The new PlayStation 5 arrives seven years after the release of the original PlayStation 4 console in 2013. Although Sony launched the PlayStation 4 Pro in 2016, the Pro was a mid-cycle refresh focusing on targeting higher resolutions rather than a full generational upgrade.
The PlayStation 5, however, is more of what you’d expect from a next-generation console. It is more powerful, yes, but it also features fast flash storage, improved connectivity, a brand new UI, a new controller, a new set of accessories, and support for a new generation of games that can take advantage of all its features. Meanwhile, the PS5 remains backward compatible with existing PS4 titles, which should run better than ever on the new hardware.
In this review, I will look at the features and the performance of the PlayStation 5, and how it compares to its extremely successful predecessor. As someone who has owned every PlayStation home console since the PlayStation 2, I have been looking forward to this for quite some time now and Sony India, who launched the console in India just this week, was kind enough to lend us one for a few days before launch. Let’s see how the new PlayStation 5 stacks up.
The PlayStation designs have always been fairly conservative, featuring simple geometric lines and primarily a black color scheme. With the PlayStation 5, Sony has gone in the opposite direction, with a much more striking appearance that is sure to spark some debate.
The PlayStation 5 has a sandwich layout consisting of two large removable panels around the main body of the console. The panels act as an exoskeleton for the console and also have convenient gaps for the cooling system to pull in fresh air.
Our review unit was the standard edition, which includes a UHD Blu-ray drive for games and media. The disc drive isn’t neatly integrated into the design and just bulges out the right side of the console in a somewhat unsightly manner. Designing it this way allows Sony to swap out just a handful of parts to make the Digital Edition, which makes the manufacturing process simpler. If you prefer a more symmetrical design, you may want to consider the Digital Edition.
One interesting detail about the side panels is that the inner portion that is visible when the panels are closed feature a pattern made out of the PlayStation square-triangle-circle-cross icons. The pattern is extremely fine and can only be noticed when seen up close.
Moving on to the sandwiched part in the middle, Sony has opted for a glossy black plastic strip to cover the entire portion visible when the panels are closed. On the front of the console is a USB-A 2.0 port along with a USB-C 3.1 10Gbps port. You also have two buttons, one for power and one to eject the disc.
As you move towards the top of the console (assuming it is placed in vertical orientation) you find the LED lighting and the input vents. The lighting is courtesy of two LED strips on either side of the black strip that bounce colored light off the insides of the side panels. The lighting is similar to that on the PlayStation 4; blue for when the console is powering on, white when it is on, and orange when it is in rest mode.
On the back of the console are two USB-A 3.1 10Gbps ports, one HDMI 2.1 port, one gigabit Ethernet port, a power connector for the internal power supply, and on the opposite edge a Kensington lock switch. As with the PlayStation 4 Pro and updated PlayStation 4 models, the PlayStation 5 does not have a TOSLINK connector. While this interface does not support uncompressed surround sound, it is still great to have for connecting inexpensive speakers without having to invest in an AV receiver, so it’s disappointing that it was left out.
The PlayStation 5 can be placed in a vertical or horizontal orientation. In the past, the vertical orientation required an optional base that needed to be purchased separately. The PlayStation 5 is the first Sony console that requires a base regardless of how you place it, so it comes with the base as part of the package.
Attaching the base in horizontal orientation is easy; you just slide the base on as is on the back edge of the console using the two clips. The shape of the base perfectly fits the contours of the side panels to create a flat side. The contours otherwise make the PlayStation 5 totally unstable when placed sideways without a base.
For vertical orientation, you first need to twist the base, which shifts its design to match the contours of the bottom of the console. Twisting it also reveals a hidden compartment inside the base that holds a single screw that will attach it to the console. The hole on the console where the screw attaches has a dust cap, which can then be placed securely inside its own slot in the hidden compartment of the base.
The PlayStation 5 can be made to stand on its own vertically without the base but this does make the console potentially unstable. After attaching the base, which takes just a minute or so, it’s nearly impossible to topple it over without using force and intent.
Compared to the base you had to purchase for previous PlayStation consoles, the one you get with the PlayStation 5 has significantly more engineering effort put into it. It’s debatable, however, whether Sony needed this level of complexity at all and if they could have just designed the console to be placed in any orientation without a base, like the Xbox Series X or the original PlayStation 3 revision.
Removing the side panels is fairly simple. You lift it up on the top corner of the panel and then slide it downwards. The main reason to remove the panels would be to vacuum the insides. Sony has designed the ventilation path in a way where there are deliberate spots for the dust to accumulate. These spots also have convenient holes on top of them so you can just place your vacuum over them to pull as much of the dust out as possible. This doesn’t mean no dust gets into the rest of the cooling system at all or that it won’t eventually get clogged up. It just signifi antly delays that from happening, especially if you clean regularly. With the previous consoles, you had no such option.
Inside the side panels
The other reason to remove the side panel would be to find the M.2 SSD slot underneath the right panel. The slot cover has a pretty unique screw that has all four of the PlayStation controller icons on it.
In terms of the overall durability and build quality of the design, the unit does feel overwhelmingly plasticky, which isn’t surprising considering its cost. Having a gap between the main body of the console and the outer panels also makes it feel a bit hollow. I’m also not fond of the glossy black plastic covering the middle portion of the design. It attracts dust and smudges and gets very easily scratched when you try to wipe it. However, these are all aesthetic issues and I don’t foresee any of them hampering the functionality of the console.
I do feel, however, that placing the console vertically will invite dust to fall straight into the vents. When the console is not in use, dust can easily settle inside the open area of the vent and then get sucked in when it is powered on. When placed horizontally, the vents are still open to the air but falling dust can no longer settle directly inside the vent since it is now covered by the side panels. In the long run, this may have an impact on the durability of the console and I would recommend keeping the console horizontally if you live in a dusty environment.
The PlayStation 5 comes with the new DualSense controller, which is the most significant upgrade to a controller that we have seen yet on a PlayStation console.
Like the console, the DualSense controller moves away from the all-black design and towards a primarily white color with black accents. There will undoubtedly be more color options later on but for now, this is the only option available.
