Pandemic be damned: nothing, apparently, can stop the launch of the next generation of games consoles, nor the immense hype built around them.
As promised, Sony and Microsoft are both releasing new hardware in November, each promising significantly more power and speed than their predecessors along with other perks and upgrades that are sure to feel like must-haves to fans still clutching their rapidly ageing current-gen boxes. This time around, however, it’s not as simple a decision as ‘PlayStation or Xbox’. That’s just step 1.
On the Sony side, the PS5 is the core console but there’s also a cheaper Digital Edition that kicks the disc drive into touch for a download-only future; and while the Xbox Series X represents Microsoft’s supercharged vision of native 4K gaming, the Series S hits the 2K middle ground between power and price.
In truth, neither launch is happening completely unscathed by the state of the world. The Xboxes arguably took the biggest hit with the late-breaking delay of Halo Infinite into 2021, but both launch line-ups are thinner on the big system-sellers that we usually expect. On top of that, manufacturing delays could make all these consoles tricky to get before Christmas.
But that won’t stop us from trying, will it? So, envisaging Black Friday brawls across a once-dignified nation, here’s our hot take on the sleek new PlayStation and Xbox consoles rolling out shortly – and the games that’ll make you scramble for ’em.
Xbox Series X
Take a look at this hulking block of a games console. Microsoft has abandoned the flatter footprint of past Xbox machines in favour of something more akin to a minimal PC tower, standing about 30cm tall and 15cm wide, and weighing in at 4.5kg. The PS5 is taller, but also curvier; the Xbox Series X looks like a dense brick.
But there’s no doubt Microsoft has packed every inch of that brick with top-tier components to deliver gaming experiences you’ve never seen outside of a scary-expensive PC rig. The Series X uses a custom 8-core AMD Zen 2 CPU and RDNA 2 GPU with up to 12 teraflops of raw graphics-processing power available. That’s double the total graphical output of the Xbox One X and about 1.7 teraflops more than the PS5.
What does that really mean, though? Microsoft is promising gaming at a native (not upscaled) 4K resolution and up to 120 frames per second, with the potential for 8K gameplay as well. So games will look crisper and more detailed than ever before, and with smoother motion to boot. Support for a 120Hz refresh rate also lends itself well to faster reaction times, ideal for twitchy online shooters.
While enhanced resolution and detail are expected upgrades with any new console, both Microsoft and Sony are also putting a major focus on improving speed this time around. Between the Xbox Velocity Architecture and custom 1TB SSD inside, the Series X will dramatically cut down on loading times, delays and framerate hitches.
Xbox Series S
The Xbox Series S is much slimmer than the Series X, and it’s inevitably much less powerful as a result. While the cheaper console has some of the same key perks within, including the speedy SSD, Quick Resume and upgrades to older Xbox games, the GPU maxes out at 4 teraflops – a third what the Series X can manage.
Given that, the Xbox Series S is positioned as a ‘2K’ or 1440p console instead – still capable of playing the same games but with less crispness and flash. It also lacks a disc drive and has half the storage space, but the £200 discount makes this the better option for a budget-savvy gamer who isn’t fussed about 4K. Paired with a Game Pass subscription, it could be the best deal in next-gen gaming if you can live with the less powerful hardware.