PlayStation or Xbox: How to Choose Your Next Next-Generation Console

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Now that the Xbox Series X and Series S are available for preorder, the Great Console War of 2020 can officially begin. On one side you have the aforementioned new Xbox series from Microsoft. On the other side is Sony’s next-generation console, the PlayStation 5 (PS5). Over the next few weeks, you’ll probably hear a lot about which of these is the better console, but not from us. We’re more concerned with which console is better for you. With that question in mind, we’ve put together a detailed overview of the new systems, one that gives you all the facts and figures you need to know to make an informed decision.

Roll Call

Before we dive into which system does what, let’s run down the players. As mentioned, the Great Console War of 2020 involves two familiar faces, Microsoft and Sony. But there’s a twist. This time around, the initial engagement isn’t just Sony v. Microsoft or Xbox v. PlayStation. This time, both companies have two different console options, so it’s more like Sony v. Sony v. Microsoft v. Microsoft. Here are the combatants:

Xbox Series X: The more powerful, and costlier, of Microsoft’s new Xbox consoles. It represents Microsoft’s most premium gaming experience, with an emphasis on processing power, visuals, and resolution. One of the big distinctions between the Series X and the Series S is that the Series X allows you to game in native 4K resolution; the Series S does not.

Xbox Series S: The more affordable alternative to the Xbox Series X. The Series S’s significantly reduced price tag gets you roughly the same performance, only at 1440p resolution (but it can upscale to 4K). The other “drawback” is that, unlike the Series X, the Series S doesn’t have a disc drive (so can’t play Blu-rays or physical games—everything must be downloaded or streamed). Whether or not that matters, and to what degree, is going to vary from person to person.

Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S
Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S

PlayStation 5 Standard Edition: Similar to the Xbox Series X, the premium (read: more expensive) version of the PS5 is a graphics monster, with a ton of speed and power. Like the Series X, the Standard Edition PS5 also has a budget-friendlier counterpart—the PS5 Digital Edition. However, the only difference between the two is that the PS5 Standard Edition comes with a physical disc drive, and the Digital Edition does not.

PlayStation 5 Digital Edition: Unlike the Xbox Series X and Series S, there’s only one difference between the PS5 disc drive edition and the cheaper PS5 Digital Edition—a physical disc drive. The PS5 Digital Edition gives you the exact same performance and features as the Standard Edition minus the ability to play physical game discs or Blu-rays.

PlayStation 5 Digital Edition and Standard Edition
PlayStation 5 Digital Edition and Standard Edition

Power Up

When choosing your next-gen system, one thing to remember is that no matter which platform you go with, you’re going to get one of the most powerful gaming consoles ever made. That’s because, on paper, both versions of the Xbox and PlayStation are, technically speaking, absolute beasts. Check out these numbers:

Xbox Series X

Xbox Series S

PlayStation 5
(Standard Edition)

PlayStation 5
(Digital Edition)

CPU

Custom AMD Zen 2
8-Core 3.8 GHz

Custom AMD Zen 2
8-Core 3.6 GHz

Custom AMD Zen 2
8-Core 3.5 GHz

Custom AMD Zen 2
8-Core 3.5 GHz

GPU

Custom AMD RDNA 2
12 TFLOP, 52 CU at 1.825 GHz

Custom AMD RDNA 2
4 TFLOP, 20 CU at 1.565 GHz

Custom AMD RDNA 2
10.28 TFLOP, 36 Cu at 2.23 GHz

Custom AMD RDNA 2
10.28 TFLOP, 36 Cu at 2.23 GHz

Memory

16GB GDDR6 RAM with 10GB at 560 GB/s, 6GB at 336 GB/s Bandwidth

10GB GDDR6 RAM with 8GB at 224 GB/s, 2GB at 56 GB/s Bandwidth

16GB GDDR6 RAM with 448 GB/s Bandwidth

16GB GDDR6 RAM with 448 GB/s Bandwidth

Internal Storage

1TB NVMe SSD

512GB NVMe SSD

825GB SSD

825GB SSD

I/O Throughput

2.4 GB/s

2.4 GB/s

5.5 GB/s

5.5 GB/s

Resolution Output

4K

1440p 

4K

4K

Optical Drive

Yes; 4K UHD Blu-ray

No

Yes; 4K UHD Blu-ray

No

Objectively speaking, those are all very impressive specs. Even the Xbox Series S, the “least powerful” of the group, has some very robust architecture, especially for its price.  But what does all that power really mean? And how will it impact your overall gaming experience?

