Before the coronavirus pandemic, my favorite form of escape was going to concerts.
In the times of stay-in-place orders, social distancing, and restrictions against gatherings, I’ve caught myself staring at screens a whole lot more.
I’ve always found video games to be a welcomed form of escape, too. They’re engaging and allow me to explore all-new worlds while taking a temporary break from the real one. Over the last two weeks, I’ve been lucky enough to test the PlayStation 5 — Sony’s newest major console since 2013. It has been a much-needed distraction during these stressful times.
The console is dramatically more powerful than its predecessor and it brings better-looking graphics, faster load times, and a much more immersive experience that you truly have to see to believe.
x86-64-AMD Ryzen “Zen 2” CPU with 8 cores up to 3.5 GHz (variable frequency)
AMD Radeon RDNA 2-based GPU variable frequency up to 2.23 GHz (10.3 TFLOPs)
16GB GDDR6 RAM
825GB custom NVME SSD
NVME SSD Slot, USB HDD support
Optional 4K UHD Blu-ray drive
Support of 4K 120Hz TVs, 8K TVs, VRR (specified by HDMI ver.2.1)
“Tempest” 3D AudioTech
Although I wasn’t able to spend time with the most highly anticipated next-generation games like Cyberpunk 2077 that’ll be coming out for the console this holiday season — as developers and designers are still hard at work making them — I still was able to get a nice taste of how powerful and sophisticated the PlayStation 5 is.
If you’re ready to upgrade from that dusty video game console on the shelf, the PlayStation 5 is utterly impressive. It feels futuristic and delivers an immersive sensory experience. We’re here to help you decide if it’s worth the splurge. We’ll also compare how it stacks up against the competition.
A Divisive Design That’ll Turn Heads
Think about all the “stuff” you have in or on your entertainment stand — I’m talking your streaming device, Blu-ray player, or gaming console. I’d wager that 95% of them are square or rectangular in shape and are the color black. The PlayStation 5 breaks tradition, so much so that it’s not even flat. Instead, it has curved, white panels that jut out like a popped polo collar, and sandwich together a glossy piano-black center.
At 15 inches long, 10 inches deep, and 4 inches wide, The PlayStation 5 is an absolute unit. For comparison’s sake, it’s 4 inches taller than the Xbox Series X. While previous video game consoles have been designed to disappear and blend in, the PS5 is much more of a statement piece. It even weighs a hefty 10 pounds.
Sony includes a baseplate that clips onto the back of the console, and you can stand it vertically or lay it horizontally so it gives off an illusion that it’s floating in midair.
On the console’s front, you’ll find two easy-to-access ports: one USB-A and one USB-C, which make it a quick affair to connect accessories and recharge the console’s controller using the included USB-C to USB-A cable. There are also physical power and eject buttons for turning the console off and on, and removing discs.
The back features an HDMI port, dual USB-A 3.0 ports, an Ethernet jack, a Kensington lock, and a power plug. The latter is notable because it’s a standard power cord — not a bulky brick like the ones that have commonly been associated with consoles over the last several years.
Sony sells a nearly identical version of the PlayStation 5 without the Blu-ray disc drive, which costs $399. We tested the variant with the drive, which cost a slightly more expensive $499. Both models are curvaceous — and dust magnets, given the glossy black finish in the center.
Sony’s Most Powerful Gaming Console Ever
Under the hood, the PlayStation 5 has an eight-core processor that’s paired with 16GB of RAM and a 10.2-teraflop RDNA 2 GPU. What does this mean for you? With so much power, you can expect higher resolutions and frame rates, more detail in characters and environments, and faster load times and user interfaces.
It’s worth mentioning that technically, Microsoft’s flagship next-generation console, the Xbox Series X, has faster and more powerful specs, but the PlayStation 5 is still a beast that will reportedly support 8K-resolution games. Some upcoming titles like Dirt 5 and Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War are expected to be played at 120 frames per second. Additionally, the console supports HDR video output, which makes your picture all the more vibrant.
Despite the humongous horsepower, I was surprised at how quiet the PlayStation 5 was. IGN measured its virtually inaudible hum at 44 decibels, which is likely quieter than your dishwasher. When I game with my PlayStation 4, at startup and during some cutscenes it was distractingly loud — so much so, that at times I thought my console might lift off. Whereas with the PlayStation 5, if it weren’t for the LED light, I may not even be able to tell if it was powered on or not.
