Has it really been two years? Because of this my PS5 review will look at Sony's superb console in a slightly new light, as I not only delve into why Sony's PlayStation 5 remains the best console of this new generation but how it has evolved to stay ahead of its biggest rival, Xbox Series X.
In this Sony PlayStation 5 review I'll go over the headline features of PS5, that include its internal SSD for lightning-fast load times, a beautiful UI designed to connect you to your games and communities, immersive 3D audio from the Tempest Engine and a powerful AMD GPU and CPU combo that delivers 120fps at 4K. It's why when you do get a PS5 you'll likely need to upgrade to the best 4K monitors or best TVs for PS5.
Our PS5 review looks at how Sony's PlayStation 5 has changed since it launched in November 2020. There have been a number of subtle changes and updates to the console in this time, including a new model that is slightly lighter and offers some quality-of-life fixes, such as the console is now easier to fix to its stand (you no longer need a screwdriver). There is also now a three-tiered PS Plus subscription that offers a wealth of 'free' games each month as well as classics of older PlayStation consoles.
If its tech-specs aren't enough to convince you PS5 is an exceptional games console its design makes it stand out. Sony has always gone its own way with console design, whether it's PS3's 'George Foreman Grill' or PS4's perspective-bending look. The PS5 is altogether a different beast. To try and hide the console's bulk Sony opted to give this new console 'wings' and lighten the look; the lines of the 'shell' take your eye up, over and out of the console. There's a techy reason for those wings too, and the hidden 'wave' vents – it cools and quietens the device.
The same tech-meets-design philosophy was taken with the PS5 controller, the DualSense, which contains bags of new features, including haptic feedback, adaptive triggers, motion senses, a built-in speaker, a microphone and a touchpad. All in, using a DualSense gets you closer to your games. Read my guide to the best PS5 controllers for more variants on the DualSense.
No matter the design, tech and features a new console always comes down its games catalogue, and here PS5 both impresses and feels a little stunted. There are excellent and exclusive PS5 games, and Sony offers free upgrades for many PS4 games, but two years on we are still waiting for a true 'next-gen' game. My guide to the best PS5 games shows what you can play now and my feature on the best PSVR 2 games coming soon highlights what you can play on Sony's new VR headset.
Finally, Sony is just warming its PS5 lineup. Next year the new PlayStation VR 2 releases and you'll need a PlayStation 5 to run one. Read my deep dive, 'PSVR 2: everything you need to know' for more. Also, discover what the pros think in our feature 'PlayStation VR 2 developer reaction'. Now scroll down for my PS5 review.
PS5 review: Standard vs Digital Edition
There are two PS5 models to choose from, they have a slightly different design, bulk and weight because one comes with a 4K Blu-ray drive and the other doesn't. I go into some more differences in detail throughout this review, but below I focus on the main points.
Processor: AMD Zen 2, 8-core
RAM: 16 GB GDDR6
Disc drive: 4K Blu-ray
This is the more costly and bulky PS5, as it comes with a 4K Blu-ray drive. It's the same spec console but the addition of the drive ensures those upgrading with a physical PS4 games collection can play their classics.
Likewise, if you have a film collection you can watch your movies on the Standard Edition. It also means you can save money by buying second-hand PS4 games physically, and you're not reliant on digital stores sales.
Processor: AMD Zen 2, 8-core
RAM: 16 GB GDDR6
Disc drive: None
The Digital Edition is a slimmer version of the bulky PS5 because it lacks the 4K Blu-ray drive. If you're new to PlayStation and don't watch films on disc, this is a good option as it's around $100 / £100 cheaper.
The Digital Edition relies on the PS Store for game and film purchases. This is generally slightly more expensive, but has regular sales. PS Plus does, however, offers value.
PS5 review: design
The PS5 isn't a small games console, in fact at 4.5kg and measuring roughly 15 x 4 x 10 inches it's a big beast of a games machine. Much of this comes down to the huge heatsink embedded inside the console to keep it cool and quiet. After two years of using PS5 daily it still runs silent, which is not what can be said for my PS4 and PS4 Pro after a similar length of time. PS5's weight and bulk is a necessity.
