The perpetual war between Microsoft and Sony is about to reach another inflection point now that next-generation game consoles are on the horizon. Sony fired the first shots when it revealed official specs for its next-generation console, or what will likely be called PlayStation 5. Microsoft retaliated at E3 2019 with the official unveiling of Project Scarlett, the unnamed successor to the Xbox One.
There's still a lot we don't know about these consoles, but that doesn't mean we can't take an early look to see how these fierce rivals are shaping up. Here is how Xbox Project Scarlett and the PlayStation 5 compare so far, and which console we'd buy today.
|Xbox Project Scarlett||PlayStation 5|
|Release Date||Holiday 2020||TBD|
|Launch games||Halo Infinite||TBD|
|CPU||AMD Zen 2 (Custom)||3rd-Gen AMD Ryzen (8 core)|
|GPU||Supports Ray Tracing*||AMD Radeon Navi|
|Resolution and Refresh Rate||Up to 8K||Up to 8K, 120hz refresh rate|
|Frame Rates||Up to 120 fps||N/A|
|Backward Compatibility||Yes (Xbox One , Xbox 360, Xbox)||Yes (PS4)|
Pricing and release date
We don't know much about the pricing and availability of either console. However, we do know that the next-generation Xbox will arrive holiday 2020, which will likely be in either November or December of next year. Sony hasn't confirmed availability for the PS5, but we expect the console to be released around the same time.
Pricing will undoubtedly play a role in the commercial and critical success of each of these consoles. Unfortunately, we don't have any concrete info to go off of just yet, though some analysts predict the consoles will sell for around $500. However, Xbox head Phil Spencer said in an interview with Gamespot that President Trump's proposed 25% tariff on Chinese electronics could complicate things (Nintendo moved production to Southeast Asia to avoid the fees).
While we don't have the full specs of these consoles, the info we do have suggests they'll pack similar components.
Sony confirmed that the next-generation PlayStation would be powered by a CPU based on AMD's third-gen eight-core, 7-nanometer Ryzen processor. The company didn't provide a specific model. Microsoft said the next Xbox would also run on an AMD CPU based on the same Zen 2 architecture that powers 3rd-Gen Ryzen CPUs, but that the chip would be custom.
For graphics, the PS5 will have a GPU based on AMD's Radeon Navi with support for ray tracing. We don't know much about the GPU in the next Xbox except that it will also support ray tracing.
We also know that Microsoft will use GDDR6 RAM, which should be a relief to Xbox gamers after the software giant chose slower bandwidth DDR3 RAM in the Xbox One over the faster GDDR5 memory found in the PS4.
The upcoming Xbox and PlayStation consoles will both come with SSDs, though we don't know what type or how much storage will be offered.
Graphics and performance
We're still patiently waiting for the first next-gen gameplay trailers, but until then, some confirmed figures bode well for those who care about graphics.
Both Microsoft and Sony confirmed that their consoles will support 8K resolution gaming. That might seem like overkill considering 4K monitors and TVs have only recently penetrated the market, but a future of 8K panels is inevitable.
Games should also play much smoother on these new consoles. Project Scarlett will support up to 120 frames per second while Sony confirmed 4K gaming at 120Hz refresh rate. It's important to be careful of the phrasing here: the consoles can support up to 8K resolution and up to 120fps, but that doesn't mean you'll be playing an 8K game at 120fps.
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Both consoles will also support ray tracing, an exciting graphics rendering technique that makes lighting and reflections look practically photorealistic. We've seen the technology slowly blossom after Nvidia brought it to its new RTX GPUs, and we can expect more games to use the technique in the future.
Regarding performance, the most significant upgrade coming to these consoles is superfast storage. With the adoption of SSDs, the next Xbox and PlayStation will have blistering fast download speeds and load times.