Right off the bat, the DualSense feels heavier and more substantial in hand compared to the DualShock 4. The DualShock 4 always felt a bit small in my hands, so the chunkier feel of the DualSense feels like a welcome upgrade to me but those with smaller hands may disagree. Another point of contention would be the weight. While I don’t mind the added weight on the DualSense while using it, every time I go back to the DualShock 4 I get a sense of relief from using the more lightweight controller.
A major change with the DualSense is the updated shoulder buttons. The L1 and R1 buttons have similar functionality as before but have a much larger surface and a nicer-feeling actuation.
The L2 and R2 buttons, however, have seen some major upgrades. The controller can now dial in additional tension to the secondary shoulder buttons using motors placed behind the switches. The motors can progressively increase or decrease the amount of tension the player feels while pulling the buttons. The motors can also cause the buttons to pulse and thrum to match the events on screen.
However, the pièce de résistance of the DualSense are the two new haptic motors that replace the older rumble system. The DualSense uses voice coil actuators instead of the eccentric rotating mass motors found on most controllers, including all the DualShock models. The new system suspends weights using voice coils within an electromagnetic field and the weight can freely move up and down, producing the vibrations. This system can produce precise vibrations and have an instant start/stop, unlike the rotating weights that have a spin-up/down time and a generic rumble.
This means that the controller can now produce a much wider variety of vibrations and sensations that more accurately mimic the events on screen. It does, however, work best when games are specifically designed for it, and not so much when reproducing the more generic rumble for PlayStation 4 games. More on this later.
Among the other new features, the DualSense also includes a microphone that lets you use voice chat in games even without a headset or use your voice for dictation in search fields. A mute button just above the microphone can keep the mic off for you until you need it. When the mic is on, the controller will reduce vibrations so they don’t get picked up by the mic.
The new controller also features updated Share and Menu buttons. The Share button has been renamed to Create but it does mostly the same things as before. The good news is that both the buttons are now much easier to press unlike their flush counterparts on the DualShock 4. The Menu button is even more raised than the Create button and feels nice and tactile. The buttons are actually smaller than before but the more raised, distinct design still makes them vastly better to use.
DualSense also includes an updated speaker, which can produce richer and fuller sounds than the one on the DualShock 4. The controller also features updated lighting around the trackpad, which works similar to the way it did on the DualShock 4 but is now easier to see. There’s also a USB-C port on the back for charging or using the controller in wired mode with the PlayStation 5 or a PC.
Among things that haven’t changed much, the touchpad is basically the same as the one on the DualShock 4. It’s disappointing to see Sony once again waste so much space on this gimmick, considering it was pretty much a failure on the PlayStation 4. I can count on one hand the number of times games made meaningful use of the touch functionality and most just used it as a giant button. Outside of games, it is mostly just a very imprecise tool to input text on the on-screen keyboard. I know it’s a feature unique to PlayStation but considering developers barely used it during the entire lifetime of the PlayStation 4, maybe Sony should have taken the hint and dropped it on the DualSense and used the space for something else.
DualSense vs DualShock 4
Other things that haven’t changed much are the d-pad and the action buttons. They look different now, with a clear, glossy finish and gray instead of colored icons, but they feel pretty much the same as the ones on the DualShock 4. The joysticks also feel mostly identical to those on the DualShock 4 but they now get even more in the way of the PS home button because it has been made smaller and moved upwards to make space for the mic.
The DualSense also features the PlayStation icon pattern on the back. However, the pattern is extremely small and the controller still feels a bit slippery at times. Moreover, the pattern on the back tends to collect dirt from your fingers and my unit had light stains on it after just a day of use. It’s not something that can’t be wiped off with a wet cloth but being a white controller this is just another thing you now have to worry about.
Overall, I can live with the increased weight, the useless touchpad taking up valuable space, the difficult to press home button, and the slippery and dirt magnet print on the back because the new haptics and the adaptive triggers are actual game-changing features and represent a significant leap forward not just over the previous generation PlayStation controllers but over all the other controllers out there. However, all the fancy new tech packed in there does cause one new problem, battery life.
The battery life on the DualSense is just bad. On a game that makes use of the haptics, the adaptive triggers, the accelerometer, and other features, you can drain a fully charged battery in about 4-5 hours. The first time it happened to me I thought I had forgotten to charge it. But then it happened again and again. In two days I had charged the controller thrice.
With the DualShock 4, the battery being low was a surprisingly rare event as it seemingly went on forever. Unfortunately, that’s no longer the case. It is possible to make the DualSense last longer by disabling most of the features that set it apart from older controllers but at that point you’re just using a regular old controller, that too without vibrations. Alternatively, you can use the controller in wired mode but that restricts your movement and you will have to sit fairly close to the console.
As an aside, I also tried the DualSense with a Windows 10 PC. It works fine over USB and you can also use the headphone jack and microphone on the controller this way. It also works over Bluetooth as usual but you can’t use the audio stuff. Unfortunately, PS controller support is still poor on PC, with only Steam games being able to even recognize it after you toggle a feature through Steam, and even then they will just show you Xbox icons. Other games will just pretend you don’t have a controller attached. As such, I wouldn’t recommend buying a DualShock for using it with a PC. Stick to the Xbox One controller for now.
Like the PlayStation 4 before it, the PlayStation 5 uses custom-designed AMD hardware for its CPU and GPU. The CPU is based on the AMD Zen 2 architecture and has 8-cores and 16-threads with a variable clock speed up to 3.5GHz. The GPU is based on the AMD RDNA 2 architecture with 36 compute units and a variable frequency up to 2.23GHz, giving it a floating-point performance of 10.3 teraflops.
The unique thing about the PlayStation 5 design is that unlike normal systems where the clock speed is constant and the power consumption varies based on load (thus varying the heat output), the PlayStation 5 runs at a constant power limit and varies the frequency based on load, choosing to run at the maximum frequency most of the time and lowering it slightly under extremely demanding situations. This creates a constant power load in games so you won’t hear the fan ramp up and down much on the new console.
The hardware also supports real-time ray tracing. The ray tracing is done on the compute units themselves using what Sony calls an intersection engine, which calculates the intersection of rays with geometry within the game’s BVH structure. This is the same approach used on the new Xbox consoles and AMD’s desktop graphics cards and different from the dedicated ray-tracing hardware that NVIDIA uses on its graphics cards.
The PlayStation 5 is fully backward compatible with PlayStation 4 software, meaning almost the entire library of PlayStation 4 titles will work on the PlayStation 5 without requiring any updates, although the developers can choose to include additional features if they want to. More on this later.
