Xbox Series X & PlayStation 5 pre-launch breakdown

The next generation of consoles is almost upon us. Both the latest from Microsoft and Sony are set to launch this month and bring their latest and greatest hardware, features and of course the games.

We want to take a bit of time to breakdown what the new consoles have to offer and compare the best feature of each. There will definitely be a few mentions of PC gaming and how consoles are becoming more like them.

The main points we are going to take a look at today are the overall hardware specifications and what that means for gaming going forward. There is a lot of firsts for console gaming that will have big impacts going forward, and even some things that PC gaming has yet to achieve.

Let’s take a quick look at the specifications of each console. It’s interesting to see that while both consoles do some things uniquely, they are both made up of mostly the same hardware, similar to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. The real winner is AMD here.

Xbox Series X

Processor8-core AMD Ryzen Zen 2-architecture CPU at 3.8GHz (3.66GHz with SMT)
GraphicsAMD Navi/RDNA 2-family GPU with 52 CU at 1.825GHz (12TFLOPS FP32)
Video memory16GB GDDR6 with 14Gbps 320-bit interface (10GB at 560GB/s allocated to GPU, 6GB at 336GB/s allocated to rest of system with 3.5GB for GPU)
Storage1TB NVMe SSD PCIe 4.0; proprietary 1TB Seagate SSD add-on module; USB 3.2 external HDD support
Optical driveYes, 4K Blu-ray
Maximum output resolution8K 60fps; 4K 120fps
AudioDolby Atmos and DTX: X Spatial Audio
New controller featuresShare button, Dynamic Latency Input, USB-C for power and PC connectivity
VR supportUnknown/Not at launch
Console streamingYes (Console Streaming)
Backward compatibilityXbox One and supported Xbox 360 and Xbox games
Subscription tie-inXbox Live Gold (€6.99 monthly) for Multiplayer, Free Games with Gold. Xbox Game Pass (€9.99) , Xbox Game Pass Ultimate (€12.99) for access to over 100 games.
Dimensions5.9 x 5.9 x 11.9 in/151 x 151 x 301 mm
Preorders startSeptember 22
Release dateNovember 10
Price$500

PlayStation 5

Processor8-core AMD Ryzen Zen 2-architecture CPU at 3.5GHz (Variable Frequency)
GraphicsAMD Navi/RDNA 2-family GPU Up to 2.23 GHz (10.3 TFLOPS)
Video memory16GB GDDR6/256-bit @ 448GB/s
StorageCustom 825GB SSD, PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSD slot for expansion; USB 3.2 external HDD support
Optical driveYes, 4K Blu-ray (PS5)
No (PS5 Digital Edition)
Maximum output resolution8K 60fps; 4K 120fps
Audio“Tempest” 3D AudioTech
New controller featuresShare button, Haptic feedback shoulder buttons, USB-C Connection for Power
VR supportPSVR support at launch
Console streamingYes Remote Play
Backward compatibilityPS4 games support (some titles not at launch with some concerns from third party developers)
Subscription tie-inPS+ €59.99 pa/€8.99pm (Multiplayer, Cloud Save Storage, PS+ Monthly Free Games, no Game Pass equivalent.
Dimensions390mm x 104mm x 260mm (PS5)
390mm x 92mm x 260mm (PS5 Digital Edition)
Preorders startSeptember 22
Release dateNovember 12 US/November 19th EU
Price€499 (PS5 Standard Edition)
€399 (PS5 Digital Edition)

So while the official specs aren’t really and indication of what these consoles can actually do, it’s important to see that they do have some large similarities between each other. Like the last generation both are being powered by AMD and this time with their latest Zen 2 architecture and Navi graphics together in a single APU. Both have 16GB of GDDR6 memory, with Xbox Series X supporting a higher interface speed at 320-bit vs 256-bit on the PS5, but again the complete confirmation isn’t known yet on the PS5, and how much of a difference this will make overall is of course unknown.

Raw numbers we can see that the Xbox Series X has 12TFlops of compute power and the PS5 has 10.3TFlops. While these numbers are based on hardware specifications and in the past could indicate performance levels, it simply isn’t the case anymore and architecture is a more important factor. That being said, both have the exact same architecture; so ultimately we can assume Xbox might edge out the PS5 in some games.

Storage

Storage inside consoles to this day has been the biggest drawback for gaming. Game developers have had to use trickery to prevent even worse load times then they already experienced, this included adding sequences into the game as a fake loading screen, such has cut scene or elevator, and yes this is on top of loading screens. Remember having to wait a few seconds going from one island to the other in GTA. Other tricks were simply storing the same assets in multiple locations on a disc or HDD to reduce access times. As the worlds in our games got bigger and bigger, it required more of the same data across the storage medium to reduce loading and more and more tricks to prevent noticeable loading.

