PlayStation 5 vs. Xbox Series X: Which Video Game Console Is Better?

Nov 4, 2020

Category: Tech

In just over a week, Microsoft’s Xbox Series X and Sony’s PlayStation 5 video game consoles will be officially available to the public. And while many folks had the good fortune to snag a preorder and, therefore, have staked their claim with one brand or the other (or both for those that are really ambitious), that means we’re down to the wire on choosing which one to purchase when the time comes.

In contrast to many of the previous next-gen console releases, this year’s double-dose of systems is proving to perhaps be both the most anticipated and hotly contested of all time. In fact, the brand that ends up coming out on top over the next few years could end up setting the stage for what the future of console-based video gaming looks like well into the future. And that starts with these two holiday season releases. To help illuminate the options; compare their suite of specs, games, technologies, accessories, etc; and maybe even help you decide which of these two consoles is right for you, we’ve put both head-to-head on our Playstation 5 versus Xbox Series X guide below.

History of the Console Wars

A Digital Battlefield

The idea of brands battling for console supremacy dates back to the mid-1970s — well before Sony (and later Microsoft) had even staked a claim in the industry — when Atari’s VCS (known now as the Atari 2600) took on the Fairchild Channel F. However, early console brands had a hard time capturing and maintaining a spot at the top. Or at least that was the case until 1985 when Nintendo’s NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) was first released. That now-legendary console changed the gaming industry forever and vaulted Nintendo well above even the brand’s most well-established competitors.

Even the Sega Genesis, released in 1989, couldn’t slow the march of Nintendo — despite the fact that Sega’s inaugural console was a significant technological upgrade compared to the NES. Of course, this was also largely due to the fact that Nintendo released the comparable SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System) the following year. With Sega trying (and failing) to play catchup, a new competitor entered the console wars and would forever change the landscape therein. That competitor was Sony and their first entry in the home video game console industry was the original PlayStation, unleashed in 1994.

While Nintendo has held its own since the 1980s and is still very much in play up to today with their exceptional and unique Switch, the console wars had a marked shift starting in the years 2000 and 2001 — with the respective releases of the PlayStation 2 and Microsoft’s inaugural console, the Xbox. For the first time since the 1970s, the console wars heated up yet again — with both Sony and Microsoft vying for industry dominance. And these two players have been going head-to-head ever since.

It’s worth noting that the last generation of consoles — the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One — marks a low point for Microsoft and a high point for Sony, as the PS4 outsold the Xbox One by more than a 2:1 margin (roughly 110 million versus just 47 million, estimated). The battle is far from over, however, as Microsoft has been making some huge strides toward their next release, which we will get into later. Furthermore, Sony has been bolstering its own assets to prep for the contentions head-to-head this holiday season.

Specification Comparison

By The Numbers

Perhaps the easiest comparison between the two consoles, the by-the-numbers specifications are pretty remarkable and shockingly similar from top to bottom — though the Xbox Series X has a slight edge in some key areas. Still, the specs require comparison for two reasons: they’re going to set the tone for the years to come and the two consoles do not boast exactly the same specifications across-the-board. To our knowledge, the following sections are accurate per the official releases from both brands.

PlayStation 5

While Sony has traditionally focused more on the in-game user experience than tech specifications, they’re far from slouches when it comes to onboard specs. Perhaps never has that been more true than with the upcoming PS5 — and you can see for yourself below in the following specs breakdown:

CPU: 8-Core 3.5 GHz AMD Zen 2

GPU: 10.3-Teraflop AMD RDNA 2

RAM: 16 GB GDDR6

FPS: Up to 120

Resolution: Up to 8K

Onboard Storage: 825 GB Custom SSD

Optical Disc Drive: 4K UHD Blu-ray

PlayStation 5: $500

Xbox Series X

As a software company, Microsoft has always been tuned into the performance end of the spectrum — more so than Sony is as a hardware company, at least. With this latest generation of in-home video game consoles, however, they’ve taken a hell of a step forward regarding their hardware. In fact, they have the edge when it comes to three pretty important specs — CPU, GPU, and onboard storage — however slight that edge might be. Check out all the info you need to know below:

CPU: 8-Core 3.8 GHz AMD Zen 2

GPU: 12.0-Teraflop AMD RDNA 2

RAM: 16 GB GDDR6

FPS: Up to 120

Resolution: Up to 8K

Onboard Storage: 1 TB Custom NVMe SSD

Optical Disc Drive: 4K UHD Blu-ray

Xbox Series X: $500

Alternative Editions

PS5 Digital vs. Series S

In an interesting turn, both Sony and Microsoft revealed fairly early on that they would be releasing two versions of their consoles — one standard edition with all the possible bells and whistles and a second digital-only version free of some of the bulk of the standard edition and lacking any kind of disc drive. While both brands are focusing more heavily on the standard edition console, these alternatives are a nice addition to the lineup for people that perhaps don’t require everything that comes with their full-size counterparts but still want a piece of the next-gen video gaming pie.

