With every new console generation there is always a glimmer of potential on what “could be,” moving forward. Sony has always taken this to heart—even back when the original PlayStation first launched back in 1994—and now, in 2020, Sony is once again showing the potential of their new console.
Built on what made the PlayStation 4 so groundbreaking, the PlayStation 5 takes the lessons of the past, and refines their vision of the future. While many questions about the potential for gaming remain unanswered, what Sony has offered up gives a glimpse of that potential future, and it is very bright indeed.
Sleek New Design
When looking at the Xbox Series X, Microsoft has taken design concepts from PC gaming—delivering a powerhouse console in a monolithic box. Sony has a very different concept for how the living room of the future should look; focusing on curves and style, while still packing a punch. If the Xbox Series X is the American muscle car of gaming, the PlayStation 5 is definitely an exotic sports car, overflowing with power and style.
With sleek curves and subtle LED lights, the PlayStation 5 would feel at home on something like the USS Enterprise-D. The stylish designs hide a deceptively big footprint and weight for this next generation behemoth. With a size of 90mm (15.4 inches) tall, 260mm (10.24 inches) deep and 104mm (4.09 inches) wide, the PlayStation 5 is without question one of the biggest consoles I have ever seen. And with a weight of 4.5kg (10lbs), or 3.9kg (8.6lbs) for the digital edition, it is heavier than many smaller gaming PC’s.
This size allows Sony plenty of space for the power to run games in a way few dreamed possible on a console. The PlayStation 5 comes packed with a x86-64-AMD Ryzen “Zen 2” CPU with an AMD Radeon RDNA 2-based graphics engine. Featuring the ability for Ray Tracing Acceleration, the console is set to run at 2.23 GHz or 10.3 TFLOPS with 16GB GDDR6 memory, and an 825GB SSD drive (with 667GB usable). You will also have your choice of a Ultra HD Blu-ray, or to save some money and get the system as a digital only console.
Looking at the outside of the console, the PlayStation 5 comes with all the ports and buttons one would hope from a 2020 machine. The front of the console gives easy access to a USB-A and a USB-C port, giving options for charging and connecting devices. On the back of the console, the PS5 offers up a Ethernet port, two USB-A ports, a power connection, and a HDMI 2.1 port that will support up to 4K 120Hz and 8K if you are someone who can’t wait to adopt new TV standards.
Powering the Future
Being a hardware company that makes TV’s Sony has always enjoyed seeing their systems on the cutting edge of display technology. With each new generation of consoles, Sony ushers in new technology that may not be on everyone’s must own list; and the PlayStation 5 is no different. With improved power, the addition of an Ultra HD Blu-ray drive, and the ability to output on an 8K display; this is a system that is built to grow and get better as new technology enters the market. While many people don’t own an 8K TV, and won’t for some time now, the PlayStation 5 is ready to take advantage of this as soon as people are. This gives Sony plenty of room to grow and expand the potential as the market adjusts and makes way for new, cheaper options.
But this is also when 4K gaming comes into its own. With the adoption of these TV’s still only starting to take hold, this is Sony’s chance to show off the true potential of gaming in higher resolutions. While yes, the PlayStation 4 Pro saw gaming march ahead, ready to take on this new trend; it is with the PlayStation 5 where things feel mature and ready to spread their wings. Even with the time I have spent with the system, it is already obvious the potential and the room to grow as Sony brings more games into the next gen field. Games such as Astro’s Playroom, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, and even Devil May Cry 5 showcase the sheer power these developers have to work, and it is immediately apparent. Gaming has never looked or sounded this good. From the lighting and the way characters interact with the world, down to the subtle details, the PlayStation 5 is already delivering on the promise this power affords.
Ray Tracing has been a graphics buzzword for a while now, but seeing that, along with 120hz, 8K and vibrant HDR all within a console under the TV is something I did not imagine possible, even two years ago. Sony is picking up from where Nvidia and the PC space have been trying to push hard on the potential these hi-end features could afford gamers. It is the ability to push a new level of realism, utilizing real, dynamic lighting to craft more complex, and more visually striking games than consoles have seen.
Immersion is the name of the game with the PlayStation 5, and this is carried forward with how Sony is tackling audio on the platform. With the new Tempest 3D audio technology, the PS5 delivers immersive sound through USB or 3.5mm headsets already on the market. In games that are optimized for the tech, they will deliver a richer sound that sucks you into the game world, giving you a scale as big as what you are seeing on screen. The PS5 lets you adjust these settings with a range of profiles that work with your ears to deliver a more engaging and dynamic experience.
