After seven years, the Microsoft Xbox and Sony PlayStation game consoles are receiving major upgrades.
The companies bring their next generation consoles to market just in time for the Christmas season. Microsoft will release two models on Tuesday: the Xbox Series X, the $ 500 version, and the Xbox Series S, the $ 300 lower-performance sibling. Sony will release its PlayStation 5 next Thursday, available in two models for $ 400 and $ 500.
So which one will you choose? There are many different types of gamers, so we – Brian X. Chen, a longtime PlayStation fan, and Mike Isaac, who grew up with the Xbox – both tested the new consoles in our homes.
This review will focus on the new Xbox systems. Our PlayStation 5 test will follow this week.
BRIAN Hi Mike. While the country was collecting votes for our next President, you and I played video games to help our readers decide which new game console to vote for with their wallets.
For the last generation of consoles, the PlayStation 4 was the indispensable gaming device with more than double the number of Xbox One sales. Now people are wondering if it is Xbox's turn to win with its sleek, rectangular series X and S.
What are your impressions so far?
MIKE I've been an Xbox loyalist for a long time. I remember when I was in high school and the first Halo game came out. It was a must, one of the best shooters of his time. Because of its success, owning an Xbox was a priority.
Now, almost 20 years later, I don't have the same feeling with the Xbox Series X and Series S. There isn't an Xbox exclusive game that I'm generally excited about, you know?
BRIAN Well, the new Halo game called Halo Infinite should be the big launching title for marketing these new Xbox systems. It is a huge disappointment that the game's director stepped down and the project was delayed.
MIKE It's a big, noticeable absence, especially when you're trying to launch a competing product for Sony – whose PlayStation 4 has dominated the market for the past seven years.
I'll give it this way: In terms of hardware, the Series X has a lot of similarities to the new PlayStation from Sony. Both contain solid-state drives, a storage technology that loads games faster than traditional rotating hard drives.
BRIAN The new Xboxes and PlayStations also have graphics processors that support ray tracing. This is a complex graphic rendering process that makes lights and shadows look more realistic. That in turn leads to much better graphics.
MIKE The Xbox controller retains the classic shape you've come to expect from an Xbox, but it's scaled down and slimmer, in keeping with the sleeker, more minimalist design of the new Xbox models.
But here's the thing: if the systems are on a fairly flat foundation technologically, releasing the game itself makes it all the more important.
BRIAN I agree. In terms of hardware features compared to the PlayStation, the Xbox is a tiny bit better. The X series offers around 20 percent more storage space for downloaded games than the PlayStation 5. The console is a compact tower that fits more easily into an entertainment center than the bulky PlayStation 5.
But this benefit is negligible without killer games. Nothing is that convincing at the moment. The starting titles include Assassin's Creed: Valhalla, Gears Tactics and Yakuza: Like a Dragon. I tried a handful of startup games and the graphics looked great and the console felt fast, but the games didn't appeal to me.
The Xbox's immediately attractive selling point is the Xbox Game Pass subscription service that people refer to as the Netflix of Gaming. For $ 10 a month, you get access to dozens of games for current and previous generations of Xbox, and many of those titles are excellent. Think Final Fantasy XV, Mass Effect, The Witcher 3, and more.
MIKE Yes totally. This is where the Xbox has a real advantage, in my opinion: I spent time going through just a fraction of the huge Game Pass library and it was like wandering through fond memories of older Xbox games that I loved not to mention games that I loved, wanted to play but never found the time.
BRIAN Additionally, the new Xboxes do a remarkable job of making the graphics of older games look great on our modern HD TVs. Microsoft calls this Smart Delivery: if you buy a game for Xbox One but eventually upgrade to Xbox Series X, Microsoft will automatically install the version optimized for Series X.
MIKE Yes. I downloaded Batman: Arkham Knight and Fallout: New Vegas last night – two games I hadn't thought of in years – and had a blast. I could immediately see an increase in graphics performance and definition in the Batman game, and the battles weren't jerky or delayed due to poor processor performance.
It really got me to see Game Pass in a new light. I might have access to a backlog of older titles, but they could feel newer, faster, and better when run on new hardware like the Series X or Series S.
BRIAN I downloaded Final Fantasy XV and it looked a lot better on the Series X and ran smoother at a higher frame rate than ever on my PlayStation 4. I even downloaded titles from 20 years ago like Final Fantasy IX and it looked surprising good.
MIKE But here's my question: if I throw in between $ 300 and $ 500 on a next-gen console, am I doing it to play through old games? Or am I thinking more about the upcoming games?
BRIAN Microsoft told me in a statement that more great games like Everwild and As Dusk Falls are on the way. There just wasn't a “wow” factor with this list of launching titles, largely thanks to the Halo shift.
That said, now is a good time to see the differences between the cheaper and more expensive Xbox.
The $ 500 Series X, in particular, offers higher graphics performance. Games can be played in 4K resolution. The $ 300 Series S can play games at a lower resolution (around 1080P). The cheaper console also has about half the memory of the Series X.
I could tell the difference immediately: I opened Gears 5, a shooter, on both consoles and switched between them on my TV. The graphics in Gears 5 Series X were definitely clearer and more detailed.
MIKE Correct. I am curious though. Should we worry that the cheaper model will become technologically irrelevant within a few years? Have you basically given any signs that the Series S will no longer be able to process large, graphics-intensive games in the future?
BRIAN I asked Microsoft, and the company said it should be easy for game developers to scale the resolutions for both consoles because they use the same computer architecture.
You can see that Microsoft is aiming for a casual gamer with the S series. For example, parents who want to save a few dollars and aren't interested in the best game technology will likely get their kids a Series S and load it up with Game Pass titles. That's a great number.
MIKE Yes, totally fair. And I think that this market segment is real and important.
BRIAN But console launches are first impressions and my early impression of that launch is that PlayStation will again have most of the cool exclusives of this generation. Game fans who choose a console may choose the PlayStation as opposed to the Series X.
MIKE I admit I think you will be right.
BRIAN We'll have more to say about PlayStation this week. Sony is currently banned from sharing our impressions of this console thanks to these strange arrangements known as verification embargoes.
MIKE Look forward to something. In the meantime, I'm counting the days until the next Halo game is released.