PlayStation 5 Digital: While there is one major difference between the standard PS5 and the Digital Edition, it’s literally the only difference. We’re talking, of course, about its lack of a disc drive. That means, between the two consoles, the performance and specs are exactly the same, save for the fact that one accepts physical discs — including both games and Blu-rays — whereas the other does not. Besides that (and a bit of bulk shaved off the Digital Edition), they’re entirely identical. The PS5 Digital Edition is priced at $399 — $100 cheaper than its larger sibling.

PS5 Digital: $400

Xbox Series S: Unlike Sony, Microsoft took a very different route with their alternative to the Xbox Series X. Called the Xbox Series S, this digital-only platform is a fraction of the size of its larger sibling — roughly 30% smaller. However, with that size, users lose the ability to insert physical discs of any kind, as well as a few other concessions. That includes a smaller 512GB hard drive (down from 1TB), a drop to 4 teraflops of processing power (down from 12), and a 1440P maximum resolution. However, the downgrade will also cost users significantly less upfront, with the Series S priced at just $299 total.

Xbox Series S: $300

Launch Accessories

Optional Hardware

At launch, most users will likely consider themselves lucky just to get their hands on one of these consoles — standard or digital-only. However, for those that want to stack the deck and go all-in, both consoles are offered with additional accessories that could tip the scales in favor of one or the other, however how slightly. We’ve outlined the launch accessories in the following sections:

PlayStation 5: One of the bigger highlights of the PS5 — at least compared to the Xbox Series X and S — is the array of accessories that will be available at launch. That starts with the brand’s haptic DualSense wireless controller, which is an impressive bit of hardware on its own and boasts things like dynamic triggers (you can feel the tautness of a bowstring, for instance), a built-in microphone, onboard LED lighting, and so much more. To pair with the controller, the brand also offers a charging station. Following that, there’s a wireless headset for more immersive 3D audio with dual noise-canceling microphones for better multiplayer communication and crystal clear voice capture. Then, there’s a media remote control that makes navigating entertainment apps (e.g. Netflix, Disney+, Spotify, YouTube) much simpler and more straightforward. And, lastly, an HD camera for game streaming and video creation purposes.

Xbox Series X: Compared to the PS5, the Xbox lineup falls fairly flat in regards to available accessories, as it only comes offered with three. One of those is actually the controller, of which one is included with every console. The second is an officially-licensed Xbox SSD expansion card from Seagate that can boost the console’s onboard storage by an entire terabyte. But there’s one big caveat: the expansion card is priced at a whopping $220 — nearly the same price of the Series S digital console. Lastly, there’s the brand’s Play & Charge Kit, which is an extra swappable controller battery (that can charge fully in four hours) and a charging cable.

Online Services

Multiplayer & More

At the base level, there isn’t that much difference between Sony and Microsoft regarding their online services. Both operate on a pay-to-play basis, which requires users to shell out some cash in order to access online multiplayer. Both brands have also sweetened the deal by offering periodic perks, often in the form of free game downloads (so long as your subscription to the service is ongoing). There are two major upgrades for this new generation — one from each brand — for those who are interested.

PlayStation 5: Along with the expected services offered on PS Plus ($60 for a year or $10 a month), gamers that spring for a PS5 will also gain access to the PS Plus Collection — an 18-game collection (including some first-party exclusives) that comes free with the purchase of a PS5 and an ongoing PS Plus subscription. That includes titles like God of War, Final Fantasy XV, Ratchet and Clank, The Last Guardian, and many more. It might not seem like much (especially compared to Xbox’s Game Pass), but this is a pretty spectacular bonus for anyone who was already going to purchase the console and the online membership.

Xbox Series X: For this new console generation, Xbox is upgrading the Live Gold online service to the new Game Pass for a promotional price of just $1. However, after the promotional period ends, users will be forced to choose between the Console, PC, and Ultimate editions of Game Pass. The baseline Game Pass subscription will cost the same as Live Gold ($10 a month), but also grants users access to the 100+ downloadable titles with new titles added regularly. However, if users upgrade to Game Pass Ultimate, users can also download Xbox Game Studio titles the same day as release, will gain access to exclusive deals and discounts, and will be able to try out the brand’s cloud gaming service via Android phones and tablets.

