War of the Consoles: Sony PlayStation 5 vs Microsoft Xbox Series X

   The Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 replace the ageing Xbox One and PS4, respectively launched in early 2014 and late 2013.
The Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 replace the ageing Xbox One and PS4, respectively launched in early 2014 and late 2013.PHOTOS: SONY INTERACTIVE ENTERTAINMENT, MICROSOFT

SINGAPORE - The battle of the next-generation video game consoles has finally reached the shores of Singapore.

Microsoft launched its latest Xbox Series X (XSX) here on Nov 10 while Sony released its PlayStation 5 (PS5) on Thursday (Nov 19).

They have been a long-time coming - about seven years to be precise.

The XSX and PS5 (available on Amazon) replace the ageing Xbox One and PS4, respectively launched in early 2014 and late 2013 - their faster variants aside.

The new consoles boast improvements over their predecessors, such as supporting games with better graphics and loading games more quickly.

But how are they different and which one should you get?

For a start, the XSX costs $699 while the PS5 is slightly pricier at $729. Their disc-less variants are cheaper and have different issues to contend with.

The bad news is the first batch of XSX and PS5 consoles is already sold out here, likely due to supply falling short of keen demand that was further boosted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

While the wait is on for new stocks to arrive in December or January, The Straits Times compares the XSX and the PS5 to help you decide which gaming machine to go for.

DESIGN & CONTROLLER


PHOTO: NYTIMES

The two consoles look substantially different. The XSX is shorter and wider, while the PS5 is taller and thinner. Personal taste about design should help you decide - jibes at how the XSX looks like a fridge and the PS5 like a router aside.

As far as this writer is concerned, the PS5 wins easily with its curvy white side panels and futuristic looks. Furthermore, it comes with an equally futuristic-looking DualSense wireless controller.

The XSX's boxy black exterior looks boring by comparison. Its wireless game controller looks no different from the previous generation.


PHOTO: NYTIMES

The PS5's DualSense controller has another ace up its sleeve that the XSX one lacks: it features improved vibrations that heighten interactions with the game world. This sounds like a gimmick but I was blown over after I started using the controller.

When playing the PS5's bundled Astro's Playroom game, the controller's built-in speaker gives off a "ping" sound when a coin is collected. And with its new haptic feedback feature, the controller rumbles and vibrates differently when moving across different surfaces. For example, when walking through sand, the controller vibrates more slowly and with less intensity. But across a hard surface, vibrations come in short spurts - but are more intense. These differing vibrations sort of mirror real-world contact with these surfaces in a way last-gen controllers could not.

In the PlayStation-exclusive action game Spider-Man: Miles Morales, the controller rumbles subtly first, then with growing intensity over time when powering up an attack.

In previous generation controllers, the vibrations would have been less nuanced and felt less natural.

The PS5 controller's dynamic adaptive triggers also mean that as the player swings across New York City as the titular game character in Spider-Man: Miles Morales, resistance is felt when the trigger buttons are pressed. The tightening of the triggers varies depending on how far into the swinging animation the game character is in. This feature was completely absent in last-gen controllers.

In contrast, the XSX controller behaves similar to the Xbox One controller vibration-wise.

There is a downer for the PS5, though: it supports PS4 controllers when playing PS4 games on the PS5, but does not support the same controllers when playing PS5 games.

On the other hand, the XSX supports last-gen Xbox One controllers.

WINNER: PS5

HARDWARE


PHOTO: AFP

Under the hood, the PS5 and XSX are more similar than some might realise.

Both feature AMD's Zen 2 central processing unit (CPU) and AMD's RDNA 2 graphics processing unit (GPU).

On paper, the XSX has a slightly faster CPU and GPU. But in practical terms, the XSX's performance may not be too different from the PS5's for many games. It comes down to the game being able to harness the new processing power of the consoles.

Playing the NBA 2K21 basketball simulation game on both consoles, gameplay was smooth for either and there was no noticeable difference in performance between the two machines.

The XSX and PS5 both have hard drives that allow games to load much more quickly so that players can dive into the action faster.

This writer found out that a basketball match in NBA 2K21 takes under 5 seconds to load on both the XSX and PS5, with hardly any difference in loading times between the consoles.

In contrast, the game can take 30 seconds or more on last-gen consoles - that is a significantly longer waiting time that might be enough for one to read a news report.

The XSX and PS5 support ray tracing technology that improves lighting effects dramatically.

Both machines can also run games at a naturally higher, 4K resolution which is four times sharper than that for the Xbox One and PS4, rendering visual details with more clarity.


PHOTO: REUTERS

Together, these two features make games for next-gen consoles look more realistic than before.

In NBA 2K21, players' skin textures as well as basketball courts look fantastic on bothXSX and PS5, with nary a difference the eye can see.

But compared with last-gen consoles, the game on next-gen definitely looks more crisp. Light bounces off things and basketball players in a more realistic and natural way.

The caveat with gaming in 4K is that you also need a television screen or monitor that can support this.

