The battle for the next generation is officially underway. Both Sony and Microsoft have offered up the first tantalising details of their next consoles, the PS5 and Xbox Project Scarlett, respectively, and a picture of the next generation is beginning to form. New hardware means that fundamental adjustments to the ways that we play are coming, with the two tech giants vying for that all-important position underneath your television. The renewed 'battle for input one' really is the PS5 vs Xbox Project Scarlett; but which console will usher in revolution rather than mere iteration?
When considering the PS5 vs Xbox Project Scarlett contest, there's more to it than debating the merits of raw power alone – that's but a part of the picture. This is going to be a generation defined by the quality of services rendered; features such as virtual reality and game-streaming will sit on the periphery of the conversation, while each company debates the merits of diminishing load times and improving connectivity channels. The question of who emerges victorious out of the PS5 vs Xbox Project Scarlett battle is likely to be something that we discuss for much of the next decade, so let's start at the beginning and see which of the two next-gen consoles is edging ahead in the earliest days of the ninth console generation.
PS5 vs Xbox Project Scarlet Specs – is PS5 more powerful than Xbox Project Scarlett?
One of the key components of any generation shift is reflected in the pursuit of power. The introduction of entirely new hardware ecosystems to the console market essentially gives developers the opportunity to adjust their ambitions accordingly. The introduction of the PS5 and Xbox Project Scarlett means that PlayStation and Xbox will be able to redefine what is possible in interactive entertainment; fundamental changes to the way that we play are coming and it all starts with the tech packed into a sleek black box.
At the heart of this next generation initiative, both companies are pulling attention to the scale of the CPU (Central processing unit) and the GPU (Graphics processing unit). If the CPU is the brain, handling much of the internal calculations of the console, then the GPU is the heart of it, being used to both render graphical components and enhance the functionality of the central processing unit by accelerating and redistributing the flow of data. Basically, the CPU and GPU need to work in perfect harmony for Sony and Microsoft to achieve previously unfathomable levels of graphical fidelity.
Unsurprisingly, both Sony and Microsoft have opted to pair once again with tech-company AMD on this front. As detailed in the initial PS5 specs, its CPU will be a custom third-generation Ryzen chip, an eight-core behemoth packed with AMD's proprietary 7nm Zen Microarchitecture. The PS5 GPU is a heavily customised variant of AMD's Radeon's Navi, which can simulate 3D audio and support ray-tracing.
Microsoft hasn't been as forthcoming with specifics on the Xbox Project Scarlett specs, although we do know that the company has been working closely with AMD to co-engineer a custom system-on-chip (SOC) platform – which effectively means the CPU and GPU are integrated – to power Xbox Project Scarlett. The minute details of this SoC platform are yet to be properly detailed, but essentially it is a custom combination of the AMD Ryzen Zen 2 CPU core and a Navi GPU based on 'next-generation' Radeon RDNA architecture, which we're told will allow Xbox Project Scarlett to support hardware-accelerated real-time ray tracing.
What this all means is that both Microsoft and Sony believes it has engineered a system that will offer improvements to performance, graphics, and audio immersion over what we've seen in the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro era. It's also worth noting that both systems will still accept physical media, with Sony and Microsoft committing to supporting Blu-ray for the foreseeable future – although it is worth noting that neither company has committed to supporting 4K media will be supported via this format as of writing. Of course, without seeing the two systems running side by side, all of this is little more than posturing. With both consoles natively supporting 4K resolutions at 60 frames-per-second, promising support of 8K and frame rates up to 120 Hz, it would look like PS5 vs Xbox Project Scarlett are on relatively even footing in this early sparring of the specifications.
PS5 vs Xbox Project Scarlett – when will the consoles release?
When will you be able to get your hands on these next-gen systems? While Sony is yet to lock down a PS5 release date, only going so far as to say that it would absolutely not be launching in 2019, Microsoft has been a little bit more transparent. "Little" being the operative word here.
