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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

How the PlayStation 5 Improves on the PS4—and How It Doesn’t

Unlike an iPhone, a new PlayStation doesn’t arrive every year. The current-generation PlayStation 4 launched in 2013, and its half-step upgrade, the PS4 Pro, came onto the scene four years ago. But it's now time for the fifth generation, the PlayStation 5, and with it come some tantalizing reasons to upgrade. Not all is rosy with Sony’s newest console; there are some drawbacks. If you're on the fence about buying the PS5, you should know what to expect before plunking down your hard-earned cash.

There’s Support for 3D Audio

Audio plays a vital role in immersing you within the intricately crafted virtual worlds in video games. With the PlayStation 5, Sony put serious effort into upgrading the console's capabilities with Tempest, a proprietary 3D audio engine. Tempest allows individual sounds to be attached to specific objects in the game world, so soundscapes in games will change to reflect your position. Think a step beyond surround sound, with the noise coming from individual elements in your environment and changing as you move around.

The PS5 will output native 3D audio, so it should work with any headphones, speakers, soundbars, or surround sound systems, but the quality will inevitably vary depending on your setup. The easiest way to feel, or hear, the full benefit of 3D audio will be by donning a good set of headphones. And because everyone experiences sound differently, Sony has five different profiles to optimize the audio for your ears.

It Runs Quieter

If you played God of War or Red Dead Redemption 2 on your PlayStation 4, then you have a good idea of what it sounds like when a helicopter lands in your living room. Any demanding game causes it to heat up and spin the fans at full speed. Cleaning out dust and leaving space around your console for heat to dissipate can help reduce this problem, but not always, and the fan noise can be irritating.

The good news is that a Sony exec told The Guardian that “a great deal of effort” went into reducing noise in the PS5. If you want to dig into the technical details, PS5 architect Mark Cerny’s presentation explains the benefits of a constant power rate in the new design. We won’t know for sure until we test out some demanding games on the new console, but the focus on reducing noise can only be an improvement over the PS4.

Cross-Play Is Still Up in the Air

Cross-play is a word you might have seen before. It allows you to play online games with other players using different consoles. Sony notoriously seems to have little interest in making it easy for everyone to play together. There are very few titles on PS4 that let you play with friends on Xbox or PC. Fortnite is a notable exception, and it will also support cross-play on the PS5, but how many other games will follow suit?

So far, a handful of games, including Destiny 2, Chivalry 2, and Worms Rumble have confirmed cross-play support. The possibility of cross-play between the PS4 and PS5 is promising, but a big divide is likely to remain between PlayStation and Xbox.

Games Are Backward-Compatible

One of the big disappointments of the PS4 was the complete lack of backward compatibility with the PS3. Sony is doing much better this time around, offering support for many existing titles and for PlayStation VR. They should also run better, with the potential for higher frame rates. Sony says “the overwhelming majority” of PS4 games will work on the new console—which does suggest, though, that some won’t work.

The ability to play existing PS4 discs is one of the main reasons to opt for the pricier PlayStation 5 with disc drive and not the Digital Edition. Alternatively, if you become a PlayStation Plus subscriber (to play online games), Sony is offering a "PlayStation Plus Collection" at launch, bundling 18 of the best PS4 games together, like The Last of Us Remastered and Fallout 4 to fill out your game library.

You Get Fast, Expandable Storage …

Staring at loading screens is annoying, and the PS5 promises to cut down on all that waiting. Anyone who has upgraded from an old mechanical hard drive to a solid-state drive (SSD) in a laptop or desktop knows the speed boost it can offer. In our demo, the fast-travel feature in Marvel's Spider-Man that took 15 seconds to load on the PS4 took just 0.8 seconds on the PS5. There are other advantages too. SSDs don’t have moving parts, so they’re less likely to break over time, they're quiet, and they don’t require as much power (thereby generating less heat).

