PlayStation 5 Review – A sensory revolution for next-gen gaming

We’ve seen countless images and videos by now, but it’s still surprising just how big the PlayStation 5 is. This is a monument to your hobby, the biggest games console ever made and one that might be a little difficult to fit into your TV cabinet. Sony don’t even vaguely try to hide the PS5 with a striking two tone design that’s meant to stand out, its central glossy black core sandwiched between two flowing, swooping sheets of white plastic. It’s a look that you’ll either love or be a bit baffled by, but it’s also a statement of intent, that this console offers something new and different.

The design is more than just looks, though. The plastic side panels are removable, hiding things like dust holes you can use a vacuum cleaner on, the spot where you can put an SSD expansion, and allowing the myriad of vents to feel like a flourish of style as opposed to a mere consequence of cooling. However, with no flat surface to speak of, it also means you need a stand for the console, regardless of if you want to have it upright or lie it flat.

– ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW –

You do get one in the box, and it has its own unique design quirks, with a moulded form to match the side of your console that rotates depending on how you want to place your console and features a secret slot that either hides a mounting screw or a screw hole cap – there’s some impressive attention to detail there. When vertical, it’s secured to the base with a screw, but when horizontal it clips onto the lower white sheet of plastic at a point marked with a cute strip of PlayStation symbols. It can flap around a bit if you need to move the console. Also, while it’s a broad disc, putting pressure on the corners of the machine will cause it to wobble and bonk the table,  something that’s especially easy at the front left. Cue the wobbly PlayStation 5 memes.

Does all of this size pay off? Is it silent? Well, no. There’s a tone to the fan that just stands out a little for me, not too dissimilar to an idling PS4 but quieter, and as you launch a game there’s a noticeable step up in fan speed and sound, though it stays pretty constant and never comes anywhere near to the jet engine sounds of the PS4. Still, you might pick it out during a particularly quiet moment of a game or when returning to the PlayStation 5 home screen. Compared to the Xbox Series X? The Xbox has a more neutral fan sound that’s less noticeable in my estimation.

The new PlayStation system software feels like a blend of the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 eras. The size of the icons is reminiscent of the XMB, shunted up to the top left hand corner of the screen, but the way it actually works is closer to the PS4, with a limited list of nine recent games before you have to delve into the full library – there’s no folder support here. Select a game and you can scroll down to that game’s area, looking up game streams, trophy progression and more.

Many of the system features that lived in the PS4’s upper menu bar are now a part of the general quick menu, which overlays from the bottom of the screen when you tap the PS button. Your friends and all your communication with them live in the Game Base area, alongside other notifications, download progress, audio options and more. If you’ve spent years with the PS4, you’ll have to adjust between pressing and holding the PS button to get to where you want.

Also in the quick menu are a set of cards, presenting you with a bunch of gaming opportunities. They could be news for the game you’re playing, an open invitation to join friends in something else, your parties where you can chat, message and share clips. PS5 games are now much more linked to the system, and these cards can show you a Trophy you’re about to reach, track collectible progression through a level, even offering up a mini walkthrough video to follow, or simply show the status of your most recent checkpoint. They also allow you to boot straight to that point in the game.

This is Sony’s alternative to the Xbox Series X|S Quick Resume feature, but instead of suspending the game mid-race, mid-mission or whatever, it will load you in at a nearby checkpoint, level start, to the multiplayer menus, and so on. Of course, this will depend on the game developer for a robust implementation, and Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales shows off its flexibility pretty nicely, with granular loading points based around mid-mission checkpoints. It has the potential to be a much more universal system than Quick Resume, not that that’s a slight on what the Xbox can do.

Once you’re actually in-game, you’re beholden to the wonderful effects that the DualSense can pull off. Catch our separate DualSense review here, but in short, there’s a huge amount of nuanced directionality given through the Haptic LRA motors, which can enhance the kinds of feedback you’re getting. That’s nothing compared to the Adaptive Triggers that add texture to each trigger pull, resist, and can even send a violent rumble effect of their own. It’s a shame that you only get basic and sometimes incongruent buzzing in backward compatible games.

