The time has finally come. After the longest-lasting console generation in the modern era of games, the new next-gen is finally here in the form of the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5.
Sort of. Because both consoles are proving incredibly difficult to find. For the best chance of laying your hands on a console, check out our Xbox Series X stock update and Sony PS5 stock and where to buy pages.
This isn’t like previous generations of console wars, which have tended to usher in a resolution revolution, because the leap to 4K and HDR was taken care of by the mid-generation Xbox One X and PS4 Pro. You might expect 8K to therefore be the big news here, particularly as each manufacturer suggested as much in its early marketing, but 8K is in fact not supported by either console.
To some, that will sound like hot air, and the case against the new consoles will only solidify when we reveal that you don’t need to buy one of them in order to play the latest games. With some notable exceptions, every game that you can play on a next-gen machine will also play on its predecessor.
But that doesn’t tell the whole story, and both consoles take gaming to new, previously inaccessible levels – one more convincingly than the other. Then there’s the small matter of which is the best streamer and 4K Blu-ray player. Let battle commence!
PS5 vs Xbox Series X: price
The Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 are identically priced, coming in at £449 ($499, AU$749). But you'll struggle to get either at their recommended retail price, as stock has been scarce since launch, and whenever extra consoles appear they're snapped up faster than most people can pull their credit card from their wallet.
The bad news? Stock shortages of the Xbox Series X are expected to last until at least June.
We'd never recommend paying over the odds for a marked-up console, but if you really are determined you'll find that the Xbox Series X costs a fair bit less than the PS5. Of the two very in-demand consoles, it seems the PS5 is the most in-demand.
There are more affordable, disc-less versions of each console available. The Xbox Series S costs just £249 ($299, AU$499), while the PS5 Digital Edition is quite a lot more expensive, at £359 ($399, AU$599).
It's worth bearing in mind, though, that the PS5 Digital Edition is simply a standard PS5 with the disc drive removed, whereas the Xbox Series S has a number of performance downgrades when compared to the Xbox Series X. In other words, the two disc-less next-gen consoles aren't really designed to compete directly with one another.
** Winner: Draw **
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PS5 vs Xbox Series X: design
The two consoles look strikingly different.
The design of the Xbox Series X looks not too dissimilar to a matte black tower PC – a clear departure from the Xbox One – that can be stood vertically or laid horizontally. It measures 30 x 15 x 15cm (hwd), weighs 4.45kg and works with a 130mm fan that draws cool air up through vents in the bottom and sends hot air out through outlets at the top. Unlike previous generations of Xbox, there's no HDMI input or optical output.
Compared with the quite utilitarian appearance of the Xbox Series X, the PS5 looks very sci-fi. Its curvaceous lines and glossy white finish contrast with the Xbox's sharp, geometric silhouette and stealthy matte black paint.
Some say that the PS5's white shell has the look of a high-collared catsuit, with an opening that plunges down to create a 'V' that could denote that this is the fifth-generation PlayStation.
As for dimensions, the PS5 is absolutely huge. While it's a touch slimmer than the Xbox Series X (14cm vs 15cm), it's significantly taller (39cm vs 30cm). It can be laid horizontally if preferred, but the PS5's size can still cause issues for those with limited space in their equipment racks, particularly as you have to allow space around it for air to flow.
Like the Xbox Series X, the PS5 uses a single fan that is unusually large (by console standards) to keep itself cool, which it does very quietly indeed. Unlike the Xbox Series X, it’s not completely inaudible in a silent room, but the consistent whirr is quiet enough to be drowned out by any sound coming from your TV or sound system.
With both consoles, the disc drive is noisier than the fan, particularly when playing a 4K Blu-ray. Here, though, we peg the PS5 at about 5dB quieter than the Xbox. That’s enough to make a difference and, while neither will intrude on your movie soundtrack, you are more likely to notice the Xbox in the quieter moments. It isn’t an issue with games, at least, as even those bought on disc run primarily from the consoles’ built-in storage.
Ultimately, while the Xbox is the duller-looking of the two consoles, it's also the more practical, so it just about scrapes the win here.
