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PlayStation 5 v Xbox Scarlett: the next console war begins in 2020

Sony’s PS5 will have haptic feedback, while Microsoft’s competing console will have four times the power of Xbox One. Here’s how the two high-end machines compare

a woman wearing headphones plays a video game in a red-light saturated room
 Get ready for battle … Microsoft’s XBox and Sony’s PlayStation 5 are set to reach shops in autumn/winter 2020. Photograph: Kerkez/Getty Images/iStockphoto

The next console war has a start date – or at least a start period. Sony has announced that its next console, PlayStation 5 (PS5), will be launched next autumn/winter, putting it in direct competition with Microsoft’s forthcoming Xbox Scarlett, also due in time for the 2020 Christmas holiday period.

In post on the PlayStation site, Sony revealed that PS5 will have a new controller that replaces the current joypad’s rumble feature with more sensitive and contextual haptic feedback.

“With haptics, you truly feel a broader range of feedback,” Sony said. “Crashing into a wall in a race car feels much different than making a tackle on the football field. You can even get a sense for a variety of textures when running through fields of grass or plodding through mud.”

The console will also have “adaptive triggers” incorporated into the L2 and R2 trigger buttons. Developers will be able to program the resistance of the triggers so that players, “feel the tactile sensation of drawing a bow and arrow or accelerating an off-road vehicle through rocky terrain”. Microsoft is experimenting with a similar technology for its Scarlett controller.

This is not the only apparent similarity between the competing consoles. In April, Sony revealed that PS5 would feature an eight-core CPU based on the third generation of AMD’s Ryzen processors, as well as a custom graphics processor based on the AMD Navi family (a technology capable of real-time ray-tracing effects), and a solid state drive (SSD), which will mean the faster loading of games and in-game content, and may also allow more granular loading processes, so players can choose to install only a game’s multiplayer component, or its campaign. The machine will support 8K resolution displays and 120Hz screen refresh rates.

Phil Spencer, head of Xbox, showing off Project Scarlett at the E3 games expo in June
 Phil Spencer, head of Xbox, showing off Project Scarlett at the E3 games expo in June. Photograph: Casey Rodgers/Invision/AP

Meanwhile, Xbox Scarlett will also utilise the latest AMD Ryzen processor and Navi graphics chipset; it will support screen resolutions of up to 8K and 120Hz refresh rates, and it will use an SSD rather than a traditional hard-disc drive. In addition, Scarlett is set to offer backwards compatibility for all Xbox One games as well as the Xbox and Xbox 360 titles that are available via Xbox One’s backward compatibility feature.Advertisement

Little else is known about the machines. Sony has spoken about PS5’s 3D audio capabilities, using a custom AMD sound chip to create incredibly immersive effects. In an interview with Wired, system architect Mark Cerny claimed the PlayStation user interface is getting a complete overhaul, and will show games information such as multiplayer activities and forthcoming mission objectives while players browse the menu.

Virtual reality will also be supported on PS5, at first via the current PlayStation VR headset, but later through a new headset, which is rumoured to support eye-tracking technology and may be wireless. Microsoft has not announced VR or augmented reality tech for Scarlett, but in the summer, rumours surfaced that the machine might be compatible with the Oculus Rift S gaming headset, currently available for PC.

It is unclear how the machines’ online multiplayer services will evolve for the next generation. Sony is likely to overhaul its PlayStation Now streaming game service, while Microsoft has its Xbox Game Pass equivalent. Rumours of an Xbox console that uses Microsoft’s cloud-based gaming service have been denied by the company.

As for Nintendo, the Switch console is only two years into its lifecycle, so a successor is unlikely to be released next year. However, rumours persist that the company is planning to release an updated and more powerful version of the Switch – known as Switch 2 or Switch Pro on tech sites – featuring an updated processor.

In an entertainment market dominated by streaming platforms and services, where everyone is looking for the next equivalent to Netflix or Spotify, it will be interesting to see how two specialist high-end machines fare, especially with Google Stadia (out in November) and Apple Arcade (launched in September), looking to entice more casual players.




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