Rather than present a black box of tricks Sony took steps to design PS5 to look different – its side panels are winged curves and looking closely I see tiny PlayStation symbols making up a textured outer shell. It's this attention to detail that stands out.
The console is designed to draw the eye across its form and its curves make it feel smaller than it is; senior Art Director Yujin Morisawa has said the design was inspired by 'five dimensions' design ideal – words, images, space, time and behaviour – and he used circles and squares to form the bones of the look. It works. PS5's look encourages you to touch it and use it; it feels smaller than it actually is – a triumph.
Some of this comes down to the two-tone appeal; its white matte casing wedges a shiny black interior that I can confirm after two years of use remains glossy and is easy to clean (mine has yet to scratch). The 'fins' inside look elegant but also serve to cool the machine. Since launch Sony has released more colours, including Midnight Black, Cosmic Red, Nova Pink, Starlight Blue and Galactic Purple. Each colour is matched with a DualSense of the same shade.
In this PS5 review I've covered the standard edition, which features a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player. There is also the PS5 Digital Edition, which is the same games console, including the 825GB SSD, but it comes without the disc drive. The Digital Edition is around $100 / £100 less than the standard PS5, so the only reason to opt for the Digital Edition is to save money (assuming you don't have a Blu-ray collection). At launch it was easier to get hold of the Digital Edition, right now though it's more likely you'll find a Standard Edition.
There's a light strip that surrounds the interior of the PS5. It hums with a low orange when in standby and pings to a deep blue and then white when alive and in use; it feels like a callback to older PlayStations.
If you're a portaphile then the PS5 has you covered – it has a USB-C and a USB-A at the front and two USB-A ports to the rear. The front port will be taken up by the DualSense controller's wireless USB stick. Naturally there's an Ethernet port, a HDMI port and a power port at the back, too. If you need more, for example for local multiplayer, there are various third-party USB hubs you can connect.
A nice tweak to the newer PS5 model – identified by its number CFI-1102A – is the ease with which you can now remove and reconnect the stand to move the console from its vertical to horizontal position. My 2020 model requires a screwdriver to remove the stand's screw while the newer edition can be done by hand. You need to use the stand when positioned horizontally to ensure the airflows properly around the console.
The new CFI-1102A model also has a paired down heatsink, making it around 300g lighter. There are still rumours of a newer model in development with a revised AMD chip, which many are calling a PS5 Pro, but don't expect that for maybe two years. A PS5 'slim' is more likely to come before a Pro model.
PS5 review: apps and UI
The approach to PS5's design stretches into its UI and UX, and here Sony tore up the rulebook and offered something new. The new 'Control Center' enables you to see, in real-time, updates on friends' activities, your rewards and new game content. These Activity Cards enable you to drop into a game from where you left off or select a mission to play, you can track Trophies and even get game tips right there in the UI.
If you have other media accounts, such as Spotify or Twitch, your PS5 will connect and share updates. You can record, edit and upload content directly from inside the PS5, making streaming and blogging even easier. (You can watch this content using a picture-in-picture mode as you play.)
The beauty of PS5's UI is it enables you to dance around your game and media collection with speed, and see at a glance everything that's happening in your game-world. After two years of use I love the Control Center, though Sony still has some issues with its approach to searching for content – if you have a large games library, which you may have if you moved from PS4, it can be tricky to find older content.
As well as games you can download many media and streaming apps to PlayStation 5, including Twitch, Discord, YouTube, Disney Plus, Spotify, Apple Music and Netflix. Since launch Sony has been building its app support, for example right now you can get six months of Apple+ TV for free. The excellent app support, and the ability to create content and launch to social channels on the console, makes the PS5 Digital Edition an enticing purchase two years after release.
PS5 review: performance
Sony’s PS5 remains an impressive games console for those who like to dig onto specs; for example its octa-core AMD Zen 2-based CPU has a 3.5GHz clock speed. As mentioned earlier its AMD CPU and GPU combo can deliver 4K resolution at 120fps, but you'll find most games now offer a mix of modes – usually Performance and Resolution modes. There's an option in PS5's settings to opt between the two –Performance favours framerate while Resolution promotes visual detail, such as using ray tracing and 4K textures.
