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PS5 vs Xbox Series X: Who makes the best next-gen gaming console in 2021?

The console war has evolved, but the question remains the same: PlayStation or Xbox?

A new console is without a doubt the best way for most people to get into gaming. In 2021, there’s more choice than ever before: The PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X are now firmly cemented as the new top dogs of the console gaming world, but Sony and Microsoft aren’t ready to let go of the last generation just yet.

You can still nab a PS4 or PS4 Pro, an Xbox One or Xbox One X and enjoy many of the same games and features – or you can shun the PlayStation/Xbox ecosystems entirely, and invest in Nintendo’s miraculous Switch or Switch Lite. If you’re willing to wait until October, you could also pick up a brand new Switch OLED.

However, this article is going to focus on the latest consoles from Sony and Microsoft. The PS5 and Xbox Series X/S are brimming with cutting-edge tech, but while both manufacturers make similar promises on the performance front, the machines themselves are very different beasts.

We’re going to pit them against each other, comparing everything from specifications to game libraries to crown an overall champion and help you choose the best gaming console for you.

Read on or skip to the verdict…

PS5 vs Xbox Series X: Which one should you buy?

PS5 vs Xbox Series X: Price comparison

Let’s start with the basics. The standard PS5 costs £449 ($499), while the PS5 Digital Edition (DE) costs £359 ($399). The Digital Edition console lacks a disc drive but is otherwise identical in every way to the standard PS5. It’s straightforward stuff from Sony this time around.

Over in Microsoft’s camp, things are less clear cut. The Xbox Series X also costs £449 ($499), but the Xbox Series S – Microsoft’s “digital edition” – comes in at £249 ($299), making it the cheapest next-gen console you can buy.

That saving comes at a cost, however. As we’ll explain below, the Xbox Series S is significantly less powerful than the Xbox Series X, and like the PS5 DE lacks a disc drive. Those looking for 4K gaming will have to purchase the more expensive model.

It’s also worth pointing out that while the lack of a disc drive does keep the cost down in the short term, in the long run, you will pay more for digital games – they tend to be more expensive than their physical counterparts. This isn’t as much an issue for the Series S, as Game Pass has a vast backlog of digital titles, and most first-party Xbox exclusives land on the service right from launch, but it’s still worth bearing in mind.

Winner – Draw

Given that both flagship PlayStation and Xbox consoles cost the same, bargain hunters will have to choose between the two “digital edition” consoles instead. At this point, it becomes a neck-and-neck race: while Sony’s PS5 DE has the same specs as its sibling, it’s £110 more expensive than the Xbox Series S. Your decision may well come down to whether you can live without the benefits afforded to the flagship machines – we certainly couldn’t.

PS5 vs Xbox Series X: Key specifications

Before we go any further, here’s a side-by-side specs comparison between the PS5 (and PS5 Digital Edition), Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S.

PS5/PS5 DEXbox Series XXbox Series S
CPUAMD Zen 2 (custom)AMD Zen 2 (custom)AMD Zen 2 (custom)
Frequency3.5GHz (variable)3.8GHz3.6GHz
GPUAMD RDNA 2 (custom)AMD RDNA 2 (custom)AMD RDNA 2 (custom)
Compute power10.28 teraFLOPS12 teraFLOPS4 teraFLOPS
Transfer speeds5.5GB/sec2.4GB/sec2.4GB/sec

As you can see, the Xbox Series X is the more powerful console, and it wields that extra power with extraordinary effect. Although both consoles are using the same AMD architecture for both the CPU and GPU, the PS5 squeezes a little less out of the arrangement, but does have an ace up its sleeve: that extraordinarily fast SSD.

Of course, speed isn’t everything, and the Series X gains points for offering 1TB of storage space versus the PS5’s 825GB – especially since modern games can often use up over 100GB of space.

Then there’s the Xbox Series S. In short, Microsoft’s budget console is three times less powerful than the Xbox Series X, meaning it won’t run games in 4K resolutions. Instead, it targets 1080p or 1440p at higher frame rates than the last-gen consoles – making games run incredibly smoothly but at lower resolutions.