What Games Look and Sound Like on the PS5
I was worried that my 2-year-old LG OLED TV wouldn’t be able to make the most of the PlayStation 5’s graphical capabilities since it lacks the newer HDMI 2.1 port that offers faster refresh rates and more impressive resolutions. I’m happy to report that everything still looked spectacular.
The console supports a rendering technique called “ray-tracing,” which makes lighting and shadows look much more realistic in games. I spent the majority of my time with the console playing Spider-Man: Miles Morales, a sprawling open-world game, in which you have to web-swing around New York City to complete missions. I was blown away at how textured and lifelike the game was. Characters’ expressions look sharp, landscapes were bright, and there are even reflections in puddles and glass windows.
Since audio plays a crucial role in content immersion, the PlayStation 5 features a custom audio engine, which Sony dubs Tempest 3D AudioTech. The PlayStation 5 supports 3D audio, so the sounds you’ll hear while gaming offer a greater sense of presence and locality — especially when you’re wearing a gaming headset.
While web-slinging from building to building in Spider-Man, I could hear honking cars in the distance as I zipped by, and when I landed to fight an armed foe, I could hear the whiz from bullets as they sped past my left ear, so I instinctively pressed the “O” button on my controller to dodge them. In another game called Astro’s Playroom, I could hear arrows whirring overhead. The PlayStation 5 really makes you feel like you’re in the center of all the action.
An Improved User Interface
I’ve got to tip my hat to Sony for overhauling the user interface on the PlayStation 5. It’s more streamlined and less cluttered than the Xbox software, and I didn’t have to press as many buttons to get to my games and apps. The only thing that took some getting used to was when pressing the PS button on the controller, I expected to be taken to the home screen.
Now, this button pulls up a new menu that features a customizable launcher that lets players switch games, check the battery life of the controller, view your friend lists, turn the console off, and return to the home screen.
All in all, navigating the console was a breeze. It didn’t feel oversimplified, either, and I still was able to adjust my preferred privacy, sharing, and controller settings.
A Blazingly Fast Machine
Not only is graphics hardware on the PlayStation 5 more capable over previous models, next-generation consoles are so speedy that they have changed the way designers build their games. Fast traveling takes seconds and loading screens might just be a thing of the past.
That’s because the PlayStation 5 relies on an NVMe SSD for storage — which is a huge upgrade from the HDD on the PlayStation 4 — that’ll help lessen startup times, in-game load times, and the time it takes to boot a game up. It’s so zippy that it’ll load 5.5GB of data in a single second.
During my tests, the console transitioned from fully powered off to its login screen in about 20 seconds. It came back to life from its standby state in just 6 seconds and launched a game in just 5 seconds. It’s unreal and makes my PlayStation 4 and Xbox One seem like sloths.
When it comes to downloading games, I was also impressed with speeds. To be transparent, I have a fiberoptic internet connection (which is faster than most home networks) and I was able to download a 30GB PS5 game in 17 minutes and a 5GB PS4 game in just two minutes over Wi-Fi. With my PlayStation 4, downloading a 30GB game took me at least an hour and a half.
Storage Space Seems Limited
While we’re on the subject of downloading games, it’s worth mentioning that the PlayStation 5 is equipped with an 825GB solid-state drive, which is larger in capacity than the PS4, but smaller than its predecessor, the PS4 Pro, as well as the Xbox Series X’s 1TB drive.
Since next-generation games have such large file sizes, my worry is that it’ll be easy to run out of storage space — especially since there’s just 667GB of useable storage after system software is factored in. For context on popular game sizes, Call of Duty: Black Ops eats up 133GB, the Last of Us Part II is 78GB, and Grand Theft Auto V is an even larger 94GB.
The good news is that you can store backward-compatible PlayStation 4 titles off an external hard drive that’s plugged into one of the consoles USB ports. According to the PlayStation Blog, the PS5 also features an expansion port “that will, in the future, enable players to add M.2 SSD storage to be used for installing and playing PS5 games.” The M.2 SSD storage functionality will come to PS5 after launch via an upcoming system software update.