With a range of games offering it at launch, and more down the pipeline, it is a feature that makes games built for the system seem truly exciting. With titles such as Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Astro’s Playroom, Gran Turismo 7, Demon’s Souls, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, Sackboy: A Big Adventure, Horizon Forbidden West, Resident Evil Village, the worlds of these games will feel more alive, and offer up something never seen at this system level on consoles before.
While headphones are often the ideal way to experience this level of 3D audio, I am a bit disappointed to see TV speaker Virtual Surround Sound lacking at launch. The new sound system is impressive, and being able to experience it without headphones would be fantastic. Sadly, anyone excited for home theatre-like options for 3D audio, will need to wait, and at the time of writing there is no firm date when it will appear for new PS5 owners.
All about the games
But as I noted in my Xbox Series X review, while these features are amazing, success is dependent on a launch library that shows off what the system can do, and reassures you that the money you spent will lead to years of new potential in gaming. And to put it bluntly, there is just not the list of games that make missing out on a pre-order the end of the world. As I mentioned, the games that will be out at launch do a great job at showcasing the system’s power. It is just not enough to keep you excited, especially with many of us still stuck inside, with little to do outside the safe walls of the home.
However, few modern consoles realistically launch with a library of purely new titles, but since the PS4 and PlayStation 5 are both built on the same core platform, we have something exciting for this launch, and that is a slew of titles ready to go at launch from the previous generation. Sony has outlined that the PS5 at launch will offer up 99% of the past PlayStation 4 titles ready to play via backwards compatibility.
Much like Microsoft has done, Sony is giving gamers who already have a library of games, digitally or physically (provided you have the non-digital edition) the ability to jump in and carry gaming forward, allowing the old console to be put out to pasture, or moved to the secondary TV if you are so inclined. With a massive library of games ready to go, upgrading is easy, and with the power of the PS5, these games have never looked or played better.
With this move, Sony is also making sure VR is not yet dead on the PS5, with the PlayStation VR fully supported on the new console. If you already have the gear, and can’t wait to see how PSVR titles can benefit with more power under the hood, you can order the PlayStation Camera adaptor (at no extra cost), hook up the hardware and jump right into the games. This is one area I am surprised by—while the PSVR was a popular accessory, the games lineup has been lacking in recent years, but with this move, Sony has given the headset a second life. It will need to be seen if developers take advantage and tap into the potential of the new console.
But much like the Xbox, Sony is giving publishers the opportunity to upgrade past disc and digital games to PS5 games, giving them access to the full power that entails. While the list is still small, these improvements are notable in how they should give players a new taste of the games they already own. God of War for example will run at 60fps, where before it only sat at around 45fps. Ghost of Tsushima manages to push frame rates up to 60fps as well, and Days Gone offers up 60fps at 4K, making the redwood forests pop like never before. While it may seem minor, these differences can be striking, and even just an increase of frames on a game you already own can make it feel like new, even if it won’t be as earth shattering as a full remaster.
Add in headphones; the ability to hear the full soundscape, including individual people talking as you roam the streets in Spider-Man: Miles Morales is magical the first time you experience it. It quickly felt like I was transported to the world of the game, with each street noise, or distant sound painting a picture of the world I was exploring.
The New DualSense
While I was not that mesmerized by the new controller on offer with the Xbox Series X/S; Sony has outdone themselves with the new DualSense. This is one of the biggest leaps in controllers for Sony, in a while. It is a staggering improvement that takes the lessons of the past, and improves on every aspect of what we have seen before, all the while crafting one of the most comfortable controllers I have ever used.
The new sleek design fits comfortably in the hand, and while it does feel a bit heavier, and slightly larger than the DualShock 4, it manages to be an improvement that makes gaming feel fresh. The placement of the buttons feels new, even though it is a minor change from past iterations. And the new striking design gives the DualSense an identity all it’s own, one that feels uniquely Sony, all the while giving a glimpse of the utopian gaming future they envision.
But the real story here is the tactile nature of this new Controller. The DualSense improves on haptics in every way. From the way every part of the controller delivers a satisfying, and sometimes disconcerting sense of place within the game world, to a glimpse of the potential seen as you jump though Astro’s Playroom. The dynamic sensory feedback is something that needs to be experienced to get a sense at how immersive it can be in games.
