The Sony PlayStation 5 might be the most anticipated product release of this year, and now seems to be sold out almost everywhere after pre-orders were shipped and remaining stock has been depleted. I was very lucky to secure a pre-order back in September and am happy to report that after 3 days with the console I can confidently say that this $500 machine is an absolute marvel of engineering, and is the most forward thinking gaming console I have ever owned. The PS5, along with the competing Series X and Series S, brought several long awaited features to the table. Native, or near native 4K rendering capabilities, support for high refresh rate displays (up to 120 Hz), hardware accelerated ray tracing, and ultra fast solid state storage. But to one up the Series X, Sony had to think out of the box and redesign the controller, dubbed the DualSense, to create a significantly more immersive experience. This review will detail my experiences with the PlayStation 5 hardware, system software, controller, and a few games.
In short, the PlayStation 5 is built using relatively new technology from AMD. The CPU is based on the Zen 2 architecture, with 8 cores and 16 threads @ 3.5 GHz max frequency. It’s closest relative seems to be the Ryzen 7 3700X, also built on TSMC’s 7 nm process. The Ryzen series of processors finally brought AMD back to a competitive state with Intel back in 2016, and can be seen as a quantum leap compared to the Jaguar core found in the PlayStation 4 and 4 Pro. The GPU is actually brand new, and features an RDNA 2 based architecture, with 36 CUs clocked in at up to 2.3 GHz, producing a maximum of 10.3 TFLOPS of compute power. It also features hardware accelerated ray tracing capabilities and HDMI 2.1 compliant output, which is good for 4K HDR video at up to 120 FPS with 10 bit color and support for 8K at 60 FPS, as long as your TV can support it. Shared between the CPU and GPU is 16 GB of GDDR6 RAM, with 448 GB/s of bandwidth. While these are already impressive specs, the PS5 also features a custom built 825 GB NVMe SSD, with 5.5 GB/s of throughput in typical workloads, and up to 8-9 GB/s with data compressed using RAD Game Tools’ Kraken protocol thanks to hardware accelerated decompression. This is likely the fastest non-volatile storage to ever ship in a consumer electronics product, and definitely the fastest to ship in a gaming console. Additional improvements include the usage of Liquid Metal to cool the CPU (again a first in a consumer electronics product), a massive heat spreader and fan to keep the system cool and quiet, support for future M.2 NVMe storage expansion, USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports, and a UHD Blu-Ray disc drive. All of theses components, when put together, create an absolute marvel of machine that will impress almost all gamers, be casual or hardcore.
Like I mentioned earlier, the DualSense controller is one way that Sony set out to set the PS5 apart from the Series X/S. When I first read about the controller I just thought it was just a fancier version of the DualShock 4 but it is WAY more than that. The DualSense uses some very precise and sophisticated haptic feedback technology to deliver truly next-gen feel when properly utilized. Astro’s Playroom is the ultimate showcase for the controller, as you can feel a sensation of the surface you are walking on through the controller. You have to feel it to believe it, and it is incredible for the first time. Along with the haptics, the controller also features adaptive triggers for R2 and L2 that can have varying levels of resistance, again based on how the game developer decided to utilize it. In Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, both triggers have resistance applied to them, and R2 has a variable amount of resistance based on the gun that is equipped. The overall build quality of the controller is also much improved, and the audio output directly from the controller seems to be improved quite a bit as well. Sony has touted it’s Tempest 3D AudioTech as a headphone exclusive feature at launch, and the controller seems to be doing a pretty good job at passing that audio data along. I think the DualSense is an excellent controller, and hope to see its unique features utilized in future games.
Finally, we come to the actual gaming experience. For a point of reference, the last latest PlayStation console I’ve owned is a PlayStation 2 (unless you count the PSP Go, but that is a “handheld”). The Wii is the most recent system apart from that, again aside from the PSP Go which launched in 2009. There was a long period where I didn’t really play games in general, but thanks to COVID-19, I picked up PC gaming earlier this year, starting with Call of Duty Warzone. Since then, I have continued to purchase several other PC games and have had a pretty decent experience on my system, but the GTX 1050 Ti in it was starting to show it’s age. I wanted something that could deliver higher framerates at a much higher resolution, so I figured the PS5 was the right choice. I currently have the system connected to a Sony Bravia X900H, which is a fantastic TV irrespective of it’s gaming capabilities. So far, I have spent most of my time playing Black Ops Cold War at a buttery smooth 120 FPS thanks to performance mode on the PS5. In performance mode, the resolution isn’t native 4K, but at the distance I am viewing from I can’t really tell. What I can tell is the massive jump from 60 FPS to 120 FPS, which is perfect for fast paced first person shooters like COD. Game play is extremely smooth and consistent, with almost no perceptible framerate drops or stuttering. PS4 titles also look great, and I am excited to see games like Modern Warfare receiving high res texture pack updates to take advantage of the extra pixels the next gen consoles can push out. With all this said, there are still some issues that seem to be related more towards the PS5 system software. I had Black Ops Cold War suddenly exit twice, one time causing the PS5 to reboot and rebuild it’s system database (I think this is just a file system repair since the OS didn’t shut down cleanly). Thankfully the rebuild was super quick, and everything was working when I got back to the home screen. I’d honestly be more surprised to see the system work flawlessly out of the box, this is day 1 hardware and software after all. I should also note enabling 120 Hz support wasn’t an easy process. On the X900H, there are only two HDMI 2.1 compliant ports available, HDMI 3 and HDMI 4. In the TV settings, you need to manually set the HDMI Output mode on port 3 or 4 to ‘Enhanced’ for HDR and 120 Hz support. After this, you’ll need to set your PS5 game settings globally to ‘Performance’ in order to get 120 FPS in Black Ops Cold War. It is such a clunky process to set these things up, and I’m hoping future software upgrades to both TVs and PS5s make this process easier.
In conclusion, the PlayStation 5 brings next-gen features at a relatively consumer friendly price. You get very capable hardware, games that will only continue to improve as developers spend more time with the system, and a nice and clean UI. This generation also brings high framerate support to the table, a long awaited feature for consoles and I’m excited to see more games take advantage of it. Overall, I’m very pleased with the overall performance of this console. Once availability improves and more people are able to get this system in their living rooms, I think Sony will again retake the throne for this generation of console. If you can get your hands on one at MSRP, I highly recommend the PlayStation 5.