Winner – Xbox Series X

Just like the Xbox One X before it, the Xbox Series X is the most powerful console ever built. Sony’s PS5 offers an almost indistinguishable gaming experience in many ways, but it simply can’t match the Series X for pure horsepower – particularly when that extra oomph is used to facilitate some extraordinary new features. That said, the PS5’s SSD deserves a mention here simply by virtue of its remarkable speed.

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PS5 vs Xbox Series X: Graphics

Both the PS5 and the Xbox Series X promise support for resolutions up to 8K (although no console games support 8K at the moment) and for frame rates up to 120fps. However, It’s more likely that you’ll be playing your new console on a 4K telly that supports frame rates of up to 60fps; this is very much the sweet spot for the new consoles, but it’s not a given. Both consoles have to adjust to a huge variety of games, some more demanding than others.

As you’d expect, the Xbox Series X tends to deliver more consistently here, although the PS5 employs some clever technical trickery (called “checkerboarding”) to compensate for that slight power deficit, giving the illusion of 4K visuals even if it can’t produce true 4K.

In addition, both consoles support a new graphics rendering technique called ray tracing, which vastly improves in-game shadows, reflections and lighting.

In symbiosis with the latest 4K TVs, the Xbox Series X supports two technologies designed to improve your gaming experience. Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM) nudges the connected TV to automatically switch to its specific “game mode”. Variable Refresh Rate (VRR), meanwhile, allows the TV and the console to sync their frame/refresh rates, preventing a phenomenon called “screen tearing” – visible distortion on screen.

So far, the PS5 supports neither ALLM nor VRR, although the latter is at least due to arrive in a future software update.

The Series X also caters for PC gamers by giving users with gaming monitors the option to lock the resolution at 1440p – some Sony games will play at 1440p, but this cannot be adjusted.

Winner – Xbox Series X

Until such time as the PS5 supports both ALLM and VRR, the Xbox Series X will always come out on top in this category.

PS5 vs Xbox Series X: User experience

Sony and Microsoft diverge quite heavily at this point. The PS5’s new user interface marks a fairly drastic overhaul of the PS4’s tired menu bar. By tucking crucial settings and menus away in a new ‘Control Bar’, Sony has decluttered the home screen, leaving more room for your games, achievement progress and media.

The new PS5 UI also hides a few shortcuts. Compatible games can boot in seconds directly into a save state (skipping the game menus) via a contextual Game Hub, and you can swap between these game save states rapidly via the new Game Switcher in the Control Bar menu. Entertainment and other media is now housed in a separate tab, while your capture gallery is instantly accessible via the new and improved game capture menu.

Microsoft, on the other hand, feels that what isn’t broken doesn’t need fixing. The Xbox Series X’s menu is almost identical to that of the Xbox One, which of course isn’t necessarily a bad thing at all. It uses the same tile arrangement and produces the same pop-up menu bar on the left-hand side of your screen when you hit the Xbox button in-game, too.

[Image credit: Microsoft]

Like the new PS5 UI, however, the Xbox’s user interface hides some neat features, chief among which is Quick Resume. This allows players to pick up and drop up to five games at once without closing a single one.

Winner – PS5

There’s nothing wrong with Microsoft’s user experience – it simply hasn’t changed. The PlayStation UI meanwhile has had a practical, visually appealing upgrade that suits the PS5 to a tee without straying too far from its predecessor.

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PS5 vs Xbox Series X: Games (revisited in 2021)

When they launched back in 2020, neither the PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X had much in the way of exclusive titles. The PS5 landed alongside Demon’s Souls, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, and Sackboy: A Big Adventure – the latter two of which also came to PS4 – and the Series X relied solely on third-party and backwards-compatible titles.

In the months since then, the list of titles for both consoles has steadily increased, but so too has the number of titles that have been delayed into 2022.