Backward compatibility is a big deal on PlayStation 5. Having been poo-pooed by Sony in the past, it’s now a core feature of the system, and pulls off some familiar tricks. The added power of the PS5 allows it to steady frame rates and resolutions at their maximum settings in many games, and the SSD allows them to load faster. In addition to just performing so much better, Shenmue 3’s load time drops from 37 seconds on PS4 Pro to 22 seconds from the PS5’s SSD. Horizon Zero Dawn fast travel drops from 64 seconds to 28 seconds, Crysis Remastered plummets from 47 seconds to just 19 seconds, and then GT Sport cuts from 36 seconds to 20 seconds. Similar to the Xbox Series X, games will need to be designed to really take advantage of the SSD, but it can dramatically reduce the waiting in older games as well.

Backward compatibility can be held back by the games your playing. Titles from the start of the PS4 era will be limited to 1080p and often have frame rate caps of 30fps, and once developers started to target the PS4 Pro, they started to impose resolution caps like 1440p (Uncharted 4) or a dynamic checkerboarded 1800p at 30fps (Horizon Zero Dawn). It leads to a curious case where the PS5 will be stronger than the Xbox Series X for early generation, but then the Series X can push to the typically higher resolution targets of the One X, while the PS5 is stuck in the middle ground. However, just as Microsoft have made waves with their own game updates, Sony are also selectively going back and updating games as well. Days Gone now runs 60fps on PS5 vs. 30fps on PS4 and PS4 Pro, and we awaiting an update for Ghost of Tsushima to go live that does the same. Hopefully they’ll make similar updates for other games, especially those found in the PS+ Collection.

The feedback of the DualSense combines with the new 3D audio system, the Tempest Engine. Sony have talked up the potential here, and it is truly fantastic. Put on some headphones connected via USB or 3.5mm jack, and you’ll be surrounded by sounds in a wonderfully immersive fashion, whether it’s the cacophony of sounds in Astro’s Playroom or the differently cacophonous streets of New York, all coming from different directions. I can’t truly say that it’s better than Dolby Atmos, but it’s certainly up there as a rival.

Unfortunately, I also can’t say if I’m using the correct audio HRTF profile for my particular ears. You’ll find the profile test nestled away in the system settings with the 3D audio options, but this boils down to giving you five presets of different sounding babbling brooks to choose between. You’re meant to find the one that lets you pick out five distinct layers, but it’s like walking into a DFS and only getting to look at the sofas. They certainly do seem different, but I don’t know what qualifies as the right one for me. So, default it is.

There are other quirks and minor annoyances that carry over from the PS4 as well. Honestly, game install management just needs to be dramatically more flexible and easy to access. As on PS4 you can only have one external expansion drive active at any one time (which I’ve always found to be a pain in the bum), you can only move game data, not copy it (another pain in the bum), and if you want to clear space, you are not able to archive a PS5 game install on an external drive to avoid having to redownload it later. When you only have 667.2GB of storage, it’s pretty galling to discover that another chunk of that is taken up by “Other”. I’ve got a dozen games installed taking up 512GB, but then there’s 94GB of this apparently performance enhancing “Other”. Affordable ultra-speedy NVME expansions can’t come soon enough.

– PAGE CONTINUES BELOW –
Summary
The PlayStation 5 makes a phenomenal first impression with the sheer immersion that's possible through the DualSense controller, the compelling Tempest 3D audio engine and the gorgeous new graphical potential of its games, all of which are more connected than ever. There's quirks and a rigidity to some parts of the system software, and it could be a challenge to fit the PS5 into your TV set up, but this is a generational leap that could really make games feel different to play.
Good
  • Large, but stylish and meticulous design
  • It's pretty quiet
  • PlayStation Activities get you into games very quickly
  • Tempest 3D AudioTech is a worthy surround sound solution
Bad
  • Difficult to know which 3D audio profile is the one for you
  • Game management needs a lot more flexibility
  • DualSense feedback can be strange for PS4 games
  • Wobble memes
Written by
I'm probably wearing toe shoes, and there's nothing you can do to stop me!