That all changes with the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. While not only using the latest and greatest NVMe based storage for eye-watering 5GB+ read and write speeds and near instantaneous access times. We now also have direct GPU storage capabilities on both consoles. This will be very early days in the launch of these next gen consoles, but it will offer something we haven’t seen before; something PC gaming doesn’t have yet.

Instant load times for gaming will be the standard. Playing a game and then moving to another will take seconds, not minutes, and you will be picking up exactly how you left off. This will be as if the game was left running in the background. Both Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 will launch with these abilities.

Direct GPU storage in effect means allowing the GPU to access the game data directly, instead of going through the CPU. This massively reduces access times since this effectively cuts out the middleman; the GPU can directly access the assets it needs from the system storage, while the CPU can work on the important geometry and physics calculations. The typical constraint of RAM will be less pronounced, with assets being able to stream directly from the NVMe SSD rather than having to be buffered into RAM like with older mechanical HDD based consoles in the past. This in effect gives developers so much more breathing room to play with and means they can experiment with environments with far more breath and depth. Even high end PC gaming machines with similar NVME storage don’t have this benefit yet. Consoles are the first for Direct Storage.

The advantages of having instant access times, insane read and write speeds will be down to the developer and how they take advantage of it, but it gives them so much more room to play with, room to really stretch their legs and take gaming to new heights. We really don’t know the lengths to how better things will benefits from this. The hardware alone will provide amazing difference compared to disc or HDD based storage when gaming, but some developers are making their games on both current gen and next gen hardware and so their might be some lag when it comes to games being developed to take full advantage the new abilities, when games go exclusively next-gen only, that’s really when the boosters will engage.

Update

A quick update regarding expandable storage. The Xbox Series X is a a go with expandable storage, albeit proprietary NVME storage for the console that completely limits gamers choices to that option. It seems a selling point on the PS5 with regards to having dedicated straight forward PCIe NVME that made it easier for gamers to upgrade storage and meant they had more options as you would on the PC gaming. Well, that isn’t really going to be the case.

Sony have explained that expandable storage is currently not avaialble at launch and ultimately there does need to be some compatibility checks in place. The storage has to be fast enough and physically small enough to fit in the expansion slot to work. There is also issues with compatibility with Sony’s I/O controller.

Typically we tend to always side on more open and wider choice options over proprietary ones. However, from the looks of it, their may be some headaches around the corner for PS5 owners if they end up with incompatible NVME SSD’s that won’t work for the PS5, and currently there is no way to upgrade your PS5 storage should you really need to just after launch – thankfully Sony are hinting that the firmware to enable expandable storage should arrive son.

Graphical capabilities

Previously it was never so easy to compare latest generation consoles by the numbers alone. In the past a single third party game on both consoles could perform better on one console, but another game would do better on the opposite console. All developers work differently and every game behaves differently to different hardware. It’s clear that both Sony and Microsoft will want to give the developers as much access to the hardware in the console as possible, in an effort to make the games look and play as good as as they can. Some of the resources will be locked out to the OS and background features as it has always been for consoles the past decade.

Straight off the bat we can see the Xbox Series X offers around 20-percent more GPU horsepower. How well this will translate into games remains to be seen. It’s fairly possible Microsoft will reserve some extra GPU prowess for other OS utilities to offer a wider feature set over Sony. They did this before with the Xbox One, reserving some of the GPU/CPU power for the Kinect, which they eventually reneged on. On the other hand Sony might want to do the same and as such the playing field can tilt again. Since both consoles fundamentally share the same architecture, the key differences will come down to the software optimizations Microsoft/Sony make, the development environments of both companies, the services they run and the exclusives they can offer to garner an edge.

One thing to note, that while both consoles will advertise 8K gaming, and while it is technically possible, it’s almost certainly a checkbox feature, it’s almost out of the question for any decent gaming scenario. In fact, 4k at 60fps for some games might be a bit of a stretch. That is something PC gaming is only tipping away at with the latest generation GPU’s – which cost more than the consoles themselves.

Going by the numbers; 4k (UHD) resolution is 3,840 x 2,160. This results in 8 millions pixels being refreshed up to 120 times per second. 8K resolution is 7,680 × 4,320. This results in 33 million pixels at a maximum of 60 times a second. A massive difference that will either result in lower quality textures at much lower frames. Purply from a technology point of view. 8K gaming isn’t here yet and definitely not on console level hardware.

All that is to say. 8K gaming on these consoles is for marketing purposes and not really for actual gaming.

Ray Tracing

Ray Tracing is another key term that will come up in the new consoles a few times. Again this is a feature that PC Gaming has had for a few years, although without any real substance. Ray tracing is basically an algorithm for tracing the path of light – in gaming, it provides for more realistic reflections. Real-Time Ray Tracing has only recently been popularized by Nvidia and their RTX line of GPUs, with AMD now implementing their “Ray Accelerator” tech to feature compete.

