Now we’ve had a chance to peek under the hoods of Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, what’s next?

It’s been an interesting week for the new generation of consoles at a time of real uncertainty.

Microsoft and Sony have had to adapt their strategies drastically in wake of the Coronavirus. This week was set to be GDC but with the event being cancelled, both have scrambled to put new plans in place.

And as the days go by, Microsoft’s decision to drop details about Xbox Series X at the Game Awards in December is proving to be very savy indeed. Even after yesterday’s ‘Road to PS5’ video, PS5 still very much remains a mystery, while we’ve learned about key features of the next Xbox, we’ve seen what it looks like, and even know about some games.

We’re into mid-March, with both systems supposed to release by the end of the year – who even knows at this point – and it’s quite surprising how much we still don’t know about either of them, particularly about PS5.

That said, this week, both Sony and Microsoft dropped huge technical details about both of their systems, with people comparing every inch of them and writing feature posts left and right. Like this one.

Xbox Series X

Both strategies were massively different, though. Microsoft put together a blog post and a series of comparison videos, working with various technology-focused members of the media to deep dive on the product, whereas Sony put out a full recreation of what their GDC talk would look like and added some accompanying information.

Microsoft have come out of the gate, saying this is the most powerful Xbox ever made, and that there will be a massive increase in GPU performance, with an architecture that lets developers create realistic and immersive experiences like never before.

Take a look at this comparison of Gears 5 from Digital Foundry to give you some idea of just how big of a jump this is.

Under the hood, Xbox Series X will have a CPU at 8x Cores @ 3.8GHz (3.6 GHz w/ SMT) and a Custom Zen 2 CPU, while the GPU will be made up of 12 TFLOPS, 52 CUs ( 1.825 GHZ Customer RDNA 2 GPU.

For comparison, the Xbox One had just 1.31 teraflops, and the Xbox One X had six TFLOPS. The PS4 Pro ran on 4.2 teraflops, so this is a massive leap!

Xbox Series X also runs on 16 GB GDDR6 w/ 320b bus, with a 10GB Memory Bandwidth, 1 TB Internal Storage, and uses a 4K UHD Blu-Ray Drive.

Moving away from specs, Xbox Series X has a Quick Resume feature which lets you resume multiple games at the press of a button. The tech demo seems to show at least 7 games can be replayed from a previous state, which is incredible.

Loading times will also be a lot faster. Just watch this State of Decay 2 comparison video, I doubted that this could be real – surely the Xbox One X isn’t as slow as that – but, yeah, mind blown.

Xbox Series X also has a big focus on backwards compatibility, with the team not just determined to make the machine playable with every Xbox game from previous generations, but somehow make them better with faster loading and a more stable frame rate.

The Smart Delivery system also means you’ll only ever have to purchase a title once and get the best possible version of it, no matter which Xbox console you play it on. This was recently supported by CD Projekt RED who confirmed that will be the case for the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077.

CPU 8x Cores @ 3.8 GHz (3.6 GHz w/ SMT) Custom Zen 2 CPU
GPU 12 TFLOPS, 52 CUs @ 1.825 GHz Custom RDNA 2 GPU
Die Size 360.45 mm2
Process 7nm Enhanced
Memory 16 GB GDDR6 w/ 320b bus
Memory Bandwidth 10GB @ 560 GB/s, 6GB @ 336 GB/s
Internal Storage 1 TB Custom NVME SSD
I/O Throughput 2.4 GB/s (Raw), 4.8 GB/s (Compressed, with custom hardware decompression block)
Expandable Storage 1 TB Expansion Card (matches internal storage exactly)
External Storage USB 3.2 External HDD Support
Optical Drive 4K UHD Blu-Ray Drive
Performance Target 4K @ 60 FPS, Up to 120 FPS

PlayStation 5

But then we come to PS5 and Sony’s approach which is a lot more technical and arguably a bit less consumer-friendly.

We do know the PS5 specs now, with the CPU clocking in at 8x Zen 2 Cores at 3.5GHz with SMT and a GPU of 10.28 TFLOPS, 36 CUs at 2.23GHz.