Those are tough questions to answer with absolute certainty. If raw power was a surefire predictor of positive gaming experience, then the Xbox Series X would be the slighter better console. Both its CPU and GPU appear, on paper, to edge out the PS5. But as many console gamers will tell you: Power isn’t everything. Super Mario 64, the greatest game ever made, ran on a console with 4MB of RAM and a CPU that had less processing power than a Bluetooth-enabled toothbrush.

So then, what does the spec table tell us? Well, for starters, we know that if you’re someone who, for whatever reason, has to have an optical drive, then you’re going to want either the Xbox Series X or the PS5 Standard Edition. We also know that if you demand native 4K gaming—not just 4K upscaling—then the Xbox Series S is out. Otherwise, there really isn’t a lot of daylight between the systems—at least, not on paper.

The Series X appears to be slightly more powerful and has a bit more storage, but it’s hard to believe those minor advantages will translate into a significantly better gaming experience. Same goes for the PS5, which has a faster throughput than either Xbox model. You might get slightly faster load times between screens, but not enough to move the needle in one direction or the other.

OK, so if specs alone aren’t enough to separate the consoles, how do we determine which is better for you? Let’s look at some of the console-specific features and add-ons to see if we can get a better answer.

Unique Features, Accessories, and Add-Ons

Controllers: Both the PS5 and new Xbox Series will feature updated controllers. With the PS5, you get the new DualSense controller with a built-in mic, haptic feedback, and adaptive triggers—a feature you typically see only in more premium controllers used by professional gamers. Spec- and feature-wise, the new controllers look pretty great, but there could be an issue with compatibility. Sony has already confirmed that your old PS4 controllers probably won’t work with new PS5 titles, so there could potentially be some issues there, depending on the game.

PlayStation 5 DualSense™ wireless controller
PlayStation 5 DualSense™ wireless controller

Microsoft is also releasing new wireless controllers for its Xbox Series X and Series S platforms. However, Microsoft has pledged that all new games on the Series X and Series S will support the previous generation of Xbox controllers, so you don’t have to worry about backward-compatibility issues. That’s a nice bonus for existing Xbox owners who might not want to splurge on a new controller.

Xbox Series X controller
Xbox Series X controller

Tempest 3D Audio Tech: Sony seems to have invested heavily on the audio side of things. Using the custom-designed Tempest Engine, which can simulate hundreds of different sounds coming from all different directions, Sony hopes to deepen the immersion quality of your gaming experience by creating a three-dimensional soundstage, one that makes it seem like individual noises are coming from different points all around you. If it works, that’s a pretty amazing feature. Imagine playing the new Black Ops and hearing the footsteps of another player behind you!

PlayStation PULSE 3D™ wireless headset
PlayStation PULSE 3D™ wireless headset

Quick Resume: Microsoft has teased several Xbox-specific features that should enhance your overall gaming experience. One of the most exciting is the Quick Resume feature, which will allow you to pause—mid-action—several games at once, and then return later. What that means is you could stop whatever you’re doing—be it a jump, a snipe, a bicycle kick, whatever—switch to an entirely different game, play for a bit, then go back to that first game, and when you start it up, you’ll instantly resume the action you were performing when you paused. No load times, no lag, just right back into the action like you never left. That’s pretty cool.  

There are, of course, several console-specific features not mentioned here, but the ones we’ve listed should help you refine your decision a little bit further. Already own an older Xbox controller, but you don’t have a 4K TV? Xbox Series S is starting to look like a good option. An audiophile-slash-gamer who demands the best graphics and the best sound? Seems like the PS5 might be a good fit.

