Two Weeks with the PS5: How Sony Is Adopting the Best Aspects of PC Gaming

Illustration for article titled Two Weeks with the PS5: How Sony Is Adopting the Best Aspects of PC Gaming
Photo: Sam Rutherford

Ever since Sony switched away from the Cell processor architecture it used on the PS3 and adopted x86-based chips and AMD GPUs for current-gen consoles, the PS4 (and the Xbox One for that matter) have been viewed by many as dumbed-down PCs. That’s a line of thinking that never really made sense to me. But on the new PS5, Sony has adopted even more tech and trends from the PC gaming world, and after two weeks of testing it out, I can confidently say that decision is a big reason why the PS5 feels like such a substantial upgrade and worthy successor to Sony’s gaming efforts.

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Now before we get into the PS5 itself, I have to mention that while there are bound to be a number of PS5 reviews floating around today, because reviewers are still not allowed to discuss certain aspects of the PS5 like its media apps and the PS Store, I wasn’t comfortable labeling this story a full review. So instead of trying to juice up SEO in an attempt to appease The Almighty Algorithm, this piece is intended to be more of an in-depth look at the PS5 itself, general performance, and its biggest improvements compared to last-gen systems.

Illustration for article titled Two Weeks with the PS5: How Sony Is Adopting the Best Aspects of PC Gaming
Photo: Sam Rutherford
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OK, now that that’s out of the way, once you get past the PS5's big body and its love-it-or-hate it design, by far the PS5's most important upgrade is its SSD. Both Sony and Microsoft have been making a huge deal about how solid-state storage will impact next-gen consoles, and while that caused a lot of eye-rolling among lot of PC gamers (including someone like myself who is an equal opportunity PC and console gamer), there’s a damn good reason for that. The PS5's SSD makes it feel so much faster and more responsive than the PS4 from the get-go. You get an immediate sense that you have indeed crossed into a new generation of consoles.

For example, while the time it takes the PS4 and PS5 to wake from rest is about the same (around seven or eight seconds), cold booting the PS5 takes just 18 seconds compared to 29 or 30 seconds for the PS4. Furthermore, fully restarting the PS5 takes just 30 seconds, compared to 48 seconds on the Xbox Series X and nearly a full minute for the PS4. In fact, when waking the PS5, it often took my TV longer to automatically switch to the correct input than it did for the PS5 to actually wake up, letting me jump right into a game without ever really waiting.

Illustration for article titled Two Weeks with the PS5: How Sony Is Adopting the Best Aspects of PC Gaming
Photo: Sam Rutherford
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When it comes to games, the use of solid-state storage feels even more profound, often cutting loading times by 50% or more. In Spider-Man: Miles Morales, the PS5 loads the game nearly instantly (less than three seconds), while on the PS4, it took 16 seconds to even see the first publisher’s splash screen. The same goes even when you’re talking about older backward compatible PS4 games too. Fallout 4 took the PS5 seven seconds to load compared to 19 for the PS4. That said, the biggest difference in loading times I saw was in Final Fantasy XV, which loaded in just 15 seconds on the PS5 versus a whopping 48 seconds for the PS4. Look, there’s a time to poke fun at consoles for finally adopting SSDs in 2020, but the real truth is that everyone should be ecstatic now that they’ve arrived.

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Furthermore, aside from storage, the PS5's general performance has improved markedly compared to last-gen. Simply navigating through menus feels snappier, and when you use the new Create Button (which is replacing the old Share button) to snap a screenshot or clip, the response is actually instant, unlike the PS4 where you’d often sit there waiting a full Mississippi before a menu would even think about appearing. I also noticed that even when downloading games, the PS5's performance barely takes a hit, while doing the same on the PS4 would result in slow, sluggish experience.

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Sony has also majorly revamped the PS5's UI, largely eliminating remnants of the PS3's XrossMediaBar and filling menus with handy shortcuts that let you jump straight into a particular section of a game, find your friends, or make a party significantly faster. Everything feels like it’s been streamlined while also adding functionality, which is never easy to do. Sony even eliminated redundant apps like the PS4's Capture Gallery and built screenshot management directly into the PS5's storage tab, which makes it a hell of a lot easier to find and share all your pics and clips.

OK, but what about the games, isn’t that what these new consoles are all about? Well yes, but as with any modern console launch, the library of actual new titles are quite thin. Sure, because Spider-Man: Miles Morales will be available on day one, Sony is doing better than Microsoft who had to push the release of Halo Infinite into 2021. But even so, Miles Morales is still based at least in part on a game originally designed for the PS4, which makes it difficult to see the full potential of the PS5's AMD RDNA 2-based GPU.

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It’s subtle, but if you click to enlarge, you can definitely make out where the PS5 offers more detailed textures and slightly and richer colors.
It’s subtle, but if you click to enlarge, you can definitely make out where the PS5 offers more detailed textures and slightly and richer colors.
Screenshot: Sam Rutherford

That said, the PS5 is still off to a good start, with the PS5's graphics looking sharper and more detailed when compared to the PS4. In Miles Morales, every now and then you’ll notice sunlight bouncing off a building or a spark flying away that catches your eye, and while it’s not clear how much effect ray tracing may or may not be having, it’s still a treat. It’s not a night and day difference, but there is an improvement, and this early on, it’s one I’m happy to get.

