The PS5 Digital Edition and the Xbox Series S both ask an unusual question: What if a next-gen console didn’t have to cost an exorbitant amount of money? While the full-featured PS5 and Xbox Series X will cost $500 apiece, both companies have also offered a cheaper alternative. For Sony, there’s the PS5 Digital Edition: a $400 console that has no disc drive, but is otherwise identical to the PS5. For Microsoft, there’s the Xbox Series S: a $300 all-digital console that’s optimized for quad HD output rather than UHD.
While the PS5 Digital Edition and Xbox Series S don’t address exactly the same needs, they both represent the same idea: a cheaper alternative to full-priced next-gen consoles. As such, it’s worth comparing the two machines, even though a) It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, and b) We won’t know for sure how the two systems stack up until we get to try them for ourselves.
With that in mind, let’s see how the PS5 Digital Edition and Xbox Series S stack up in terms of price, specs, game selection and more.
PS5 Digital Edition vs. Xbox Series S: Specs
One of the easiest ways to compare the PS5 Digital Edition and the Xbox Series X is to discuss their specs. Generally speaking, the PS5 Digital Edition is more powerful, but here’s the full breakdown:
|PS5 Digital Edition||Xbox Series S|
|Processor||AMD Ryzen Zen 2, 8-core, 3.5 GHz||AMD Ryzen Zen 2, 8-core, 3.6 GHz|
|GPU||AMD Radeon RDNA 2, 10 teraflops||AMD Radeon RDNA 2 GPU, 4 teraflops|
|RAM||16 GB||10 GB|
|Storage||825 GB SSD||512 GB SSD|
|Resolution||Up to 8K||Up to 1440p|
|Frame Rate||Up to 120 fps||Up to 120 fps|
If you were wondering why the Xbox Series S is $100 cheaper, you can see it’s mostly a matter of specs. While the Xbox Series S actually has a slightly more powerful CPU than the PS5 Digital Edition, its GPU, RAM and storage are all weaker. As a result, games will run in lower resolutions. And although the max frame rate is the same, we can reason that the Xbox Series S will generally not hit the same frame rates as its Sony competitor, particularly for new and demanding games. (Frame rate is a function of a system’s processor, GPU and RAM.)
Neither system has the capacity to play physical media, such as game discs or Blu-rays. However, both systems will be able to load and render games incredibly quickly thanks to state-of-the-art SSDs, and both systems' GPUs will support ray tracing for subtle lighting effects.
Where the comparison gets a little tricky is when we move from “specs” and try to gauge “performance.” While a system’s specs define its performance, it’s often about how pieces of hardware work in concert rather than just gauging raw power. As such, until we get our hands on both the PS5 Digital Edition and the Xbox Series S, it’s almost impossible to say how each one will run games in real-world conditions.
Still, we can say definitively that the Xbox Series S employs, for the most part, less powerful hardware than the PS5 Digital Edition. We can also say that less powerful hardware generally means lower resolutions and frame rates. The PS5 Digital Edition is arguably a little more future-proof than the Xbox Series S, particularly for gamers who have 4K TVs.
PS5 Digital Edition vs. Xbox Series S: Price
The easiest point of comparison between the PS5 Digital Edition and the Xbox Series S is their prices. The PS5 Digital Edition costs $400; the Xbox Series S costs $300. The Xbox Series S is undeniably cheaper; what’s not clear is which system will ultimately be the better value.
As stated above, the Xbox Series S employs less powerful hardware than the PS5 Digital Edition. That’s not a surprising or controversial thing to say; it’s the primary reason why the Xbox Series S costs less money. (it’s the same price as a Nintendo Switch, and cheaper than an Xbox One X.) If you aren’t too hung-up on top-of-the-line graphics — or don’t have a 4K TV at all — the Xbox Series S seems like a good value. Otherwise, the PS5 Digital Edition may well be worth the extra $100.
One thing to keep in mind, although it’s a bit speculative: For the foreseeable future, any Xbox Series X game will also be available on the Xbox Series S. However, as the next console generation progresses and games become more demanding, the Xbox Series S may not be able to play absolutely every Xbox Series X game.
Microsoft hasn’t said anything to this effect, and I have no special insight about whether it might happen. But I do know that as consoles age, developers tend to press them for every last bit of processing power, and the Xbox Series S doesn’t have as much as the Xbox Series X. The PS5 Digital Edition, on the other hand, has precisely the same specs as the full-fledged PS5. Just something to consider.