The Xbox Series X seemingly beats PS5 on both counts, though it is also very important to stress that Teraflops is not really a metric for comparison with the structure of both models differing and therefore the output varying considerably.

The internal storage is also bigger on Series X with PS5 offering an unusual 825GB on SSD (this number is purposeful, apparently, and plays a significant role in how the system performs) compared to Xbox’s 1TB, also on SSD.

The information dump is particularly fascinating considering the rumours bubbling around prior to this week have put PS5 ahead as the more powerful console, but it seems many of the ‘leaks’ about what PS5 specs will look like have been a bit wide of the mark.

That said, there’s been comments and whispers from journalists and developers who say that Sony’s custom approach to SSD is actually a gamechanger and means they can get more out of their games.  It also seems like the hardware is designed to be more dynamic, owing to a much more seamless experience.

This Digital Foundry overview will explain it better than I ever could.

And here’s the specs

CPU x86-64-AMD Ryzen™ “Zen 2”
8 Cores / 16 Threads
Variable frequency, up to 3.5 GHz
GPU AMD Radeon™ RDNA 2-based graphics engine
Ray Tracing Acceleration
Variable frequency, up to 2.23 GHz (10.3 TFLOPS)
System Memory GDDR6 16GB
448GB/s Bandwidth
SSD 825GB
5.5GB/s Read Bandwidth (Raw)
PS5 Game Disc Ultra HD Blu-ray™, up to 100GB/disc
Video Out Support of 4K 120Hz TVs, 8K TVs, VRR (specified by HDMI ver.2.1)
Audio “Tempest” 3D AudioTech

Interestingly, Sony have focused their event very differently, and their approach is actually to remove the need for load screens, as opposed to Xbox Series X which speeds them up.

Fascinatingly, as well, Sony came out and said they were targetting a storage speed that’s not available on PC at the moment. Which seems improbable, but they may have actually cracked it. Consoles actually equalling their PC bretheren on something for once, no wonder developers are excited.

PS5 will also let you use some off the shelf PCIe SSD drives, whereas Microsoft have their own form of memory card style storage built in collaboration with Seagate. They’re actually using tech so new it’s not even fully mass market yet. Fascinating.

Sony are even creating a seemingly customised audio system that will be modelled on individual perception of sound. Which seems absolutely mind-blowing.

There is a point of some concern, though, and that’s the backwards compatibility. Currently, there seems to be a bit of confusion about what is actually being supported – not helped by Sony’s own messaging. Their blog post reads…

Lastly, we’re excited to confirm that the backwards compatibility features are working well. We recently took a look at the top 100 PS4 titles as ranked by play time, and we’re expecting almost all of them to be playable at launch on PS5. With more than 4000 games published on PS4, we will continue the testing process and expand backwards compatibility coverage over time.

It’s a little ambiguous – purposefully so, probably – and considering the strengths of Xbox Game Pass and xCloud coming in with Xbox Series X, could represent a bit of a stumbling block for consumers.

Conclusion

We’ve reached the point now where most of the tech specs are in the wild and we’re on the road to what the consumer might term ‘the good stuff’

The next beats for both Sony and MS will almost certainly show us some games, talk about console features, and in case of PS5, finally show us the box itself.

Pricing will almost certainly come later, as will firm release dates – for obvious reasons.

As to where and when they do this, with Microsoft confirming they were planning to be at E3, it’s probably a good bet that we’ll get a full Xbox Series X blow out the week of June 8th. Which seems a long way away – I would imagine there will be some form of communication before that – but the really good stuff is probably still a few months away.

That said, Sony may decide to go earlier since they weren’t planning to be at E3 anyway, and they, arguably, have a lot more they need to communicate to the consumer, with many disappointed by their recent marketing strategy

Personally, I think both platforms offer some genuinely exciting potential, with Sony getting the edge for ambition, offering real next-gen possibilities, particularly with the audio. And we know they have some absolute banging franchises in their locker, with sequels to Spider-Man, God of War, and Horizon almost certainly coming in the near future.

The next-gen race has definitely been slow to start, but this week has given us a real glimpse into the future, and frankly, it looks damn exciting.