PlayStation 5 and PS5 Digital Edition vs. Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S
The stage is set, the battle lines are drawn, it’s high noon and the pistols are out – however you want to frame it, Microsoft and Sony have both just launched their next-generation consoles. But which one is best for you? New Atlas compares the specs, features, hardware and games of the PlayStation 5, PlayStation 5 Digital Edition, Xbox Series S and Xbox Series X.
Microsoft and Sony have pitted their Xboxes and PlayStations against each other for generations now – almost 20 years. Power-wise, the differences are usually minimal, but things like exclusive games, online services and backwards compatibility can make or break a console.
And now for the first time, both of these machines come in two distinct flavors at launch, offering all-digital versions for a reduced price. Perhaps the biggest thing to note here is that for the PS5 DE, the lack of a disc slot is the only major difference from the regular PS5. The Xbox Series S, on the other hand, has far less power than the stablemate Series X, and potentially not all that much more than last generation’s Xbox One X.
With that out of the way, let’s see how these four models all stack up against each other.
All four consoles are running off custom-designed AMD Ryzen Zen 2 processors with eight cores. There are some very slight differences in clock speeds, however, with the Xbox Series X leading the pack at up to 3.8 GHz. The Series S follows close behind at 3.6 GHz, while the two PS5 models clock in at 3.5 GHz.
Graphics is the bit where people actually start to notice the difference. Again, all four are built on the same foundation – a custom AMD Radeon RDNA 2 GPU – but they’re running different amounts of cores at different variable speeds to reach different levels of overall processing power.
First, an explainer: a teraFLOP is a trillion floating point operations per second – basically, the processor is capable of performing a trillion calculations per second. The more of those it can handle, the faster it can crunch big scenes full of fancy geometry, loads of characters and realistic lighting effects.
In pure numbers, the Xbox Series X is the most beastly of the bunch, boasting 12 TeraFLOPS of power by way of 52 control units (CUs) running at up to 1.825 GHz. The two PS5 models are running fewer cores but at a faster rate, meaning they’re not far behind on 10.3 TFLOPS.
And finally, the Xbox Series S brings up the rear by quite a margin. At just 4 TFLOPS, it has less “pure” power than the older Xbox One X on 6 TFLOPS. That said there’s more to life than just numbers, and no doubt there are other tweaks and improvements made to the Series S – but it does blur the generational lines a bit.
All four consoles are powered by GDDR6 RAM, with the Xbox Series X and the two PS5 models running on 16 GB of it. The Xbox Series S, meanwhile, gets by on 10 GB.
The Xbox Series X will have 1 TB of storage space built into the console, while both PS5s will have 825 GB and the Xbox Series S just 512 GB.
In all cases, these have been upgraded to solid state drives (SSDs), which will be much faster than the hard disc drives (HDDs) that have been standard for years. And this is where Sony makes up some ground from having slightly slower processors – thanks to a custom integrated I/O system the PS5 clocks read speeds of up to 5.5 GB per second raw, or up to a huge 9 GB/s compressed. That’s more than twice as fast as the Xboxes.
The PS5 models also have a feature called Preferred Install, which lets users install just sections of a game onto the SSD. So for example, if you know you won't bother with the multiplayer modes, you can choose to only install the single player campaign, or uninstall the single player portion when you finish it but want to keep playing multi. That should help conserve the limited storage space.
Given how big next-gen games will get, even 1 TB of storage isn’t going to last too long – especially if you go for the digital-only options. Thankfully, all four machines offer expandable storage.
The PlayStations have a slot for SSDs, and are compatible with Sony-branded ones as well as third party products. For the Xboxes, Microsoft is limiting things to a Seagate-developed SSD expansion card.
All four machines also have USB slots which can be used to hook up HDDs, although you’ll obviously get slower read speeds. It's important to note that PS5 games can only be played from an SSD (either built-in or added), while PS4 games can be run on the new console from either SSD or HDD.
The presence or absence of a disc drive is one of the biggest points of difference between the models of each console. The vanilla PS5 and the Xbox Series X have Ultra-HD Blu-ray drives, which can play game discs (obviously) as well as Blu-rays, Ultra HD Blu-rays, and DVDs.