The Xbox Series X received its first exclusive at the start of this year, with the reality-warping horror game, The Medium. For the future, there’s plenty to get excited about: Forza: Horizon 5 and Halo: Infinite are still the big hitters, though only Forza has received a firm release date (November 5th 2021), with rumours circulating that Halo will be pushed into 2022. Microsoft’s acquisition of ZeniMax Media will bring at least two high-profile exclusives in 2022 – Bethesda’s Starfield and Arkane’s Redfall – but these still don’t fill the massive gap the Series X has in 2021.

Game Pass is still the strongest argument for choosing the Series X, with hundreds of games from all Xbox generations ready to play. These will be joined by the console release of Microsoft Flight Simulator on July 27th, as well as the star-studded indie murder mystery 12 Minutes, coming August 19th, both of which will be available on the service from launch.

Things on the Sony side are a little more robust, with the first half of 2021 seeing two big exclusives – Returnal and Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart – and the upcoming months bringing a mix of remastered PS4 games such as Ghost of Tsushima: The Director’s Cut and Final Fantasy 7 Remake: Intergrade, and new games like Deathloop. Another Bethesda game, Deathloop is expected to come to the Series X eventually, but is listed as a PS5 exclusive until at least September 2022.

With God of War: Ragnarok having recently been delayed into 2022, the end of the year belongs to Horizon: Forbidden West. Probably. Easily the most anticipated PS5 game of the year, this robo-dinosaur adventure is currently in the same boat as Halo: Infinite, in that the release window is still just 2021, so it’s very possible that we will see a delay into 2022 before the year is out.

Winner – PS5

Until Microsoft’s acquisition of ZeniMax Media begins to bear fruit, Sony will continue to corner the market on high-quality exclusive games. Barring any dramatic shifts in terms of release dates, we will finish 2021 with a decent collection of PS5 exclusives, while the Series X will rely heavily on Game Pass well into 2022. Things could definitely change next year, but for now, Sony is the clear winner in terms of game lineup.

PS5 vs Xbox Series X: Controllers

Sony’s new DualSense controller has caused a stir. Marking a significant departure from its predecessor, the DualSense is a seriously impressive pad: the headline feature here is the new adaptive triggers, which can become harder or easier to press depending on what you’re using them for. The DualSense also has a built-in microphone with mute button, plus a new textured feel, upgraded rumble motors and a USB-C charging port.

More recently, and after much furore from fans, Sony announced two new colours for the DualSense controller: Cosmic Red and Midnight Black. While not a patch on the colour range and customisation options available for the Series X, this at least shows that Sony is heading in the right direction – here’s hoping they follow up with replaceable faceplates for the console soon.

The Xbox Series X Core gamepad is the exact opposite. Almost identical to its predecessor, the new gamepad has instead been subject to a few soft tweaks: it now sports the same directional pad as the Xbox Elite 2 controller, along with textured triggers, a dedicated share button and – you guessed it – a USB-C charging port. Unlike the DualSense, the Xbox Series X controller isn’t rechargeable and instead uses a pair of AA batteries.

To its credit, Microsoft has long been the place to go for variety in controller designs, and things haven’t changed with the Series X. The latest Xbox controller is available in five standard colours – Carbon Black, Robot White, Pulse Red, Shock Blue and Electric Volt- and if none of them strikes your fancy, you can head over to the Xbox Design Lab and create your own custom controller.

Another great option is the Adaptive Controller, a unified hub designed to make gaming more accessible to users with limited mobility. This focus on versatile gaming continues with the Razer Kishi, which essentially transforms your Android phone into a Nintendo Switch-like device, allowing you to stream games from your console and play them on the go.

Winner – PS5

There’s no competition here: while the Xbox Core pad is an excellent controller in its own right, and brings a wider range of colours, the DualSense innovates, building on the solid DualShock 4 to produce a genuinely remarkable piece of kit.