The same can be said for the new Adaptive triggers. Similar to what Xbox delivered with the Xbox One controller, the new triggers adjust to the game, giving a real-world tactile response to the struggles and impacts you may feel in games. While subtle at times, it is just another tool in the toolbox for developers, giving them new ways to draw players in and push the limits on what gaming can be going forward.
The DualSense also improves on the general usability of the controller. The new built in microphone makes chatting in online games easy, even if you don’t happen to have a headset handy. It is also ridiculously easy to mute and un-mute with a single press of a button. The new Create button takes what was possible on the PS4 with the share button, and improves on the ability; giving real power to creators, even if they don’t have a PC ready to go at a moment’s notice. Combine that with a USB-C chargeable battery and a more responsive touch pad, and the DualSense feels like a precision-crafted accessory for the next stage of game development.
But thankfully, the PlayStation 5 will allow for PS4 hardware to be used on the system. From third party racing wheels, to a selection of headphones and headsets; all will be plug-and-play when you hook your system up and many will work with modern PS5 games, provided the developer adds support for the specific device. Sadly, while the DualShock 4 can be paired with the system with ease, it will not be able to be used on new PS5 exclusives.
All about the Speed and Experience
The PlayStation 5 looks and delivers on a fluid gaming experience from the hardware to the software. From the first minute you turn on the system, the new, cleaner UI ushers in a more refined Sony dashboard that feels more unified to the experience you will now enjoy. The process of accessing and launching games has not changed greatly, but Sony has given the whole experience a layer of polish—making it feel very modern, all the while keeping the familiar concepts that makes it easy to jump in and enjoy.
Launching games and jumping back into the dashboard using the PS Button has never felt quiver or more refined. Thanks to the new Control Center that pops up from the bottom of the screen, Sony has made adjusting settings and features quick, all without ever suspending your game, something I grew to hate with the PS4. It feels like a much more intuitive method of dealing with the interface, and made jumping between games and the system painless.
Activities are another new touch to the interface, with cards that point players to features, along with giving direction to gameplay. Astro’s Playroom uses this to great effect allowing for an easy way to jump between different areas of the game; but it also allows players to navigate the various systems of games, or even just showcases new options to experiment with.
Sony has also moved many of the key social features to the Control Center, most notably giving easy access to the friends menu. Without needing to launch a new app, players can access these new features, with them all loading within the base PS5 UI. From accessing recent parties, or even making new ones with a button press; Sony has learned some lessons with their online experience and built something that feels very connected to the core of what makes the PS5 work. The Control Center also gives access to quick settings such as controller battery life, download status, and notifications; making much of the hassle seen on the PS4’s UI feel very dated in comparison.
But without the speed and fluidity afforded to the PlayStation 5 with the SSD and Processor combo, this would all fall apart. It is this power that makes gaming and experiencing all the new features Sony has packed into the interface feel so unified and seamless. Games start and suspend quickly; but it is the overall combination that makes the PlayStation 5 feel like such a large generational leap.
While the Xbox Series X opted for a tried and tested experience, the touches and changes Sony have made with the dashboard make the full system feel more exciting. Sony built a system and interface that best exposes the strengths of the new hardware under the hood, and it is also what makes everything feel so fast from all aspects of the system.
Microsoft delivered a message of raw power with the Series X, and while that is a great step into ushering gamers into what gaming can be from a PC perspective, Sony is sending a message of refinement and the potential for innovation. With the new darkboard, a sleek design and a new set of striking accessories, Sony has built a strong case that the PS5 is more than an evolution, this is a new age of gaming. Will this be a message they will carry forward as the generation of consoles matures is hard to say, but what Sony has on display with the PlayStation 5 launch is a taste of this potential.
While there may be a wait to see the true possibilities, the focus on carrying the games on the PS4 forward, and connect to what you already own will make the change as painless as possible. From a new interface, Raytracing and even 3D audio, Sony clearly believes there is a long way to grow when it comes to gaming. Combine that with hardware and a new controller that oozes possibilities and the PS5 launches is one of the most exciting generational shifts I have seen in a long time. Time will tell if this promised gaming future can come into focus, but I am excited to see where this wild space box from the future will take me.