Let’s move on to the games to see if we can’t narrow down the list a bit more. 

Games

Honestly, as close as these systems are in terms of power and performance, the best way to set them apart might just be the games. Both Microsoft and Sony have exclusive titles that look breathtakingly awesome. On Xbox, you’ve got Halo Infinite, slated for 2021 release. Over on PS5, it’s Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales. Obviously, there are more titles—these are just some prime examples of the type of console-specific content we’re talking about. The question is: Do these console-exclusive games warrant picking one system over the other?

Halo Infinite
Halo Infinite

Oddly enough, they kind of do. At least, for some people. I know it might sound strange to suggest that you should let a $60-to-$70 video game dictate whether or not you buy a console that costs almost 10 times as much, but the fact is, for a lot people, games make the system.

Look at Nintendo, for example. Its most recent console, the Switch, cannot compete with any of the next-gen systems in terms of power or specs or features or any of that. Yet, if Nintendo announced a new console tomorrow, one that was technically identical to the existing Switch, but it came with an all-new Super Mario or Legend of Zelda game, people would absolutely choose it over these new systems. Why? Because people love games. They love them more than the systems they’re on, or the specs, or the hardware.

So, ask yourself this question: Is there a game you have to have? Are there characters that you love? If you’re ride or die for Master Chief, you should probably get an Xbox. If you’re dying to play as Miles Morales on a next-gen system (me!), then get yourself a PS5.

Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales
Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales

Of course, if you don’t have those strong feelings about upcoming titles or characters, don’t force it. If you’re just a gamer enthusiast—and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that—then stick to the other factors we’ve talked about to help make your decision.   

Price and Release Date

Now that we’ve covered some of the reasons you might have to buy a next-generation console, let’s talk about the costs and when they’ll be available. 

Xbox Series X

Xbox Series S

PlayStation 5
(
Standard Edition)

PlayStation 5
(
Digital Edition)

Cost

$499

$299

$499

$399

Release Date

November 10, 2020 (U.S.)

November 10, 2020 (U.S.)

November 12, 2020 (U.S.)

November 12, 2020 (U.S.)

Pre-Order Date

September 22, 2020

September 22, 2020

September 17, 2020

September 17, 2020

As you can see, prices of the Xbox Series X and PS5 Standard Edition are the same, and the PS5 Digital Edition saves you $100 for opting out of the disc drive. The real head-turner is the Series S, which is $200 less than the Series X. That’s quite a bit of savings for something that will likely give you comparable performance, but with less resolution.

What’s it going to be? Sony or Microsoft? Xbox or PlayStation? If it helps, I’ll let you in on my choice, and how I arrived there.

First, I’m definitely getting a PS5. I don’t need the optical drive, but if it’s the only version available, I’ll take it. I’m already heavily invested in the PlayStation ecosystem, so it will be a smooth transition for me. More than that, the PS5 has a lot of exclusive titles I want to play. The list starts with Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales and goes on for a while. Also, I’m really excited about the “3D audio.” If that technology works as promised, I think it’s going to greatly deepen my experience.

Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales

However, I’m also getting an Xbox Series S. Why? Because it’s $299! I know that’s not nothing, but it is the best deal of all the new consoles. Think about it: I spend $299 and I get access to Halo Infinite, which I’m dying to play. On top of that, I sign up for Game Pass, so now I have access to the entire Xbox catalog, which includes hundreds of games I’ve always wanted to play, but never had the chance. For $300, that’s a steal. At least to me. You’ll have to use the info we’ve provided to figure out what’s best for you.

Halo Infinite

And speaking of: Do us a favor and let everyone know which system (or systems) you’re planning on buying and why. Your answer could really help someone caught between decisions. Plus, we’re curious which way this year’s console content will go. Let us know in the Comments section, below!

Items discussed in article

2 Comments

I'll stick with the PS5...

Definitely the Digital version of the PS5 at this point because I plan on having less discs moving forward on all platforms, including computers and entertainment! SSD Drives and the cloud is where it's at! 

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