In terms of connectivity, the PlayStation 5 has four USB ports for plugging in accessories and external storage peripherals. Network connectivity has been bolstered with the addition of Wi-Fi 802.11ax, otherwise known as Wi-Fi 6, in addition to the standard gigabit Ethernet.
The PlayStation 5 also includes a single HDMI 2.1 output. This allows the console to output up to 4K at 120Hz or theoretically 8K at 60Hz. I say theoretically because even though Sony has claimed 8K support in the past and the console even ships with the 8K logo on the packaging, the 8K support hasn’t yet been enabled so the maximum resolution supported for now is 4K.
The HDMI 2.1 port on the PlayStation 5 is capped at a maximum bandwidth of 32Gbps at the time of writing, as was discovered by HDTV Test. This is a downgrade from the full 48Gbps bandwidth supported by the HDMI 2.1 standard and also the 40Gbps supported by the Xbox Series X. When the bandwidth is reduced, the source device has to compromise on either the resolution, refresh rate, bit-depth, chroma information, or more than one of those. In the case of the PlayStation 5, the console sacrifices chroma information when running at its maximum 4K 120Hz 12-bit output by downgrading from a full 4:4:4 RGB chroma to 4:2:2 subsampling. You can read more about chroma subsampling here.
Sony’s HDMI output also has other limitations for the moment. There is no variable refresh rate (VRR) support, which means the display cannot adjust its refresh rate based on the console frame rate even if the display supports VRR, which can cause screen tearing if the game uses an unlocked frame rate. Like 8K, Sony has said the feature will arrive sometime in the future without committing to a date.
The PlayStation 5 also does not support ALLM or auto low latency mode. ALLM tells your TV that a game console is plugged in and then if the TV also supports ALLM, it will automatically switch to its lowest latency picture profile, usually labeled Game Mode. With the PlayStation 5, the user will have to manually switch over to the Game Mode on their television, which some owners may not know about, and end up playing at a higher latency preset.
The PlayStation 5 also lacks 1440p output. While this resolution is not used on televisions, 1440p monitors are a popular choice these days and getting increasingly common. Depending upon what your 1440p monitor can accept, you will be stuck outputting 1080p or directly 4K. The latter situation isn’t so bad but unless your monitor also supports HDMI 2.1, you will have to drop down to 1080p for 120Hz output. A 1440p 120Hz mode would have been nice.
Making things worse for display output is the ham-fisted approach to implementing HDR. On the PlayStation 4, HDR could either be set to Auto or off. When set to Auto, it would automatically kick in any time a game supported HDR. On the PlayStation 5, HDR can either be set to always on (if your display supports it) or always off. This means when HDR is set to on, the console is always outputting everything in HDR, including its homescreen UI and built-in apps, when connected to an HDR TV.
This is a rather poor way of handling HDR, as it results in non-HDR content having to be converted to HDR on the fly and the results aren’t always guaranteed to look correct. Moreover, pushing out HDR all the time can also cause your TV to switch into high brightness mode, which would be totally unnecessary for all the times you won’t be looking at actual HDR content. It can also cause OLED TVs to degrade faster, especially if you leave them on the homescreen for too long.
The handling of 120Hz is done in a similarly clumsy manner. Instead of having a simple toggle for 60Hz or 120Hz in the display settings, the PlayStation 5 lets you set a preference for games to either force a resolution mode or performance mode. Then it’s up to the game developer to honor these settings. Some games like Call of Duty: Cold War do use this setting and require you to go into the PS5 display settings to manually switch over to 120Hz, which necessitates restarting the game. Others like Devil May Cry 5 Special Edition do the sane thing, ignoring Sony’s setting and letting the user switch modes from within the game without restarting.
The standard edition of the PlayStation 5 includes a UHD Blu-ray disc drive, which can accept standard Blu-ray discs for PlayStation 4 games and HD movies as well as UHD discs for PlayStation 5 games and UHD movies. Unfortunately, even though Sony has gone to great lengths to reduce the noise of the cooling system, the disc drive on the PlayStation 5 continues to be incredibly loud, which is only accentuated by the fact that the rest of the console is practically inaudible. If you are not wearing headphones, you will almost always hear the disc drive spinning up, which it tends to do every now and then even if you aren’t actually using the disc actively.
The PlayStation 5 represents the biggest leap forward in terms of storage performance for a PlayStation console. Sony pretty much went from the slowest possible storage available on the market to the fastest, which has a significant impact on performance.
The PlayStation 5 no longer uses any mechanical storage drives. Instead, it now uses a bank of integrated flash storage modules, which add up to a total of 825GB. Why 825GB? Sony says the number was naturally derived from its use of 12 channel memory interface and while they could have added more, it would have made the console more expensive. The resultant bandwidth is 5.5GBps, the highest ever for any home console and more than most desktop flash storage drives.
Having a fast drive is only part of the story so Sony also upgraded the entire storage pipeline, starting with a custom memory controller that can handle the 5.5GB of data coming through every second. The flash controller feeds into a custom I/O unit, which has a decompressor for the new Kraken compression algorithm, a dedicated DMA controller, two I/O co-processors, on-chip RAM, and a coherency engine. All of these allow the software to access the full bandwidth of the SSD, unlike on the PlayStation 4, where adding even a fast SSD wouldn’t produce significantly improved results.
Sony is clearly aware that 825GB, of which only 667GB is actually available to the user, won’t be enough for most people, so there are two external storage solutions available on the PlayStation 5. The first is one I already mentioned, which is that of using M.2 SSD drives. Unlike the custom memory modules that Microsoft had to come up with for the Xbox Series consoles, the PlayStation 5 can technically just take standard M.2 SSD sticks to expand its storage.
But there are two catches here. First is that as of this writing, this feature is simply not available. The reason for that is the second catch, wherein you can’t just use any M.2 module on the PlayStation 5. The M.2 solution will allow users to install PlayStation 5 and PlayStation 4 titles on the external drive but because the PlayStation 5 titles are designed for a 5.5GBps SSD, a slow M.2 drive can completely break the game. Because of this, Sony stated last year that it will be testing and certifying drives for use with the console. The drives will have to be PCIe 4.0 as the 3.0 drives just aren’t fast enough and they will need to be of a certain height to fit within the PlayStation 5 M.2 slot. Sony is yet to release its list of compatible drives.
