It’s finally here. After a generation that saw Sony’s console rocket past the competition from the start, the launch of the PlayStation 5, possibly one of the most hyped tech launches of all time, is upon us. I’ve been testing the PS5 for the largest chunk of the past 2 weeks at this point, and I can finally tell you all what I think to Sony’s latest beast of a machine.
I think it’s probably right that we start with the design of the console itself. It’s fair to say that this won’t be to everyone’s taste, nor will it easily fit into some people’s entertainment setups without a bit of tinkering. Personally, I quite like the design, and the more I see it sat atop my console space in my office, the more I appreciate the contrasting black and white design, and the subtle curves on the white panels that finish off the console’s futuristic skyscraper looks. Every inch of the white panelling has a subtle texture on it, and if you look closely enough at the inner surface of the panel, it’s covered in tiny PlayStation symbols, which is a really nice touch. Much was made of the PS5’s stand in the run up to launch, but really? It’s a stand. You put the console on it. If it’s stood up, it screws in, if it’s lying flat, it hooks onto the back. If you go to move the PS5 while it’s laying flat, you can occasionally dislodge it, which results in a bit of a faff getting it back in place, but I know I’m not planning on moving the console that much.
It’s not just huge for the sake of it though. Sony detailed in their teardown video recently that the size is, in part, to accommodate the massive heatsink that the console uses to try effectively dissipate the heat that will doubtless be generated by its Zen 2 CPU and ‘Big Navi’ GPU. We’ll come on to tech specs in a little while, but my first impressions of the heat and noise to come from the PS5 are remarkable. I had to put my ear right next to the console in order to hear its whopping great fan spinning, even during an extended gameplay session of Spider-Man: Miles Morales.
One other thing that was mentioned in the teardown video was the mitigation that was put in place with the Ultra-HD Blu-ray Drive. Dampeners have been put into the surrounding casing for the drive itself, which theoretically reduce vibration noise coming from the system. Unfortunately, this is an area that I was a little disappointed by. Installing certain games from the disc led to a noticeable hum coming from the drive, which sadly resonates throughout my furniture at quite a level. This did vary from disc to disc though, and it wasn’t anywhere near as loud when watching a 4k Blu-Ray disc, so your mileage will vary on that one.
So, after you’ve taken your shiny PS5 out of the box (a fairly minimal experience, as Sony are trying to make the packaging as eco-friendly as possible), and hooked it up to your TV via the included HDMI 2.1 cable (yes, it’s 2.1, confirmed), you’re greeted with the new PS5 UI. It’s a definite evolution on the PlayStation 4’s interface, but it feels extremely slick and snappy, primarily due to the custom SSD that’s holding the OS. Preinstalled on the system is Astro’s Playroom, which is a wonderful demonstration of the capabilities of the DualSense (more on that in a while). There is still a lot of stuff to get used to with the new interface, particularly given the familiarity everyone will have with the PS4’s UI, but once things start to click, it all feels very intuitive for the most part. Your game library is in a tab on its own, and it will show you which games are only playable on PS4, as well as which ones you can pick up and play immediately on the PS5. There are tons of UI features, ones which we’ll be posting a video on closer to launch, but the biggest one for me is the ability to set your controller inversion options at a system level, something we’ve not seen since the Xbox 360. This will automatically apply for games going forward (it’s worked for the ones I’ve tested so far), and you can also set things like difficulty, and graphical settings. Possibly the slickest addition to the new UI, however, is the inclusion of the ‘cards’ at the bottom of each game. These will dynamically update depending on what the developers code in, and will allow you to jump immediately to a specific section of the game. If you want to load up a level in a platformer, for example, you can just hit square and be taken immediately to the start of it. This is a really cool feature that I hope sees use by everyone, and hopefully some ability to add custom cards to games if you’ve got a specific level or game mode that you like to play. As of right now, I’ve only had the chance to test this with 3 games, but it’s worked flawlessly so far, with the cards taking you to the exact right spot in the game with a frightening degree of speed.