** Winner: Xbox Series X **
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PS5 vs Xbox Series X: specs
In the battle of the spec sheets, the PS5 appears to lose out against the Xbox Series X. Both have 8-core CPUs from AMD, but the Xbox’s are clocked at 3.8GHz while the PS5’s are 3.5GHz. Both consoles also use AMD graphics processors, with the Xbox’s providing 12 teraflops of power to the PS5’s 10.28 teraflops.
Both consoles use SSDs (solid-state drives) rather than mechanical hard disk drives, with Microsoft offering a terabyte of storage to the PS5’s 825GB. But the way Sony has designed and integrated the PS5’s storage makes it so fast (more than twice as fast as that of the Series X, in fact) that it essentially boosts overall console performance.
But neither console uses that power to deliver 8K. Despite 8K being mentioned at various times by both companies in the run up to launch, it's simply not an option in the menus of either machine. Instead, in both cases 4K at 60Hz is the performance target, with 120Hz and/or some fancy next-gen graphical features available via some games.
Of those next-gen graphical features, it's ray tracing that's most significant. This new (to console) technology massively improves lighting, shadows and reflections, and has the potential to transform almost everything you see on screen, making games look vastly more realistic. Both consoles support it.
In a number of cases, games allow you to choose between prioritising presentation or performance, which often boils down to a choice between ray tracing or higher frame rates. It's worth pointing out, though, that 120fps gaming is only available if your TV supports 4K@120Hz signals, and very few currently do. In fact, we’re only aware of one model under 55 inches that supports 4K@120Hz (the LG OLED48CX). Check out our list of the best gaming TVs for guidance.
ALLM (Auto Low Latency Mode) and VRR (Variable Refresh Rate) are becoming more common on TVs, and the latter in particular is a real boon for gaming. Only the Xbox Series X currently supports these, though. Sony says VRR is on the way for PS5, but hasn't provided a date and hasn't even mentioned ALLM at all.
Ultimately, in action, there's very little to choose between the two consoles in terms of gaming performance. Play the same game on both consoles and graphical fidelity and performance are near identical, and they both load titles in the blink of an eye. Any gulf in performance may become more evident as true made-for-next-gen games become more advanced and graphically demanding but, at the moment, they're pretty neck and neck.
There are some sonic points of difference, though. The Xbox Series X supports Dolby Atmos for gaming, streaming and Blu-rays, while it's only available for Blu-rays via the PS5. The PS5 counters with its own, bespoke 3D audio processing, called Tempest. This is only available via headphones, but it is very impressive in action.
Dolby Vision has also started to make its way onto Xbox consoles. And nearly 100 titles now support FPS Boost – a feature which makes previous-gen console games look better on the Xbox Series X and S.
Sony is making a push for virtual reality with the PS5, unveiling both a VR headset and controllers to work with the console. While Microsoft was said to be doing the same for its consoles, it has since scotched those rumours.
Away from gaming, both consoles offer plenty of streaming apps, from Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, to Apple TV, Disney+ and YouTube. In the UK, both launched without BBC iPlayer, though Microsoft soon brought it to the Xbox consoles. Six months on, and Sony is yet to follow (there's even a Twitter account documenting the lack of iPlayer app on PS5).
The PS5 could soon benefit from a new video streaming service. Sony is testing PlayStation Plus Video Pass, which could launch as part of PlayStation Plus at no extra cost. And in Japan, Sony has enabled the PS5 to work as a DVR (digital video recorder), though there's no word if that functionality will ever make it out of the land of the rising sun.
The PS5 has an even better next-gen trick up its sleeve in the form of Astro’s Playroom, which is pre-installed on the console. Not only is this a great platforming game in its own right, it also serves as an ingenious introduction to the new DualSense controller’s many features, plus the super-polished, super-smooth 4K/60Hz presentation.
While the actual gaming performance is so far very similar across machines, these extra next-gen bells and whistles win the PS5 this round.
** Winner: PS5 **
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PS5 vs Xbox Series X: controllers
Both consoles come with natty new controllers, but there's no denying that the PS5's new DualSense is the more significant and, ultimately, better of the two.