20 Comments

  1. Sounds like a typical PlayStation then. Full of little things that some people, or everyone, will be thinking could be done differently, or even just done at all, and the odd bit of “Oh well, that’s just Sony being Sony”.

    Not being able to copy games between the SSD and external storage might make sense. You’re going to end up with confusion over updates. Or updates taking longer because it’s got to update both copies. I suspect it might be more to do with not wanting you to take all your games to a friend and copying them onto their PS5.

    I’ve just realised how big my save data is. 35GB. That could eat into that SSD space.

    Can you really not move the PS5 games onto an external drive? That really could be annoying.

    How quick was it to set up? The support videos that popped up last night show a nice simple process with logging in by scanning a QR code with the PS App on your phone. And moving all the data across from a PS4 via wifi (or an old fashioned cable!) running in the background, which is quite neat.

    Is there a media player that support all the useful formats? Does the 3D audio only work over USB or headphones wired to the controller? Not headphones connected to your TV or any other way? Are you allowed to answer all the questions even? What’s up with that Miles Morales review? It’s both there and not there at the same time. After being properly there earlier.

    • Can’t talk about the media tab yet, and I didn’t use the app to install, so can’t say. I can say that 3D Audio only works with USB or wired to the controller, and it’s true, you can’t move PS5 games to an external drive. Copying would make sense to me, since I can do that on Xbox and it’s not much of a fuss there.

      Miles review should be fine? Could’ve been some slight caching issue.

      • So my current wireless headphones get their sound from a wire to my surround sound amp. A wire I’ll now have to connect to the controller to get the 3d audio from the PS5. And then plug something into the amp to cut the sound (mute on the amp does one of those annoying permanent icons on screen). That’ll be fun.

        Good job I’m the sort of person that has a draw full of cables which may contain an extra long 3.5mm extension cable. It’ll take me until August to untangle it though, I’m sure.

      • PS4 and PS5 only output audio to one device at a time, so you can the amp hooked up just fine while using headphones.

  2. You could be waiting quite a while before you’ll be able to add to the PS5’s internal storage as there are no M.2 drives that have been confirmed by Sony. According to a article I read this morning the M.2 port is disabled (out of the box) and will be enabled through an update some time after launch. Not 100% sure if this is true but kinda makes a little bit of sense if it stops you damaging your console.

    If you are going to be playing Astro you should update it first as the latest version is way better looking than the installed one.

  3. Nice review Tef, I hope you’ve been enjoying your time with the new generation! It’s been a long time since Alex was in charge and the site name was a relevant pun, things have changed so much and this years step up seems tainted slightly by what’s going on, but it’s still great to see an exciting build up to the new gen launch. I’m looking forward to reading about the games now :)

    • That’s the nicest way I’ve been called irrelevant in a long time. ;)

  4. Those load time improvements for PS4 games are actually pretty disappointing IMHO. The rest sounds promising enough though as a starting point.

  5. What’s the 4K blu ray player like? Does it support Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos? Should I just keep my dedicated Samsung player?

    • From Techradar
      If you’re a home media enthusiast who has a collection of 4K Dolby Vision Blu-rays at home and a Dolby Atmos speaker system, you probably won’t love the PS5. Yes, it will be able to play 4K Blu-Ray discs, but because it doesn’t support Dolby Atmos or Dolby Vision’s cutting-edge formats, we won’t be recommending it to the audiovisual community

  6. Is there an internet browser? Under the Media tab i guess (hope). I rely on the PS4 browser a lot for home browsing and since firmware 8 it seems to be suffering frequent and intermittent dns errors.

    I saw in one review where the PS5 also tracks how many hours you’ve played each game for, which is neat.

    I also saw a review where it was laid out that there were no discernible enhancements to PSVR games, which is hugely disappointing but possibly something they could deliver later on … but with PSVR 2 somewhere on the horizon there’s probably limited time for Sony to be invested in putting that work in.

