A side-by-side comparison of the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X

This holiday season will see a showdown between new consoles from two of the biggest names in gaming: Sony and Microsoft....

Posted: Jul 26, 2020 1:01 PM
Updated: Jul 27, 2020 3:45 PM

This holiday season will see a showdown between new consoles from two of the biggest names in gaming: Sony and Microsoft.

The companies have now given plenty of detail on their new consoles, Sony's PlayStation 5 and Microsoft's Xbox Series X. Both are coming this holiday season, though specific release dates and pricing have yet to be announced.

CNN Business took a look at how these two hotly anticipated releases compare, from the technical specifications of the consoles to their designs and business strategies. We also spoke to Xbox following Thursday's games showcase to discuss the next generation of consoles.

Tech specs

When it comes to the processor, the Xbox Series X is slightly more powerful than the PlayStation 5, though the difference is unlikely to have a large impact on the gaming experience.

The new Xbox's processor, also known as a CPU, can go up to marginally faster clock speeds at 3.8 Gigahertz compared to the PS5's 3.5 Gigahertz. But those are just the numbers, so it remains to be seen how that plays out in performance.

When it comes to the graphics, Microsoft appears to have the slight advantage -- at first.

Graphics processing units, commonly known as GPUs, render game graphics. In general, the more processing power a console's GPU has, the better a game will look. Xbox has 1.7 more teraflops, a unit of measuring computing speed, on its GPU than PlayStation does.

But before we write off Sony, it should be noted that the PlayStation has some differences in its GPU architecture that might translate into better graphics performance than it first appears. So we will only know how all those numbers impact the visual experience when we see how the graphics look on various games.

The Xbox Series X wins out on internal storage. Xbox has 1 terabyte of internal storage compared to PlayStation's 825 GB. Any gamer will tell you that running out of storage on a console can be a hassle. But both console makers have cloud gaming solutions now — PlayStation Now and Project xCloud — and if more players rely on the cloud, storage will become less important.

Sony does have one advantage. The PS5 can push through data at 5.5 GB per second, compared to the Xbox Series X, which works at 2.4GB per second. That could mean marginally faster load times, and less time spent on a loading screen.

Both consoles are evenly matched elsewhere. They each have 16 GB of memory and support 4K and 8K resolution gaming. And when it comes to the latest flashy technology, both Sony and Microsoft have worked to incorporate ray-tracing, a technology that makes light and shadow look better in-game, and offer 3D audio for more immersive sound.

While both consoles support 8K resolution gaming, most people don't own an 8K compatible television and most developers don't currently optimize games for 8K resolution. Sony and Microsoft built these consoles with 8K support to plan for the future.

But the 8K TVs currently available are pricey, with a 55-inch Samsung model going for $2,499. Sony and Samsung have 98-inch 8Ks for $60,000.

'When we designed the Xbox Series X... we designed it with the next seven to 10 years in mind,' Jason Ronald, the director of program management for the Xbox Series X, told CNN Business. 'So we've absolutely designed the system to be able to do 8K.'

Business strategy

In the current generation of consoles, Sony's PlayStation 4 has vastly outsold the Xbox One. Both were introduced in 2013, and since then PS4 consoles have sold 109 million units as of early 2020. While sales of the Xbox One aren't disclosed, it is estimated to have sold around 49 million units, according to Ampere Analysis. Nintendo, which releases consoles on its own schedule and whose Switch console is earlier in its product life cycle, surpassed Xbox One in lifetime sales, selling 53 million units by early 2020, despite coming out four years later.

A lot of this boils down to content. Sony and Nintendo have compelling games that only can be played on their own consoles, locking fans of these franchises into their ecosystems. Some Nintendo franchises, such as 'Super Mario' and 'Pokemon,' rarely come to other platforms and if they do, it's mobile, rather than console, versions of the games. Sony revs up fans every generation with a new set of PlayStation exclusives.

Many Xbox titles, however, are released simultaneously for Xbox and PlayStation, meaning Sony fans don't need to migrate outside their preferred ecosystem to play them.

Ampere Analysis games research director Piers Harding-Rolls predicts Sony will outsell Microsoft again, reaching 66 million consoles sold by the end of 2024, compared to an estimated 37 million for the Series X. His estimates are based on previous sales data and taking Sony and Microsoft strategies into account.

Sony is continuing to rely on big exclusive games.

'Sony is focused on pushing exclusives for PS5 to sell hardware and is remaining more traditional in its approach,' Harding-Rolls told CNN Business, 'It is looking to expand its audience through PlayStation Now, but it is far less aggressive in its approach compared to Microsoft with Xbox Game Pass.'

Microsoft is focused on selling games as a service, in hopes that gamers will purchase a monthly subscription to its Xbox Game Pass, which offers access to hundreds of games and starts at $9.99 a month. Microsoft said that all the new games it showed on Thursday will be available through the Game Pass.

It's also promising that users won't need to upgrade to the next-generation console to play many games, as many games will be backwards compatible with the previous generation. And if players want to go on mobile, Project xCloud supports that.

Ronald, the Xbox Series X director, said the company is 'really focusing on the player and not trying to force the player to upgrade to an individual device or to make things exclusive to this device or that device.' He added, 'I think it's what really differentiates us from the competition.'

Ronald estimates that Xbox pivoted to focus more closely on the gamer than on the device around the time Phil Spencer became head of Xbox in 2014, a year after the Xbox One was released.

It's a vastly different approach than Sony's, which is to market a new round of exclusives, including the forthcoming 'Spider-Man: Miles Morales,' as exclusive for the PS5.

Sony declined to comment for this article.

Xbox has a strong value proposition in offering hundreds of games for a low rate per month with its Game Pass subscription — if it can convey that value to its audience.

'Microsoft in general struggles with marketing entertainment products. They are much more comfortable marketing tech specs to an IT crowd that does really care about those things. Unfortunately, that is a small fraction of the console buyer,' said David Cole, an analyst at research firm DFC Intelligence.

Some consumers may simply wait to see if the consoles are worth the upgrade. And the impact of the pandemic on many people's income could influence the decision.

'There will be a lot of gamers happy to get by on their current consoles until they're forced to upgrade to play the newest release of a beloved series,' said Laine Nooney, assistant professor and historian of video games at New York University.

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