The end of 2020 is set to be an exciting time for the gaming world, as Sony’s PS5 and Microsoft's Xbox Series X next-generation consoles will make their debut. And that'll raise the difficult question of which one to choose.
Microsoft’s original Xbox was my second-ever console after Nintendo’s N64, so I’ve long been a fan of Redmond’s hardware. However, I’ve mostly been platform agnostic when it comes to picking a console. This is partially because the PC is my primary gaming system, with the consoles being more for exclusives. They're also a way to add smart features to dumb TVs, and double as Blu-ray players.
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After the original Xbox, I went for the Xbox 360, but only because I bought it secondhand for a mere £50. Shortly afterward, I bought a PS3, mostly for The Last of Us. For the current generation, I got the PS4 first due to its better initial performance. But a couple of years later, I bought the Xbox One X, mostly to play Red Dead Redemption 2 in 4K at 30 fps.
Now, the hype for the next-gen consoles is gearing up. And I’m leaning toward Team Xbox.
Xbox Series X wins on specs
Out of the (ahem) box, the Xbox Series X wins on power, offering 12 teraflops of computing power over the 10.28 teraflops of Sony’s PS5. My colleague Marshall Honorof expressed his preference for the PS5 over the Xbox Series X, noting his choice has nothing to do with power.
I’m the opposite. I want the most powerful console, because ultimately it means more headroom later down the line for games to really push the boundaries of what’s possible for the console generation. We saw that with the PS3 in its last year. More recently, the Xbox One X give us a taste of what native 4K gaming on a console can look and feel like.
I really want to see games running in 4K resolution at 60 fps, at least, with well-realised HDR on top. Achieving those benchmarks can put a very expensive high-end gaming PC through its paces, so I’d favour the more powerful console to do 4K gaming justice.
A better ecosystem: Xbox Game Pass, xCloud and more
But power is just one part of the Xbox Series X's appeal, in my opinion. The major reason I think the Series X will come out on top comes down to the ecosystem that Microsoft has created around its gaming arm.
For starters, the Xbox Game Pass service, which involves paying a recurring fee for access to a whole range of first- and third-party games, now applies to PC games as well, provided you have the "Ultimate" pass. This means I can play Halo: The Master Chief Collection on my Xbox One X from the comfortable position of lounging on my sofa. But when I want to game with a mouse and keyboard (the best way), I can pick up where I left off on my PC.
It’s a neat trick that only Microsoft can really pull off, thanks to Windows 10. But this is set to extend even further with the company’s Project xCloud game-streaming service.
Project xCloud is currently in a beta version that allows you to stream games to an Android phone via Wi-Fi or mobile broadband connections. In its final form, this service would allow me to do the same Halo gaming scenario, but on my phone, provided that I have an Xbox wireless controller handy.
Eventually, Project xCloud will come with the ability to stream games directly from an Xbox, using the console as a private server. In effect, Project xCloud can turn phones into handheld Xbox consoles, which isn’t something PlayStation can do to the same degree. Sony's streaming support is pretty basic, offering only direct PS4 streaming over Wi-fi for smartphones, and PlayStation Now is limited to streaming a smallish collection of games to PS4 consoles or Windows 10 machines.
Combined with the mature and robust Xbox Live platform, with its excellent social tools and cloud saves, Project xCloud could be a very slick partner to the Xbox Series X once it gets out of beta.
The Xbox ecosystem also includes the Xbox Series X’s backwards compatibility. While it won’t cover every Xbox game ever, this feature looks likely to support a whole range of games, potentially dating back to the original Xbox. Given how the Xbox One X enhances older games, I’d expect the Series X to do the same, but better. And the process of getting old games up and running on the Xbox Series X seems a lot easier and more effective than what we’ve heard so far from the PlayStation camp.
Microsoft also seems to have learnt from the mistakes it made with the Xbox One’s initial launch, and appears to have focused on delivering a games-centric console with the Series X. This contrasts with its plans last generation to launch the Xbox One as a multimedia platform.
A superior design
I doubt many people would call the monolithic rectangle chassis of the Xbox Series X attractive, but a lot of clever silicon and hardware engineering has gone into it. That not only tickles the fancy of hardware geeks like myself, but also shows how the console really could deliver 4K gaming at 60 fps as a standard, thanks to powerful innards supported by clever cooling design.
Unlike Sony with the PS5’s DualSense controller, Microsoft has made only a few minor changes to the Xbox Wireless Controller. The design hasn’t changed all that much since the Xbox 360 controller. But that’s a good thing, as that gamepad had fantastic ergonomics, which Microsoft ran with for the Xbox One, and has honed even further with the Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2.
It’s arguably a small thing, but the feel and familiarity of a controller can really shape one’s console choice. While I really like the PS4’s DualShock 4, it simply isn’t as comfortable in my hands as the Xbox Wireless controller. The controller represents another plus in the Xbox Series X’s column.
What about the games?
The only stumbling block in my choice would be exclusive games. With Bloodborne, Horizon Zero Dawn, and the sublime God of War, the PS4 trounced the Xbox One for console exclusives.
However, Microsoft has been snapping up games studios, notably Ninja Theory and Obsidian Entertainment, so it’s now in a good position to bring a whole host of exclusives to the Xbox Series X, as well as Xbox on Windows 10. That being said, I expect the PS5 to come with some major heavy-hitting exclusives, including sequels to the aforementioned exclusives, as well as an enhanced version of The Last of Us 2 for the new console.
Honorof rightly pointed out that Xbox exclusives will come to PCs, while PS5 games won’t. As such, not getting an Xbox Series X doesn’t mean you'll lose out on the new Halo. But due to the overarching Xbox ecosystem, I see the Series X as a the TV-centric partner to the PC, rather than the separate platforms they once were.
That’s why my pick for a next-generation consoles leans toward the Xbox Series X. That’s not to say I suggest that everyone rush out to get one the moment it’s released. A lot of your choice will depend on what console you’re familiar with, and if you have the most friends, achievements and so on in either Xbox Live or PSN.
Both next-gen consoles are set to be far more interesting rivals than the PS4 and Xbox One, with Microsoft’s console offering more power, but Sony’s machine touting super-fast storage and an innovative new controller. And with prominent studios under both the Xbox and PlayStation banners, both consoles look poised to push each other to deliver ever better experiences. That's exciting, regardless of your console loyalties.
The inclusion of Xcloud and cloud saves (to play on my PC) is some really good buttercream icing on the top.