PS5 has the potential to go further and support 30fps at 8K output, but we're waiting for Sony to release a firmware to unlock the console's full potential.
When it comes to storage space PS5 has a custom 825GB SSD that is super-speedy and makes games load in an instant. At launch I found this would fill quickly but two years on the mix of downloadable games and cloud gaming via PS Plus ensures you won't be filling it up quite so fast.
If you do need to up the storage you can add a new NVMe SSD inside the PS5 or connect one externally; read our guide to the best SSD for PS5 and the best external hard drive for PS5 for more. Since it launched you can store PS5 as well as PS4 games and saves on an external SSD.
CPU: AMD Zen 2-based CPU with 8 cores at 3.5GHz (variable frequency)
GPU: 10.28 TFLOPs, 36 CUs at 2.23GHz (variable frequency)
GPU architecture: Custom RDNA 2
Memory: 16GB GDDR6 / 256-bit
Memory bandwidth: 448GB/s
Internal storage: Custom 825GB SSD Usable
Expandable storage: NVMe SSD slot
External storage: USB SSD and HDD (now supports PS5 and PS4 games)
Disc drive: 4K UHD Blu-ray drive (Standard Edition only)
IO throughput: 5.5GB/s (raw), typical 8-9GB/s (compressed)
All this tech inside PS5 boils down to a smooth gaming experience. You'll immediately notice the SSD when you start playing as games load in under a second and you can drop in and out of multiple games. Some dedicated PS5 games are made to make use of the SSD load times, such as Returnal and Ratchet & Clank: Rift Part, which are built around loading and reloading game data at speed.
All in, the power of the PS5 comes down to speed and accessibility. The console can push around 4K textures at high and steady frame rates, and it can offer advanced effects such as ray tracing for depth and HDR for colour vibrancy.
Since launch Sony has updated PS5 to make use of a new a VRR (Variable Refresh Rate) option, which can make games feel smooth to play as any erratic frame pacing is smoothed out. A nice point is VRR can be used on PS4 games that aren't officially on the compatibility list. It feels a little like PS2's texture smoothing but for frame rates.
A fundamental update is the new inclusion of 1440p (QHD) video output, which came in September 2022. This enables you to now connect a QHD monitor to a PS5 and take advantage of higher refresh rates, including 120Hz at 1440p. Read our guide to the best 1440p monitors for more details.
After two years I've found it refreshing to find Sony offering new updates that actually affect how I use my PS5, and not merely for tinkering around the edges. Other updates have included the option to test and compare 3D audio output, organise your downloads into new lists and access YouTube via voice control.
PS5 review: the controller
The PS5 controller, named the DualSense Wireless Controller, is a beautiful piece of gaming tech. DualSense is a true generational leap over other other gamepads. We were a little sceptical about the PS5 Dualsense controller but after using it for two years I never want to play a game without it – I own an Xbox Series X and DualSense is the real differentiator between the two consoles.
So what's so special about the DualSense controller? The tech impresses – it features haptic feedback, adaptive triggers, motion sensors, a built-in mic and speaker, as well as a small touchpad for direct controls.
Sony's 'pro' controller is now set for release 26 January and is priced $199.99 / £209.99. It's a steep price, particularly when compared to the Xbox Elite Controller Series 2 that starts at $130 / £140. The advantage of the DualSense Edge is it can be fully customised to suit how you play, with replaceable sticks, remap buttons and triggers as well as adjust and record the setup for different games with a 'quick swap profile' system. You can even adjust the stick and vibration sensitivity.
When playing a game it can bring the action to life in your hands, for example shooter Returnal uses the adaptive triggers to offer two weapon modes per trigger, racing game Gran Turismo 7 vibrates across the pad with different strengths depending on the road surface, while Deathloop's antagonist, Juliana, will talk and taunt you directly through the controller's speaker. Impressive.