While most are unlikely to see or even feel the difference, the new Xbox controller is a little smaller than its predecessor, which should make it easier for younger and smaller gamers.
The underside is more prominently textured, too, and that mottled effect has also found its way to the surfaces of the two trigger buttons; these are matte rather than glossy, and curve to a less prominent peak. Overall, the new controller is a little easier to grip and more ergonomically advanced, which can only be good.
On the face of the controller is a new Share button, ‘inspired’ by that of the PS4’s DualShock 4. Tap the button to instantly save a screenshot, hold it down for a couple of seconds to capture the last 29 seconds of gameplay. The d-pad, meanwhile, has been tweaked to resemble that of the Elite Controller Series 2. This makes it more useful for games that require sweeping actions (combo-tastic fighting games, for example), without overly sacrificing the positivity of presses up, down, left or right.
The controller also features what Xbox calls Dynamic Latency Input (DLI), which is supposed to immediately synchronise each controller input with what you see on screen. Your TV's lag will also come into play here, of course, but speeding things up at any point in the process can only be a positive. Certainly, the console feels eager to respond to commands, though how much of that is down to DLI and how much is down to the console’s increased performance elsewhere is hard to know.
The Series X controller is better than the already excellent controller before it, but not drastically so. We wouldn’t recommend rushing out to replace your controllers, and you don’t need to either: Xbox One controllers work just fine with the Series X.
It's a different story with the PS5's DualSense, though, which is a massive step up from the DualShock 4 that preceded it and is packed with technology that helps immerse you in the games you play in new and inventive ways.
It’s all down to a series of motors that provide haptic feedback as well as resistance in the triggers. Pull down the left trigger to aim down the sites of a gun in Call Of Duty: Black Ops Cold War and the resistance under your finger varies, depending on the weight of the weapon. Pull the right trigger and the first bit of movement is light before you get to a sort of bite point that you need to click through to fire the gun.
Switch to Astro’s Playroom and you can feel raindrops as they land on the character's umbrella. It may sound gimmicky but, thanks to the quality of the engineering and the way it’s seamlessly integrated with the visuals and sound, the reality is far from it.
The DualSense is bigger than the PS4’s DualShock 4 and quite weighty, too. The general shape and button layout is the same, though, and if you’re comfortable gaming on a PS4, you should have no problem here.
One other addition that’s fairly easy to miss (and even dismiss) is the DualSense’s integrated microphone, which has its own mute button above. This allows you to plug any pair of standard wired headphones into the bottom of the controller while still being able to communicate with friends in online games.
That's a particularly big deal because any standard headphones plugged into the DualSense can take advantage of the console’s bespoke 3D audio technology. The controller’s integrated microphone makes voices sound tinny, but clarity is decent as long as there isn’t much background noise. All told, this is an excellent solution that allows everyone to experience 3D audio even when gaming with friends.
** Winner: PS5 **
PS5 vs Xbox Series X: picture quality
As mentioned above, the actual gaming performance of the two consoles is incredibly close, although VRR does give the Xbox Series X the upper hand in terms of fluidity – assuming you've got a compatible TV.
The long and short of it is that both consoles provide native 4K gaming at frame rates that are often double those of their predecessors, and there's often extra graphical detail and polish, too. You might be playing the same games as those people still using a PS4 or Xbox One, but there's no denying the generational upgrade in terms of presentation and performance.
If you're considering using one of these next-gen consoles as a Blu-ray player, there are things to bear in mind, such as the fact that the Xbox Series X supports Dolby Vision but the PS5 does not. On the other hand, the Xbox Series X is a fair bit louder than the PS5 when spinning a 4K Blu-ray.
Ultimately, neither is up there with even affordable standalone players such as the Sony UBP-X700 for detail and subtlety, although each puts in a perfectly respectable performance.
It's a similar story with streaming. A standalone streamer such as the Apple TV 4K puts in a more nuanced and authentic performance, not least because it's happy outputting content at its original refresh rate, unlike both of the consoles. The PS5 even goes so far as to upconvert SDR content to HDR, which creates colour and contrast issues with some films and TV shows. The Xbox Series X doesn't do this, and that's to be applauded. The Xbox's support for Dolby Vision is a big deal for streaming, too, assuming you've got a TV that also supports it.
