Xbox Series X vs Playstation 5 – Game Developer Explains

So the new consoles have finally been announced. The Xbox Series X vs the Playstation 5. So which one should you get, what are the differences between them. As we approach release we’re going to look at what you can expect to find from each one from the unique perspective of a developer who has been developing games for both for some months now and is quite familiar with the two.

For simplicity’s sake, we are not including the Xbox Series S in this comparison, but we are including the Playstation 5 Digital Edition where applicable. The reasoning behind this is the PS5 Digital Edition is of comparable strength and price with the Xbox Series X and the PS5, whereas the Xbox Series S is a significant step down in power, more comparable to the Xbox One X. Because of this, many games may not get released for it that are on the main consoles or will be available at a much-reduced quality, similar to a Switch game compared to an Xbox One/PS4 game. For this reason we will only be looking at the Xbox Series X vs the Playstation 5.

Price & Launch Dates

For most people, the price will be one of the biggest and most important parts of the purchase. Consoles are expensive and they certainly aren’t getting any cheaper. Much of the Xbox 360’s early success over the more powerful PS3 was down to it being cheaper. So how does this generation match up in terms of the Xbox Series X vs the Playstation 5?

Xbox Series X

  • Xbox Series X – $449.99
  • Xbox All Access Subscription with Xbox Series X – $28.99/month for 24 months.

The Xbox Series X comes in at the initial price point of $449.99, slightly cheaper than the standard PS5 once again. Microsoft is also offering an interesting deal, allowing you to sign up for Xbox All Access for $28.99 a month for 24 months which is not only a way to pay for the console slowly over time, it also gives you access to the usual Xbox All Access content such as the catalog of games. This will set you back significantly more though, costing $695.76 over the course of 12 months. The choice will ultimately come down to if you can afford to pay for it up-front and if you will make use of the other All Access features.

Playstation 5

  • Playstation 5 Standard Edition – $499.99
  • Playstation 5 Digital Edition – $399.99

The PS5 comes in at the slightly higher price point of $499.99 and currently isn’t offing a similar monthly deal with their PS Now or PS Plus subscription. They are, however, offering a cheaper version that even undercuts the Xbox Series X’s price point. The Playstation 5 Digital Edition is the same console but without the disk drive, meaning you can only play digital versions of games, not boxed versions from the shop. The trade-off for this is the $399.99 price tag.

Console Looks

Whilst not too important to some people, how the console looks can make a big difference for people. It’s what you first see when you open the box and it will often take a center stage position of the room, by the TV so people want it to look stylish. Ultimately beauty is in the eye of the beholder but both consoles are certainly striking in their looks, and for very different reasons.

Xbox Series X

Xbox Series X - Microsoft
Xbox Series X – Microsoft

The Xbox Series X, while definitely the more plain looking of the two consoles, is also arguably the most radical and unusual looking consoles outside of Nintendo’s line up. Looking more like a PC tower with its tall, cuboid shape it looks more like the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey than a traditional console. It’s unlikely to fit in your TV cabinet so some furniture rearrangement might be in order, but a focus on the ventilation should help keep the console cool and avoid the incredibly noisy fans of previous consoles, but time will tell once game developers start pushing the graphics to the limits in a few years time.

Playstation 5

PlayStation 5 - Sony
Playstation 5 – Sony

The Playstation 5, in comparison, looks much more like we’ve come to expect from consoles. The sleek curves look more reminiscent of the PS3 after the sharper angles of the PS4. The emphasis has been placed on the thin and curvy design. Whilst the console can be laid flat it has clearly been designed with an upright position in mind, similar to the Xbox Series X.

Screen Resolution & Frame Rate

Always one of the main selling points of new technology, screen resolution is skyrocketing these days. The jump to HD was a big step and for a while, 1080p was the standard everywhere outside of cinema screens. Since then the resolution has shot up, with 4k TVs fairly commonplace and 8k TVs arriving too (although at a price point that would make most average buyers lightheaded).

The frame rate or fps (frames per second) refer to how many times the image changes on the screen, with human eyes requiring about 24-30 fps to see a smooth video as opposed to a series of still images. Higher frame rates give a smoother image and can also affect how often certain functions in the game are processed in the game. This can lead to a smoother experience overall. Normally the only games that benefit from such a high frame rate are fast action games like FPS games or MOBAs, so many other genres of games may never use such high frame rates and using the processing power to render nicer graphics instead.

It can be quite easy to just look at the total numbers and think the highest is obviously best, and generally, it is. But to let you in on some insider info, no game developer, even the biggest AAA studios out there, is currently targeting games that are 4k/8k as well as 60/120fps. Sometimes games will claim to hit these but these are either claiming what it could be or it allows you to do one or the other. Realistically at our current tech, it’s just not possible to hit the graphics modern games have at both 8k and 120 fps. The jump from HD to 4k is already 8x the rendering. To do that over 2-4x per second compared to standard games is not happening any time soon. So look into these numbers as possibilities and not guaranteed.