If you're averse to rumbles and vibrations, which many gamers find off-putting and even painful for extended periods, then you can turn these features off in the console's menus.
The DualSense controller's design mimics the flow of the console itself; it features the same two-tone colour combo, with a matt white shell and gloss black body. The same touch of light ignites when it's turned on. The controller's 'handles' are slightly longer and slimmer than the PS4's DualShock 4, and it tapers to a small rounded nub. The DualSense feels great for lengthy game stints.
Since launch Sony has introduced a number of new DualSense colours as well as special editions, such as the new God Of War: Ragnarok design.
PS5 review: 3D audio
Essentially 3D audio is a spatial audio technology that enables developers to pin-point where sound should appear and disappear in an environment. While many tech brands licence Dolby Atmos, for PS5 Sony created its own Tempest Engine for 3D audio.
Some people love Dolby Atmos and can't understand why Sony would go its own way, but I love Tempest Engine and appreciate that it's been developed specifically for video games and VR. It's basically a 3D audio chip developed with AMD, so think of it as a GPU for 3D audio that processes sound directly in the console.
There are some limitations, for example if you have a mid-range TV, which usually have 20 watt speakers, you won't really get the impact of 3D audio. However, invest in a good TV or headphones and you'll really hear the difference, and because the 3D audio is created in PS5 using Tempest Engine you don't need a TV with 5.1 or Dolby Atmos (but of course, it helps).
For this reason Sony's Pulse 3D Wireless Headset is a good investment when you buy a PS5, but again, not essential as stereo headphones can handle 3D audio via Tempest Engine. I would recommend a good pair of 3D audio headphones, however, as more games take advantage of this tech, including the forthcoming God Of War Ragnarok that enables you to hear where attacks are coming from and where your strikes are landing on enemies.
PS5 review: PS Plus
At launch PS5 adopted the existing PS Plus subscription service that offered free monthly games and access to cloud storage and online play. PS Now was Sony's cloud gaming offering, and it was actually a decent service, depending on your internet speed and stability.
Since then Sony has revamped PS Plus into three tiers in an effort to compete with Microsoft's Game Pass, and added PS Now's cloud streaming. Below I've summed up the main tier offerings.
- Premium: Free monthly games, online play, cloud storage, game catalogue, Classics catalogue (includes PS1, PS2 and PS3 classics), Ubisoft+ Classics (Assassin's Creed, etc), PlayStation Plus Collection and much more.
- Extra: Free monthly games, online play, cloud storage, game catalogue, Ubisoft+ Classics (Assassin's Creed, etc), PlayStation Plus Collection and much more.
- Essential: Free monthly games, online play, PlayStation Plus Collection.
A highlight of PS Plus for PS5 was the offer of the PS Plus Collection, a catalogue of PS4 games upgraded for PS5 with new 4K textures, improved frame rates and in some cases the option of ray tracing. It remains as a part of PS Plus and has even been added to; games include: Marvel's Spider-Man, Days Gone and God Of War.
PS5 review: the games
Two years on and PS5 has struggled to escape the legacy of the incredibly successful PS4. As the pandemic hit developers hard, many games released for PS5 in the last 18 months have primarily been dual-release, meaning these games are developed to run on PS4 first and PS5 second, with a smattering of upgrades on offer rather than dedicated 'next-gen' features and ideas.
The upside is you can build a great games collection by buying PS4 games digitally and making use of free upgrades. I found myself indulging in replaying some of my favourite games or discovering new PS4 releases now running smoother, faster and offering 4K textures and 60fps. The likes of Days Gone, Ghost Of Tsushima and Marvel's Spider-Man have never looked or played better.
There are some notable games released that make good use of the PS5's capabilities, including Returnal, Deathloop and Demon's Souls. Some older classics were re-released with PS5 upgrades and impress, I'd recommend everyone plays Hitman 3, Devil May Cry 5 and Control. You can discover more in my guide, 'the best PS5 games'.