The Xbox Project Scarlett launch date is set for the somewhat innocuous "Holiday 2020". But to put a finer point on it, Microsoft tends to follow a bit of a pattern when it comes to launching new hardware (in North America, at least). The Xbox release date was 15 November 2001; Xbox 360 released 22 November 2005; Xbox One hit shelves 22 November 2013; and the Xbox One X launched 7 November 2017. So, it would be reasonable to assume that the Xbox Project Scarlett will launch November 2020.
PS5 vs Xbox Project Scarlett – Services
Microsoft knows better than anybody that the future of games is in services. This is an area in which Xbox Project Scarlett will have a clear advantage over the PS5, thanks to Microsoft's huge investment in services such as Xbox Live, Play Anywhere, Games With Gold, Game Pass, as well as throwing its weight behind the support of cross-platform play, game streaming, and third-party subscription services such as EA Access.
The PS5 will no doubt see the return of the PlayStation Network and the complimentary service PlayStation Plus, but Xbox Project Scarlett will launch with an established, tested and stable platform to draw from. Players will be able to immediately jump into hundreds of games on Xbox Project Scarlett thanks to the combination of backwards compatibility support and Game Pass, a subscription service that rotates out hundreds of Xbox 360 and Xbox games every month – including all of the first-party Xbox Game Studio exclusives. Microsoft has created an extremely player-friendly and player-focused ecosystem through its services this generation, and it'll be interesting to see whether Sony attempts to match its closest competitor in this area.
PS5 vs Xbox Project Scarlett – Which console will offer better VR?
If you want to experience virtual reality on console, you will want to invest in a PS5. It isn't even a competition when it comes to VR. Microsoft has restated its belief that VR belongs on PC time and time again, while Sony has recently gone on record by doubling down on its commitment to the emerging tech after shifting more than four million units since its launch in 2016.
PS5 VR will be there waiting for you at launch if you want it. The current PSVR headset will be forward compatible with the PS5, although we wouldn't be surprised to see Sony take a revised headset to market just after the launch of its upcoming system. Look at something like Oculus Quest, the new and moderately priced wireless VR headset from Oculus, and it's clear that manufacturing costs are starting to tumble while the quality of components and screens is starting to rise. It would make sense that Sony would want a next-generation PSVR headset working alongside its next generation PS5 console, and given the increased power output of the system, good things could be coming to PSVR as a result.
PS5 vs Xbox Project Scarlett – Will the consoles be backwards compatible?
The PS5 and Xbox Project Scarlett will support backwards compatibility, albeit to varying degrees. This is one area of the next-generation battle where Xbox has a clear advantage over Sony. PS5 backwards compatibility will indeed let you play your PS4 games on the new system, with Sony even going as far as to commit to what it is calling "cross-generation" support, designed to ensure that PS4 players are able to play multiplayer games with those that have already made the jump to PS5. This, Sony believes, will not only help foster healthy communities but help players migrate over to the new platform in good time too. There's no word yet on what this means for legacy titles – PS1, PS2 and PS3 games – but there's always a chance that these will be available to play on PS5 via a service like PlayStation Now.
Microsoft, on the other hand, has confirmed that Xbox Project Scarlett backwards compatibility will span "four generations" worth of Xbox games. Microsoft understands how important preservation is, and is working to ensure that the best (and select) games released on the Xbox platform since 2001 will be playable on Xbox Project Scarlett. The Xbox One X allows for a 9x resolution increase on some Xbox and Xbox 360 games available through back-cat, while many others see basic graphical improvements and improvements to performance, it wouldn't be a stretch to assume the Xbox Project Scarlett is being engineered to do the same.
If that weren't enough, Microsoft has also committed to ensuring that all Xbox One accessories and peripherals will work on Xbox Project Scarlett. In fact, it has gone on record to state that your games, achievements, progression and accessories moves forward to Scarlett. A generation shift doesn't need to mean a change in the way you experience video games on your system of choice.