The other external drive solution is to just use USB hard drives and flash drives but this can only be for PlayStation 4 titles. You can store, install, play, and upgrade PlayStation 4 titles directly on external USB storage. PlayStation 5 titles, however, cannot be transferred or run from external USB drives and have to be either on the internal SSD or approved M.2 SSD in the future.
The storage situation on the PlayStation 5 is not ideal. On one hand, the presence of this blazing fast internal SSD is likely to change gaming as we know it in the future. On the other hand, its limited capacity makes it difficult to have more than a handful of games installed.
Even when the M.2 SSD option arrives in the future, the approved drives are likely going to be extremely expensive due to their requirement of high speed. To give you some idea of the current situation, a 2TB Sabrent Rocket 4 PLUS NVMe PCIe Gen 4.0 drive costs $399 on Amazon, with the 1TB model being around $199. These will be cheaper in the future but things don’t look so great right now.
The USB storage solution is also only limited to PlayStation 4 titles. Sony won’t even let you transfer PlayStation 5 titles to a USB drive for archival, which is a massive oversight as it then limits you to having to delete and download games every time instead of just storing them elsewhere and transferring when required.
The PlayStation 5 features a brand new interface design that adds some new features but also removes existing ones.
The new homescreen features two main sections, games and media. The games section has the familiar row of tiles for your most recently played games. The tiles are smaller now and use the extra space below them to show content related to the game. Each game will also show fullscreen game art as well as play a preset audio track from the game when you highlight it.
The rightmost tile is your game library where you can find all the games you own, including those downloaded from the store and those from a physical disc. It will show both PlayStation 5 and PlayStation 4 titles at the same time.
The leftmost tile is the new PlayStation Store. The new store on the PlayStation 5 is no longer a separate app but part of the operating system. This means instant access to the content within the store and it also integrates better with the new UI. The games now show fullscreen artwork when you open their page with a fresh new UI for all the game information. Everything is clearly laid out on a single page without having to dig down further.
The store on the PlayStation 5 will show both PlayStation 5 and PlayStation 4 titles at the same time. The game icons will indicate whether it is for the PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, or both. The ‘both’ part is a bit confusing; some titles, such as Destiny 2, can download and install both versions of the game to the PlayStation 5 for some reason. The game icons will also show a download indicator for games that you have purchased from the store but this indicator is white and if the game tile is also white then the download indicator is nearly invisible.
The games section also houses the PlayStation Plus tile and the media gallery. Like the PlayStation Store, the PlayStation Plus section has now been integrated within the main UI. Here you can see the freely available games in the current month for PlayStation Plus subscribers as well as offers for other games. It’s also where you can access the PS Plus collection, a collection of PlayStation 4 games that are available for free to PlayStation Plus users who purchase the PlayStation 5.
The media gallery works mostly the same way as it did on the PlayStation 4. Here you can see your screenshots and captured video clips. The PlayStation 5 also has a feature where it can automatically take a screenshot and short video clip when you get a new trophy. Unless you are really into that sort of thing, I’d recommend disabling it immediately because it quickly tends to clog up the gallery and also takes up valuable storage space. If you plug in a USB drive with media files, then it will also show up here in the gallery. The media files can be moved between the internal and external drives.
The media section of the homepage has a similar design to the games page. The leftmost tile here has a store where you can download from the select variety of media apps available. The PlayStation 5 supports Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Spotify, Twitch, Crunchyroll, Apple TV+, Disney+, and more. The exact list of available apps will depend on your region. For example, the Disney+ app was not available for me here in India.
Like the game tiles, the media app tiles will also show fullscreen artwork, although there is no audio track associated with them. The rightmost tab will show all the media apps in your library.
The new homescreen experience has one minor issue and one major issue. The minor issue is that there is no longer support for themes, something both the PlayStation 4 and the PlayStation 3 had. However, since the games and apps basically take over the entire screen every time you highlight them, themes probably wouldn’t make much sense since you’d rarely see them.
The major issue is that there is no longer support for folders. All your recently opened apps and games are placed on the homescreen and the rest of them are dumped inside your library folder. I don’t have a huge library of games on PlayStation since I primarily play on PC but for regular console users, having to wade through a metric ton of games or using the search box every time they want to find something is not going to be fun. I don’t see why Sony can’t integrate folders in the new UI and I hope it will reconsider this for future updates.
The Settings section has also seen some redesign. The top-level is still a list of items but it seems to have much fewer things than the considerably longer list on the PlayStation 4. Clicking on most items produces a two-pane design, where you have second-level options on the left and further options on the right. This prevents having to dive back and forth through multiple levels of the UI to check for something and you can just glance at the information on the right without having to dig further down.
The biggest change to the PlayStation 5 over the PlayStation 5 is the addition of the control center. This is a concept we have now been made familiar with through smartphones and computers, and even the Xbox has had for quite some time, so it’s good that Sony has finally caught up with the times.
Pressing the PS home button now opens the control center instead of going home. This took some getting used to, as the muscle memory was just to press the button once to go home. Instead, you now have to press and hold the button to go home. I wish they had given the option to switch this behavior but it’s clear they want you to get used to the new UI and use the control center more.
The control center has two main sections, the row of functions at the bottom and the cards at the top. The function row lets you do things like use the app switcher, check for notifications from games, apps, or your friends, check on your friends, play music through the Spotify integration, check on any pending downloads or uploads, adjust the volume levels for the audio or microphone, check on the controller, change profile, and finally, access the power controls of the console.
This list is customizable to a degree and you can remove some of these items or add new ones. I couldn’t find a way to reorder them, however.
The other thing here and the one taking up the most visual space are the new cards. Cards are really the big new thing for the PlayStation 5 and the thing Sony dedicated almost the entirety of its UI introduction video last year. Games and applications can show you relevant cards that can, for example, let you jump to a particular section in the game. The exact functionality will depend on the developer, and Sony also showcased features that even let you see game tutorials and walkthroughs and have them be pinned on the side as you play the actual game. However, a lot of these features have been placed behind the PlayStation Plus paywall and so may not be accessible to everyone.