The PS5 Digital Edition and Xbox Series S don’t have this drive, so all your games and media will have to be downloaded or streamed. That still gives you plenty of choice and a lower price of entry, but means you can’t sell, trade in, lend out or borrow games.
With the PS5, Sony is introducing the biggest overhaul of the controller since the DualShock on the original PlayStation. Now called the DualSense, the major new attraction is a detailed haptic feedback system, which is apparently advanced enough to accurately recreate sensations as varied as sloshing through mud or crashing a car into a wall. There's also new adaptive triggers that can recreate different levels of resistance, to replicate feelings like drawing back a bow.
The PS5 can also support the previous generation’s PlayStation Virtual Reality (PSVR) headset and the PS Move motion controllers.
Microsoft, on the other hand, is aiming for a more inclusive Xbox ecosystem. There’s a new controller of course, which the company just calls the Xbox Wireless Controller – that’s because it isn’t limited to the Series X and S, but can also work on the Xbox One family and PCs. In the same vein, you can bring your existing controllers along to the new console, including the Xbox One controller, the customizable Elite controller, or the versatile Adaptive Controller, which can cater to players with different physical needs.
While it’s still not quite the norm, 4K resolution is increasingly common, and all four consoles can display visuals at that resolution and 60 frames per second (fps). In some cases, they can even push that to a silky smooth 120 fps.
Both PlayStations and the Xbox Series X can also push the visuals to an eye-watering 8K resolution – although at the moment basically nobody has the equipment to display that or the content to watch or play. Consider it a bit of future-proofing then.
Raytracing is one of those buzzwords that seems to be defining talk of next-generation gaming, and both the PlayStations and Xboxes will have it baked into the hardware. Essentially, it means that the GPU will trace the path of individual photons of light through a virtual scene, allowing for more realistic shadows, reflections, refractions and lighting.
Microsoft says that the Xboxes will also have variable rate shading (VRR), which means the consoles can selectively render the shading of objects that are closer to the player over those that are further away or out of sight or focus. That frees up the GPU to keep the frame rate chugging along at a nice pace.
Technically, the PS5s should be capable of this as well, but Sony hasn’t officially confirmed it.
All four consoles have had audio upgrades as well, providing more realistic and detailed surround sound. Sony calls its version Tempest 3D AudioTech, while the Xboxes use Dolby TrueHD.
This is the deciding factor for many people – the games. There’s no point having a really fancy machine if there’s nothing good to play on it. The vast majority of games will be playable on both – such as upcoming 2020 big-hitters like Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla and Cyberpunk 2077 – but here, we’re focusing on the exclusives.
It’s important to note that many of these are playable on the respective older generation consoles as well, or PC. For our purposes, a PS5 “exclusive” won’t be on Xbox, and vice versa.
Sony is pulling out some major stops at launch or within the first year, headlined by Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, a sequel/expansion to the 2018 web-slinging game. Ratchet and Clank return in Rift Apart, and Horizon Forbidden West is a futuristic romp against robot animals, as a sequel to 2017’s fantastic Horizon Zero Dawn. Every PS5 also comes with Astro’s Playroom pre-installed, which is designed to show off the new abilities of the DualSense controller.
As for the Xboxes, Microsoft will release new entries in some of its biggest franchises like Halo Infinite, Gears 5 and State of Decay 3 within the first year. There’s also a long-awaited sequel to 2007’s S.T.A.L.K.E.R. coming soon, as well as a slate of new franchises like cyberpunk RPG The Ascent, horror games like Scorn and The Medium, the adventure/puzzler Call of the Sea, and dinosaur shooter Second Extinction.
But perhaps the ace up Microsoft’s sleeve is the buying spree it’s been on lately. In recent years it’s snapped up studios like Mojang, Obsidian and Double Fine, and more recently made the absolutely mammoth purchase of ZeniMax Media for US$7.5 billion. That means it now owns the IP for franchises like Doom, Wolfenstein, Fallout, and The Elder Scrolls, which may in future only come to Xbox and PC platforms.
Sometimes it’s not just about new games – both PlayStations and Xboxes let you play past gems as well. Your old save files carry across too.
