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PS5 vs Xbox Project Scarlett: what we know so far

Image Credit: TechRadar
(Image credit: TechRadar)

And so it begins. The dawn of a new console war, as two gaming titans re-enter the ring for another dust-up. Our combatants? Xbox Project Scarlett vs PS5. Microsoft vs Sony.

Alpha and Omega. Beginning and End. 

Yes, we take gaming very seriously. So, with both companies having shown the first cards in their hands in the race to be the next console kings, we’re putting their early reveals under the microscope. It’s inevitable that both the Xbox Project Scarlett (whether it’s launch name becomes the Xbox Two or otherwise) and the PlayStation 5 are going to cost a pretty penny at launch. But which one should your prettiest of pennies be going towards? Here’s what we think so far.

[Note that there is still much to be revealed about both consoles. This piece acts only as a barometer of the direction each company is taking. And, at first glance, they seem surprisingly similar…]

Xbox Project Scarlett vs PS5: key facts

Xbox Project Scarlett vs PS5

Image credit: Sony

  • What are they? Xbox Project Scarlett, or Xbox Two, and the PS5 are the expected names of the forthcoming next-gen games consoles from Microsoft and Sony, set to deliver more ambitious and graphically impressive gaming experiences than ever before.
  • Xbox Project Scarlett and PS5 release date: Though specific dates are yet to be confirmed, Microsoft has given Xbox Project Scarlett a launch window of "Holiday 2020". Sony has yet to offer a launch date for its next console, but we’d expect it to be roughly the same time.
  • What can I play on it? So far, we’ve only a single game confirmed for either console, and that’s Halo Infinite for the Xbox Project Scarlett. But that console will also be comprehensively backwards compatible, while we’re expecting games like Cyberpunk 2077 to make an appearance on both machines.

Xbox Project Scarlett vs PS5: specs so far

Though it was Sony to make the first move, giving the first concrete details about its PS5 back in April 2019, Microsoft’s E3 2019 showcase showed that both companies appear to be singing from the same hymn sheet with their new machines’ internal specs. Note, however, that never have revealed what their consoles look like – this is purely a sneak peek under the hood at this stage.

The PlayStation 5 will run off a custom-built version of the third generation AMD Ryzen chipset, packing in 8 cores with the company's new Zen 2 architecture and Navi graphics. It’s a system that will be able to support ray tracing – a performance-intensive lighting technique that has previously been the reserve of expensive high-end PC GPUs. Sony has also talked of the console setting a new “gold standard” in immersive, 3D audio, particularly for those using a headset whilst playing.

The PS5 will also support screen resolutions of up to 8K – far higher than the standard 1080p HD of most people’s televisions, let alone that of the increasingly popular 4K. It’ll also work at 120Hz refresh rates, allowing for super-smooth movement in games. These are incredibly performance intensive specs, so we wouldn’t expect a game to hit these standards regularly (not to mention requiring an expensive TV that will support them), but it’s good to see what Sony is aiming at.

Perhaps the most interesting element of the Sony build is its commitment to using SSD storage. The solid state drive in the PlayStation 5 will again be a custom-built piece of hardware, and Sony has already been showing off its technical prowess with a demo of its existing Spider-Man PS4 game. On PS5 hardware, the game is able to race around an incredibly-detailed New York City at incredibly high speeds without any delay in geometry loading or texture streaming, something that would never be possible on PS4.

The Xbox Project Scarlett, at this stage, is looking startlingly similar.

It too will use custom AMD internals using the same Zen 2 and Navi architecture of the PS5, making it 4x more powerful than the Xbox One X – this generation’s most technically-impressive gaming hardware.

It too will be able to run content (if not games) at an 8K resolution, and it too will support 120Hz refresh rates. The Xbox Project Scarlett will match the PS5 by offering ray tracing capabilities, and it’ll have an SSD too, here also used as virtual RAM to lift load times by up to 40x. Standard RAM will be of the GDDR6 variety, in an amount yet to be determined.

The Xbox Two will also be backwards compatible with the Xbox One’s supporting hardware accessories, meaning that you won’t have to rush out and buy new pads and headsets to accompany the console at launch. And, if you’re a sucker for buying boxed games over making digital purchases, it’s already confirmed to have a physical disc drive included.

It’s worth mentioning that rumors surrounding the Xbox Project Scarlett have also involved the possibilities of their being two complimentary consoles launched, codenamed Anaconda and Lockheart. The theory here is that the former will be a high end machine, likely what’s described above, while the latter would be a budget option focussing on streaming. At this stage however, they remain merely rumors, as Microsoft is yet to confirm or deny the existence of a duo.

