Playing games at home has never been more high-res, as the Sony PlayStation 5 envisions a world where entertainment is sharp, detailed, and a seriously big deal.
With so much time spent at home, it’s hardly surprising we’re turning to gadgets that give enjoyment more and more. The real world can only provide so much, and the digital world is growing, and not just in what it provides for offerings, but how it looks.
Video games offer a perfect sense of escape, and developers have long indulged that by bringing the works of fiction to an interactive world that anyone can dine on. It’s why games can hold attention for so long, and why we keep creeping on back.
But games, too, have been changing. They’re more often than not just single play experiences for a few hours, but long drawn out adventures, delivering narrative and play, and these days impressive and realistic graphics above all. It’s something a game system generation typically sets out to cover, and do so over the course of close to a decade when it arrives. That’s a hard path to chart, for sure, because a console maker has to decide that it will set a certain level of performance for the next X years.
However with every console generation, that’s what has happened. Over time, developers wrench as much performance out of the console as they can, often to the surprise and delight of fans.
We’ve seen solid performance out of the previous generation of consoles in the past decade, but from now onwards, the focus isn’t just on creating realistic environments to deliver those high impressions, but on making them work with the next generation of TVs, too.
It’s not just game makers that have been busy over the past decade, but also TV manufacturers. While the 4K TV has improved and become ubiquitous and expected in TV purchases, it arrives alongside another ultra high-res format: 8K.
Sharper and higher resolution again, 8K is the next stage of Ultra HD, but it’s a format without a reason, because there is virtually no content available for those TVs. And yet the next generation of consoles can do there, and it’s one of the main features of Sony’s PlayStation 5.
Sadly, without an 8K TV, it’s not a feature we’re able to test, much like other people. 8K is hardly commonplace these days, and still attracts a high cost, and so 8K isn’t going to be a selling feature for most people in the PlayStation 5. But 8K is just one of the ways Sony has tried to make its latest console futureproof, a goal which Sony has delivered in spades.
What is the PS5?
The next generation of Sony’s video game systems, the PlayStation 5 (PS5) is a big refresh, and not just because it adds a converted numeric spot to the name. It’s seriously a big console, with new hardware inside what is basically an oversized shiny white tower.
While consoles can feel more like they aim to blend into your home entertainment unit, the PS5 stands out: it’s big and doesn’t take its presence lying down. As it is, it wants to stand up, and leaving it on its side just makes it look a little strange.
Inside, there’s a set of custom graphical hardware made by AMD, able to handle those 4K and 8K resolutions, but also able to go back to standard HD resolutions, including 720p and 1080p. Anything lower may run into a problem.
The video power is one of the most important parts, and it works with a custom eight-core chip from AMD and a solid 16GB RAM, but a solid-start drive that isn’t quite a terabyte, delivering an 825GB SSD, though the storage can be upgraded by a PS5 owner, if needed.
Connections are fairly future-friendly, with Bluetooth 5.1, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax also known as WiFi 6, a wired Gigabit Ethernet port, plus a few more wired connections over USB and HDMI. Audio supports sound as high as 7.1 surround, with both DTS:X and Dolby Atmos supported in select titles.
There are two models of the console, an all-digital edition without a Blu-ray drive, and a more media-focused powerhouse model with an Ultra HD Blu-ray model, too.
Regardless of what you choose, this arrives in a sizeable system that almost looks like it’s wearing a tuxedo, and will definitely showcase itself in your home. Where the PS3 was a sleek barrel of a system and the PS4 went for an almost subtle pushed back wedge, the PS5 draws the eye in something extravagant and almost crazy, daring it to be looked at and ultimately played with.
What does it do?
Beneath that unique and intriguing design is a game system capable of some beautifully sharp imagery, plus the ability to handle movies and music, too.
Much like the other gaming systems, there’s an operating system here built mostly for games, but because it’s a device meant for entertaining, it’ll do that any way it can. You’ll find apps for streaming services, such as Apple TV+, Netflix, Disney+, and more, and there’s also a Blu-ray drive in the main edition, the one we were reviewing, meaning both Full HD 1080p Blu-rays and their 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays can run here. Movies are covered.
Of course, there’s also room for interactive playtime with games, the likes of which can be loaded from that Blu-ray player, or even downloaded. We spent most of our time with downloaded games, and you may find some of the titles for the PS4 available in a slightly better form on the PS5, such as is the case with Spider-Man. However if you have a collection of PS4 titles (or you’re itching to get one now that the PS5 is forcing down the prices of PS4 games), Sony has made this system backwards compatible with nearly every PS4 game.
Part of the focus on playtime comes from Sony’s new controller, which itself feels designed better, but comes with newer features overall.