In-House Studios

& Exclusive Games

One of the big difference-makers in the last generation of video game consoles — which put the PS4’s sales ahead of the Xbox One by a margin greater than 2-to-1 — was exclusive first-party games and studios. It appears that this will also be a major factor for this year’s console release battle, as well. Check out the first-party developers and the launch titles for these console releases below:

PlayStation 5

Sony made it clear that first-party developers and exclusive games were integral to their strategy going as far back as the release of the PS4 (or earlier). And they are holding true to that fact and have even bolstered their offerings therein. That includes both exclusive launch titles and house development teams working on more to come out in the subsequent months and years.

Exclusive Titles: When Sony announced their exclusive lineup for the PS5, it sent shockwaves through the gaming community — in the best way possible. Truly, the lineup of exclusives — both sequels to existing properties and new franchises alike — is as breathtaking as it is daunting. And that list promises only to get bigger and better as time goes on. For reference, these exclusives include Spider-Man: Miles Morales (available at launch), Horizon: Forbidden West, Gran Turismo 7, Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, Demon’s Souls (exclusive to PS5 — not playable on PS4), Returnal, Destruction AllStars, and more.

First-Party Developers: Sony has been in the first-party developer game for a long time — so long that their list of SIE (Sony Interactive Studios) global off-shoots is already numerous and includes satellites in Japan, Europe, Bend, San Diego, and Santa Monica. However, those studios are only a fraction of the developers under the PlayStation umbrella. Others include Guerilla Games (Horizon: Zero Dawn), Polyphony Digital (Gran Turismo), Media Molecule (LittleBigPlanet), Insomniac (Spider-Man, Ratchet and Clank), Naughty Dog (Uncharted, The Last of Us), and Sucker Punch (Ghost of Tsushima, Sly Cooper).

Xbox Series X

Previously, Sony had dominated Microsoft regarding first-party developers and exclusive games. It appears that Microsoft has taken that to heart, as the company just went through some major changes — purchasing and integrating more and more studios into their house brands. And that bodes very well for the future of the Xbox Series X, especially when you consider the powerhouse names they gobbled up.

Exclusive Launch Titles: Sadly, Microsoft’s biggest launch exclusive, Halo Infinite (a spiritual reboot of the revolutionary FPS from the original Xbox) was delayed until 2021. That means, at least at launch, there will be no Xbox Series X exclusives. However, the future is bright, as the brand has confirmed several other upcoming titles including Fable, Forza Motorsport, Psychonauts 2, State of Decay 3, Everwild, Avowed, As Dusk Falls, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II, Scorn, and a litany of others.

First-Party Developers: At the time of this writing, there are 23 house developers under the Xbox umbrella. And that’s a pretty big boon when compared to the past. Furthermore, some of those studios are fairly massive and responsible for beloved titles that could sway potential buyers to jump ship from PlayStation to Xbox. These include 343 Industries (Halo), Bethesda (Fallout, Skyrim), id Software (Doom), Ninja Theory (Hellblade), Obsidian (The Outer Worlds, Fallout: New Vegas), and many more.

Backward Compatibility

Games Of The Past

With 19+ years of games in both brands’ historical libraries, there’s a huge nostalgia factor to consider when choosing the right next-gen console for you. However, there are noteworthy differences between the two brands regarding backward compatibility — which we’ve outlined below:

PlayStation 5: Sadly, the vast majority of historical PlayStation games (barring remasters) will not be available to play on the PS5. This does not, however, mean that there is no backward compatibility with the console. In fact, Sony has promised that the vast majority of PS4 games can be played on the PS5. Furthermore, some more recent titles also come with free PS5 upgrades (though your saves will not carry over). The brand will also be adding a library of included free games with the PS Plus Collection — including major titles like Mortal Kombat X, The Last of Us Remastered, Monster Hunter: World, and many more. However, you will need a PS Plus membership and this collection will not be available to existing PS4 users.

Xbox Series X: This is another metric in which the Series X outshines the PS5. For starters, every single Xbox One game will work on the Xbox Series X — a bold statement issued by the brand themselves. Furthermore, Microsoft has also released lists of compatible Xbox 360 and original Xbox games, which number in the hundreds and dozens, respectively. Presumably, users that partake in Microsoft’s online Game Pass subscription service will get access to even more than appear on these lists, as the brand has already confirmed a whopping 100+ available games at console launch and promised that more will be added regularly.

