Xbox Series X backwards compatibility will blow away PS5

Xbox Series X storage
(Image credit: Xbox)

Microsoft has once again championed the backwards compatibility capabilities of the Xbox Series X, having discussed just how easy it is to play games from older Xbox consoles. 

Xbox Series X program management director Jason Ronald explained, during the latest Inside Xbox episode, that you’ll be able to unplug an external drive containing Xbox One games and plug it into the upcoming Xbox Series X, which will be able to access the games from that drive. There’ll be no need to transfer games or download patches, making the process of back-compatibility trivially easy for gamers. 

“You can easily just take the existing external hard drive that you have, unplug it from your current console, plug it into your Xbox Series X, and all your games are instantly available to you,” Ronald explained. “And you can continue to run all those games directly off that external drive.” 

The latter bit of that is particularly noteworthy, as it means the internal storage of the Xbox Series X, and indeed the 1TB optional expansion drive, can be kept solely for games designed for the next-generation Xbox console.

Given Microsoft has engineered the Xbox Series X to tap into spare SSD storage to augment its power, having more options to keep onboard storage space free is a neat move by Redmond’s console engineers.  

Backwards compatibility has been championed as an ace in the hole for the Xbox Series X, over Sony's PS5. That’s because when next-generation consoles launch they tend to only have a handful of new games to run on them.

Both the Xbox Series X and PS5 are set to arrive ‘Holiday 2020’, meaning they should be out in time for Xmas. As such, they could launch with but a few games to keep early-adopters of the consoles amused over the holiday period. But having back-compatibility, the Xbox Series X automatically comes with a very healthy library of games, which would go some way to counterbalance a small selection of launch titles. 

And if the backwards compatibility capabilities of the Xbox One X are anything to go by, the Xbox Series X should be able to up-mix older games from lower 720p and 1080p resolutions into 4K and perhaps even 8K in some circumstances, as well as potentially adding in up-mixed HDR.

That's not to say the PS5 is without any backwards compatibility; it will be able to run select PS4 games. But they will need to be installed either to the console's SSD or to external storage, and will need to be downloaded or installed from a disk. 

While the PS5 will run PS4 games in a 'boost mode' to help increase their framerates, there could be incompatibility issues with some titles, meaning they won't be able to tap into the console's power. 

In short, wider backwards compatibility and what would appear to be an easy plug 'n' play feature, is looking like the Xbox Series X will come out on top when it comes to playing older games. 

All that being said, we know more about the Xbox Series X than the PS5. Microsoft has been the first to reveal the final design of its next-generation console, while so far Sony has only shown us the PS5 Dual Sense controller. So that means things could change on the backwards compatibility front as Sony starts to reveal more about its next games console. 

Roland Moore-Colyer

Roland Moore-Colyer a Managing Editor at Tom’s Guide with a focus on news, features and opinion articles. He often writes about gaming, phones, laptops and other bits of hardware; he’s also got an interest in cars. When not at his desk Roland can be found wandering around London, often with a look of curiosity on his face. 

  • Dave81j6
    Having a 4TB external over half full.

    Yes, I will definitely appreciate this. Another consumer-friendly decision by MSFT.