All told, it's a case of swings and roundabouts here. Gaming performance is roughly equal, the PS5 is (currently) the better Blu-ray player and the Xbox Series X is marginally the better video streamer. Ultimately, which is right for you will depend on your priorities, but this round has to go down as a draw.
** Winner: Draw **
PS5 vs Xbox Series X: sound quality
Spinning up the bombing-run scene of Unbroken via Blu-ray, it turns out that the PS5 can do a very good job of Dolby Atmos soundtracks when given the chance (remember; it only supports Dolby Atmos when playing Blu-rays). It doesn’t quite have the crispness or dynamic punch of a dedicated player such as the Sony UBP-X700, but the console produces a muscular, room-filling sound with good clarity and well-placed sound effects.
While Dolby Atmos isn’t an option for games, those who already own a surround sound system will be relieved to hear that that’s still the optimal way to enjoy game soundtracks.
That’s not to say the PS5’s bespoke 3D audio system isn’t good, because it really is. We test it with a pair of B&O BeoPlay H2 on-ears and the extravagant Grado GS2000e over-ears, each plugged into the DualSense controller, plus the official Sony PlayStation Pulse 3D Wireless Headset. In each case, we find that the so-called Tempest Engine delivers open, spacious and atmospheric sound with good placement of effects and a convincing sense of three-dimensionality.
In the CIA safehouse at the start of Call Of Duty, the 3D audio gives a real sense of the cavernous nature of the place, the distance of each character as they speak and the echo as their voice reacts to the interior walls of the warehouse. You get none of this when listening in simple stereo.
There’s a slight synthetic note to the presentation that isn’t there when listening through proper speakers and, try as it might, the processing can’t quite place effects directly in front or behind you. Still, if you don’t already have a surround sound package, the PS5’s 3D audio is an excellent solution that makes use of the headphones you may already own.
For a games console, the Series X is very capable, sonically speaking. It gets to the core of a soundtrack and delivers it with reasonably impressive clarity, solidity and atmosphere. Play an Atmos-enabled game or film, such as 1917 or Gears 5, and the console delivers a great sense of place, filling the room with effects that sweep across the soundstage as the action unfolds.
That said, if you once again compare the Series X to the Sony UBP-X700 Blu-ray player, it’s clear that the latter is a sonic step-up in just about every way. As Lance Corporal Schofield makes his mad dash through the enemy-infested streets in 1917, the Sony’s added punch, detail, precision and dynamic expression combine for a more intense and engaging experience.
But maybe that's an unfair comparison (no one really expects a games console to trump a dedicated Blu-ray player for sound, after all). And in its own right, the Xbox Series X’s audio performance leaves little room for complaint. And if you add the Xbox Wireless Headset you can have Dolby Atmos and DTS Headphone:X piped directly into your ears.
When all is said and done, this has to be put down as another draw. The PS5's very limited Atmos support is bothersome, but its bespoke, headphones-based 3D audio makes up for that. Honours even.
** Winner: Draw **
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PS5 vs Xbox Series X: games
This new console generation is unlike any other, in that for all but a tiny number of cases, you don't need to buy a new console in order to play the new games.
In fact, to the best of our knowledge, there's not a single Xbox Series X game that can't also be played on Xbox One. If there's one that we've missed somehow, it's not one that's worth playing.
It's almost the same story with the PS5, but not quite. While practically every game available on the PS5 is also available on PS4, there are currently three notable exceptions in the form of the free/pre-installed Astro's Playroom, the new and excellent remake of Demon's Souls, and the spectacular-if-shallow Godfall.
The Xbox Series X also suffers slightly when you look at which new games are available to only one of the next-gen consoles. Of the new games released at the tail-end of 2020, none of note can be played on Xbox Series X and not on PS5. The high-profile delay of Halo Infinite has proved very costly.
That's not to say that the PS5 is flooded with exclusives, but the three mentioned above, plus the excellent Spider-Man: Miles Morales, are easily some of the best PS5 games and give it an easy win in this regard.
