PS5 backwards compatibility has a big catch — and could be how Xbox Series X wins

God of War PS5
(Image credit: SIE)

Sony unveiled a ton of key technical details of the PS5 during a special live stream today (March 18), though one announcement in particular stood out. While the PS5 will indeed be backwards compatible with PS4 games, the feature won't be as all-encompassing as you might expect.

During the PS5 specs reveal, system architect Mark Cerny noted that the company is currently testing the "top 100 PS4 titles" in terms of playtime to make sure those run well in time for the system's Holiday 2020 launch. That's in stark contrast to the Xbox Series X, which already promises to work with all Xbox One games as well as all Xbox and Xbox 360 titles that have been optimized for backwards compatibility.

While we're not sure what's on Sony's list of the top 100 PS4 games, it seems like a safe bet to assume that popular titles such as Fortnite, Minecraft, Rocket League, God of War and Spider-Man should be ready to go on Day One. But it raises questions about the compatibility other titles, including upcoming late-gen PS4 releases such as The Last of Us 2, Ghost of Tsushima and Cyberpunk 2077.

sony ps5 event

(Image credit: Sony)

If you're curious about the nitty gritty details, the PS5 will operate in a special Legacy Mode when running PS4 games, and in Pro Legacy mode when running PS4 Pro optimized titles. This essentially allows the console to mimic the older machines, without requiring actual PS4 hardware inside the box.

A potential gap in backwards compatibility is one of several factors that could give the Xbox Series X an edge when it goes up against the PS5 this fall. There's also a slight disparity in SSD size and teraflop count, with the PS5 packing an 825GB SSD and 10.3 teraflop GPU, compared to the Xbox Series X's 1TB SSD and 12 teraflop GPU. 

But of course, the real test will be seeing how these two consoles operate in the real world when they launch by the end of 2020.

Michael Andronico

Mike Andronico is Senior Writer at CNNUnderscored. He was formerly Managing Editor at Tom's Guide, where he wrote extensively on gaming, as well as running the show on the news front. When not at work, you can usually catch him playing Street Fighter, devouring Twitch streams and trying to convince people that Hawkeye is the best Avenger.