Xbox Series X

  • 4K Screen Resolution
  • 120 fps

The Xbox Series X is able to output the screen resolution at 4K which will match the resolution of most modern TVs but at the speed, to technology improvements, it may find itself lacking later in its lifecycle if we expect this console generation to last a similar length to previous ones. Based on previous generations it is likely Microsoft will release an updated version in a few years will a more powerful output. This is purely speculation however so it will remain to be seen.

It can output 120 fps, which is more than most games currently support but will most likely become the norm sooner rather than later. Either way, it should be plenty more than is necessary for most games.

Playstation 5

  • 8K Screen Resolution
  • 120 fps

The Playstation 5 boasts a huge 8K output which may at first seem excessive. Unless you have a close to $10,000 lying around you probably don’t currently have access to an 8K TV so the difference may seem inconsequential, but looking at previous TV generations it only takes a few years for higher resolution TVs come down to a more reasonable price so they will more than likely be available to those of us on an average paycheck withing the life span of this console generation. The PS5 also has the potential for 120 fps output, the same as the Xbox Series X. In terms of the Xbox Series X vs the Playstation 5, the Playstation reaches out just ahead in this regard.

HDR – High Dynamic Resolution

This is where things get a bit nerdy and technical, but it’s something that is making a huge difference to the quality of the image rendered and the overall graphics of the game. HDR or High Dynamic Resolution is the technical term for what is essentially a larger color range. This both allows much more vibrant colors to be displayed as well as much deeper blacks. The player doesn’t need to do anything to take advantage of this outside of owning a TV that handles it (as most now do) and possibly tweaking a few sliders to ensure it’s showing at it’s best, much like the brightness setting.

In terms of the Xbox Series X vs the Playstation 5, both have HDR features , but it is still a reasonably new technology in games that will have a big impact going forward, so it’s important that people understand what it is outside of the sales hype.

Hard Drive

This year the hard drives are one of the most interesting parts about the consoles. Usually, the only thing to report is the size, with the most interesting features are versions of the consoles you can buy without them. But not this time. This will be an interesting battleground to see develop between the Xbox Series X vs Playstation 5.

Both Sony and Microsoft have announced their own, custom-built, super-fast SSDs. For computer users, SSDs are reasonably commonplace these days, and anyone who has used a computer with an SSD can vouch for the speed difference. As such the upgrade to SSD is an exciting one to start with, but both have announced ones that have been specifically made to run with their hardware, with claims that they outshine even the best PC SSD.

Xbox Series X

The Xbox Series X’s claims about their hard drives capabilities are a little more modest, but a little more believable. They state that it will massively decrease loading times and allow the game to be rendered at a higher resolution and frame rate. Which is almost certainly will.

One interesting selling point for the Xbox is that it has an expansion port on the back that increased the overall hard drive space without compromising on speed, which is impressive, the downside being the hard drive is a specially made one, so expect to be paying a premium compared to your standard computer SSDs.

Playstation 5

Sony was very quick to show off their hard drive tech to developers, along with their lofty goals. Publicly they have described it as ‘near-instant load times’ and privately have said their goal is to have no loading screens whatsoever in their games. On first use, it seems that the tech they are delivering certainly is impressive, but the general consensus from developers seems to be that it’s unlikely to quite hit that mark. Perhaps towards the later part of the console’s life cycle developers may be able to follow up on that promise. Never-the-less, the fact that we are able to talk about such advancement is exciting, to say the least.

3D Spacial Audio

Both consoles are boasting new 3D audio as a primary feature. This is not to be mistaken with surround sound, which uses speakers placed around the room to immerse the user in the world. 3D audio takes it a step further. The idea is that as well as being surrounded by the sound it should also have verticality, for example, you could hear the rain on the roof above you or your footsteps on the ground below you.

This is achieved by not only by making the sound louder in one ear to make it sound like it’s coming from that direction, but it also delays the sound in the other ear by a fraction of a second to replicate the time it would take for an actual sound to reach that ear. That doesn’t sound that impressive, admittedly, but it tricks the brain into believing it on a level that isn’t otherwise possible, similar to the way that VR does an impressive job of recreating depth by showing two videos that are slightly offset to match the eyes. Combined they could create incredibly immersive experiences.

In terms of the Xbox Series X and the Playstation 5, we don’t know much about the specifics for each console’s tech, other than they are using different programs to generate it so there may be minor differences. We do know that for this to work you will need to use headphones for this to work, as the algorithms need to know exactly where your ears are to generate it correctly. This may seem odd for consoles that primarily run on TVs in the lounge, but luckily both consoles have headphone jacks in their controllers this time around so if you are having a solo experience you can take advantage of this feature.

Controller Features

Controllers are an interesting thing to view throughout gaming history. Sometimes they can stay more or less the same for generations, sometimes they can entirely revolutionize the way we play games. The Wii’s motion controller is a great example of an ‘out there’ controller design that changed how many played games. Others such as the Wii U’s controller, not catching on quite so much.

Generally, the big controller innovation comes from Nintendo, with Sony and Microsoft instead deciding to stick with their tried and true formula, while adding features here and there to add to the experience. Some features more than others.

