The PlayStation 5 Launches With Serious Tech On Board
*Review unit provided by PlayStation*
After dominating the market for the past seven years, as well as owning the Lion’s share of gamers’ hearts and minds, Sony is finally launching the fifth numbered iteration of the PlayStation. Fittingly, and mercifully for parents and grandparents staring at Holiday wish lists, it’s called the PlayStation 5. I’ve had one in my possession for the past 2 weeks, and I’m beyond impressed. It’s blazingly fast, whisper quiet, ice cold, and to me – a stunning design. Though there are a few features missing from the PS4 generation, it’s thoughtfully designed in a way I’ve not seen in a console before.
That thoughtfulness starts with the experience of setting up the console. The packaging uses environmentally conscience paper wherever possible, right down to the twist ties in the package. In the box – aside from the console itself – you’ll find the DualSense controller, a two prong power cable, an HDMI cable, and a USB-A – C cable for charging the controller. I was glad to find 4 USB ports, one of which is of the USB-C variety, alongside the usual HDMI and Ethernet ports. If you’re still relying on Optical audio… Sorry. You’re out of luck with the PS5.
The PS5 is a hefty machine, dwarfing even the original PS3 and its legendary chunkiness. The smooth curves look great in person, with the white side panels taking on an almost pearl appearance under direct light. The stand is clever, but definitely intended primarily to stand the console on its end. In the horizontal position, the stand isn’t perfectly stable. Sliding the machine around can easily dislodge the stand, but let’s be honest here: once you’ve got the thing in place, you’re almost never going to touch it. In the hand, it’s way lighter than I expected it to be. I’d wager they could have made the console substantially smaller, but chose to go with a spacious – luxurious even – design for thermal purposes.
It was a good choice. The PlayStation 5 is absolutely silent in operation, unless the UHD Blu-Ray drive is spinning. Both in the dashboard and every game I’ve tested, the system has remained close to silent. I’ve only heard the fan spin up once (from a seating distance of 8 feet), and only for a few seconds. If your environment has literally any background noise, you’re never going to hear this machine. It appears that the days of the jet engine PlayStation consoles are over. Huzzah!
My console has been sitting in my TV stand the entire time, with a solid back panel and scant a few inches of breathing room on all sides. While playing Spider-Man: Miles Morales warm air escapes the back of the machine, but it’s just that: warm. It’s perfectly comfortable to hold my hand next to the exhaust – I have absolutely no concerns about this thing overheating in all but the most extreme circumstances.
Out of the box, the console has 667 GB of available space. That’s a fair bit smaller than the advertised 825. It’s a concerning size considering the epic size of some games, and the news that the internal SSD isn’t quite ready for primetime yet. Thankfully, Mark Cerny’s assertion that games can get smaller now is already being proven correct. Spider-Man: Miles Morales is only 38GB when installed on PS5. The same game on PS4? A shade over 50GB.
A lot has been made of the PS5’s screaming fast SSD, and yep, this console really rips. A cold boot takes around 20 seconds, while resuming from rest mode is usually under 10 seconds in my experience. By the time your TV starts displaying a picture, the system is ready to roll.
Launching games takes barely a few seconds – about 3 seconds for PS5 titles to be exact, and under 10 in most backwards compatibility cases. It’s a huge upgrade, and means that I can spend less time scrolling through Instagram for no particular reason.
Speaking of Backward Compatibility, it’s been somewhat mysterious up to this point how the PS5 will handle PS4 games. The answer is that it handles them extremely well. Mystery solved! Sony mentioned that some games will require updates to work on PS5, and those games are tagged in the Game Library as “Play on PS4” right now. I tested a bunch of games out to see how they’d behave on PS5, and the answer was always at least “this is exactly like on PS4”, with a ton of games playing way better on the newer machine. In my testing, pretty much anything that has an unlocked framerate will run at a very stable 60 fps on the PS5. Final Fantasy XV, Hitman, Monster Hunter World, Days Gone, Until Dawn, Borderlands 3, God of War, and many more all locked in at 60 fps.
A Fresh Approach
Taking the opposite approach to Microsoft, Sony decided to rebuild their user interface. It’s familiar and simple enough that you’ll be zipping around in no time. Actions are all logical, with quick access to filtering and sorting where it makes sense. There’s zero delay in any dashboard action, including scrolling through a list of hundreds of games in the library.
The control center took a day or two to get used to thanks to my PS4 muscle memory, but it’s a powerful and welcome addition to the PlayStation experience. The contextual cards work really well, and multiple times they reminded me of something I’d been meaning to do in Astro’s Playroom or Spider-Man. The sky’s the limit for this feature, especially if developers really embrace the functionality.
One thing that’s missing at launch is much in the way of customization. I desperately wanted a way to pin games to the Games menu, or alter the number of games displayed there, but this doesn’t seem to be a thing at the moment. There are no themes or color options in the launch software either, though I find the rosy gold aesthetic tremendously pleasing. I get why this didn’t make the initial cut – rebuilding an entire OS is no easy feat – but it would have been nice to have on launch day. One final UI gripe: trophies are buried under the profile menu. I want easier access to that function, please!
Unlike the Xbox Series X, which heavily features their Quick Resume feature, PlayStation 5 doesn’t offer such functionality. The Switcher tab in Control Center does offer access to recently played games, but choosing anything from that menu closes whatever you’re playing before opening your next experience. I’ll be interested to see if Sony decides to add quick resume to the PS5 at some point to wipe out that Microsoft advantage.
One advantage I didn’t expect to be as important as it is, is the DualSense controller. It’s revolutionary, and fundamentally changes the experience of playing traditional video games. The resolution and granularity of feedback both from the haptic motors and the triggers is beyond what I could have imagined. Astro’s Playroom shows that off in remarkable fashion, but even Spider-Man – a cross-gen title – features some cool haptic touches. One example that stands out is web swinging, where the trigger responds linearly, but with a tactile bump at the bottom of the travel. That tactility doesn’t change anything functionally, but when combined with some light haptic taps, you’ll quickly find yourself much more immersed in the world than you’d expect. I think the DualSense could very well be the feature that defines the PS5 long term. With all that tech, battery life could be a nightmare. I’ve been playing a lot of games, and the DualSense battery has held up really well so far. 8 or 10 hour sessions seem to be no problem.
As for 3D Audio and the Tempest Engine, the jury’s still out. Playing games with the Pulse headset certainly sounds great, with solid localization of sounds, but I’m not sure I’ve heard its full potential just yet.
Now for some cool features I couldn’t find space for elsewhere. The PS5 supports flashback recording, meaning it’s constantly buffering video capture of what you’re up to. With a quick tap of the Share button, you can instantly record your last hour of gameplay. Handy! The recording feature offers 1080p capture in MP4 format, and 4K (30 fps, boooo) capture in WEBM format. The quality is good enough for sharing with your pals, but the bitrate will fall miserably short for content creators. What’s that sound? Probably Elgato and Avermedia breathing a giant sigh of relief.
The last piece of the puzzle is the launch lineup, and I think Sony has built one of the strongest set of day one exclusives in a long, long time. Some of them are on PS4 as well, but with Spider-Man, Demon’s Souls, Sackboy, Bugsnax, and Astro’s Playroom landing day one – not to mention the PS Plus Collection – the sales pitch is damn enticing.
PlayStation 5 is an outstanding piece of hardware. There are certainly areas Sony will want to build on where customization is concerned, but the bones are incredibly solid. It’s silent, runs cool, has a great user interface, and a strong launch lineup. If you’re interested in jumping into next gen this fall, the PlayStation 5 is a stellar option.