PS5 Digital Edition vs. Xbox Series S: Games
As far as we know, the PS5 Digital Edition can play every single PS5 game; the Xbox Series S can play every single Xbox Series X game. This should be the case for the foreseeable future. As such, the game selection argument is the same here as for PS5 vs. Xbox Series X: Do you want to play Spider-Man, Ratchet & Clank and Final Fantasy, or do you want to play Halo, Hellblade and Forza? There’s no correct answer there, so prospective buyers will have to decide for themselves.
What’s a little more interesting, however, is the issue of backwards compatibility. Both the PS5 Digital Edition and Xbox Series S will be backwards compatible with many previous-gen titles; the only question is how far back that compatibility goes.
The PS5 Digital Edition will be compatible with a lot of PS4 games, although we don’t have a full list just yet. (Recent reports put the number around 99% of the PS4 library, so hopefully that’s true.) The Xbox Series S, on the other hand, will be backwards compatible with every single Xbox One game, plus a variety of Xbox 360 and original Xbox games.
There is one big catch either way, though: To play backwards compatible games, you’ll need to own digital copies. Since neither the PS5 Digital Edition nor the Xbox Series S has a disc drive, you won’t be able to play games you own physically, unless you buy them again as digital versions. Both the regular PS5 and the Xbox Series X do have disc drives, so if you have a big physical collection, it may be worth the premium just to keep access to your old games.
The Xbox Series S also has one additional wrinkle, and it’s a complicated one, so bear with us. In some ways, the Xbox Series S is less powerful than the current-gen Xbox One X. As such, the Xbox Series S will not be able to play Xbox Series X-optimized games with full 4K resolution, high frame rates, enhanced texture quality and so forth. This may not be a big issue, as the Xbox Series S isn’t really an ideal accessory for 4K TVs anyway, but it’s worth pointing out. The PS5 Digital Edition has no such restrictions.
PS5 Digital Edition vs. Xbox Series S: Who are they for?
While I can’t prove this until we see some sales figures for the two devices, I don’t think that the PS5 Digital Edition and the Xbox Series S are angling for exactly the same buyers. The price difference is telling, as is the variance in hardware. At the risk of fortune-telling, it seems as though the PS5 Digital Edition is for more dedicated gamers who are simply ready to give up physical media, whereas the Xbox Series S is for more casual fans who simply don’t need the power — or expense — of a full-featured Xbox Series X.
The PS5 Digital Edition, save for its lack of a disc drive, is identical to the PS5. That means that if you buy it, you’ll want to take advantage of its UHD resolution, fast frame rates, expansive storage and so forth. The audience for the PS5 and the PS5 Digital Edition is exactly the same, in other words, save for whether they want to use discs or digital downloads.
On the other hand, the Xbox Series S is considerably less powerful than the Xbox Series X, and Microsoft has made no secret of that. Someone who had his or her heart set on the powerful Xbox Series X experience is probably not going to be swayed by the Xbox Series S. On the other hand, for casual gamers, young gamers or gamers who don’t own 4K TVs, there’s really no reason to spend $500 on an Xbox Series X, when an Xbox Series S will get the job done just as well.
PS5 Digital Edition vs. Xbox Series S: Subscriptions
One final thing to consider is that both the PS5 Digital Edition and the Xbox Series S will exist as part of larger subscription-based ecosystems: PlayStation Plus for the former, and Xbox Game Pass for the latter. Both services have undergone significant revamps over the past few months, and will probably continue to do so up until the next-gen consoles launch.
Recently, we learned that PlayStation Plus ($10 per month, or $60 per year) will allow players to download a whole host of PS4 classics, including Bloodborne, God of War and Until Dawn. Meanwhile, Xbox Game Pass ($10 to $15 per month) lets players download more than 100 Xbox titles, including Gears 5, Wasteland 3 and Sunset Overdrive.
The big difference between the two platforms is that Xbox Game Pass also gives players access to new Xbox Series X/S titles the day they become available; the PS Plus Collection seems to be exclusively backward-looking, at least for now.
Generally speaking, Xbox Game Pass seems to be a huge part of the Xbox Series S’ strategy, while Sony probably expects most PS5 Digital Edition customers to buy games à la carte, one at a time. It’s worth considering whether you’d rather own a small library of games for good, or rent a huge library indefinitely.
PS5 Digital Edition vs. Xbox Series S: Outlook
It’s hard to compare the PS5 Digital Edition and the Xbox Series S directly, since they seem to target different audiences. The PS5 Digital Edition is for gamers who want the latest and greatest hardware without physical discs; the Xbox Series S is for gamers who are willing to compromise on hardware, as long as they can still access a collection of great games.
Since we haven’t tested either system firsthand, we’ll withhold recommendations for the moment. But remember that you’ll have to live with less powerful hardware if you choose the Xbox Series S, and extra $100 up front if you choose the PS5 Digital Edition.