Xbox Project Scarlett vs PS5: games we expect to see

Xbox Project Scarlett vs PS5

Image credit: CD Projekt Red

(Image credit: CD Projekt Red)

It’s early doors for the new next-gen consoles, but already we’re getting a picture of the sort of experiences you can expect to see on the Xbox Project Scarlett and the PS5. 

Let’s kick off with the Xbox, as Microsoft has been a little more open with its line up upfront. First off, Microsoft has confirmed that Halo Infinite, aka Halo 6, will be a launch title for Xbox Project Scarlett. The Halo franchise is a unit shifter for Microsoft, a big-budget FPS series that will have been left on a bit of a cliff hanger for five years come the ‘Holiday 2020’ release of Halo Infinite. This is a very big deal.

Perhaps just as much of a big deal is the fact that Xbox Project Scarlett will be backwards compatible with all existing Xbox platforms. If you have games for the original Xbox, the Xbox 360 and the Xbox One, there’s a good chance they’ll work on Project Scarlett – especially your Xbox One library. How deep Microsoft goes on the libraries of the other generations remains to be seen, but it’s been relatively generous in their support during the Xbox One’s lifetime.

Sony has also confirmed that its PS5 will be backwards compatible, at least with your PS4 game library. How far back it will support the PlayStation family’s game history remains to be seen, but it’s been a little less supportive in this regard during the current generation, aside from within its paid-for PlayStation Now streaming service.

Which brings us onto the conversation surrounding game streaming. With Google entering the gaming fray with its Google Stadia game streaming platform, Microsoft and Sony have actually entered a partnership to share and collaborate on game streaming technologies for the next generation. Exactly how this will play out remains to be seen. But with Sony already hosting PlayStation Now, and Microsoft pumping cash into its Project xCloud, don’t be surprised if a good chunk of your game playing time is streamed in over the web during the next generation.

As for other titles? We can make some educated guesses that some of the more ambitious games that are currently slated as swansongs for this present generation of consoles will make their way over to the newer machines in "remastered" or "definitive" editions. The future-noir stylings of Cyberpunk 2077 seems far too ambitious for the current generation, for instance, as does Sony's Hideo Kojima project Death Stranding for PS4. Likewise, it's been very quiet around Ghost of Tsushima, which would cause no surprise to later be repackaged as a PS5 launch title.

Xbox Project Scarlett vs PS5: price expectations

Xbox Project Scarlett vs PS5

Image credit: Microsoft

At this point, talking about the price of Xbox Project Scarlett or the PS5 cost is an exercise in speculation. It’s simply too early to tell, and there are too many missing factors in their make up for us to make an informed decision on the specifics of their final price. 

But what we can say for certain is that the specs teased above don’t come cheaply. These are going to be high-end machines at launch, and will have significant price tags attached as a result.

What we can do, however, is look back at the comparative pricing of the Xbox One and PS4 at launch. One of the reasons the PS4 proved the more popular console during this generation was the fact that it launched at the more attractive price point of $399.99 / £349.99. That was a relative steal compared to the $499 / £429 Xbox One, which at launch had to factor in the cost of its ill-fated (and relatively short lived) Kinect motion tracker. The Kinect was initially hailed as one of the key differentiators between the consoles, but proved unpopular with both developers and gamers, leading to Microsoft slowly phasing it out in an effort to drive the price of the overall package down with later console revisions.

Microsoft will not want to make similar mistakes again – its launch pricing (along with its strange initial focus on entertainment capabilities over gaming software), were key factors to its initial struggles, which it’s spent this entire generation fighting against. One company will inevitably undercut the other, but with specs at this stage looking so similar, don’t expect it to be so dramatic a difference this time around.

Gut feeling

Image credit: Sony

Image credit: Sony

There’s so much yet to learn about the PS5 and Xbox Two, or Project Scarlett (or whatever it ends up being called). But at this early stage, the similarities between the two consoles are striking.

The commitment to SSD tech, suggests a parity across both consoles for third party developers to work with. Both consoles will be making great efforts to offer deep backwards compatibility across their archives. And the astonishing fact that they’ll be sharing streaming technologies is the sort of collaboration that would once have been unheard of. Microsoft and Sony have clearly been listening to their fanbases – people don’t care about inter-company politics, they just want the best gaming experience possible.

But there’s still a tribalism among the fans, and so, as ever, first party gaming content is going to be perhaps more important than it’s ever been. With so many ways to play, from remote access to streaming, the hardware becomes far less important than the experiences they offer – especially when the two platforms are looking increasingly similar. Microsoft is the first out of the gate to announce a platform exclusive title with Halo, but Sony absolutely destroyed the competition in the PS4 generation with its exclusives. Hope for, and expect, nothing less in the console wars to come.

  • PS5 games: all the titles confirmed and expected on the PlayStation 5