PlayStation 5 review: powerful next-gen console with promising start

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PlayStation 5 PS5 Desk Shot



Kevin Webb / Business Insider


  • Sony will launch the PlayStation 5 on November 12.
  • The PlayStation 5 will be available in two models: the $500 standard PS5 and the $400 all-digital edition.
  • The only difference between the two is a 4K Blu-ray drive on the standard model.
  • As a next-generation console the PS5 doesn’t disappoint; it’s a flashy, powerful machine that delivers a big leap in performance from the standard PS4, but it needs more blockbuster exclusives to prove its worth.
  • For more next-gen gaming coverage, check out our reviews of the Xbox Series S and the Xbox Series X.

Preorder stock for the PlayStation 5 remains sold out at most retailers, but more inventory is likely to be available online when the console launches on November 12.

More inventory for the PlayStation 5 Digital Edition is expected to be available through online retailers on November 12.

Sony will release the PlayStation 5, the successor to the most popular video game console in the world, on November 12. Two versions of the PS5 will be available at launch: a $500 standard model, and a $400 all-digital edition with no disc drive.

More than 114 million PlayStation 4 consoles have been sold since 2013, making it the most popular video game console of its generation and the fourth best-selling console of all-time, behind the Game Boy, the Nintendo DS, and the PlayStation 2.

Sony said it sold more PlayStation 5 consoles in the first 12 hours of preorders than it sold PS4 consoles in 12 weeks, reflecting just how popular the PlayStation brand has become. As the successor to the PS4, the PS5 will likely become the standard by which we judge what “next-gen” gaming is. 

We know the PlayStation 5 is capable of up to 8K playback, has a solid state drive (SSD), and a custom-built CPU/GPU combo, but what does that mean in action? Sony gave us a PlayStation 5 to use ahead of release to see what the next-generation of gaming is all about. After spending a couple weeks with the PS5, here’s our initial review.

PlayStation 5 PS5 Render



Sony


  • Dimensions: 15.45 (W) x 10 (D) x 3.62 (H) inches (stand adds about .5 inches, reaching 16 inches when vertical)
  • Weight: 10 lbs
  • Disc drive: 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray drive (standard edition only)
  • Internal storage: 825GB NVMe drive
  • HDMI Out: 4K resolution at 120Hz with HDMI 2.1; support for 8K TVs, variable refresh rate and AMD FreeSync
  • Ports: 1x USB-C, 3x USB 3.1, 1x Ethernet
  • CPU: AMD Ryzen Zen 2, 8 cores, 16 threads at 3.5 GHz
  • GPU: AMD Radeon RDNA 2 at 2.23 GHz, 10.3 TFlops
  • Memory: GDDR6 16GB, 44GB/s bandwidth

PlayStation 5 PS5 console close up



Kevin Webb / Business Insider


The PlayStation 5’s stark black and white design immediately feels distinct from the solid color PlayStation and Xbox consoles gamers have come to expect from prior generations. The PS5’s size sets it apart too — in vertical mode it’s one of the biggest home consoles ever released, towering at 16 inches tall.

You can set up the PlayStation 5 horizontally, but you’ll still need to sit it on the stand to make sure it’s properly positioned due to the slight sloping on the PS5’s outer shell. The PS5 should fit most TV consoles and entertainment system shelves without issue in horizontal mode, but if you plan to keep the console on your desk or use it with a wall mounted setup, you may need to find a long term storage solution.

Despite its size, the PlayStation 5 does feel like an expertly crafted piece of hardware. Small details demonstrate Sony’s attention to care, like the PlayStation logo etched into a corner of the PS5’s shell, and a set of PlayStation button icons that signal where to place the stand. Longtime PlayStation 4 owners can rejoice knowing that the PS5’s fans are whisper quiet, thanks to the shell case providing plenty of airflow.

The USB-C port feels like an important addition too, as it could allow for faster external devices, like hard drives, or an updated PlayStation VR headset.

Spider-Man: Miles Morales PS5 PlayStation 5 sony

“Spider-Man: Miles Morales” is easily one of the best looking video games ever made.

“Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales” / Sony


Visuals are usually the hallmark of next-generation consoles, and the PlayStation 5 does not disappoint. The PS5 is built to run most games at 4K resolution; that’s four times the rendering size the standard PS4 is capable of. The PlayStation 4 Pro is capable of running games at 4K too, but it can’t match the PlayStation 5’s 120Hz refresh rate, or the PS5’s processing power when it comes to enhanced visual features like ray tracing.