Xbox Series X

Xbox Series X Controller - Microsoft
Xbox Series X – Microsoft

Microsoft has been pretty quiet on the controller front this time around. It seems that much of the focus was on the console itself rather than any new features. Looks-wise it is near identical to the last 2 generations of Xboxs. In terms of new features, they have only announced a share button, similar to the last generation Playstation, and a D-pad with full 360 functionality as well as knobbly grips to help you hold on to the controller.

Playstation 5

Playstation 5 Controller - Sony
Playstation 5 – Sony

Much like the Xbox, the Playstation 5 controller at first looks quite familiar. All the pieces are still where you would expect them to be based on the PS4 controller, packaged up in a slightly sleeker design. The light bar having been replaced with a light around the center touchpad probably the biggest visual difference.

Functionality-wise though, the PS5 controller has some interesting features. The most interesting among them being the haptic feedback on the triggers. To put it simply, the controller is able to ‘push back’ on the player’s finger, providing some resistance. This can be programmed by the developer to do whatever they want, examples Sony gave were having the trigger ‘kick-back’ on a gunshot or becoming harder to press the tighter you pull a bowstring. The one limitation is that the haptic feedback only has limited strength and cannot resist the player entirely. Still, this could be a really interesting feature going forwards and could set the standard for future controllers.

Backward Compatibility

Backward compatibility was something of a sticking point for the last generation of consoles. Neither of them initially opening with much functionality, later adding them through subscription services to access digital copies. This time around, Microsoft and Sony have tried to win back some favor, and both of them are offing backward compatibility.

Xbox Series X

Gears of War - Xbox Series X - Microsoft
Gears of War – Microsoft

Microsoft has come out with a strong claim. Not only is the Xbox Series X backward compatible but it’s also backward compatible for Xbox One, Xbox 360, and the original Xbox games. Considering during the last generation it was claimed to be too difficult for any backward compatibility this is a big step, and it will be interesting to see if you will actually be able to place your old disks in games or if it will be part of a subscription service.

As a bonus to this, Microsoft is also claiming that the games will run faster, be more stable, have higher resolutions and frame rates, and even have reduced input latency. These are bold claims but the Xbox Series X has a very similar architecture to the Xbox One, almost akin to an upgraded Xbox One than a new console on its own, so this level of backward compatibility and improvement seems like it might live up to the hype.

Playstation 5

Horizon - Playstation 5 - Sony
Horizon Zero Dawn – Sony

The Playstation 5 is also offering some backward compatibility this time around, although Sony has been a lot less extravagant in their claims. Simply offering up backward compatibility to some PS4 games. They also expect the games to run faster and at better frame rates, which you might expect from an upgraded console. One interesting feature they have is allowing the game’s publisher to upgrade you from a PS4 copy of a game to a digital PS5 copy. This will most likely come down to the individual publisher’s choice and may come with a price tag, although they have not yet stated that that is a possibility.


The other side of the gaming coin is the console’s exclusives. Although not strictly part of the console, for many of us the game selection available makes more of a difference than all of the fancy new features. Often times the exclusive games make the absolute best use of the console’s abilities as they can focus entirely on squeezing it for as much as they can while worrying less about getting it to work and fix bugs across a whole host of consoles.

Xbox Series X

Halo - Xbox Series X - Microsoft
Halo – Microsoft

As expected, Halo is one of the big selling points for the Xbox Series X. A long time staple and a series that always starts off a new console generation, it will bring plenty of players back. Interestingly though it has been delayed so will not strictly be a launch title, it will also be available on the Xbox One.

Other titles include common Xbox exclusives such as Forza and a huge host of indie titles as well as the long-awaited Fable reboot and the sequel to Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice.

Interestingly almost all ‘Xbox Exclusives’ are only console exclusives, meaning that most of them will also be coming to PC alongside it. For console gamers, this doesn’t make a huge difference, but for PC gamers it offers little in terms of incentive to buy an Xbox over attaching a controller to your PC.

Playstation 5

Spiderman - Playstation 5 - Sony
Spiderman – Sony

Much like the Xbox, the Playstation 5 has a mix of returning exclusives and new IPs. Classics like Sackboy from Little Big Planet, Ratchet and Clank, and Gran Tourismo make a return, offering players an improved experience over older generations. A few newer and rebooted IPs are getting sequels as well, such as Horizon Forbidden West and the God of War reboot.

In terms of fresh games, the Playstation is boasting a new Spiderman game, as well as the remade Demon’s Souls. There are also a few indie titles announced although they have taken more of a backseat so far with this generation, and compared to the Xbox Series X.

Whilst the PS5 exclusives are not also going to be available on PC, many of them remain only timed exclusives, so expect to see many of the 3rd party games eventually make their way across to the Xbox.

Luckily it seems like the current global pandemic has so far had a minimal impact on the release of the next generation of consoles. Many major titles are so far sporting 2021 release dates rather than the late 2020 console release date. We covered the impact that the Coronavirus has had on the games industry here.