As anyone who has tried to buy a Nintendo Switch over the past six months can tell you, the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically increased the demand for video games, which provide escapism, time-killing, and a link to the outside world in one convenient package.
And so, although new video game consoles are always met with an absurd amount of hype, this week’s release of both the Xbox Series X/S (on November 10) and the PlayStation 5 (on November 12) feels more important than the last time seven years ago. So what do you need to know about the next generation of gaming, and which new console is right for you? I’ve spent the past couple of weeks playing around with both the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X, so let’s dive in:
The Looks: Which Is Bulkier?
Unlike the PS4 — a slim, unobtrusive black box that basically just looks like a DVD player — the PlayStation 5 wants to be noticed. It’s a big, beefy console with big white fins on each side, like a PS4 that’s cosplaying as EVE from WALL-E. It’s very distinctive, though that might come at the expense of your living room decor, since this thing really stands out.
Sony has been giving gamers the option to stack their consoles vertically since the PlayStation 2, but this is the first time that felt like a necessity to me. The PS5 just doesn’t look right sitting horizontally, and it’ll take up a ton of real estate in your entertainment center. It is the ideal height to sit under a $12.99 IKEA end table, though.
The Xbox Series X is shorter and squatter than the PS5, but it still looms over everything else, and it also looks better if you configure it vertically. That said: I ended up putting mine behind my TV. I’m not thrilled about it, but even laid out horizontally, the Series X is way too tall to sit in front of my TV like my PS4 did. Consider your own home-theater setup and plan accordingly.
There is an alternative to the Series X. If you don’t need a disc drive (and want to save $200), you can get a Series S instead. Unlike the PS5’s cheaper Digital Edition model—which costs $100 less than the standard PS5 and lacks a disc drive, but is otherwise identical—the Series S looks completely different to the Series X, and takes up much less space (with a smaller hard drive to compensate). It’s also incapable of playing games in 4K Ultra-HD, so if you have a really nice TV, you should probably spring for the more expensive model.
The Winner: It’s a close call, but the PlayStation 5 is the one that’s actually on display in my living room right now.
The Controllers: Next Level vs. Status Quo
When Sony announced that PlayStation 5 games wouldn’t be compatible with the PlayStation 4’s DualShock controllers, it seemed like an obnoxious way to make gamers buy a marginally upgraded version of the controllers they already had. That turned out to be incorrect.
I’ll get into the PS5’s other launch games below, but there’s no point in talking about the PS5 controller if you’re not going to mention Astro’s Playroom. Much like Nintendo’s Wii Sports, Astro’s Playroom is a “game” that’s actually close to a tech demo designed to show off everything the new controller can do. And friend, let me tell you: It is wild what this new controller can do. It’s hard to explain without actually holding it in your hands. Through precise haptics and audio feedback, the controller adds clever, subtle little nuances that immerse you in the game. When you walk across a floor, you’ll literally feel the difference as your little robot feet walk across metal or glass or sand. When you propel yourself on a spring, you’ll feel the resistance and the vibrating twang of release in the shoulder buttons.