Horizon Forbidden West
Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales
Sackboy: A Big Adventure
Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart
Gran Turismo 7
While the PS5 is excellent when it comes to PS4 backwards compatibility, it can't play PS1, PS2 or PS3 games. This is a major disappointment, especially considering Xbox Series X has a list of hundreds of classic games from Xbox One to Xbox 360 and the original Xbox console.
Sony's solution has been to offer PS1, PS2 and PS3 games via its PS Plus subscription service. Most of these games have to be played over cloud streaming but recently more classics, such as Syphon Filter 1 and 2, can be downloaded and played. It's an improvement on where PS5 was at launch, but it's still lacking.
Looking ahead, Sony’s PS5 has a more robust list of games that can only be played on this new hardware. Some of these games have been developed from the ground up for PS5, such as Forsaken, Final Fantasy XVI and the recently announced Witch 3 remake, using Unreal Engine 5. Other notable games in the works include, Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 and the Dead Space remake. For more, read my guide to the best upcoming PS5 games.
PS5 review: price
At launch PS5 cost $499.99 / £449.99 for the Standard Edition and $399.99 / £359.99 for the Digital Edition, cheaper because it lacks the 4K Blu-ray drive. This rough $100 / £100 is worth it if you don't have a physical PS4 games collection to play. It does mean you're reliant on the PS Store for game and film purchases, which can be slightly more expensive. Regular digital sales can bring prices down, and the PS Plus service offers good value for money, with regular free games.
Recently Sony has increased the price of PlayStation 5. This was blamed on rising global inflation. In the UK the price for the Standard Edition has risen to £479.99 but the US price remains the same. Likewise, the Digital Edition has increased to £389.99 in the UK, but the US remains at $399.99
Despite the price rise PS5 remains the most sought-after games console, notably because it has a slew of superb exclusive home-grown games, including God Of War, Marvel's Spider-Man and the Horizon series, and some of the best developers in the world, such as Naughty Dog, Sony Santa Monica and Sony London Studio.
In the last two years Xbox Series X has caught up with PS5 in terms of sales and exclusive game content. Microsoft's Game Pass subscription service offers hundreds of free games, including day one games that you'll need to pay for on PS5, such as Plague Tale: Requiem. Upcoming free and exclusive day one games include Starfield and Hideo Kokjima's Somerville.
This matters because Microsoft won't be raising the price of Xbox Series X until 2023, and it's currently $499 in the US and £449 in the UK for the 1TB model. This makes Xbox Series X a slightly cheaper console, and it's easier to find in stores. With Microsoft buying major developers and brands, such as Bethesda and currently it's trying to own Activision Blizzard, Xbox Series X is becoming an interesting choice.
Special mention goes to Nintendo Switch OLED, which costs $349 / £309, making it not only the cheapest of the current crop of consoles but also a unique entry. Its handheld and home console approach makes it a different option, and it has many exclusive games. Read our guide to the best Switch games and the best upcoming Switch games for more. Of course, Nintendo Switch OLED is less powerful than the PS5 or Xbox Series X, so keep that in mind.
PS5 review: should I buy one?
If you can find one, I'd recommend a PS5. Two years since launch and it remains the best games console money can buy. It's not simply a powerful, fast and advanced games console and media machine, with access to streaming platforms and digital games, it also features the best game controller yet made. DualSense is the reason to buy a PlayStation 5.
I personally recommend a disc-based Standard Edition as it not only means you can play your old PS4 games but also ensures collectors can build a catalogue of old and new titles. This does raise one issue; PS5's lack of backwards compatibility is an issue and remains a blind spot for Sony. Remakes and remasters, and a limited number of digital games from the PS1, PS2 and PS3 eras, can't hide the fact PS5 would be a better console with true emulation.
Aside from this PlayStation 5 remains the best console around right now. PS5's UI and UX design is unmatched and step ahead of Xbox's Windows based dashboard, though Microsoft's console has a new UI planned for 2023. PS5 is simply a joy to use, and while we wait for Sony to truly begin releasing 'next-gen' games powered by Unreal Engine 5, its speed, upgrade options for PS4 titles, and ease of use makes all the difference.
- These are the best retro gaming consoles