A Controller That Feels Like It’s Years Ahead of the Rest
Hands-down my favorite aspect about the PlayStation 5 is its DualSense wireless controller. It’s the best controller I’ve ever held in my hands. Sony absolutely nailed the design.
The PlayStation 5 DualSense controller sports a black-and-white color scheme. It’s wireless, has bigger buttons, and more pronounced triggers. The controller features a center-mounted touchpad, built-in microphones, a speaker, and a USB-C port for recharging. I got about 12 hours of use before needing to plug in.
It also has a new “create” button for sharing content and a mute button for, you guessed it … muting the mic when you’re voice-chatting. There’s even a standard 3.5-millimeter jack on it for folks who prefer chatting with a proper headset.
Compared to previous DualShock controllers, this one is closer in size to Microsoft’s Xbox controllers, and weighing in at about 10 ounces, it’s noticeably heavier, too. I like the extra heft to it and appreciated that its backside’s matte finish made it easier to grip when my hands got sweaty.
What sets the controller apart from the dozens of other controllers I’ve interacted with is how it adds sensations to games that stretch beyond what you’re seeing on screen or hear with a headset.
The DualSense doesn’t just vibrate — it uses haptic feedback that immerses you fully into games by utilizing your sense of touch. Combine that with its built-in speaker and adaptive triggers that provide resistance and tension during certain scenarios like braking a car or pulling an arrow on a bow, and you’ve got a controller that pushes boundaries.
A Diverse Section of Games and Entertainment Apps
Sony has announced a slew of launch titles for its newest console. The lineup includes genres for every type of gamer. The console also includes a pre-installed free game called Astro’s Playroom, a cute platformer that plays tribute to the PlayStation’s history and does a fine job at exhibiting the features of the DualSense controller. Here are some notable games are also worth checking out.
I’ve only briefly interacted with streaming video apps, as they were only live for a few hours before this review was published. I also tested the UHD Blu-ray player for a Harry Potter binge on my PlayStation 5 unit and was impressed that you can barely hear the disc or fan running. However, I was a bit disappointed to see that the disc drive does not play CDs. It supports Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs, standard Blu-rays (not 3D), and DVDs, however.
It’s worth mentioning that Sony sells a new media remote that makes it easier to control playback and interact with streaming apps. It conveniently lets you adjust TV volume and even power your TV off and on. There are also quick launch buttons for Disney+, Netflix, Spotify, and YouTube.
The PlayStation is backwards compatible with “99%” of PlayStation 4 games, according to Sony. Some games, like Ghost of Tsushima, God of War, and Days Gone, have even received updates to improve their performance and load times on the new console.
PlayStation Plus members who purchase the PS5 will be able to redeem and play a curated library of fan-favorite PS4 games including Batman: Arkham Knight, Bloodborne, Fallout 4, God of War, Monster Hunter: World, Persona 5 and many more. The console also supports the PS Now subscription service. In case you’re unfamiliar, the service lets players download and stream certain PS4, PS3, and PS2 games.
Which PlayStation 5 Console Should You Buy
As previously mentioned, the PlayStation 5 comes in two variants. For gamers who have a large collection of physical PlayStation 4 games — or for folks who plan to watch 4K Blu-ray discs on their console — you should definitely opt for the standard $499 PlayStation 5 that has a disc drive. This system is also the better buy for bargain hunters who plan to buy, sell, and trade discs, which are more commonly discounted than digital downloads.
If you rarely buy discs, don’t like how much space physical media takes up, and prefer streaming video over Blu-ray discs, you’re better off saving the extra hundred dollars and opting for the discless model instead.
The highly anticipated PlayStation 5 was definitely worth the wait. It offers players an innovative controller, a strong launch lineup, and an incredibly immersive gaming experience. The console is extremely powerful, so much so that it truly has impacted how developers make games, and how players consume them.
The content looks absolutely stunning thanks to new lighting techniques and support for HDR functionality. Plus, thanks to onboard audio enhancements, the console delivers an equally impressive sonic experience that’ll sink you even further in your games. Without an ounce of doubt, if I were to drop $500 on a next-generation console, the PlayStation 5 would be at the top of my list.
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