Even on high end PCs running top of the line graphics cards, Real-Time Ray Tracing is considered to be very “computationally expensive”, meaning it can drastically reduce performance and requires a lot of horsepower to run fluently, similarly to how Hairworks used to affect GeForce cards back when it was introduced in 2014. To put it simply – in some cases, a 4K@60fps game would turn out a 1080p@60fps. That is just how bad it got when hardware level Ray Tracing came on the scene.

Both the Xbox Series X and PS5 have hardware support for Ray Tracing. The implementation of this and how well it works is entirely down to the developers and the capabilities of the tech. Even with hardware level support, Ray Tracing is still very taxing and the effects can sometimes be lacking. It’s great to see consoles support it and in some games we may get amazing effects, but it definitely shouldn’t be a selling point and developers may simply not want to touch it as it reduces overall performance of their game. Maybe now developers can do more since hardware support was very limited and adoption not that great.

VRR

Variable Refresh Rate or VRR is probably the more important feature to finally reach consoles. This has been apart of PC Gaming for a good few years as either G-Sync (Nvidia) or Freesync (AMD). Both accomplish mostly the same thing with regards to keeping the refresh rate of the monitor/TV in sync with the output from the graphics card. What does this mean?

For consoles in the past, the game had to be locked at either 30-60fps. So quality of the game had to be limited to make sure either was hit perfectly (even then drops could happen). This included dropping the resolution of some games to make sure performance was still good. Without locking fps tearing would become a factor. PC gaming had this option too, but hardware allowed for higher quality and frames, but not always, so tearing was a big factor. VRR solved that by allowing the monitor to only display the frames that were being pushed. If your GPU hit 70fps, the monitor would refresh at 70fps. if it dropped to 40fps, it would simply do the same.

Both Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 now get this amazing ability and console gaming will forever be the better. This will end the dreaded compromise of having VSYNC ON (Lag) or VSYNC OFF (screen tearing). The only issue of course is that this requires the TV that supports this feature. HDMI 2.1 is how this is done on consoles, so anyone looking for a new TV make sure VRR and HDMI 2.1 are apart of this.

So my games can drop to lower FPS I hear you say. Why is that better?

Great question! Well it has the opposite effect too; games have nothing holding them back. 4K resolutions can hit up 120fps now (assuming TV support). Game developers can now allow for games to have higher quality out of the gate and if that impacts frames in certain parts of the game, it’s ultimately okay; as the game is now allowed to drop some frames here and there and it won’t cause screen tearing. So instead of having to lock the frames and limit quality of the game or in most cases lower the resolution detail to make sure they could hit the targeted frames per second, developers can now have some much needed freedom. We can also get much higher frames on console than ever before. 120fps might not be possible all the time in a game and without VRR the gamer would get horrible screen tearing, but now we can bounce around the higher frames and enjoy tear free gaming on consoles.

HDMI 2.1

HDMI 2.1 is the latest version of HDMI that brings a lot of features that enable next generation gaming. It’s worth mentioning a few of the features that are possible because of this, but also that all of them will require a new TV that includes this support.

Both consoles offers all of the features of HDMI 2.1. This includes Variable Refresh rate as mentioned above. Auto Low Latency Mode or ALLM ; this provides the ability for the console to activate the ALLM on the TV and provide the best possible lag free experience the TV is capable of. This in most case’s will enable Game mode on the TV, but technically ALLM can work in any TV setting.

All of these features are also along with 4k@120hz. We don’t really wanna mention 8K@60hz as it’s not really a thing. We hope to see some cases reach 4K@120hz on consoles, but it might not be the most intensive games avaialble that do so. None the less the, it will be great to see high refresh gaming or decent 4K gaming – even if it’s not at the same time.

HDR gaming is also a big factor and provides for the most accurate colour reproduction. HDR10 is the standard for this and is widely adopted across the board and as such both consoles support this throughout. The Xbox Series X is going a step further with support for Dolby Vision – which is slated to be one of the better implementations for HDR, however this support only arrives in 2021 and currently it’s only for streaming and gaming, and not the UHD Blu Ray playback.

The PS5 seems to only have support for HDR10 and no mention of support for Dolby Vision support. This might arrive later via firmware upgrade, but it’s worth noting that Sony have no mentioned this support before launch and since Sony sell TV’s that push Dolby Vision, one would think we would see this soon.

It’s also worth noting just for the sheer oddity. Since Sony also sell a lot of TV’s , currently only one of their models (Sony X900H) supports HDMI 2.1. This is the main factor in support of the feature set these consoles offer and we found it slightly odd that Sony only has a single TV in their 2020 line-up that fully supports it.