I think that is going to be the big thing that people take away from the PS5 after a short amount of time with it. This thing is frighteningly quick. Booting a PS5 specific title is a mind-bending experience the first time you do it. Whether you load something like Astro Bot from the home screen or one of the cards, you’re propelled into the cartoony landscape within literal seconds. Mile Morales is another staggering example. Loading the game from the SSD takes under 10 seconds, and jumping back into gameplay from the main menu takes another 2, if that. Gone are the days of scrolling through your Twitter feed while waiting for the next cutscene to load in, or while waiting for the fast travel to do its thing. In Miles Morales, fast travel takes less time than web-swinging over a single block. As a quick experiment, I quit out of all applications, shut my PS5 down, unplugged it for an hour and then set it back up. It took me under a minute to get from plugging the power cable in, to being in the middle of a fist fight as Miles. It’s astonishing, and makes going back to the PS4 Pro feel archaic in comparison.
The PS5’s SSD offers up some mind-bendingly fast loading for games
Tech spec wise, I’m really impressed with the PS5 on the whole. WiFi 6 is included by default, and the range/signal strength is suitably impressive. The supplied cable is indeed an HDMI 2.1 cable, enabling refresh rates up to 120Hz at 4k, or 60fps at 8k (if you’ve got the money for one of those panels!) but unless you have a TV that supports HDMI 2.1, you’ll be limited to 4k60 in the YUV422 colour space instead of full RGB due to “HDMI 2.0 limitations” – This was something that was definitely possible with the PS4 Pro, so I’m not sure what’s happening there. By default, the whole system outputs into HDR, which is a great thing given the PS4 and Pro’s preference of rendering the home screen in SDR until you launch an HDR game. With the whole screen rendering in HDR at all times, it stops those awkward HDMI handshaking moments where the display gets cut off for a second or two until the HDR signal starts getting passed through. By and large, the HDR image presented by the PS5 is fantastic, although this will obviously vary game-to-game. While we’re on the subject of HDR, however, I feel I should mention that there is no Dolby Vision support at the time of writing on the PS5, although with the system clearly being at the specifications to support it, I would hope this could be added in via a patch later on, possibly at a cost to users given the licensing requirements from Dolby. I suspect this could be the same for Dolby Atmos, given that there is no option for this in any of the sound menus either. Then there’s the SSD. With its custom controller, it talks directly to the CPU without the requirement of a PCIe interface. This, as mentioned, is the thing that makes loading times a thing of the past. There is only a total of 664GB useable on the internal storage, but you can utilise any external storage you’ve used on your PS4 for storing backward compatible games. There is text on the bottom of the PS5 box which suggests you can transfer PS5 games to it for ‘cold storage’, but as of the time of writing, I’ve not been able to do this, possibly down to pre-release firmware restrictions.
Of course, the bulk of the review so far has talked about everything but games. But how does the PS5 cope as the latest and greatest gaming machine from Sony? Well, thankfully, everything I’ve thrown at it so far has resulted in near flawless results. There should be reviews up by the time you see this for Miles Morales and Astro Bot, but both of those titles are outstanding in their own right. Technically, it’s hard to find flaws in them, with Astro running at a rock solid 60fps throughout, and Miles running at 30 or “up to” 60 if you want to turn off the Ray Tracing elements. I’m not quite sure why you’d want to, however, as the ray traced reflections in that game look fantastic. For my full thoughts, go and check out the review, but it’s a graphical powerhouse, and it’s really nice to see real time ray traced graphics coming to a console. And before any members of the PC Master race come calling, this is a damn fine level of ray tracing for a machine that costs less in total than the recent RTX 3070 does just for a GPU.
What about when you’ve finished your launch titles though? What if you want to dive into your back catalogue of PS4 games and see if you can get any benefit from them? Well, Sony is reaping the rewards from going down the x86 route with the PS4. Sony claim that 99% of your PS4 library will work on the PS5, and from my initial testing, that’s accurate. I have close to 400 games in my library, and of those, there were only a couple that had the dreaded “Play on PS4” logo slapped onto their artwork. I do suspect that some of these may be updated, but that appears to be on the developers rather than Sony themselves. When you do get into a title though, you should immediately start to notice a difference. If installed to the on-board SSD, you will notice definite improvements to loading times from games. Not quite as instantaneous as the native PS5 titles, but you’ll definitely see things speeding up quite a bit. Where the major benefit comes in, however, is frame rates.