PS5 vs Xbox Project Scarlett – Which console will play games better?
If there's going to be a true 'game changer' this new generation, it isn't going to be the dawn of ray tracing, real-time or otherwise, nor will it be the arrival of 8K resolutions or support of 120fps gaming. No, the real key to the next generation – and by extension, the PS5 vs Xbox Project Scarlett battle – will be on broader quality of life improvements to core game experiences. Both companies are taking a broad look at the annoyances that have become entrenched in the last decade and are looking to eradicate them: long loading times, the constant patching, download times, and inconsistent performance on the biggest games... it could all be a thing of the past.
Both the PS5 and Xbox Project Scarlett will come equipped with solid-state drives – an SSD, as you may better recognise it. This may not sound like much, but a shift in philosophy from mechanical hard drives (which you'll find in current-gen systems) to solid-state drives could be the key that unlocks the next generation’s true potential for both platforms. Sony is, so far, the only company to give us any real insight into the impact this could have on the way we play games; the leaked PS5 gameplay reveal shows Insomniac's Spider-Man have its loading time reduced from an average of 15 seconds on PS4 Pro to just 0.8 seconds on a PS5 dev kit. It might not sound like much, but this is huge if true.
When you do anything in a game, it is frantically scrambling behind the scenes to pull relevant information from the hard-drive in order to function. That's one of the reasons we have elaborate loadout menus while you're waiting for multiplayer games to kick into action; it's why fast-travel systems aren't all that fast anymore, and it's why you're only ever able to move through worlds at fairly consistent speeds – graphical effects and sleight of hand trickery used to simulate the illusion of momentum. The bigger games become, the better they begin to look, and the smoother they are expected to perform, the larger the strain on internal systems to sift through inordinate amounts of data and align them in place for you to play the game as intended. Many believe that SSDs have the potential to fix this particular issue.
Microsoft is promising that Xbox Project Scarlett will come equipped with an SSD that offers up to 40x faster read speeds than that of the Xbox One family of systems, while that storage drive can also be used as virtual RAM to further speed up data access and support the already-impressive GDDR6 RAM memory offering in the GPU. Consider that current gen consoles essentially utilise 5400RPM mechanical hard drives with a read speed of 80MBps; the best point of comparison here would be SSDs for PCs that connect directly to your computer's mainboard rather than via a cable, with can boost read speed up to 3200Mbps. That's what we should expect from Xbox Project Scarlett, with the PS5 offering potentially coming in just behind (although not by much, admittedly). This could fundamentally change our relationship with gaming.
PS5 vs Xbox Project Scarlett – What games will they launch with?
This is what it's really all about. As fun as it is to dive into specs and speculation, the truth is that the PS5 vs Xbox Project Scarlett battle will ultimately be resolved by the games made available over the generation. Given that we are well over a year from the launch of these two systems, we still have no clear idea as to what the PS5 launch games might be. Rumours abound that Sony's major first-party games for Holiday 2019 and Spring 2020 – Death Stranding, Ghost of Tsushima, and The Last of Us: Part 2 – will all likely cross the generation divide, getting re-releases engineered to make use of the new system's capacity for improving performance and loading times.
We know a little more about the Xbox Project Scarlett launch games, given that 343 Industries has gotten ahead of the pack and announced that Halo Infinite will be there on day one. Xbox Game Studios recently went on a buying spree, picking up eight independent studios and establishing a brand new one of its own; while we know very little of what the likes of Playground Games, Undead Labs, Double Fine, inXile, and Obsidian are building for Xbox Project Scarlett there's a good chance that at least one of these studios could have something ready for launch. It'll be a few months before we get a firm idea of the games that are coming to PS5 and Xbox Project Scarlett, but you should expect a few next-gen gems scattered in-between a lot of cross-generation re-releases, and old favourites released via backwards compatibility initiatives.
PS5 vs Xbox Project Scarlett – Will the consoles support cloud streaming?