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But perhaps the real power of the PS5 is another thing Sony is borrowing from the PC gaming world: settings menu that give you more control over your graphics settings. As a PS4 Pro owner, this isn’t the first time I’ve been able to select various graphics settings on a PlayStation console, but to me, this is the first time where that choice really feels meaningful. In Miles Morales, you get the choice of two modes: Fidelity Mode and Performance Mode. In Fidelity Mode, graphics are set to 4K and capped at 30 fps with all special effects turned on. Meanwhile, in Performance Mode, some effects are turned off and graphics are upscaled from 1080 to 4K, but in exchange, the framerate goes up to 60 fps, and in fast-paced games like Miles Morales, after seeing how gameplay looks at 60 fps, I’m not sure I can go back.

The new Activities menu lets you quickly and easily jump into a specific section of a game right from the PS5's home menu.
The new Activities menu lets you quickly and easily jump into a specific section of a game right from the PS5's home menu.
Screenshot: Sam Rutherford
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From the moment the game restarted (the game needs to quickly reboot and sends you back to your last checkpoint), straight away everything looks smoother and more fluid, which is something you really appreciate when you’re trying to swing through the streets of NYC at breakneck speeds. It flat out makes the game look and play better and shows promise for what developers might be able to do in the future.

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I also don’t want to forget Astro’s Playroom, which not only revives the wonderful but often forgotten tradition of including a pack-in game on new consoles (Super Mario World on the SNES anyone?), it’s also the most impressive tech demo for the new DualSense controller. Similar to the Nintendo Switch’s 3D Rumble, the DualSense’s haptics offer an extra level of force feedback that’s an absolute joy to feel. In Astro’s Playroom, the PS5 helps you differentiate the sensation between running over gravel, mud, or even ice, and every new texture is a delight.

Illustration for article titled Two Weeks with the PS5: How Sony Is Adopting the Best Aspects of PC Gaming
Screenshot: Sam Rutherford
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Astro (who by the way Sony, really ought to give its own full-length game) also shows how the DualSense’s adaptive triggers can be used to simulate a bow or the rumble of a spaceships engines by shaking and varying each trigger’s resistance, and it totally works. It’s a neat little experience and it’s just so nice to have something this fun pre-installed from the start. The big question is to what extent other developers or third-party game makers will adopt this new rumble functionality. Sony does use the extra force feedback in Miles Morales to generally good results (like simulating the rumbling of a subway car) but it’s anyone’s guess how much or how well this feature will appear in other games.

I also appreciate the PS5's port selection, which includes both USB-A and USB-C ports in front (the latter of which is a smart nod towards the future), along with two more USB-A ports, Ethernet, HDMI 2.1 in back.

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Right now, the PS5's one small shortcoming is its overall storage space, which comes out to just 667GB of usable storage as opposed to the 825GB it says on the box. That’s around 200GB less usable space than what you get on the Xbox Series X (though still a lot more than the Xbox Series S’ 364GB of usable storage), and in a time when games keep getting bigger, I really wish Sony had opted for more. Thankfully, the PS5 does have an open M.2 SSD expansion slot that people can use to upgrade the console’s base storage, though Sony has yet to provide an official list of approved SSDs. (I’ve pinged Sony and will provide an update if I hear back.)

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Illustration for article titled Two Weeks with the PS5: How Sony Is Adopting the Best Aspects of PC Gaming
Screenshot: Sam Rutherford

One thing I will say though is that while I’ve been testing the standard $500 PS5 that comes with a Ultra HD Blu-Ray drive, unless you have bad internet or just don’t want to give up physical disks, I would strongly advise people to go with the cheaper $400 PS5 Digital edition. Due to the nature of reviewing a system pre-launch, I’ve had to download all the test titles digitally, and throughout the last two weeks, I haven’t missed using the optical drive or disks at all. Switching over digital game purchases is something PC gamers adjusted to a while ago, and while it may take some more traditional console gamers a while to transition, even with the PS5's more limited storage, most people are probably better off going with the cheaper Digital Edition (which is the same as the standard model aside from the optical drive) and putting that extra Benjamin towards an M.2 SSD to expand the PS5's base storage.

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Between its SSD, it’s revamped and easier to use interface, and all the performance upgrades the PS5's new CPU and GPU have to offer, calling Sony’s next-gen console a dumbed down PC isn’t just off-base, it’s missing the point. In reality, the PS5 is a console the borrows the best traits from the PC world to create a speedy, powerful, and relatively quiet gaming machine that lets you focus on what you really care about: games. You don’t have to worry about constantly updating your drivers or playing with every single slider to dial in the proper level of performance, but there’s still enough power and control to give you simple and clear, but still meaningful options. The DualSense controller also adds an extra level of immersion that’s better than anything else on the market, so long as devs don’t forget to use it. And with the ability to add in extra storage yourself without needing to completely tear open its body and scrap your knuckles, Sony has provided a way to address the PS5 weak spot in a way that if just as easy (if not easier) than what you’d do on a gaming PC.

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Sony really ought to create a full-length 3D platform game for Astro.
Sony really ought to create a full-length 3D platform game for Astro.
Screenshot: Sam Rutherford

So after two weeks, the PS5 is off to a really promising start. Do I wish there were more launch titles to enjoy? Absolutely, but even playing older titles has reinvigorated my passion for games I missed or just want to play again. It’s amazing what cutting down on load times has on my appetite to sit down with a game. The PS5 feels modern and responsive in a way the PS4 (even the Pro) or the Xbox One never did, and with all the upgrades that have been crammed into the PS5, Sony’s next-gen console is set up for success.

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Senior reporter at Gizmodo, formerly Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag. Was an archery instructor and a penguin trainer before that.

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DISCUSSION

VivaLaManual
VivaLaManual

How much is a standalone BR player these days? If you are going to have this hooked up to your movie watching TV, it seems fiscally prudent to get the disc version so that it’s a full service electronic.