In my usage, I rarely found myself using the cards. I only had a handful of PlayStation 5 games and even among those, most didn’t seem to have a lot of useful stuff for me to try. Of course, the potential is there to use this feature in cool ways but in my usage, I didn’t find much use out of this feature.
The improvements to social features are much more useful. It’s super easy now to capture a screenshot or clip and send it over to your friend on the PlayStation network or Twitter. You can also do things like creating a party of people and then share content within that group or even watch one of the members play a game on your system. If the person you are sharing the content with hasn’t reached that point in the game themselves then they will even get a spoiler warning if the game supports the feature.
I wish the sharing stuff also extended to the media apps. There is still no way to be in the YouTube app and quickly share the link to the video you are watching with one of your friends. Same for Netflix, Twitch, or any of the other apps. Of course, the apps themselves will need to add this feature but Sony doesn’t even have any way to embed that functionality yet so it’s more on them than the app developers.
Speaking of apps, the PlayStation 5 still does not support any sort of multitasking beyond just letting you play music in the background. You can’t have more than one game running in the background, and there’s nothing equivalent to the Xbox Quick Resume here. You can’t even have more than one media app in the background. Such limited functionality from what is a fairly powerful computer internally is disappointing.
All things considered, I think the PlayStation 5 software isn’t quite the big leap ahead like the hardware. Aesthetically, it’s definitely an improvement, and I like the inclusion of the control center and built-in PlayStation Store functionality. The Cards stuff has potential and could be a real differentiating factor for the PlayStation in the future even though it feels a bit tame now. But the lack of folder support is really disappointing, as is the complete lack of meaningful multitasking on such a powerful machine. I also find it annoying that they forced you to press and hold the button to go home now and I wish it could be changed. Fortunately, most of the concerns are a software update away from being fixed, assuming Sony is willing to do so.
My testing with the PlayStation 5 was primarily done on a 4K 60Hz HDR TV. I did not have access to a 4K 120Hz HDMI 2.1 TV at the time of testing so to test the 120Hz functionality I plugged the console into a 1080p 240Hz monitor.
The list of games I tested with included a mix of PlayStation 5 and PlayStation 4 titles. In the former category, I had Demon’s Souls, Devil May Cry 5 Special Edition, Astro’s Playroom, Destiny 2, and Fortnite. I also tried the free demo for Resident Evil Village, which is exclusively available on the PlayStation 5 right now. I will talk about the PlayStation 4 titles in the next section.
In terms of visual fidelity, the PlayStation 5 titles are a definite step up over the PlayStation 4 and the PlayStation 4 Pro. First of all, we are getting native 4K, at least as an option, on most of the games that have been released so far. The previous generation consoles couldn’t handle native 4K so developers had to implement other techniques such as checkerboard rendering or image reconstruction from a lower resolution. These can and are still being used on the PlayStation 5 but to a lesser extent.
Games like Demon’s Soul and Astro’s Playroom also have a really high level of detail in their environment with great lighting, shadows, fog, water, and other post-processing effects. The short Resident Evil Village demo also exhibited some wonderful lighting, shadows, and a high level of geometric detail that really helps bring the environment to life. Pushing the values on these effects is always a balancing act, with frame rates, resolution, and render times being inversely affected. But with the nearly 2.5x increase in GPU performance over the PlayStation 4 Pro and a significant increase in CPU performance, the PlayStation 5 can achieve higher quality effects at a higher resolution without sacrificing performance too much.
Perhaps the most demanding effect right now is ray tracing. Among the titles I tested, Devil May Cry 5 Special Edition and the Resident Evil Village demo had ray tracing, specifically for rendering the reflections. DMC5 has to drop its resolution or frame rate to enable ray tracing but it’s optional, so you can choose if the feature is worth the trade-off. RE Village somehow seemed to be running at a native 4K with ray tracing enabled at 60fps but the ray tracing was a lot more subtle in this game and of lower quality. It also exhibited occasional frame drops but this is still an early demo so it’s not worth scrutinizing too much.
Ray-tracing on vs off
Ultimately, the ray tracing implementation will depend on the developer but it’s good to have it as an option. The fact that a $499 console can do real-time ray tracing at all is nothing short of amazing.
The support for 120Hz frame rates is also a great addition. Games like DMC5 SE that support 120Hz look great in action. Running games at higher frame rates reduces motion blur, increases the temporal resolution, and also reduces input latency. I was able to play at 120Hz without any issues on my LG 27GN750 1080p 240Hz monitor.
Running at higher frame rates does expose one of the limitations of playing on a console, which is the controller. Since your movement is still restricted by the inherently clunky joysticks rather than the more precise mouse and keyboard, the benefits of higher refresh rates are felt much less in gameplay than while playing on a PC. Regardless, the 120Hz support is still a nice feature to have. It’s unfortunate that so far only a handful of games support it but I expect more games, especially online multiplayer titles to implement it in the future.
But as nice as the higher resolution, new visual features, and higher frame rates are, by far the most impressive aspect of the PlayStation 5 to me is the fast storage. Watching a new level in DMC5 SE load in one second for the first time was a mind-boggling experience. Other games showcased similarly ridiculous levels of performance; Demon’s Souls and Astro’s Playroom would load new areas with just a few seconds of delay, which didn’t even feel like waiting. In multiplayer games like Fortnite and Destiny 2, I spent more time waiting for the network aspects of the game to load rather than the game itself.
Having storage this fast is going to change game designs as we know it. All games have to take storage speed into consideration for their design as you can only load in so many assets so quickly. With access to storage this fast, you can load things pretty much on demand and have less of it occupying the system memory. You can also change the game itself so that there is no downtime where the player has to walk through a long corridor, squeeze through a gap, or take a lengthy elevator ride to mask the loading of a different area in the game. Level designs can now be more seamless and fast travel can actually be fast.
Another thing that’s equally impressive and game-changing is the new DualSense controller. The new haptic feature works exceptionally well and there is no better game to try it out than Astro’s Playroom, which is basically a really fun tech demo that comes pre-installed on every PlayStation 5.
Playroom showcases DualSense’s ability to recreate the feeling of surface textures. Every time you walk, the game can simulate the feeling of the surface underneath Astro’s feet. Metal, glass, wood, grass, sand, and water all have a distinct sensation, and adding to it are the sound queues you get from the improved built-in speaker. Together, they do a tremendous job of recreating the physical properties of the material in your mind and eventually, you can tell them apart even without looking.