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PS5 vs Xbox Series X: Accessories

Just in case forking out hundreds on a shiny new console wasn’t enough of an expenditure for you, both consoles also offer a wide selection of accessories. While none of these ancillary products are a requirement for next-gen gaming, they can enhance the experience by expanding on the consoles’ features

The PlayStation 5 reveal made a big emphasis on the synergy between console and accessories, announcing them all together, with a unified black and white colour system for maximum style. The announcement showcased the PULSE 3D Wireless headset, which is optimised for 3D audio, allowing you to make the most out of the PS5’s Tempest 3D AudioTech. For multiplayer, the headset also features dual noise-cancelling microphones, and it charges via a USB-C connection.

Also included in the reveal was a media remote, with dedicated buttons for quick-launching Disney+, Netflix, Spotify and YouTube, a charging station for two DualSense controllers, and an HD camera, which utilises the PS5’s background-removing tools for gameplay streaming. For PSVR owners, you can also pick up a free adaptor that lets you use your PSVR camera with the PS5, by entering the serial number of your VR unit here.

On the Series X side of things, first up there’s the Xbox Wireless Headset, boasting a 12-15 hour battery life and direct connection to your console, so no need for an additional dongle. The audio output has enough body and clarity to capture every aural detail of your games, and the headset is compatible with the whole Xbox family, leaving you free to use it on multiple consoles.

Also very much worth mentioning, is the Seagate Storage Expansion card. Compatible with both the Series X and Series S, this card provides an additional 1TB of extra storage space, without compromising the speed and performance of the internal SSD. Given that the Series X was already ahead of the PS5 in terms of storage, this is another step up for Microsoft in the SSD arena.

Winner – Draw

As with a lot of the comparisons here, this is going to be a case of what matters most to you. If you like to have a lot of games ready to play at any given time, then the Series X has the greatly expandable storage for you. If you’re more interested in 3D audio and integrated access to streaming services, or you’re thinking of picking up a PSVR headset, then you’ll want to go for the PS5.

PS5 vs Xbox Series X: Multimedia

Good news: both the Xbox Series X and the PS5 are excellent for avid film fans and dedicated Netflix bingers. Both support the usual gamut of streaming services – Netflix, Prime Video, Now TV, Disney Plus, Apple TV Plus and so on – although as of yet neither console supports BBC iPlayer.

In terms of support for the home cinephiles, both consoles support Dolby Atmos in some capacity, although only the Xbox Series X will channel streaming service audio AND blu-ray audio via Atmos (the PS5 only supports the latter). Other supported surround sound formats include 5.1, 7.1, DTS:X (again, only for blu-rays on PS5) and Sony’s proprietary Tempest engine for game audio in conjunction with the Pulse 3D headset.

As we’ve already hinted, both consoles finally support 4K blu-ray disc playback. Both can also play games and movies in High Dynamic Range (HDR10) for richer colours, although only the Xbox Series X supports Dolby’s own HDR format, Dolby Vision.

Winner – Xbox Series X

The Microsoft console wins it courtesy of comprehensive Dolby sound and visual formats. Although Sony has made huge improvements over the PS4, which lacked a 4K blu-ray player, the Xbox Series X is still the discerning film enthusiast’s choice.

PS5 vs Xbox Series X: Verdict

Our conclusion is a simple one. With three wins apiece and two draws, there is no conclusive winner. Sorry, folks, it’s just too close to call: the best gaming console for you this time around is the one that does exactly what you want it to.

The Xbox Series X is the full package, an entertainment device capable of catering to everyone. It’s not the most exciting console, and in many ways, it won’t feel much different to its predecessor, but there’s no avoiding the fact that it’s stonkingly powerful and incredibly well-equipped. It’s a grown-up’s console.

The PS5, meanwhile, is far and away the popular choice. For reasons unbeknownst to us, Sony’s new console has generated such a buzz that it’s been impossible to find one since launch. It’s not as powerful as the Series X, but it feels far more like a new, exciting games console – the revamped UI, innovative controller and striking design help here. And let’s not forget that it’s leagues ahead in terms of exclusive games.

The PS5 is simply the place to get next-gen games right now, and that alone might be reason enough to get one for yourself (if you can). But before you do, don’t discount the Xbox Series X – in spite of everything, it’s a remarkably well-rounded console.

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