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Sony's PlayStation 5 has finally arrived. After seven long years of service, the PlayStation 4 is ready to hang up its control pad and take it easy, handing the digital baton over to the next generation of consoles. Ahead of its official release to the public, we were able to get one of the behemothic machines a little early to collate some thoughts on Sony's latest piece of equipment.
Signing into the PlayStation 5 for the first time feels like a daunting prospect - a brand-new console generation, the knowledge that this will be your point of contact for video game and media entertainment for the next half decade or more. So you'll no doubt be eager to get set up straight away.
The PlayStation 5 console itself is ergonomically... complicated. The largest consumer console ever brings a very tangible meaning to the phrase 'absolute unit' with its irregular shaping. While I personally don't mind it, there's no arguing that after the visually unthreatening appearance of pretty much every other PlayStation console, the PS5 is a very love-it-or-hate-it piece of machinery. Bottom heavy and with a pair of fins adorning the top (if you choose to have it stood upright) the detachable baseplate gives users the option of having it lay horizontally or vertically, depending on their home layout. Like a lot of people, I have a TV cabinet that has my various consoles sitting flat beneath my television, and fitting the PS5 into this setup is much more of a headache than I was anticipating.
Measuring 15.4" (39.1cm) tall, 10.24" (26cm) deep and 4.09" (10.3cm) wide, there's no getting around the fact that it's going to be taking up a lot of window space in your home entertainment set up. Standing the PS5 vertically is easy enough with the screw that comes hidden inside the base plate, and it's pretty obvious this is the way Sony wants you to display the console - proud and visible in your living room.
I found some issues with the baseplate while trying to lay it horizontally though, since instead of using a screw it just sort of slips on to the side plate without any kind of audible indication of an attachment. Shifting it around to get it lined up perfectly as well is a huge nuisance, with the plate dislodging itself almost immediately every time. This is a problem if, like me, you change your HDMI cables around or otherwise need to access the rear of the console for any other reason.
The User Experience
Once you do have the PlayStation 5 perfectly aligned in your gaming area, turning it on is about as pain free as you can hope a new piece of technology to be. The Quick Start Guide that comes with the console is easy to read and follow, and I'd estimate that from first turning it on to being ready to play takes no longer than 15 minutes. Indeed, the first-time sign-in lets you transfer your old PS4 account details over to the PS5, so you can crack on downloading your games almost immediately.
The next-gen moment kicks in when you consider the sheer power purring away under the hood of the PS5 and in its boot up times. Let's run through a quick example: from a cold boot (ie, the PlayStation is completely off) to being actually in a game of Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales, takes no longer than 45 seconds. Forty-five seconds. That's incredible. And it runs as quiet as a mouse.
Owners of the PS4 won't soon forget how the thing often masked the sounds of games being played with its jet-engine fans working overtime to dissipate heat towards the end of the console's lifespan. No such problem here. In fact, the reason the PS5 is so dense is to accommodate the very sizable cooling unit housed within its lumpy exterior. Whether everything will run this smoothly and quietly as the years stretch on and developers begin to push the boundaries of what can be achieved with the technology remains to be seen, but for an out-of-the-box machine, I'm impressed.
With all the mechanical bits squared away and jaws firmly picked up off the floor, you're presented with the new, witheringly sleek user interface. Does it look vaguely reminiscent of the PS4 UI? Yes. Does that matter? No, not really. It's familiar and it functions - job done. Why change what isn't broken? One thing you will notice is that there are now two distinct categories: Games and Media. You can cycle between the two by tapping R1 and L1 on the DualSense and while, realistically, this only makes getting to your Media apps (like Netflix, YouTube, Disney+, etc) marginally quicker, it's nice that Sony acknowledges the parts of its audience that use their home consoles as entertainment hubs these days too, and not just as straight-up video game machines.
Something that's not so impressive is the relatively meagre storage space. The internal storage clocks in at just 667.2GB despite being marketed as 825GB. When you consider that a fully updated version of Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare lumbers around at close to 200GB, there's going to be a lot of space-saving solutions being implemented, and possibly the purchasing of additional extended storage devices. It's very likely that the PS5's rapid operating system takes up a portion of that space, and Sony just neglected to mention it. Or that retail devices will differ from the ones given to press, but still, something to mull over.
Still, there are some neat features to play around with including being able to remote play from the PS5 to another PS5 (if for some crazy reason you have two of them) or a PS4 on the same Wi-Fi network to help cut down on using some of that premium storage space. You can also control the PS5 with your PC, Mac, or mobile device using a QR code generated by the console. Then there's the ability to hunt down specific game help videos directly from the console for a part of the game you're stuck on, which could eventually become the go-to way to seek these things out, negating the need to go to YouTube or Google for guides. The feature isn't yet fully established on our review units, but will be useful for the people who feel inclined to use it.
