The Digital Foundry verdict: Sony has delivered a hugely impressive, premium machine with great games that really feels like it ushers in a new generation of gaming.
This is it. After months of waiting, we're finally in possession of the realisation of Sony's vision for the next generation of console gaming. PlayStation 5 features cutting-edge AMD CPU and graphics technology combined with ultra-fast solid state storage, ground-breaking innovations in the user interface, a revolutionary controller and, of course, 3D audio. The promise is enticing and by and large, the end product delivers. We've only had just over a week with final hardware, but from my perspective, PlayStation 5 is a home run.
Boot-up and interface
It starts with a press of the power button, eliciting the same ping as PS4 - but the similarity from one console generation to the next ends there. From a cold boot, PlayStation 5 is ready for use in less than 14 seconds (halve that if you're coming back from Rest Mode) and right off the bat, you're good to go. Yes, there's a system software update to download - but it's not mandatory and you're free to examine Sony's early UI if you want to. It's certainly a treat visually, rendering at native 4K with precision text, artwork and iconography. In many ways, I'm reminded of the utility of the PlayStation 4 front end and the pristine, high-end feel of the PS3's particle-heavy XMB. Sony's vision of delivering the next generation of gaming entertainment is perfectly encapsulated in a UI that feels futuristic and deluxe, and polished to the nth degree. The fact that everything is presented in high dynamic range adds to the quality of the presentation.
Of course, Sony has already revealed plenty about the user interface - but the emphasis has very much been on the activity cards for use in PlayStation 5 software, designed to give you more access to any given game and to aid in discovery. Popping into the settings icon on the top right, it's clear to see why: the nuts and bolts functions are very similar in nature to the PlayStation 4, with just minor tweaks. There are some interesting options, however. For example, if a game has quality or performance modes, the user interface allows you to choose which one you'd prefer the game to boot in. Perhaps this is indicative of a wider push for choice in game presentations? Certainly, the function works just fine in Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales.
HDMI 2.1 features: 120Hz is there - but VRR and 8K are MIA
PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X herald a new console generation - but the emergence of exciting, cutting-edge gaming hardware doesn't kick off in a vacuum. To get the most out of the new machines, you may wish to consider purchasing an HDMI 2.1 display and I was curious to see whether Sony had matched Microsoft's impressive commitment to this and other display formats.
Dipping into the video settings, we're looking at functionality very similar to PlayStation 4, only this time there is confirmation of HDMI 2.1 support - in the form of 4K 120Hz output recognised as a display spec point in the video output report. However, it appears that the user has no control over setting the console to 120Hz mode: this is engaged as and when a game requires it. In fact, one of the few disappointments I have with PlayStation 5 is that the HDMI 2.1 implementation as it stands right now is somewhat lacking in terms of embracing the full feature set. Beyond limited access to a display's 120Hz features, there is no sign whatsoever that variable refresh rate (VRR) is supported on PlayStation 5 right now - and that's a real shame. This is more of an academic point, but the PS5's packaging also moots 8K display functionality. This is somewhat frivolous and borderline pointless in the here and now, but I tried to get it working on a gigantic LG 75NANO99 native 8K screen, and found that despite flagging 8K compatibility on the box, PS5 tops out at 4K resolution.
I also saw no support for ALLM - auto low latency mode. With both Xbox and Nvidia RTX cards, the LG display automatically switches into game mode when they are attached. PlayStation 5 does not do so, meaning that it's down to the user to manually engage game mode for the lowest possible latency and I have to wonder how many mainstream users are likely to actually do this. And yes, no native support for 1440p desktop monitors is also confirmed. I have an AOC AG271QX display, which works just fine at 1440p resolution on Xbox consoles (with VRR functionality, no less) but the same screen tops out at just 1080p on PlayStation 5, meaning that game outputs will be downscaled from 4K, then upscaled by the screen to 1440p. Mileage may well vary on other screens, but I suspect the best you can hope for will be downscaled 2160p from HDMI 2.0-equipped 1440p monitors.
One final point: the video output section features a curious new feature: the ability to change 4K transfer rate from default to minus one and minus two. These correspond to 4:2:2 and 4:2:0 chroma subsampling respectively, with the default set to 'full fat' 4:4:4, which may tax cheaper HDMI cables or perhaps some displays. We recommend staying with the default option but in a living room set-up with the screen viewed at range, you may find it difficult to tell the difference.
PlayStation 5 hardware analysis: heat and power consumption
Thankfully, a lot more thought has gone into the physical design of the console itself. Yes, it's large and unwieldy and certainly not as media cabinet friendly as prior generations. It also seems fairly clear that similar to Series X, this is a machine designed to be placed in a vertical configuration: what looks futuristic and elegant (if imposing) when upright doesn't quite work when placed on its side, requiring the stand to sit comfortably at all - a stand that all too easily slips off the console when you move it.
It's a controversial design (as was PS4 back in the day), but it is what it is for a very specific reason - and it works. Put simply, in working with a high-power processor, heat generation (and dissipation) is a genuine issue. Microsoft's solution is a compact, dense piece of industrial design aimed at maximising airflow. Sony's alternative is sheer area: allowing heat to siphon off into a relatively gigantic cooler, expelled out of the case in several directions via a 120mm fan. The same problem is dealt with in very different ways - but crucially both of them work in delivering cool and quiet consoles.
First of all, similar to Series X, I think that noise is basically a non-issue with PlayStation 5. Close-up to the console, you can hear the slight whir of the fan, but in living room, office or bedroom conditions, this totally disappears into the ambient noise. Fan speeds (and thus noise) also seem remarkably consistent, and even ramping up power draw as much as I could with Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales in photo mode - and then leaving the console alone for an hour - PlayStation 5 continued to be just as cool and quiet. The thermal photography of the system under load is literally illuminating.