Future Technologies

Where Gaming Goes Next

It’s hard to say what video gaming is going to look like over the life of these consoles, but both brands are confident that they are designed to last — perhaps for even the span of the next decade. It’s also clear that their idea of what to expect from gaming over the next few years differs fairly significantly. The real truth is: the decision will likely be made by whichever brand wins this particular battle of the console wars. And, depending upon the victor, things could change drastically.

PlayStation 5: While Sony’s PSVR didn’t quite catch fire as the brand had probably hoped, it does appear that the company is still putting their money on immersive gaming as a major part of the future of gaming. This is evidenced by the fact that the PS5 will be compatible with existing PSVR systems. Furthermore, there are rumors of an updated edition coming out specifically for the PS5 in the near future — or at least an announcement that the company is working on one. There are other indicators, too, that Sony is looking toward experiential immersion, which can be seen in the controller’s haptic feedback, the headset’s 3D audio, etc. It’s hard to say for certain what direction Sony wants to take, but it certainly looks like immersion is at the center of the whole strategy.

Xbox Series X: Early on in the discussions regarding what would be borne of this next step in the console wars, it became pretty clear that Microsoft views physical discs as a dying technology — as the company has invested heavily into cloud computing software. The idea is novel and intriguing — granting users impressive processing power via remote server farms rather than using the built-in processing of standalone consoles — but the progress has been slow going and, as can be seen with Google’s Stadia failure, the pitfalls are very real. Still, the investment into cloud gaming and the promise of a massive online-only gaming library (found in the brand’s Game Pass service) makes it seem as though Microsoft is ready to ditch physical games altogether in favor of a digital-only landscape.

Pricing & Availability

Holiday Heavy-Hitters

As it presently stands, the pricing and availability of both standard edition consoles are comparable, if not exact. Still, there are differences regarding their alternative editions that are also worth noting. We’ve broken the pricing down for both consoles and their alternative editions below:

PlayStation 5: The standard PS5 (with the disc drive) has an MSRP of $499 — which includes a single controller. If you opt instead for the digital-only version, the price drops by $100 — down to $399 (plus applicable taxes and fees). However, as of this writing, all the preorders are already sold out, so you’ll have to scour the web or head down to your local retailer upon the official release in order to get one. The suite of optional accessories — including a charging station, HD camera, media remote, wireless headset, and additional controllers — range in price from $30 (for the charging station and media remote) to $100 (for the wireless headset) but there are also bundles available at select retailers and there are likely to be more as time goes on — including bundles that contain a console alongside several accessories, games, etc.

Xbox Series X: Like the PS5, Microsoft’s Xbox Series X will be priced at $499 for the standard edition — of which all preorders are presently completely sold out. However, if you’re interested in trying out Microsoft’s Game Pass Ultimate, there is a bundle that includes the system, a controller, and 24 months of Game Pass Ultimate access available for $35 a month with 0% interest over the aforementioned 24-month period (which rounds out to be just under $840 in total). The smaller, digital-only Xbox Series S (which is also completely sold out, as of this writing) is priced at an impressive $200 under the standard console, coming in at just $299. Additional controllers have an MSRP of $60 (give or take, depending on the retailer) and Microsoft’s only other officially-branded accessories are the battery-charging Play & Charge Kit for $25 and an officially-licensed 1TB SSD Seagate hard drive expansion card for $220.

Which Console Is Right For You?

The Final Verdict

Almost every head-to-head factor in this year’s next-gen console war is too close to call. Nearly all of the specs between the two primary-edition consoles are comparable (with a slight edge to the Xbox Series X), the pricing is exactly the same, and even the outlook of future first-party releases is remarkably similar (again, thanks to Microsoft chasing Sony’s exclusives model). What that means is that there are likely only two major factors that will determine who comes out on top: the quality of the exclusive games and the future technologies — with PlayStation focusing more on the gamer experience with things like the PSVR and a full suite of accessories available at launch and Microsoft investing heavily in the future of cloud gaming. The bad news is: that means there’s no clear winner. As such, you’re going to have to decide for yourself where to place your faith and spend your dollars because it seems likely that this battle won’t have a clear victor for at least a few years. The Xbox Series X releases on November 10th, 2020 whereas the PlayStation 5 comes out two days later on November 12th, 2020.

PlayStation 5: $500 Xbox Series X: $500

The 20 Best Online Multiplayer Video Games

Some of the best online multiplayer games of all time came out for the last generation of consoles. However, many of those games will still work on this next generation, which is great news since the pandemic is still in full swing. Get ready for digital battle in the next leg of the console wars by downloading one of the best online multiplayer games for self-isolation.

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