The controller can also do other crazy things, like recreate the sensation of water flowing or sloshing around, the wind blowing over, or the gentle taps of rainfall. The game lets you collect hidden items, which are all previous PlayStation consoles and accessories. The original PlayStation 2 model I collected has an option to slide out the disc tray. The haptics inside the DualSense could precisely and uncannily recreate the physical sensation and sound of a disc tray opening and closing. It’s all very impressive.
The other fantastic addition is the adaptive triggers and once again, Astro’s Playroom is designed to make great use of them. When Astro pulls on a bow, you feel the tension of the bow as it tightens. When you are wall-climbing in the robot suit, you feel the individual grab handles have the distinct two-step click every time you grab on. When you use the flying suit with rocket boosters, you feel the thrust every time you pull the triggers. The suit with the bouncy spring creates the bounce of the spring. In each case, the triggers are being aided by the haptics and the sound and they all work in tandem to recreate these physical sensations. It’s difficult to fully convey these in words and you really have to try them out in person to realize just how good they can be.
Astro’s Playroom is a bit of a one-off, in which it really goes all-in on these effects. Most of the other games I tried had a much more conservative approach to using the haptics and adaptive triggers. DMC5 would thrum the L2 button when you use it to rev Nero’s sword. Demon’s Souls had a nice tactile sensation every time you sliced through an enemy. While I wish more games made better use of the haptics features, even when used conservatively it still feels better than any other controller on the market because of how precise and refined the vibrations can be.
I also liked the inclusion of a microphone on the DualSense controller. This lets you use any pair of headphones you want with the controller without having to worry about having a mic built-in. I didn’t use the mic much in gaming but it was quite handy to use for entering text in the search boxes on the PlayStation Store or the YouTube app. The only game where I used the mic in my testing was in Astro’s Playroom, where the game lets you blow on the mic to access some gameplay features.
Lastly, the improvements Sony has made to the cooling design of the PlayStation 5 definitely work. The console is whisper quiet in operation and inaudible over ambient noise even during gameplay. It’s only when I got really close did I hear the fan and also the motor noise.
Unlike PC gaming, backward compatibility is always a concern when upgrading to a new console. It’s also one of those areas where Sony historically hasn’t been great in. The PlayStation 2 was able to play most PlayStation 1 games, which was a good thing and gave hope for the future. However, when the PlayStation 3 arrived, things got a bit messy. Early versions of the console could support PlayStation 1 and PlayStation 2 titles but only because Sony literally put the PlayStation 2 processor inside the PlayStation 3. When this was later removed for cost reasons, the PlayStation 3 backward compatibility was limited to just PlayStation 1 games.
When the PlayStation 4 was released, things took a turn for the worse. A switch to the more standard x86 instruction set meant that the PlayStation 4 wasn’t compatible with any of its predecessors’ games and Sony was basically starting from scratch. Some older games eventually got released as remasters for the PlayStation 4 and others could be played through the cloud-based PlayStation Now services, but that was it.
The PlayStation 5 starts off in a better place. While you still won’t have direct support for PlayStation 1, 2, and 3 games, almost all PlayStation 4 games will be playable on day one without requiring any updates. If you bought them through the PlayStation Store, then they will be in your library to download. If you own them on a disc and have the standard model of the PlayStation 5, then just put the disc in. It just works.
I was curious to see how well the old games worked on this new hardware. First things first, without receiving any update, all PlayStation 4 games would work on the PlayStation 5 as if they were running on a PlayStation 4 Pro. This means they will have the same resolution and frame rate options that they did if they were running on a PlayStation 4 Pro. Backward compatibility doesn’t automatically change those aspects of the software unless they get specific updates to change them. If a game runs at 1440p with a 30fps cap on the PlayStation 4 Pro, then it will run at 1440p with a 30fps cap on the PlayStation 5.
Now that that’s established, let’s look at how the games run on the new consoles. To check the backward compatibility, I tried The Last of Us Part II, Ghost of Tsushima, Gran Turismo Sport, Horizon Zero Dawn, and The Last Guardian. Among these, Ghost of Tsushima is special, because it’s the only one that has been patched to support the PlayStation 5. It’s still a PlayStation 4 game but it can now run at a higher frame rate when it’s running on the new console.
Running these older games on the new console primarily does two things. First, games that had dynamic resolution scaling are now almost permanently locked at their highest value. This can be any value set by the developer for the PlayStation 4 Pro hardware, which in most cases was 1440p, but while the PlayStation 4 Pro could drop below that during demanding scenes, on the PlayStation 5 the resolution remains constant as it can just brute force the rendering.
The second thing is the frame rate. Games with a locked frame rate of 30fps can’t go beyond that but they will now stay absolutely locked at 30fps. This is one of the things I wanted to check with The Last Guardian, a game notorious for dropping below that figure on the previous generation consoles every time you used Trico’s tail to blast through an obstacle. On the PlayStation 5, the frame rate stays locked at 30fps no matter what’s happening on screen.
Some PlayStation 4 games offered an unlocked frame rate or a higher vsync target of 60fps. In these cases, the PlayStation 5 now has enough processing power to run these games at a locked 60fps pretty much all the time while also running them at the highest resolution they support.
But the PlayStation 5 isn’t even remotely close to its limits with many of these PlayStation 4 titles, which is why some of these are now being updated to make better use of the hardware. Ghost of Tsushima could run at 1080p 30fps on the base PlayStation 4 and at 1800p at 30fps on the PlayStation 4 Pro. Before the update, it ran at the same 1800p at 30fps on the PlayStation 5 as well but since the patch, it can now run at 1800p at 60fps.
Of course, a dedicated PlayStation 5 release of this game could support even higher resolutions or additional visual features, as is the case with the Devil May Cry 5 Special Edition, which added ray tracing and higher resolution modes on the new console compared to the standard game on the older consoles. However, that requires more time and effort and a re-release can also means a repurchase, something people are often reluctant of. Ultimately, the decision rests with the developer on whether they want to remaster and re-release old games as new PS5 titles, release a patch for the old games for free to better utilize the new hardware, or just do nothing at all.
Getting back to the gameplay experience, perhaps the most noticeable change brought on by running PlayStation 4 titles on the PlayStation 5 is the massive increase in loading times. While the PlayStation 4 titles aren’t designed to fully leverage the fast storage and memory pipeline of the new console, they can still benefit tremendously from it.