Presently, I only have access to two games on the PlayStation 5. Astro's Playroom - a cutesy platformer that comes pre-loaded on the console and is mostly just a parade ground to showcase the DualSense, and Spider-Man: Miles Morales. That's... it for now in the way of first-party games. Because of the torrid year the world has endured with the Coronavirus pandemic in 2020, a lot of third-party launch titles have been pushed back, making Sony's initial slim-pickings feel all the slimmer.
Of course there are the backwards compatible games which, if you're using your PlayStation account, will all be available to download in your Library, and many of them are getting free upgrades via Sony's Game Boost. Game Boost essentially automatically upgrades old games to run more smoothly on the PS5 with things like improved frame rates and faster load times. Then there's the PS Plus Collection for those with a continuing PS Plus subscription, which will also be available right out of the gate.
As for what the two games I've got look like, they're pretty good, I guess? Take note that I'm perhaps not best suited to judge the graphical fidelity of the PS5 at the minute, as I'm still hobbling along with an HDTV, and not one of the fancy 4K HDR models that really bring graphics in the latest video games to life. There is a notable improvement in clarity and sharpness, but it might be the most modest of visual jumps we've seen from console to console.
Saying that, it is no doubt impressive to know that the PS5 is capable of ray-tracing (including on games that are being upgraded on the PS5) HDR, 4K and 60fps resolution as standard, but I imagine a fair few consumers will be slightly behind the curve on stumping up for the additional bits and pieces of tech needed to fully appreciate the majesty of this brave new console world.
Allow me to be dramatic for a moment, and say that the DualSense is possibly the greatest controller I've ever had the pleasure of holding. Thanks to its haptic feedback and in-built microphone, it reaches that last bastion of tangible senses for video games - touch. The PlayStation 5's greased-up SSD, its 10.28 teraflops of power and any performance-based stat you care to mention, for me, pale in comparison to the sheer gaming joy of the DualSense.
I've been trying to think of ways to describe it, and the best simile I can come up with is that it's like surround sound for your hands, where you're able to feel each pin-prick pulse of vibration around your palms. The haptic feedback is particularly excellent in Astro's Playroom which gives a glimpse into the future of what might be possible. Everything from biting bumper fight-back while aiming and shooting weapons, cascading weather effects like rain and hail pulsing sporadically through the grips, to the use of the microphone that couples the actions happening on-screen to the implied ones you're feeling in your hands. It is, truly, next generational.
While the possibilities with it are certainly exciting, it's the implementation that's going to be key, and somewhat the unknown factor. There is the natural propensity for developers to throw all the possible features of the controller into every facet of a game and call it a good job, but using it in a more nuanced way would, I believe, make it part of a game's core experience, part of its makeup, and not just a gimmicky feature.
The way the DualSense looks does partially betray just how good it is. Similar to the PS5 console, I can imagine it having a love/hate relationship with consumers. A bulky middle, soft-touch face buttons and flappy bumpers on a two-tone black and white palette make it look like it wouldn't go amiss on the USS Enterprise, which is great if that's what you're into, but not really what blends into most living room interiors. But it is at least comfortable to hold - which if we're being honest, is the only thing that really matters. Give it a few months and the market will be flooded with official and third-party variants in wacky shapes, sizes and colours that will make this original DualSense look comparatively quite modest.
My time with the PlayStation 5 in the weeks before launch has been almost universally positive, minus some physical set up distractions. It's a big, bulky, divisive piece of kit to look at, there's no doubt there, but it harbours the svelte inner workings of technological pedigree. One foot in the present, and one in the future. A bridge between worlds waiting to have its potential explored, exactly as a new console should be. An intuitive user interface, with rapid loading times and enough of a graphical step-up to make you say, "yes, those graphics are nice."
Account for all this and add in one of the best (if not the best) controllers we've seen in the DualSense, and there's no mistake that Sony are serious about making the PlayStation 5 your essential buy this year, maybe even this decade. The distinct lack of new games to play at launch (again, I've only played two but more will be coming) is doubtless a mood-killer, but one that will be remedied. Deciding whether you buy at launch or wait a few months until the titles start rolling in is par for the console course, the PS4 isn't in the business of retiring just yet, with Sony confirming that the console will be fully supported until 2022. But make no mistake that the PS5 is just getting started, and the next generation starts here.
The PlayStation 5 will release in the US, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea on November 12th, and in the UK and worldwide on November 19th. This PlayStation 5 console was provided to GAMINGbible by Sony for review purposes and may not represent the final PS5 experience.