“Spider-Man: Miles Morales” is one of the most gorgeous games I’ve ever played; the PS5 does an amazing job capturing all of Spider-Man’s dynamic motion without sacrificing the crisp detail of his New York City surroundings. Miles’ electric powers do a wonderful job demonstrating the advanced ray tracing effects the PS5 is capable of. While “Miles Morales” can be played on PS4, it will have a slower frame rate, less detailed character models and environments, and no ray tracing.

The PS5’s graphics potential is so high that many gamers won’t have a new enough TV to make use of every feature. The PlayStation 5’s highest resolution (8K) and highest refresh rate (120Hz) are only possible on HDMI 2.1 capable displays. 8K resolution will of course also require an 8K TV, though no games currently offer that feature. Similarly, the PlayStation 5 supports high dynamic range (HDR), variable refresh rate (VRR), and AMD FreeSync, but only on select TVs.

PlayStation 5 DualSense gamepad (logos)

A close-up of the PS5’s DualSense controller reveals tons of tiny PlayStation button icons.

Kevin Webb/Business Insider


The biggest upgrade Sony built into the PlayStation 5 is an 825GB NVMe solid state drive, which improves data transfer speeds by roughly 100 times compared to the PlayStation 4. That might sound like a made up number, but the NVMe drive really makes that much of a difference, cutting minute-long loads to just a few seconds in-game, and hour-long downloads to a fraction of the time.

It might not sound as cool, but the drive replacement is a bigger game changer than the PS5’s support for 8K playback, ray tracing, or 120Hz refresh rate. The upgrade in drive will completely change your gaming experience, as lulls in the action are cut down by lightning fast loads, and time-wasting updates complete in a matter of seconds instead of wasting your precious gaming time.

Sony says you’ll be able to upgrade the NVMe drive in the future, but for now it’s so advanced that none of the other NVMe drives on the market can run fast enough to work with the PS5.

Astros Playroom PS5



Sony


As someone who got a full five years of service out of my PS4, the PlayStation 5 does offer a major leap in quality — games I played on the PS4 earlier this year, like “Final Fantasy VII Remake,” look noticeably sharper and run significantly faster on PS5.

Revisiting Manhattan in “Spider-Man: Miles Morales” helps demonstrate how much faster the loading times are — fast travel sequences and most loading screens take just moments in comparison to “Spider-Man” on PS4. The updated hard drive even lets Spider-Man swing through the city at faster speeds due to faster loading environments. Sony used a tech demo of “Spider-Man” to demonstrate the power of the PS5 drive to shareholders back in 2019.

Thanks to the improved CPU and NVMe drive, basic actions on the PlayStation 5 are much more responsive in general — swapping between games, installing updates, and transferring files feel like much easier tasks when compared to the PS4’s fairly dated interface, even though many of the menu options are the same.

PlayStation 5 PS5 Interface



Sony


The PlayStation 5 home screen is noticeably different from the PS4, with the XMB menu using significantly smaller icons with larger graphics to fill the screen. Navigation moves at lightning speed compared to the PS4, with the controller’s PlayStation button calling up a quick menu for common options.

Notably, games and media have been separated into different pages on the PS5 home screen; the PlayStation 4 lacked a clear visual distinction between games and media apps. PS5 continues to support most major streaming platforms, though the HBO Max app does not appear to be available yet.

When called up, the PlayStation menu will also show a set of activity cards for games you’re currently playing. Activity cards will point you to specific activities, track your progress, deliver news, and show you recently taken screenshots. The card icons are a bit large for my liking and I’d like an option to turn them off, but they never feel like an obstacle.

Sony has provided an option to let you transfer data from your PlayStation 4 directly to your PlayStation 5, but unfortunately not all save data will transfer between the PS4 and PS5 version of a game. You’ll have to check on a game by game basis, but hopefully Sony helps simplify that process in the future.

Demon Souls PlayStation 5 PS5 Demon Souls

As of now, “Demon’s Souls” is one of the only true PS5 exclusives.

“Demon Souls” / Sony


Console launches are usually marked by a handful of exclusive games that are only playable on the new hardware, but Sony is shaking up the formula a bit for the PlayStation 5. Two of the three games Sony is releasing alongside the PS5, “Spider-Man: Miles Morales” and “Sackboy: A Big Adventure,” will also be playable on PlayStation 4, though players can expect slightly worse graphics and much longer load times.