The Last of Us Part II is a game that has seamless transitions while you’re playing but the initial load of the game can take ages on the PlayStation 4 consoles. On the PlayStation 5, it takes a few seconds but before you know it, you are already in the game. A lot of PlayStation 4 titles have transitions or animations to make the wait more bearable. The Last Guardian has a mini-game of sorts, where you keep mashing buttons during loading to pass time, and you do this for quite some time. On the PlayStation 5, the game is done loading by the time you press a couple of buttons. Horizon Zero Dawn is the only game I tried where it felt like the loading took some time. It was still faster than loading on the PlayStation 4 but not by much and the lack of optimization here was evident.
One aspect of backward compatibility that didn’t impress me at all was the haptics support on the DualSense controller. The voice coil actuators inside the DualSense can try to replicate the rumble of the more primitive vibration motors inside the DualShock 4 but they are just not good at it.
First of all, the vibration itself is weak. Even at their strongest setting, the rumble in PlayStation 4 comes across as weak buzzing from the DualSense. Playing the same game by pairing a DualShock 4 with the PlayStation 5 produces a much more satisfactory effect.
Secondly, the effect also didn’t seem to be working correctly. It always produced a standard buzzing regardless of what was happening on screen but for some reason, it was much stronger on the left side than on the right. At first, I assumed it was an issue with my DualSense controller but after looking it up online, other people have the same issue. The vibration is just biased towards the left side.
Now, I know from all the teardowns that the DualShock 4 has a much larger spinning weight on the left side motor than on the right but you don’t actually notice this while playing because of the way they are configured to work. However, the DualSense seemingly has the same actuators on both sides and perhaps the input from the system doesn’t fully take into account the difference in motor sizes between the two controllers and causes the imbalance.
The good thing is, the DualSense has its own firmware that can be updated independently of the console. When I booted the console for the first time, I got a firmware update for the controller separate from the one I got for the console so Sony could patch this in the future. But for now, I would honestly recommend using a DualShock 4 to play PlayStation 4 games on the PlayStation 5 as the DualShock haptics just feel broken at the moment.
Audio is an important part of the gaming presentation and Sony rightfully dedicated a third of the presentation to the audio features during its PlayStation 5 deep dive last year. The PlayStation 5 uses a custom audio solution with dedicated hardware and new software to produce a 3D audio experience for headphones. Sony calls this Tempest 3D AudioTech.
The way this works right now is simple. You toggle an option through the audio settings on the console and all audio sent to headphones gets processed into 3D audio. Since this is meant to be heard over headphones, the option is only available if you plug in headphones through the controller, use a USB DAC/amp, plug in a supported third-party headset or use Sony’s Pulse 3D Wireless Headset.
The 3D audio feature takes into account head-related transfer function or HRTF. Every person has a fairly unique HRTF based on their head and ear shape and that dictates how they hear sounds around them. For 3D audio to work correctly, the HRTF of a person needs to be taken into consideration otherwise the effect won’t work quite as well.
Since it’s not possible to scan everyone’s head and input that data into the system, Sony provides five HRTF presets that you can choose from the audio settings. This plays an audio cue at five different heights and you have to pick one that sounds at ear level to you. That selects an HRTF profile that should roughly match your head and ear structure.
Unfortunately, the 3D audio feature just does not work well for me. Using a pair of headphones through the audio port on the controller, I tried a couple of games that make use of this feature. Compared to listening in a pure stereo mode, 3D audio had slightly better positioning of the sound but it still felt very boxed in around my ears and didn’t quite have the sense of space or soundstage that I was expecting.
Another issue with 3D audio was that it also had a fairly muffled and somewhat compressed sound to it compared to the standard stereo sound. Everything just sounded worse and some things like the center channel dialog were less distinct.
The way the 3D audio is handled is also not ideal. The PlayStation 5 just enables it globally for all audio sources, including games that support or don’t support it, disc-based media, and streaming media. Watching YouTube videos with 3D audio just wasn’t a great experience and having to go back and forth through the settings to turn the effect on and off for things that do and don’t support the feature just gets annoying. Having it come on only for games that support 3D audio would have been the smarter thing to do.
To make things more confusing, none of the games I tried identified as supporting 3D audio. I know from checking online that among the games I tried, Astro’s Playroom and Demon’s Souls seemingly support this feature but nowhere within these games was this made obvious. There is also no logo or notification on screen when you’re listening to proper 3D audio rather than just converted audio.
Overall, Sony’s 3D audio was a giant bust for me. It may be that my HRTF is far from any of the presets the company currently offers, which is why I can’t experience it the way it’s intended. But leaving aside the positioning of the sound, the issues regarding the compressed nature of the audio, the lack of clarity on what content supports the feature, and the clumsy implementation are still issues that will persist regardless of how well the 3D-ness works for you.
In my experience, it’s best to just turn this feature off. A good stereo sound is any day preferable to wonky 3D audio.
The PlayStation 5 supports a handful of popular streaming services through dedicated apps that can be downloaded from the store. If you have the standard edition of the console, you can also playback disc-based media, including UHD Blu-ray, Blu-ray, and DVD. Unfortunately, there are a couple of major drawbacks here, which put a dampener on the PlayStation 5’s usability as a media machine.
The first is the lack of Dolby Vision HDR. The PlayStation 5 supports HDR but only of the vanilla HDR10 variant. While all HDR content is available in at least HDR10, Dolby Vision is fast becoming an alternative with superior image quality. You can read more about the different HDR standards here.
The lack of Dolby Vision instantly makes the PlayStation 5 irrelevant for any videophiles also hoping to use the console as a media player. It’s neither available for media apps nor for UHD Blu-ray discs. Sony has also stayed mum on the topic and my guess is that the PlayStation 5 won’t ever be getting Dolby Vision support.
Further ruining the experience is the aforementioned bungling of the HDR implementation. Having the HDR either be permanently on or permanently off is just a terrible way to handle the feature and a company that literally runs a TV business should know better. It would have been so much simpler to just switch over to HDR any time a game or application required it, similar to the way it was handled on the PlayStation 4. Every other media player does this, including Sony’s Blu-ray players, but somehow the PlayStation department decided to muck this up.