Of course, the advantage of the next-gen consoles' focus on backwards compatibility is that each has a huge library of existing games ready to be played. These libraries share many games, with most third-party developers producing titles for both Xbox and PlayStation, but there are, of course, games exclusive to each.
Which selection is 'better' will likely depend on the sort of games you're into, but it's probably fair to say that PlayStation once again has the advantage here. Xbox's Forza Horizon 4 and Gears 5 are excellent, but we don't think many people would claim that access to those trumps PlayStation mega-hits such as The Last of Us Part II, Ghost of Tsushima, Uncharted 4, The Last Guardian, God of War, Horizon Zero Dawn and Spider-Man.
Xbox has an ace up its sleeve, though, in the form of Game Pass. For £7.99 ($9.99, AU$10.95) a month, this subscription gives you access to over 100 Xbox games, including all first-party titles such as Forza Horizon 4 and Gears 5. It's an outrageously generous offering that gives you a huge library of excellent games to dip into at your leisure and has the potential to save you a fortune.
PlayStation's PS Plus collection, which allows PS5 owners to play around 20 legacy PS4 games for free, is a step in the right direction but isn't quite at the same level, particularly as it doesn't include (or even seem set to include) any brand new titles. It is included as part of the standard PS Plus subscription for online gaming, though, and doesn't cost extra in the way that Xbox Game Pass does.
Ultimately, this is a very tricky round to call. The PS5 wins in terms of exclusives both new and existing, but the Xbox Game Pass really is an amazing offering. We're calling it a draw.
** Winner: Draw **
PS5 vs Xbox Series X: verdict
As we mentioned right at the start, this is a new console generation unlike any before it; a console generation that doesn’t unlock gaming in a new resolution, and doesn’t bring with it a raft of new games that can only be played on the new machines. That leaves the PS5 and Xbox Series X having to justify their next-gen credentials in other ways, and Sony’s console does this far more effectively than Microsoft’s.
It isn’t down to the gaming performance, though. Game after game suggests that, despite the differences in specs, the actual delivery is close to identical. Both consoles deliver a super-solid 4K@60Hz experience, and both allow for the addition of beautiful ray tracing or 120Hz action on certain games. When it comes to cross-platform gaming, there’s no winner or loser here.
That could well change in the future. This first batch of cross-platform games is also cross-generational. Almost every one of them has been designed to run on no fewer than ten consoles, from the original Xbox One to the Series X on one side, and the original PS4 to PS5 on the other, so expecting them to be fully optimised for next-gen is just silly. Once fully optimised games become a reality, likely in the next year or two, perhaps we’ll see performance gaps between the PS5 and Xbox Series X appear but, for now, there just aren’t any of real significance.
But when it comes to justifying itself in other ways, the Xbox Series X suffers from some peculiar decisions on Microsoft’s part. The whole experience is just too familiar. At every stage the console seems determined to convince you that it’s just like the Xbox One you owned before it. That’s likely a result of the company seeing Xbox as a platform designed to work across lots of different hardware, including PCs, but it feels like a misstep here. If you’ve just forked out £449 ($499, AU$749) on a new games machine, you want the whole experience to feel sparkly, fresh and next-generational.
None of which is to say that the Xbox Series X isn’t a very good console. It delivers on its performance targets, it’s near-silent at almost all times, it’s decidedly compact next to the PS5, and its controller has had some neat little tweaks. It just doesn’t go quite far enough, particularly in comparison to the PS5.
The moment you turn the PS5 on, it dazzles you with its flashy new user interface, delivered in native 4K and HDR. It comes bundled with a new controller that boasts genuinely game-changing haptics. It’s got a bespoke new 3D audio engine that can be tapped into by anyone, regardless of budget and space. And it comes bundled with an exclusive new game that perfectly introduces you to all of these new features.
Both consoles perform fairly well as streamers and Blu-ray players, but they each have their flaws in these regards and are beaten by dedicated players, so there’s little reason here to choose one over the other.
In other words, it really comes down to gaming, just as it should, and in this regard the PS5 comes out on top by going beyond resolution and refresh rate and delivering an overall experience that’s truly next-generational.
** Overall winner: PS5 **