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PS5 vs. PS5 Digital Edition: Which one should you buy?

PS5 vs. PS5 Digital Edition
(Image credit: Sony)

The PS5 Digital Edition sends a clear message to the entire gaming world, as we start this latest chapter of the console wars. Sony's stating that this generation of console gaming begins with a sad truth for some: the local games store is dying. 

What's more, you'll be able to save money on buying a PS5 (if you can get one) if you forgo that old-school optical disc drive. While the regular PS5 costs $499 and includes a drive, the PS5 Digital Edition loses its ability to play physical media, slashing that price by $100 to cost just $399.

From where we stand now, though, I'm not just ready to pre-order, I'm willing to spend more on the standard PS5. That being said, I know I'm an outlier on this, so I'll break down the pros and cons of going with each side.

Black Friday PS5 deals

Black Friday 2020 deals
Neither the PS5 nor the PS5 Digital Edition are anything close to cheap, so we're doing the work to find the top Black Friday PS5 deals. Right now, that means savings on games, so your big pricey new console can get decked out with all the gaming you could desire. 

PS5 vs PS5 Digital Edition specs compared

PS5PS5 Digital Edition
Optical driveUltra HD Blu-rayNone
Size15.4 x 10.2 x 4.1 inches15.4 x 10.2 x 3.6 inches
Weight9.9 pounds/4.5kg8.6 pounds/3.9kg
CPUAMD Ryzen Zen 2AMD Ryzen Zen 2
GPUAMD Radeon RDNA 2-based graphics engine with ray tracing accelerationAMD Radeon RDNA 2-based graphics engine with ray tracing acceleration
SSD825GB with 5.5GB/s read bandwidth825GB with 5.5GB/s read bandwidth

PS5 vs. PS5 Digital Edition price 

It was obvious the all-digital PS5 would cost less than the regular model; what we didn't know was how much less. Prevailing wisdom suggested it'd be a difference of $100 between the two models and, lo and behold, that's what we got. Personally, I'll admit that price gap is more than I'd like to spend — but I'll probably pay up anyway.

Both models dropped earlier this month (Nov. 12 in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea), and Nov. 19 everywhere else — and have been really hard to find in stock. That's made it easy for me to kick this decision down the road. 

I totally understand why many gamers may prefer to go digital for PS5. That extra $100 is enough for nearly two full-priced games, or could be invested in extra controllers or other accessories. Plus, we live in economically uncertain times, where even the thought of buying a new console might be a lot for people to process, when whole industries have paused and are only now coming back.

I'm not one to argue with statistics, which back up the hordes of folks who will likely opt for the PS5 Digital Edition. Statista reports that in 2018, "a record 83 percent of all computer and video games were sold in digital form."

Going further into gazing at optical media's tombstone, a 2019 report showed that DVD sales dropped more than 86 percent since 2008. That almost renders the PS5's ability to play 4K Ultra-HD Blu Rays and DVDs pointless.

Why you should buy the PS5 with disc drive

(Image credit: Sony)

Not to be a contrarian, but I'm of the belief that I'll want to own a physical copy when a movie or video game is really important to me. 

Right now, in the age of social distance and delayed shipments, I've been OK with buying digital first. I'd rather start a game soon than wait. (I say this having missed out on all the Animal Crossing: New Horizons hype — I should've bought day one.)

At the same time, in the age of streaming, it makes sense to buy optical media for movies that you want to own forever. First of all, the Movies Anywhere program means that most Blu-ray purchases come with codes for digital copies, that work across all platforms. 

And while a digital purchase should give you a license to stream the movie online forever, the legal fine print can always change that around. Plus, most streaming devices don't have a capacious enough hard drive to keep every movie saved locally — if the apps you use even allow for downloads. Instead, relying on digital purchases in turn forces you to rely on your internet provider for quality download speeds. 

If I sound like am a hoarder, that's probably an accurate read on me. But tell me you've never felt the pain of trying to find a show or movie that isn't available to stream. My colleague Marshall Honorof has recently been telling me about how much of a pain it is to find David Attenborough's nature documentary series, The Life of Mammals, which is seemingly being lost to the digital ether, only preserved online in grainy and illegal means.

You also stand a better chance to save on game purchases by being able to play discs as well as digital copies, potentially resulting in a scenario where a $499 PS5 with a disc drive pays for that $100 premium itself, over time. After all, the more potential vendors to purchase from — whether secondhand or not — the more opportunities there are to save. Come Black Friday and the holiday season, we still expect to see physical-only deals for some titles, and there's no indication that's going away anytime soon.

(Image credit: Sony)

And then there's the other reason why I'm not buying the digital edition: the PS5's backwards compatibility. We don't know how much of the PS4 library will be supported by the PS5 (my colleague Adam Ismail argues that both Sony and Microsoft's definition of 'backwards compatible' hasn't proven to be great), but any backwards compatibility is better than none. If you happen to have a large library of physical PS4 games, you won't be able to play any of them on your disc drive-free PS5 Digital Edition.

That means if you have any desire to carry your PlayStation collection with you, you pretty much have to go with the pricier PS5. Ditto for games coming out cross-gen, as the PS5 supports free upgrades for titles like DIRT 5, that are coming out on PS4 as well as PS5, but only if you own the disc for the PS4 version.

There are currently 23 PS4 games, ranging from Control to Doom Eternal and NBA 2K21, confirmed to support free upgrades on Sony's upcoming system. These games will be enhanced on PS5, but the only way to play them on PS5 without having to buy them again is to copy their discs to your PS5's hard drive. And the only way to do that is to have a PS5 with a disc drive in the first place.

Besides, with each major console and more than a few streaming boxes, I'd like to retire my PS4 once the PS5 arrives — and I can't feel great doing that if I'm also shelving dozens of optical PS4 games. Many of those titles I still have a ways to go in, such as the still-difficult Tetris Effect.

Why you should buy the PS5 Digital Edition

All that being said, I can't help but think about how much time and effort I spent trying to fix my PS4's eject button, which used to randomly spit out discs. The more moving parts in a piece of hardware, the higher chance of something breaking.

If you're trying to reduce the amount of possible upkeep, the best advice we can give is to get the PS5 Digital Edition. But don't expect the PS5 Digital Edition to be worry free. Many an Xbox 360 owner can tell you about the "Red Ring of Death" — and that had nothing to do with its disc drive.

Ultimately, the PS5 Digital Edition will likely be the cheapest PS5 you can get, and is a good fit for gamers who mainly buy digital and don't have a stack of physical PS4 games lying around. But keep in mind the pros of having a disc drive before you decide.

Henry is a senior editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past six-plus years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.