The new PlayStation 5 controller
The idea is to make games more interactive, and the new controller almost feels like it adopts some of the ideas Sony tried in its PS Vita, with touch sensitive components, a microphone, and even a speaker to make audio appear as if it’s coming from below you.
It’s a combination of extra features you’ve not really seen work on a controller before that could breathe new life into how we control games, though we’re half expecting developers to largely ignore it.
If they do, they’ll be missing on touch controls in the middle section to swipe up and down on things, on a microphone that you can speak or blow into, and on several combinations of buttons that still work with the SixAxis approach to controls that means you can wave it about the place and the PlayStation acknowledges by translating movements into the fame.
The speaker is cute, too, with an extra low power speaker providing little sounds that add to your experience from below your ears, almost out of earshot, but just enough in to still matter. Rain, snow, wind, the sounds of the environment… that sort of thing.
Cute additions, and ones we’ve not imagined would come from our hands.
However the new DualShock controller is more than just cute gimmicks, because it also offers a new design that feels like the excellent Xbox controller and Sony’s DualShock had a bit of a love affair, and came together in a totally glorious way. It’s comfortable, easy to get used to, and so nice on the hands that kids and adults alike can have fun with it, too. It even feels like it has more ways to vibrate and move, which in turn can move you in your games.
It’s a whole lot different from the PS4 controller, and feels more like Sony has nailed it on its fifth go.
Does the PS5 do the job?
Plug the PlayStation 5 into a 4K TV — any 4K TV will do, regardless of what Sony’s marketing suggests — and you’ll find the PlayStation 5 is capable of some impressive imagery. We’ve played Spider-Man on the PS4 and it was lovely, but it feels a little more stepped up on the PS5, as if the developers are able to wrench that little bit more out of the hardware.
Loading the games feels a little faster, too, which is nice, and provided you can find the games you did, the PS5 delivers.
It’s easy to fall in love with what Sony has created, big as it is. It’s not just a minor bump in hardware and spec, but something bigger overall, like a big event worth taking note of, and one that supports 4K Blu-rays, the Ultra HD discs that the PS4 Pro missed out on for some reason. Granted, we’re not sure how many people still opt for Blu-ray over the wonders of digital streaming, but as far as all-in-one entertainment systems go, the PS5 has our affections.
What does the PS5 need?
But as much as we’ve found ourselves falling in love with Sony’s latest console, there are some things missing, and not just a design that our IKEA Hemmes TV stand would prefer more. No, it’s missing quite a bit on the games front.
You see there’s a lot of power in the PS5, but it feels like you may not get all the software to take advantage of that power for some time. A few months into the release, the game library just doesn’t feel stellar yet, though at least we have support for pretty much every PlayStation 4 game, so Sony got some of the backwards compatibility right.
That said, we wish Sony had the foresight to make the PS5 the ultimate PlayStation, and include support for older PlayStation consoles inch the PS5, as well. Some games haven’t quite made their way from the PS3 or PS Vita, and with all the hardware in this thing, it should be possible for older games made for less powerful systems to play nice with the shiny new PlayStation 5.
We’d love the opportunity to replay LittleBigPlanet, Patapon, or Echochrome, as these don’t exist in a digital incarnation, and seem lost to the depths of the software libraries for consoles Sony doesn’t support anymore, and still seem not to.
Is the PS5 worth your money?
It’s also a little expensive, and still not remarkably easy to find. We’re not sure if console availability is a negative, since it’s one Sony will eventually end up fixing, but it’s definitely a flaw right now, because there’s so few.
You can find the accessories and plenty of pre-orders, but while there are two models — one with a Blu-ray drive and one without — neither can be easily found at the time of publishing, a few months after release.
That’ll change eventually, and when the $599 digital-only PS5 rocks up to fulfill orders, we suspect the Blu-ray equipped $749 PS5 won’t be too far behind.
As for if it delivers its value, that’ll depend on how much of a gamer you are. If the answer is you love to game and want the best graphical experience, the result may well be a yes, because this is just a delightful spot of hardware that delivers the performance and capability in spades.
While the games are gradually making their way out, the fact that Sony has finally thought of one element of backwards compatibility is a win, as is the fact that some games from the previous generation are compatible, something Sony has never managed to achieve.
It’s an easy argument to convince someone to go for a PlayStation 5 because it’s such a lovely system. This thing is a powerhouse just made for entertainment. Between graphical prowess, the support for 4K and higher, and that it just delivers, it’s hard to say no to the PS5.
Except until you look for stock. Then it’s easy to say “no”, just with a different emphasis, because the moment you ask if there’s stock, and get told “no”, you’ll scream “noooooooo”, clutching your fist to the sky and shaking it with disdain for the world and all its problems.
Back to the PS5, there’s little reason to say “no” to Sony’s latest console. It doesn’t really respond to that word. Rather, this console is one giant yes. So much yes. So much want, but so much yes. Highly recommended.