Sony says that the PS5 is compatible with almost all of the PS4 library, with only 10 games out of thousands not working. Any games bought digitally on the PS4 can be re-downloaded for free onto the new console, and if you get the model with a disc slot, you can simply slot your PS4 discs into the PS5. Some games will even benefit from boosted frame rates and upscaled resolution. The PSVR also works with the new console, but it requires a special adapter as the PS5 HD camera accessory isn't compatible with the PSVR headset. Thankfully Sony is providing the camera adapter free of charge and PSVR owners can request one here.
Microsoft has had more of a focus on backwards compatibility, so the Xbox Series S and X will run most Xbox One games (except those that use the Kinect), as well as many more from the original Xbox and Xbox 360. All accessories and controllers from the Xbox One can be used too – again, with the exception of the Kinect.
Microsoft also has a generous service called Smart Delivery. Players who buy a compatible game on one Xbox platform automatically receive the other versions for free. So, for example, you’ll be able to upgrade some of your existing Xbox One library with versions optimized for the Series X, and carry save files across too.
While Sony doesn't have a platform-wide version of Smart Delivery, many developers have announced that players of PS4 games will get a free upgrade to the PS5 version. That includes games like Assassin's Creed: Valhalla, Cyberpunk 2077, No Man's Sky, and Destiny 2. Others, like Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales, can be upgraded for a cost (in this case, US$20).
Both companies expand on their existing subscription services, which let users play games online, offer discounts on the digital stores and throw them free games sometimes.
Sony’s PlayStation Plus will carry across, and subscribers will now get access to the PlayStation Plus Collection, a bundle of PS4 games including Batman Arkham Knight, Bloodborne, Fallout 4, God of War, Monster Hunter: World, The Last of Us Remastered, and a few others. These can be downloaded and played for no extra cost.
In its current form however, that pales in comparison to Xbox’s Game Pass. In this service, a monthly fee lets you download and play over 100 games for as long as you subscribe, and generously every Xbox Studios title will be added on day one of their release. Plus, it will include an EA Play membership, which has another 60 titles from the major publisher’s collection including franchises like Battlefield, Mass Effect, Need For Speed, The Sims and its many sports games.
In the menus and interfaces, both sets of consoles take clear cues from their predecessors, while adding some handy new features.
The Xboxes have a new Quick Resume function that lets users suspend three different games at once, holding that position while playing other games, watching media or even while the console is off. When you’re ready to jump back in, you can do so within seconds.
The PlayStation 5 has a similar function, but can only suspend one game at a time. Instead, it has a new feature called Activities, which may be even more useful. From the main menu, users can jump right into specific levels or challenges within games, rather than loading through all the title screens and game menus to get there.
And if you get stuck on something, Game Help can guide you through a tricky section. You can watch a video explainer in the menu, or even set it picture-in-picture while you play.
The Xbox Series S is the smallest Xbox Microsoft has ever made, and it’s a tall, relatively thin machine. The Series X meanwhile is much bigger and more boxy, roughly the same size as an Xbox One X. Both can be stood upright or laid down on their sides.
The PlayStation 5, however, is an absolute monster of a unit, the single biggest video game console in decades. Comparison images show that it will dominate your entertainment setup, so hopefully you have plenty of space for it. The Digital Edition is slightly slimmer, but still very tall.
The PS5 and Xbox Series X weigh the same, at 4.5 kg (9.9 lb). The PS5 DE is a little lighter at 3.9 kg (8.6 lb), while the Xbox Series S is a petite 1.9 kg (4.2 lb).
The Xbox Series X and Series S launch worldwide on November 10, 2020. The PS5 follows two days later for the US, Canada, Japan, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea, while the rest of the world gets them on November 19.
The Xbox Series S is designed as an accessible option for a new generation, and at US$299 it’s one of the cheapest launch prices for a console in memory. That said, the PS5 Digital Edition might be even better value – it’s $100 more but packs in all the power of its bigger sibling, sans only disc slot.
The higher end PS5 and Xbox Series X are tied at $499, which isn’t too bad either considering their power.
So with all that considered – which console are you getting and why? Or are you planning to wait a while? Sound off in the comments below.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on September 23, 2020. This revised and updated version was published on November 11, 2020.