Sony's Mark Cerny demonstrated to Wired how a fast-travel sequence in Spider-Man that takes 15 seconds on a PS4 Pro would take just 0.8 seconds on the new machine. On team Xbox, Microsoft said it would use a custom SSD that promises 40x performance increase over previous consoles with virtually no load times. That storage drive can also be used as virtual RAM to speed up data access while you're gaming.
Speaking of RAM, Microsoft claims that the GDDR6 memory it's using will “usher in resolution and framerates we’ve never seen before.”
Because they both run on AMD's third-gen Ryzen CPUs, we expect the PlayStation 5 and Project Scarlett to offer similar processing performance. Microsoft will use a custom chip, though it's unclear what improvements will be made to it. The company said the next-gen Xbox will be "four times the power" of the Xbox One X, the newest and most powerful console on the market today.
Games and backward compatibility
The highly anticipated and long-awaited Halo Infinite will be a launch title for the next-generation Xbox. That Xbox-exclusive game alone has enough weight to get people to choose green over blue, though its worth noting that Infinite will also come to Xbox One and PC. While we haven't seen any gameplay, a cinematic trailer for Halo Infinite has us begging for more time with Master Chief.
Sony has yet to confirm any launch title for the PlayStation 5, so we can only speculate as to what games will release alongside the next-gen console. The Last of Us Part II and Death Stranding (which hits PS4 this November) are a few that come to mind, as well as sequels to Horizon Zero Dawn, Spider-Man and God of War.
Sony confirmed that the PS5 will be backward compatible with PS4 games, but the verdict is out on whether it'll support older-generation PlayStation games.
Features and subscriptions
If virtual reality is the future of gaming, then Sony is way ahead in this console war. PlayStation VR was released in 2016 and now supports more than 200 games. The current PSVR headset was confirmed to be compatible with the PS5, and a new version of the accessory could be on its way.
Microsoft put its own in-house gaming headset on hold until new technology like wireless connectivity became more feasible. Microsoft has not yet announced support for virtual reality on Project Scarlett, and though VR is still pretty niche, the company would be remiss to wait another console generation before entering the growing space.
While Sony has the clear-cut lead in VR, one could argue that Microsoft has a better gaming subscription service in Xbox Game Pass. Now with Game Pass Ultimate, Microsoft has combined Game Pass ($10/month) with Xbox Live ($10/month) and Game Pass for PC ($10/month) so you can get online multiplayer and access to more than 100 games for $15 a month.
Microsoft is also getting into cloud gaming with Project xCloud, a service that will let you stream Xbox One games from your phone or tablet. Xbox owners can use their consoles as a server to stream any Xbox game they own or they can borrow Microsoft's powerful data centers. Microsoft hasn't announced pricing options or how it will tie into Project Scarlett.
PlayStation Now is Sony's version of Game Pass, and while it has improved over the years, there are a few things that hold it back. For example, you can't download games, which means you're at the mercy of your Wi-Fi connection to stream them, and the service is fairly pricey.
Sony hasn't laid out its plans for subscription-based gaming for the PlayStation 5. The company could either keep PS Now as a competitor to both Game Pass and xCloud or create a new service. Interestingly, Sony and Microsoft announced a partnership earlier this year in which the companies will leverage the Azure cloud for gaming. This joint effort could lead to an entirely new platform designed to compete with Google Stadia.
If you prefer a physical format over digital downloads or cloud streaming, don't worry: both consoles will have disk drives. And if you're an audiophile, Sony has the edge for now because the PS5 was confirmed to come with a custom 3D audio unit within its AMD CPU.
The core components of the PS5 and next-gen Xbox will be nearly identical when they launch late next year. Both will be powered by AMD CPUs, support ray tracing and offer faster load times thanks to custom SSDs. The differentiating factors will be launch titles, of which we know few (though Xbox gets a big boost from Halo), and the services and subscriptions each platform offers.
It's too early to name which console has the lead, but we'll be updating this article as we learn more, so check back in for more analysis.
Credit: Tom's Guide