With Google Stadia teasing the introduction of a new way to play – taking the concept of game-streaming and cloud-processing mainstream – there's no way that the power of the cloud won't factor into the next-gen offerings from Sony and Microsoft in one way or another. It's likely that both companies will offer limited services in this respect at launch, building out their architecture, data centres, and core platforms in the intervening years as streaming becomes more accepted, supported, and streamlined. You can see signs of this now, in the way that Microsoft has spent a generation cycle touting the potential of its Azure platform and its gradual transition towards a digital-first ecosystem.
For now, however, all eyes will be on PS5 streaming via PlayStation Now and Project xCloud. Sony's subscription service has been a quietly successful – and profitable – part of the PlayStation business for some time now, letting PS4 users download and stream select titles from an ever-growing library that already sits at a respectable 700+ games. You should expect to see this platform evolve, especially as it is currently Sony's answer to backwards compatibility, where select PS2 games can be downloaded and played via the service, while a library of PS3 games can be played via the cloud.
As for Microsoft, it's investing in something far larger. Given its flirtation with cloud architecture with Azure this generation, its established digital platforms like Play Anywhere and Game Pass, and the introduction of Project xCloud, it would look as if Xbox is closer to making game-streaming a standard way to play than its competitor. xCloud is designed to complement the core-Xbox experience, letting you carry and seamlessly access your content and game saves immediately on just about any device that you have to hand. There's still a long way for this tech to go, but there is potential for it to unlock Stadia-like streaming services across the Xbox family. Of course, this might be only half the story, given that Sony and Microsoft entered into a cloud partnership to "explore joint development of future cloud solutions in Microsoft Azure to support their respective game content-streaming services". Either way, expect more importance to be placed on cloud streaming by both companies the further we move through this upcoming generation.
PS5 vs Xbox Project Scarlett – How much will the consoles cost?
That's the question on everybody's mind, isn't it? Given the components being stuck inside the PS5 and Xbox Project Scarlett systems, there's a pretty good chance that they could be extremely expensive. Both Sony and Microsoft are yet to detail launch details such as pricing, but have gone on record to assure us that it is aware that there's a sweet spot to hit between power and the price that comes with it.
"We understand what reasonable price points are for a console and kind of what customers expect about that. At the same time to you, we are innovating we are pushing the boundaries of some of this," Jason Ronald, Microsoft's Partner Director of Program Management told our sister site Windows Central. "We're not sharing any details on price, or, you know, more detailed specs at this point. But I will say that we're very confident in what we're building, something that will set a new bar for expectations of console gaming."
Given that the Xbox One and the Xbox One X – currently the most powerful home console on the market, a moniker Microsoft is eager to retain into the next generation – launched at $499, there's little to no chance in our estimation that Project Xbox Scarlett price will come in any cheaper than this.
As for Sony, it has offered similar platitudes to Microsoft but offered nothing concrete. While the PS4 and PS4 Pro both entered the market at $399, there's a fairly good chance that the PS5 price will mirror that of the PS3, which launched at $499. The truth is, the addition of components – such as the SSD drive and a cutting edge CPU and GPU – is going to immediately push these consoles towards the more expensive end of the market register, and that's before you even begin to factor in elements like Blu-ray drives, advanced wireless networking, and cooling.
PS5 vs Xbox Project Scarlett – Which should you buy?
In the earliest days of PS5 vs Xbox Project Scarlett it really is all to play for. Microsoft has spent years investing heavily in services and cloud technology, and is the first out of the gate to announce launch titles and a release window, which means Xbox Project Scarlett technically edges ahead at this stage in the game.
Still, given how far away November 2020 is, there's still plenty of time for Sony to get out in front of the players to showcase its plans for the PS5. This is going to be one hell of a console generation – the fun really is just beginning!
Just how important will ray tracing be for Sony's PS5 and Xbox's Project Scarlett? We look at all of the information to work out whether it will be a true evolution for fidelity in the next-generation.