The other bit of annoyance is the lack of Dolby Atmos. Unlike Sony’s gimmicky 3D audio, Dolby Atmos is actually a useful feature with proven results. So far, the only way to get Dolby Atmos audio out of the PlayStation 5 is to play a Blu-ray with an Atmos audio track and set the Blu-ray player’s audio output to bitstream. This causes the console to just send the audio signal without processing it internally and then it’s up to your TV or AV receiver to decode it.
However, this does not work for any of the media streaming apps. Considering a good number of them — including Netflix, Apple TV+, Disney+, and Amazon Prime — do have Atmos content, the inability to output it from the console in any way is just baffling. You also don’t get Atmos support in any of the games but none of the PlayStation games support Atmos anyway so that’s not a big issue. Then again, the games don’t support it because the console doesn’t, so it’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation.
My final bit of grumble regarding the media playback is the lack of HDR from the YouTube app. This, however, is likely entirely YouTube’s fault and this wouldn’t be the first time a YouTube app on a platform doesn’t support a key feature. Hopefully, whoever is responsible fixes it in the future.
For all of these reasons, I cannot recommend purchasing the PlayStation 5 primarily for media playing purposes. The console’s handling of streaming apps is worse than a $50 Fire TV Stick 4K and the lack of Dolby Vision also doesn’t make it a worthwhile UHD Blu-ray player. Anyone investing in UHD Blu-ray discs would be in it for the highest image quality available and the PlayStation 5 simply does not offer that.
The PlayStation 5’s primary competition is the Xbox Series X. Microsoft’s console has a few things going for it, including slightly more powerful hardware, vastly better backward compatibility that goes all the way back to the original Xbox, a bit more storage space, VRR, ALLM, 1440p output, Quick Resume, and Dolby Atmos support for media and games, with Dolby Vision support arriving later this year.
On the other hand, the PlayStation 5 has the excellent DualSense controller and a potentially more affordable storage expansion option in the future through M.2 SSD.
On paper, things don’t look all that good for the PlayStation 5 but as we have seen in the past, the hardware and software differences between the two consoles are often irrelevant as it’s usually the games that decide what people buy and PlayStation has always had a better roster of exclusives to choose from. Also, you can always get Xbox exclusives on the PC but there’s no other place to play PlayStation exclusive titles.
However, one thing strongly in favor of the Xbox these days is Microsoft’s superb Game Pass service. For a few dollars every month, you get a great selection of games at your disposal. Think of it like Netflix, but for games. You can download and play them as much as you want as long as you have the subscription. There is a great list of titles already available, and more keep getting added. For casual gamers, Game Pass is absolutely perfect; the existing library alone will keep you busy for several months, and even at the end of that you’d have spent less on the service than if you purchased a single new game.
Game Pass is particularly excellent for the cheaper $299 Xbox Series S. While not really comparable to the standard PlayStation 5 or even the cheaper Digital Edition due to significantly lower-spec hardware, it is still a great machine for those still playing on a 1080p display. Whether you are buying it for a young member of your house or someone older who is just getting into gaming, an Xbox Series S with a Game Pass subscription is literally the best deal in gaming right now.
Sony doesn’t quite have an answer yet to the Game Pass, let alone the Series S + Game Pass combo. The only hope for a PlayStation buyer is banking on the fact that Sony’s first-party developers will come through in the end, as they have in the past, and deliver an enviable selection of games that are worth paying full price for. Titles like Spider-Man Miles Morales, Demon’s Souls, and Sackboy: A Big Adventure are a good start, and the upcoming Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, God of War: Ragnarok, Horizon Forbidden West, Gran Turismo 7, and Returnal show promise. And with a great selection of existing PlayStation 4 titles, PlayStation 5 buyers will also have plenty to play for years to come.
The PlayStation 5 is a really good update to the venerable PlayStation 4. We get the usual gen on gen hardware upgrades that enable higher quality visuals without having to compromise on performance. This time, however, we also get the long-awaited improvement in loading speed with a blazing fast internal SSD that is likely to change video game design as we know it. Add to it the revolutionary new DualSense controller with its adaptive triggers and upgraded haptics and the PlayStation 5 becomes a no-brainer upgrade for anyone currently playing on the previous models.
However, the console is not without its flaws, and some are too big to ignore. The biggest perhaps is the paltry amount of built-in storage. With games quickly exceeding 100GB of on-disc size, a 600 something gigabyte SSD is simply not sufficient. It may be a fast drive but the rate at which it gets full is even faster.
I am also disappointed by the DualSense controller’s handling of rumble in PlayStation 4 games. The wimpy lopsided buzzing is immersion-breaking and made me reach for my old DualShock 4. This will be less of an issue in the future when you’re likely to just be playing PlayStation 5 titles but right now the existing PlayStation 4 titles are a big part of the PlayStation 5 gaming experience.
The battery life on the DualSense can also be quite poor. Depending on how long you play and what games you’re playing, you can easily drain it in a single gaming session.
The 3D audio feature that Sony touted was also deeply unimpressive in my experience. Once again, the positioning may be poor for me due to the lack of custom HRTF profiling but the feature has many other issues at the moment and you’ll experience those regardless of your head shape.
The other issues are just irritating. No VRR, ALLM, and 1440p support at launch are appalling. It’s also weird that Sony decided to slap a big 8K logo on the packaging but didn’t actually include it on the console. The lack of Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos is also depressing and makes the PlayStation 5 particularly unsuitable for media playback. And the way HDR and 120Hz are handled are also unbecoming of a company primarily into AV products.
The racket of the spinning drive on the standard model is also unacceptable. It’s odd to me that Sony went to such lengths to make the cooling system of the console so quiet and then slapped this spinning turbine on the side that can be heard in the next room.
The redesigned software was also not the straightforward upgrade I was expecting. The design looks better and the inclusion of the control center and integrated PlayStation Store are welcome. However, the lack of folder support, no real multitasking, and having to press and hold the button to go home every time just makes using the new UI a chore.
For the price, the PlayStation 5 is still a good deal, especially the $399 Digital Edition, which is the one I recommend most people pick up. Seen purely as a gaming machine, the limited storage and the DualSense battery life are the only major issues I foresee going forward. If you can somehow work around those then this is going to be an excellent gaming console that can provide many an hour of enjoyment, much like its predecessors.