor) from a remote server. So, it requires no local storage and therefore you may never need to buy additional storage space.

With that all in mind, the Xbox Series X will be the cheaper console to own in the long run for most players. But if money isn’t an object, it’s Sony that provides the more compelling moment-to-moment gameplay evolution. It could be argued then that the PS5 justifies its extra expense.

Which is more futureproof: PS5 or XSX?

Peering into a crystal ball is always a dangerous business, but there’s enough evidence already in play for us to make some solid predictions over where each console will head over time.

As a console, the Xbox Series X is going to take a little bit more time to find its feet. However, it could come into its own as we roll into 2022. At this point, xCloud will be available in most countries and broadband and mobile Internet speeds will be more capable of handling the demand. The Game Pass library will have also swelled appreciably. Halo Infinite will be well and truly established. And all the studios Microsoft snapped up through 2019 and 2020 will be releasing their big exclusives.

The PlayStation 5 is sure to burst out of the gates. The PS4 outsold the Xbox One by more than double, so its follow-up has a significantly larger invested install base. One with plenty of PS4 games they’ll want to keep on playing, too. As mentioned elsewhere in this guide, the PS5 has serious wow factor, too. The question is, will it continue the momentum?

Sony certainly has some aces up its sleeve. A PS5 Slim model feels like a given considering how many consumers have an issue with the launch console’s size. Also a given is PSVR 2.0, no doubt with Move 2.0 controllers. Given the power of the new console, the new virtual reality experience should be as good as the highest-end PC VR headsets, too.

As cool as these additions will be, they may not give the PS5 a mid-generation kick if the Xbox Series X starts getting a roll on. The big play would be a competing service to Game Pass. That would nullify Microsoft’s biggest weapon. With that in mind, it’s intriguing that Sony bought a US$250 million-dollar stake in Epic Games just before the PS5’s launch. Epic Games has the infrastructure and know-how to facilitate a Game Pass-like service… just saying.

PS5 Digital Edition vs Xbox Series S

While this article is focused on the premium Xbox Series X and PS5 models, these are not your only options. There are lower-tiered options of both consoles. With the Xbox Series S, there’s a 33% saving to be found. And with the PS5 DE, there’s a 21% saving. But those figures don’t tell the whole story.

The PlayStation 5 Digital Edition is just as powerful as its biggest brother. Inside, they’re a match. The only component missing is the optical Blu-ray drive. As such, you can’t play Blu-rays, DVDs, CDs or PS4 game discs on your PS5 Digital Edition. If you’re a gamer who has long since moved from physical products to streaming services and digital downloads, the PS5 Digital Edition is a real boon. A significant saving can be made at no cost to the end experience.

The Xbox Series S, on the other hand, has significantly less power than the XSX. In fact, it drops from 12 teraflops to a measly 4 teraflops. It also comes with just a 500GB hard drive (and that’s before the OS is installed). Microsoft claims the only detriment next-gen games will see on the console is a low resolution. The expectation is 1440p at 60fps. But already we’re hearing that other elements may be impacted: ray tracing is disabled in Devil May Cry 5, for example.

The Xbox Series S does look cute and is very small, but the price difference between it and the Xbox Series X isn’t enough. The PS5 Digital Edition is only marginally more and retains all that great next-gen power. The only audience we can see the Xbox Series S attracting is gamers with such old TVs that they have no chance of seeing the benefits of the XSX’s power in the near future.

PS5 vs Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S: Specs comparison

Below is a table that compares all the key specs and information. We’ve also included the Xbox Series S, Microsoft’s lower-cost, all-digital console, which will be launching at the same time.

Specs PlayStation 5 / PS5 Digital Edition Xbox Series X Xbox Series S
Power 10.28 teraflops 12 teraflops 4 teraflops
CPU 8-core AMD Zen 2, 3.5 GHz variable frequency 8-core custom 7nm Zen 2, 3.8 GHz 8-core custom 7nm Zen 2, 3.6 GHz
GPU Custom AMD RDNA 2-based GPU Custom Radeon RDNA 2 GPU, 52 CUs @ 1.825 GHz Custom Radeon RDNA 2 GPU, 20 CUs @ 1.565 GHz
Memory 16GB GDDR6 256-bit with 448GB/s bandwidth 16GB GDDR6 SDRAM with 320mb bus; (10GB at 560GB/s + 6GB at 336GB/s) 10GB GDDR6 SDRAM (8GB @ 224 GB/s + 2 GB @ 56 GB/s)
Storage Size NVMe M.2 825GB at 5.5GB/s to 9GB/s read speed NVMe M.2 1TB at 2.4GB/s (raw) to 4.8GB/s (compressed) read speed NVMe M.2 500GB at 2.4GB/s (raw) to 4.8GB/s (compressed) read speed
Optical 4K UHD Blu-ray (premium model only) 4K UHD Blu-ray No
Backwards compatibilty PS4, PSVR Xbox One, Xbox 360, Xbox Xbox One, Xbox 360, Xbox
Features 3D audio, ray-tracing, 8K ready, HDMI 2.1 Dolby Atmos, DirectX 12 Ultimate, ray tracing, 8K ready, HDMI 2.1 Dolby Atmos, DirectX 12 Ultimate, ray tracing (on some titles), 4K upscaling, HDMI 2.1
AV output 8K or 4K at 120fps 8K or 4K at 120fps 1440P @ 60FPS
Availabilty 12 November 2020 10 November 2020 10 November 2020

PS5 vs Xbox Series X vs Switch: How do they compare?

Though they’re technically in the same generation of console gaming, the PS5 and XSX are worlds apart from what is offered on the Nintendo Switch. The former two are about raw horsepower and up to 8K gaming, whereas Nintendo has carved out its own unique handheld/console hybrid niche. The Xbox Series X is 12 times more powerful than the Switch, the latter sporting just one teraflop of power.

Frankly, the gaming experience you’ll get between the Switch and its rivals is night and day, visually speaking. We’re talking Ultra High Definition hyper-realism versus quirky, barely 1080p cartoony eye candy.

We certainly wouldn’t go so far as to suggest one way of gaming is superior to the other – because Nintendo punches way, way above its weight in the entertainment stakes. In fact, Nintendo arguably has the most talented developers in the world working on exclusive titles. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the match of any game ever released, for example. And the Switch itself is a fantastic, robust console that nails its goal of being a home console and handheld 2-in-1.

If you’re buying a console for a family, and power that can deliver the latest in visual and audio fidelity doesn’t tickle your fancy, buy a Switch. It’s cheaper, has a tonne of great games and doesn’t require you to upgrade anything in your home.1

If you want to dive in a bit deeper, check out my Playstation 5 review and my Xbox Series X review.

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