The XSX and PS5 also support higher game frame rates of up to 120 frames per second (fps), compared with up to 60fps on last-gen consoles. This means movement in games can appear a lot smoother and more responsive especially during fast moving sequences. This is partly due to less lag between pushing a button and seeing an action performed on screen.

But, for now, many games do not support such high frame rates and so more testing is needed.

WINNER: TIE

SOFTWARE


PHOTO: REUTERS

Jumping straight into the game is important for many gamers. But to do so, they have to navigate a game console's user interface (UI) first.

Sony claims its PS5 UI has been "streamlined". However, this writer was unable to access games and other features as quickly as he would have liked.

For example, in the PlayStation Store, you cannot use the bumpers of the controller to reach the store's shopping cart like with the PS4. Instead, you have to use the mini-joystick on the controller. These minor quirks can be frustrating but this could be a matter of getting used to the new interface.

On the other hand, the XSX retains the UI of its predecessor. So for Xbox One gamers, the XSX's menu system is comfortable and familiar territory.

Some might love this familiarity, while others might want something fresh. This writer prefers what he is used to, especially since he wants the quickest way to start a game.

Switching between games is possible with the new consoles. For the XSX, this is its Quick Resume feature, which allows you to pause a game you are playing, start a different game, pause that one, and switch back to your first game to resume where you left off. This is almost instantaneous and there is no need to reload from scratch, reload a save game or navigate too many menus.

However, not all games that are supposed to support Quick Resume are working right now. For example, toggling between NBA 2K21 and Assassin's Creed Valhalla instantly is not possible. As of press time, some fixes are on the way.

The PS5 has a similar function called Switcher but it is not as fast as Quick Resume. When you toggle between games, you will need to wait for the game to reload and load a saved game.

WINNER: XSX

GAMES


PHOTO: REUTERS

All comparisons between consoles are for nought if they do not have the games you want to play.

At launch, the PS5 is clearly winning in terms of its exclusive games with the superb Spider-Man: Miles Morales and the utterly-difficult, but incredible, remastered Demon's Souls. Even its free Astro's Playroom platformer is an exhilarating experience for the family.

And if you subscribe to the PlayStation Plus service ($8.90 per month or $53.90 per year), you can access a slew of PS4 games on the PS5, many of which are exclusives and arguably genre defining.

The service is, unfortunately, needed to play some multi-player games online, but there are other perks like game discounts and a free PS5 game a month. This month, it is Bugsnax, a cute first-person adventure game.

For XSX, there are no real blockbuster exclusive games to speak of because its Halo Infinite and new Fable games are not likely to be released until next year.


PHOTO: AFP

That said, Microsoft has bought many game companies over the years, with the latest and most high profile addition to date being Bethesda, the maker of the hit Fallout and Elder Scrolls games. So the XSX's library of exclusives could grow substantially in the future.

However, the XSX's biggest draw is Xbox Game Pass Ultimate ($19.99 per month). It offers over 100 high-quality games for Xbox consoles, PC and even Android including all Microsoft first-party games like the classic Halo games and new exclusives added when they are released.

Furthermore, since Nov 10, EA Play has joined the service, expanding its game library with the likes of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.

Like PlayStation Plus, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate is needed to play some online multi-player games and it also gives subscribers store discounts.

The XSX also trumps the PS5 in another area: better backwards compatibility. Microsoft claims the XSX supports all last-gen Xbox One games. It even supports selected games from Xbox 360 and first-generation Xbox consoles.

While the PS5 is said to support most PS4 games, it does not support PS3 or older games.

WINNER: TIE

VERDICT: It depends

Ultimately, pitting the PlayStation against the Xbox is akin to the seemingly neverending war between Android and iOS mobile operating systems. There will always be hardcore supporters on both sides.

The XSX has its value-for money Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription service with a big game library at your fingertips, while the PS5 has a bevy of exclusives including Sackboy: A Big Adventure platform game - which is available now - and the Gran Turismo 7 racing simulator on the horizon.

But should you wait to get either console or even both? If you do not worry about missing out, then probably yes, since you cannot get hold of one now anyway and prices on the secondary market can be astronomical. Many next-gen console-exclusive games are also still not available, so there is no harm waiting.

As with any new tech product launch, there could also be issues with the first batch of goods so sometimes waiting a bit may not be a bad thing. Hopefully, these problems could be ironed out later.

There are reports of the new consoles crashing on gamers but it is unclear, for now, what the reasons are; make of it what you will.

Should you upgrade from your existing Xbox One or PS4? Definitely. But with caveats.

Compared with their predecessors seven years ago, the XSX is $60 more expensive and the PS5 is $90 more costly.

The graphical improvements for next-gen consoles can be big with better lighting effects and support for higher resolutions. They also have much faster game loading times than last-gen machines.

Ultimately, whether you should buy an XSX or PS5, or both, depends on a number of things: your budget, whether you can wait, the selection of games you are hankering for, the crop of titles expected in the future and maybe even how the console looks in your room.

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