    I’m seeing varying reports on fan noise, one reviewer had the Xbox at 1 decibel louder than PS5 under full load, whereas others say PS5 is slightly louder. Regardless, the overwhelming impression is that they are both very quiet, which is great.

    Also, the plates surface hold paint well, handy if you want to go full-custom on them yourself.

    I’m still feeling like i haven’t seen nearly enough of what either console can do so i’m looking forward to the game reviews.

    • The PS5 shows how long you’ve been playing both PS4 and PS5 games. It’s retrospective too!

      • Good catch, i could have worded that part better!

    • It looks like there’s a web browser. At 1:57 in the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eMRsCR68tgQ there’s mention of it right at the bottom.

      That same video also mentions “game presets”, which looks like a useful feature (for games that support it). Set your preferred difficulty, “performance” or “resolution” mode, some control options it doesn’t show any more of, and subtitle and audio options. And then have those applied to games automatically. I’ve seen some comments about how useful that is if you need subtitles, as you sometimes can’t turn subtitles on straight away and have to sit through a whole thing without subtitles before you get to the menu.

      Those 3 support videos are worth a look. A handful of neat little surprises there. Transferring everything from your PS4 over wifi sounds like a terrible idea, until you realise it happens in the background and you can forget about it.

    • There is mention of a web browser in the settings, but the only way it’s currently exposed is as a way to reach the support documents. That could change in updates, but a browser might not be available on day one.

  7. I’ve seen it said that the PS5 downloads are a lot faster with one chap downloading Fist Of The North Star at 36GB the PS4 Pro took 58 minutes to download it and the PS5 took just 7 minutes,though they did have 700 an odd Mbps download speeds but still we should hopefully see a decent improvement 🙂

    • I should mention this was via a wired connection which i use anyway but hopefully people using WiFi should see improvements.

    • 36GB in 7 minutes is about 700Mbps. So what’s different if he’s getting that now compared to 85Mbps before?

      In theory, the PS5 should get faster speeds over wifi, but it’s unlikely anyone will see that benefit for a while yet. It’s got 802.11ax, or Wifi 6, compared to 802.11n/ac (or wifi 4/5) on the PS4/Pro.

      So I’m guessing those tests were done wired, but there shouldn’t be any difference between the PS4/5 there. Should be fast enough to handle even a 700Mbps connection.

      For an average connection speed (about 60MBps in the UK), both PS4 models and the PS5 should get the same speed if you’re not using Wifi. If you want to use wifi, the original PS4 might be a bit slower but the Pro and PS5 should manage to use all your bandwidth. And it might even manage that with Wifi, once you get a new router.

      But for most people, don’t expect any huge improvement. At best, twice as fast as the original PS4 over wifi.

      • I never have been good at working out if i’m getting my full download potential when it comes to this kinda thing lol,I just know a couple of places had mentioned it and said there was a decent/good improvement,sorry to possibly get people’s hopes up 😔

      • Doesn’t help that the PS4 doesn’t tell you the speed it’s downloading at. Just how much it’s done. Variable speeds and significant rounding errors make it harder to judge too.

        With Wifi on the original PS4, that number while you’re downloading should go up by about 3MB everytime it updates (which seems to be every second). So that’s about 24Mbps. But if that 3MB was closer to 4, but getting rounded down, that’s more like 32Mbps. Anywhere in that range is probably about the best you can hope for with the PS4’s wifi. (The Pro might manage it faster)

        If the UK average speed is about 60Mbps, there might be room for improvement. The Pro might manage to use all that speed. The PS5 can do a lot more (and faster than the Series X/S can do as well), but that’d need a router that can handle Wifi 6. Which isn’t common yet.

        And even if that average speed is 60Mbps, a huge number of people will be getting less. That average gets dragged up by a smaller number of people with silly speeds. I’m only getting 30 here, and the PSN has no problems filling that up.

Leave a Reply