Backwards compatibility

Both console’s have a massive list of truly incredible titles in their past and some of which a lot of gamers have never touched. The age old question with new hardware is can it play the previous generation games. PC gaming wins completely outright here. On a PC, you can old up a 10 year old game and it will run, it will run well, and it will look better than it did 10 years ago.

Microsoft really hit a home run here. Compatibility with all Xbox One games (often with higher frame rates or graphical improvements) and a massive catalogue of supported Xbox 360 and even Original Xbox games. It really is a testament to the support Microsoft has poured into its platform. As you may know, the Xbox 360 runs on an entirely different architecture (PowerPC) to Xbox One or even the Original Xbox. Not only allowing gamers to enjoy games from the original Xbox, but in some cases for the game to actually perform better. Taking an original Xbox disc and putting it into the Xbox Series X will actually work. Purely from a technology point of view – massive kudos to the backwards capability team at Microsoft.

By comparison Sony’s PS4 had no support whatsoever for older PS3/PS2/PS1 titles natively and sadly that goes the same for the PS5 for PS3/PS2/PS1 games. Sony do offer some select titles by the means of PS4/PS5 compatible remakes in the PSN Store, but that requires the developers put in a lot of hours to rebuild the game for the new console. Thankfully PS4 games will run on PS5 directly and there is a list of only around 10 games that are incompatible. Sony do also list of a decent amount of PS4 games that may have errors or features unavailable when playing on PS5, but we hope that will be ironed out in the future, and yes discs based PS4 games will also work. Ultimately this isn’t a strong point for the PS5 and the almost opposite ability that Microsoft are pushing on the Xbox Series X.

Controller support

While both new consoles obviously come with their new controllers and how good or bad these are really depends on personal preference. That being said, from the looks of things, their aren’t any massive difference between the previous generation controllers and the latest one, and that goes for both PS5 and Xbox Series X.

However

Sony may have missed a step here against Microsoft. The Xbox Series X has complete support for Xbox One controllers. Their are zero limitations. So if you have an Xbox One or Xbox Elite controller, it will simply work as if it was made for the latest Xbox Series X console.

On the PS5 side of things, yes you can use a PS4 controller on the PS5, but it is completely limited to PS4 games only. We simply can’t wrap our heads around why Sony would limit their own hardware this way, but again it’s another marketing thing that Microsoft can push with a smile.

Conclusion

It’s time to wrap up our little breakdown of the next generation of consoles from Sony and Microsoft. A clear pattern emerges through this breakdown and that is the fact that both of these consoles are basically twins.

The main features and capacities of both consoles is almost entirely down to software and exclusive games. The hardware is mostly the same and we honestly don’t think the GPU’s are going to be any sort of selling point against each other. Both Sony and Microsoft for the second or third generation (if you could Xbox One X and PS4 Pro) have used nearly identical hardware with just slight difference in performance that separated them. It really does come down to the games and feature sets that these consoles offer. Microsoft might have a slight advantage in terms of GPU performance, but the complete backwards compatibility is also a massive win for them.

Microsoft’s acquisition of Zenimax Media, owners of Arkane Studios (Prey/Dishonored fame), Bethesda (of DOOM/Fallout/Elder Scrolls fame), and let’s not forget their own catalogue of exclusives, we could see a massive bolstering of Microsoft’s exclusive IP for the Xbox if Microsoft decided to make it so. This also ties in with their push for subscription based gaming with Xbox Game Pass – offering most of their catalogue of games for a single monthly subscription – including day one releases.

Similarly Sony’s legacy of great exclusive IP like Naughty Dog’s Last of Us, Uncharted, LittleBigPlanet , God of War, and Spiderman could give it the edge in the market and they have more than a few game of the year awards to go around. In fact Sony have had more exclusives that have end up selling consoles in the past that might overall make them the bigger attraction and this explains Microsoft recent acquisitions

Third party gaming is finally seeing less of an impact in console choice, and by that we mean cross platform gaming. Online gaming is an absolute massive factor for any gaming console and thankfully we are at a point where it’s starting to matter less and less if your friends have this console or that console. Gaming should be enjoyed online with your friends either way. Unless the game is exclusive to one console, it really shouldn’t impact online gaming. At least that is the future we all hope to live in.

Ultimately which ever console you desire should provide you with an absolutely amazing new gaming experience . We hope that the above information helps you make your choice or in most cases reaffirmed your purchase. Exclusives are no doubt going to be the biggest factor here, and that’s only for those jumping ship or stepping for the first time. If you have also been on Xbox side, then your probably not going the Sony way, and the same is said for long time PlayStation gamers.

All that is to say – happy gaming to everyone and here is to the next and possibly last generation of gaming consoles.


Mark Hannely contributed to this Article.

Craig O'Sullivan
Craig O'Sullivan

Creator of Geektech.ie Passionate about Technology and always looking for that next cool gadget or app

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