On the face of it, the Xbox Series X is well-positioned. It is technically more powerful than the Sony PlayStation 5, and at the same time, thanks to Microsoft’s prodigious chops in cloud computing it should have the leg up on Sony in the cloud gaming streaming space. On paper, things appear to be hunky-dory for Microsoft. But while they haven’t bungled the launch like they did last time around with the Xbox One around 7 years ago, they surely have missed a trick or two, which in the wake Sony’s masterful unveil of the PS5, is likely to give the Japanese icon a leg up yet again on its arch-rival.
An unveil matters
Video game consoles aren’t cyclical like a smartphone or PC, that they come and go every 6 months. Years of development goes into them to ensure that they remain relevant for almost a decade. Microsoft missed an opportunity with the Xbox Series X with them randomly dropping the load at the online and then doing a couple of teardowns with selected media. Sony, on the other hand, didn’t show its hand immediately. In fact, even when it did the technical briefing for the PlayStation 5, despite people knowing the shape, size and specs of the Xbox Series X, Sony held its nerve and didn’t reveal everything and built-up tension resulting in last evenings crescendo with the superb unveil of the PlayStation 5.
Someone should have a word with the folks at Redmond — all Xbox consoles have looked monolithic besides the Xbox 360. When Microsoft showed off the Xbox Series X earlier in the year, many people compared it to PC tower, because fundamentally that’s what it is. Sure, there were memes but most people felt the design was boring. On the other hand, most people have been dazzled by the looks of the PS5. Even people who haven’t been dazzled by the looks of the PS5, they have been polarised. Some say, it looks like a Wi-Fi router while others say it looks like a sandwich — but the thing is, it is making noise. And more than the looks, it also seems like the PS5 is more compact than the humongous Xbox.
Sony has gone to great lengths to show off its entire accessory ecosystem that’s deeply tied into how the PS5 experience pans out for the user. For instance, the new DualSense controller seems like a leap above standard controllers to what’s there on the Xbox Controller. Its haptic feedback and a new design. Then there are the pulse headphones which are primed for the special 3D audio capabilities of the PS5. Xbox is also announcing something with Bang and Olufson, but now Sony has the jump on them. Apart from this, Sony announced an HD dual camera for game streaming and cradle for charging a pair of DualSense controllers. Chances are that Sony will have some new VR headset also — which they will unveil at a later date closer to the rumoured November, availability and price. Microsoft is lacking right now.
Last night, Sony’s event was all about exclusives and games that would leverage the unique capabilities of the PlayStation 5. From Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, to Spider-Man Miles Morales, Gran Turismo 7, Deathloop, Ghostwire: Tokyo, and cross-platform games like Hitman 3 and NBA 2K21 — Sony has come out swinging and showboating the prodigious capabilities of the PS5 architecture. Before this Epic Games showed off an awe-inspiring 8K technical demo of the Unreal Engine on the PS5. Sony has actually shown in-game engine performance of the PS5 while Microsoft has shown off some cross-platform games and has admitted that there will be no exclusive titles at launch. That’s not how you launch a next-generation game console.
While the PS5 and Xbox Series X are largely on the same AMD computing platform — Zen 2 architecture with RDNA 2 graphics, there are critical differences. The CPU of the PS5 is clocked at 3.5GHz at a variable frequency using AMD’s smart shift technology and the GPU has 36 compute units clocked at 2.23GHz at 10.28 teraflops. It also gets 16GB DDR6 RAM and a custom 825GB SSD at 5.5GB/second. The Xbox has more horsepower but a slower proprietary SSD format. It gets an 8-core processor clocked at 3.8GHz locked in at that frequency. It gets 12 teraflops of GPU compute with 52 compute units clocked at 1.82GHz coupled with 16GB DDR6 RAM and a slower 1TB SSD that operates at less than 2.5GB/second. Sony will certify SSDs that people can install on their consoles for memory expansion while Microsoft has partnered with Seagate for a custom SSD unit that can be purchased separately. The PS5 SSD makes it possible for developers to load assets instantly which wasn’t possible before, hence opening avenues for new kinds of worlds. It will also eliminate load times. Microsoft has also made huge gains with the load times but its slower SSD will ensure that some games aren’t possible on the Xbox Series X. Epic’s CEO Tim Sweeny has already said that PS5 will redefine the way games are made today.