So far, only “Demon’s Souls” can be called a true PlayStation 5 exclusive, as it won’t be available on PS4, PC, or Xbox. Another 2021 release from Sony, “Horizon Forbidden West,” has been promised to PS4 owners too.

Sony’s exclusives help give PlayStation its identity as the home for premium console games, and Sony is betting that the PlayStation 5 provides a big enough leap in performance to get dedicated PS4 owners to invest in premium hardware for the best possible experience. 

Sony exclusives, like “Demon’s Souls,” showcase the PlayStation 5’s power, while cross-platform releases, like “Spider-Man: Miles Morales,” demonstrate the difference in quality between the PS4 and PS5.

To help sweeten the deal, PS5 owners who subscribe to Sony’s PlayStation Plus online service will automatically get access to more than a dozen hit PS4 games to play on their new console.

The PS Plus Collection features Sony exclusives, like “God of War,” “The Last of Us Remastered,” and “Bloodborne,” as well as third party releases, like “Batman: Arkham Knight” and “Resident Evil 7.” Some of the choices may not be exciting if you spent a lot of time playing PS4, but gamers who are picking up their first PlayStation will be more than satisfied with this basic collection.

There are a few more exclusive PS5 titles set for release in 2021, but few of them have revealed enough details to warrant spending $500 on a new console.

PS5 DualSense PlayStation 5 Controller Sony



Sony


The new DualSense controller is one of Sony’s biggest selling points for the PlayStation 5 hardware. DualSense features adaptive trigger technology that allows developers to control the amount of tension players feel when they press the rear buttons, and haptic feedback that enables a wide range of rumble effects within the controller. These features are meant to create an immersive experience where players can accurately feel the kickback when they pull a gun trigger, or sense the tension of a bow as they aim.

All of the DualSense’s features are put to fantastic use in “Astro’s Playroom,” a short game that comes pre-installed on the PlayStation 5. However, the other games I played definitely didn’t emphasize the DualSense features as much, so I’m curious how often other developers will spend the extra time to make use of them.

Beyond DualSense’s special features, it adopts the popular USB-C charging port and eliminates the color light bar from the PlayStation 4’s DualShock controller. Instead, the touch pad in the center of the DualSense controller is surrounded by a more subtle light that changes color. Finally, the controller’s rechargeable battery lasts for about 20 hours of playtime in my experience.

The DualSense controller certainly outperforms the standard Xbox controller thanks to its rechargeable battery and enhanced feedback features.

PlayStation 5 PS5 Box



Kevin Webb / Business Insider


The PlayStation 5 fulfills Sony’s promise of a next-generation console with a flashy, powerful machine that will rely on big exclusives to prove its worth. Sony exclusives, like “God of War,” “Spider-Man,” and “The Last of Us,” made the PlayStation 4 a destination for premium gaming, and I look forward to more games, like “Demon’s Souls,” that demonstrate why gamers should invest in a PlayStation 5.

Overall, the PlayStation 5 represents a welcome evolution in the PlayStation experience and a major upgrade in performance, but the lack of impressive new games reflects just how hard it is to show off innovation as the console industry advances.

Should you buy it?

For now, the PlayStation 5 is probably best suited for gamers who use their console on a daily basis and absolutely need the very best in performance. Most upcoming PS5 games will also work on PS4, and many gamers don’t have the hardware needed to make use of the PS5’s 4K and 120Hz output.

That said, those who do buy a PS5 at launch can look forward to some awesome launch titles in “Miles Morales” and “Demon’s Souls,” and the upgrade in graphics and loading performance will still make old PS4 games feel new until more titles are next-gen ready.

Which model should you get?

Most early adopters should probably opt for the standard PlayStation 5 ($500), since you’ll need the Blu-ray drive to play any physical PlayStation 4 games you have in your collection.

If you’re not interested in 4K Blu-ray playback and you’re coming to the PS5 without a collection of PS4 discs, then the all-digital console ($400) should be fine since new PS5 games on disc need to be installed anyway.

Pros: Cutting edge power and performance, state-of-the-art NVMe drive, big library of classic and upcoming PlayStation exclusives

Cons: Console is large, somewhat odd visually, few exclusives to upgrade for if you already have PS4, highest quality features require latest TV hardware, transferring data/games from PS4 should be easier

Playstation 5 (Standard)

Playstation 5 (All-Digital)

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