After a few years with any console, storage inevitably fills up with all your games. Having to work out what to delete before you can install a new game is frustrating. You can plug an external hard drive into the PS4, and that’s an option for the PS5 too, but external drives will likely only be suitable for PS4 games, as they’re simply not fast enough for newer titles. The good news is that there is an SSD slot for expansion in the PS5, and it can accommodate an off-the-shelf SSD. It's not catch-free; only NVMe drives with Sony validation will work.

… But Less Base Storage

The original PS4 has a 500-gigabyte hard drive, and the PS4 Pro upped that to 1 terabyte, though only 862 GB are usable. The superior SSD in the new PS5 is 825 GB, and usable space will be a little less than that. The expansion slot and support for external hard drives lessen the blow here, as well as configurable game installations (which we get to below), but storage space could still prove to be a problem, as we expect next-gen games to be even bigger.

You Can Configure Game Installations

It's frustrating when you fire up a new game only to find out a massive update is required before you can play. With the PS5, Sony is breaking game installations down further, so you can download and install bits of a game you want. That means you can choose the single-player part of the game or just the multi-player, depending on your interests. It can prove handy in freeing up space, allowing you to delete single-player mode when you’ve completed it, for example.

4K Blu-ray and 8K Video Support

The original PS4 didn’t support 4K or UHD Blu-rays, but the PS5 does. If you prefer to buy physical discs or your internet connection simply isn’t up to streaming 4K, then the PS5 can serve as a one-stop entertainment shop under your TV. Though almost no one can take advantage of it now, there's support for 8K resolution too. Just like 4K, 8K TVs will become more affordable over time, so it's nice to see a little future-proofing here (whether you'll need an 8K TV is a different story).

You Still Need PlayStation Plus for Online Play

Playing online requires a PlayStation Plus subscription on the PS4, and this tradition continues with the PS5. Sony softened the blow with free game downloads each month on the PS4. With the PS5, as we mentioned before, PS Plus subscribers will get a free library of 18 top PS4 games at launch. Hopefully, Sony will continue to add to that list with more freebies each month.

You Can Use a PS4 Controller … Sorta

This last improvement is a mixed bag. The PS5 will support DualShock 4 controllers, but only when you’re playing PS4 games. That also applies to third-party PS4 controllers, provided they're officially licensed. Support also extends to Sony’s PS Move controllers and the VR Aim controller. But if you’re playing a PS5 game, you’ll need a PlayStation 5 DualSense controller.

The battery life and durability of the DualShock 4 controller isn't great. It's unclear if the DualSense 5 controller will fare better, but it's good to see the switch to a USB-C charging port as MicroUSB on the old controller was a pain to plug into. The new controller also boasts a built-in microphone and adaptive triggers.

Preorders Are Live

On the whole, the PlayStation 5 has a lot going for it—including a promising lineup of games at launch—but at $400 and $500 for the Digital Edition and the disc-enabled model, they'll be out of reach for a lot of people.


Sony has vaguely said there's more to come for PlayStation 4 owners, and some upcoming games are launching on both consoles, like Assassin's Creed: Valhalla. If the PS5 is out of your budget, try to snag a PS4 Pro as prices start to dip (don't pay more than $250). You'll be able to catch up on older titles and some new ones at 4K quality. Spend a drop more and you may as well save up for the PS5, as backward compatibility lets you enjoy older and new games at higher fidelity (and for far longer).

You have a tougher choice if you're upgrading from a PS4 Pro, but there's no need to rush to buy the PS5 (if you can even find one). Many developers let you upgrade to the PS5 version of a game if you bought it for the PS4, like the aforementioned Assassin's Creed or 2019's Borderlands 3. And a lot of titles that really make use of the new console's hardware won't arrive until 2021.

The PlayStation 5 releases on November 12. Preorders are happening in waves, but you can try your luck at one of the retailers below. And if you just realized the PS5 isn't for you, there's another console launching this holiday season to consider—the Xbox Series X.

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