Microsoft have made a big deal about the backward compatibility of the Xbox Series X, and how it will take full advantage of the console regardless of the game you’re running. Meanwhile Sony has kept relatively quiet as to whether games will run “just like on Pro” or follow the same path. Thankfully, it seems as though the arguments will essentially be null and void for fanboys on both sides of the argument, as the PS5 handled every game I put on it with an unlocked frame rate superbly, locking the frame rate to 60fps and delivering a remarkably smooth experience. And yes, that includes Dark Souls 3. Sadly, Bloodborne is still locked at 30fps, but the frame pacing issues that were being faced are mostly gone, but not entirely eliminated.
Also included on day one if you’re a PS Plus subscriber is the PS Plus Collection. This is a bunch of titles that people may have skipped out on, including a number of huge first party exclusives from Sony. God of War, Uncharted 4, The Last Guardian and more are included, and all of which perform brilliantly on the PS5. God of War is essentially locked at 60fps now, while the notoriously flaky Last Guardian is thankfully at a solid 30. It does make me wonder if more games will receive “frame rate unlockers” going forward to fully showcase the power of the PS5. If you’re concerned about space, you can use any external drives you would’ve done on the PS4, and even bring them over to the PS5 without issue, but be aware they will only play PS4 titles and be used for cold storage for games designed for the new system.
All of this brings me to the DualSense. Or, as I’m going to designate it, the game changer. It feels incredibly comfortable to hold, even for long periods. The textured grip on the back is lovely, carrying the PlayStation symbols design over from the inner side of the main console, and the ‘plates’ on the front carry the design language through to the controller as well. The D pad and face buttons are now translucent plastic, which feels more premium than any other controller I’ve held, with the possible exception of the Xbox Elite series 2. Gone is the DualShock 4’s light bar, replaced with two slivers of light either side of the touch pad, similar to when the PS4’s controller was slightly tweaked around the time of the Pro’s launch. The buttons all feel responsive and not ‘spongey’ in any way, but the DualSense really comes alive when it’s powered on. The DualSense takes the Switch’s overhyped “HD Rumble” and implementing haptics in a way that I’ve simply not felt in a controller before. In Astro’s Playroom, footsteps feel different depending on surface, and they respond on either side of the controller depending on which foot hits the ground. Wading through mud feels squishy, wind blowing sand into the controller makes it feel like grit is hammering the inner workings, and rain drops can be individually felt on the controller in different places. Adaptive triggers are where it goes from a damn good pad to a phenomenal one. I just hope that third parties don’t abandon this tech quickly, as it’s absolutely incredible. As for battery life, it appears solid. After absolutely hammering Astro’s Playroom, a game which utilises every possible function of the DualSense, as well as a couple of other titles, I’ve had to charge it twice. It seems much improved over the lifespan of the DualShock 4, despite its array of advanced features.
Ultimately then, the question arises. Is the PlayStation 5 worth its £450 asking price? Well, a console is only as good as the games you can play on it. As with pretty much every launch lineup, the pickings are relatively slim, but there are titles you can enjoy and get the most benefit from out of the gate. Sony have been smart with their PS Plus offerings to new owners too, and included a list of games to immediately add to your collection if you’re a subscriber in addition to the vast majority of titles you already own, many of which will take some advantage of the new hardware.
The PS5 is an impressive console, there’s no doubt about that. Games designed for the system with the new custom SSD in mind are already proving that they can eliminate loading times, and look absolutely stunning to boot. In my opinion though, the real magic in the system is with the DualSense. Adding an extra level of immersion into games, the haptic feedback and adaptive triggers really throw you for a loop the first time they kick into gear. It’s easily the best PlayStation controller that has been put out to market, and I sincerely hope that developers continue to make use of the new features.