Sony PlayStation 5 Review

AV enthusiasts - manage your expectations

by Rik Henderson
SRP: £449.99

What is the PlayStation 5?

The PlayStation 5 is Sony’s most powerful console yet, with a rather unique design and PC-standard graphics and processing. It offers native 4K HDR games and video, even up to 120 frames per second, and is the first Sony machine to sport a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player.

It comes with an all-new DualSense controller that offers some ground-breaking tech and, as another first, the console is backward compatible with the vast majority of PS4 games you might already own. In short, it’s everything you’d expect from a machine dubbed “next generation”.

However, there are several caveats, especially when it comes to its AV talents. So, it’s best to know what they are before rushing headlong into deciding whether it’s to sit at the heart of your entertainment setup.

Design and connections

There’s no getting away from the elephant in the room, the PS5 is, erm, an elephant in the room. It is massive – easily the biggest games console yet.

It is primarily designed to be stood on one end, looking more like a skyscraper in Dubai than a games machine. It can be laid flat too, but even then it is wider than most AV kit we’ve crammed into our cabinets.

Sony PlayStation 5
PS5 - Have you seen 2001: A Space Odyssey?

The size is partly to drop jaws when first seen, with two removable plastic faceplates either side of a central unit, and partly because it houses one of the largest cooling fans in console history. Not only does this help keep the high-end processing hardware working at optimal temperatures, it ensures the PS5 is much quieter than its predecessors. Indeed, in all our play sessions, it runs silently.

Under the fan are a couple of ports that enable you to vacuum out dust without having to dismantle the main unit itself. It’s a clever design that will no doubt become more useful over time.

 

... 

in all our play sessions, it runs silently.

On the front, you get a USB 3.1 port plus a USB-C connection – presumably for higher speed charging of the included DualSense controller. There are also buttons for power and disc eject. Yep, the latter is there because Sony has finally relented and listened to reason – it has included a 4K Blu-ray deck at last.

On the rear, there are another two USB 3.1 ports, Ethernet, HDMI 2.1 (HDCP 2.3), and a figure-of-eight power socket. Wi-Fi 802.11ac is on board too, for those who want to connect to their home network wirelessly, but we’d never really recommend that if you want to stream 4K HDR content.

Sony PlayStation 5
PS5 - rear connections

Also ranged down the back of the console, and between the faceplates at the top, are slats for heat control. In use, we found that most of the heat was ported backwards, so keep that in mind when housing it in a cabinet, either upright or flat. Either way, it wasn’t running at a ridiculous temperature after about an hour of play – you just don’t want to enclose it too much.

Also in the box, you get a stand that can either clip to the bottom (and is then screwed in for stability) or clipped to the side.

Specs:

CPUOcta-core AMD Ryzen Zen 2 CPU
GPU10.3 TFLOPS, 36 CUs
Memory16GB GDDR6 RAM
Internal storage825GB SSD (667GB available to user)
Physical media drive4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Video performance target4K 60fps, capable of up to 120Hz, 8K possible in future
HDR video formatsHDR10
Sound formatsDolby Digital 5.1, DTS,  “Tempest” 3D Audio Tech
ConnectionsHDMI 2.1, 3x USB 3.1, 1x USB-C, Ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi
Measurements (WxDxH)260 x 104 x 390mm
Weight4.5kg

Controller

The all-new DualSense controller is truly something to behold (and hold). Shaped more like an Xbox wireless controller than DualShocks of old, it feels odd at first. That’s mainly thanks to a ridge that runs on the underside, to ape the faceplate design of the console itself.

You soon get used to it though and, considering how many other fancy features the DualSense has up its sleeve, you’ll likely never notice the ergonomics again.

Sony PlayStation 5

As with PlayStation controllers over several generations, it is rechargeable from the off – lasting between eight and 12 hours of play on a single charge, depending on how intensive your gaming sessions are. It has the largest battery Sony has even put inside a controller, and USB-C for charging, but there are also several technologies inside that are more power intensive.

Haptic feedback is one. Rather than the basic old rumble packs you used to get, there are actuators in each arm which give more accurate and sensitive responses to action on screen. For example, they will give you a different sensation when you are swimming through water, than if you are running on gravel. It’s truly weird at first, but very intuitive in practice.

 

The all-new DualSense controller is truly something to behold (and hold).

There are adaptive triggers too, which are ground-breaking for controller tech and a sign of things to come. The triggers can be set with different degrees of force feedback by developers, so you will have to apply varying levels of pressure depending on the scenario. For example, in Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, squeeze the right trigger slightly and you will start to swing on a web, but you will feel more resistance as you pull it more. And in another game, the trigger might have no resistance at all.

It’s hard to explain exactly but it's next-level stuff when you get to try it for yourself.

The controller also has LED lighting, much like the PS4 DualShock 4, but not as a bar on the top – it surrounds the touchpanel instead. This means it is not suitable for use with a PlayStation VR headset and camera. However, it does give you the same effect in games, showing you which player you are in couch co-op or to reflect your favourite team’s colours in FIFA 21, say.

Sony PlayStation 5

There is also a microphone this time around, although its use is sparse at present, a mono speaker, like before, and motion sensors inside, for good measure.

User experience

As well as the clearly different hardware, part of the PS5’s initial wow factor comes when you switch it on for the first time – its user experience (UX) is markedly different to that on the PlayStation 4.

It is content rich, animated and very pretty for starters. And is presented in 4K HDR on compatible TVs. There are bars, a bit like PS4, but they are reduced in size to let the rest of the interface shine.

Select a game without starting it and you get a full-screen backdrop, with theme music playing if it’s a native PS5 title. And, if you scroll down, you get new activities cards, showing trophies and other information snippet, plus trailers, trending posts and broadcasts, and much more.

Sony PlayStation 5

Store links appear there too, which makes buying content for a game you already own much easier this time around. You also get similar activities cards when you hit the PlayStation button on the controller when in game, but the console has a few other tricks up its sleeve when you do.

Many games offer in-game cards for each level or race track you will have visited already, which allow you to instantly jump straight back into that section to complete any remaining trophies or pick up missed collectables. Some games even give you professional, authorised hints to help you progress.

 

... its user experience (UX) is markedly different to that on the PlayStation 4

Back on the homescreen, in the top left-hand corner, you can switch from a games menu to media, which houses all the video streaming apps and the like. At the time of writing, there weren’t that many available in the UK – some preinstalled through partnerships with PlayStation – but nowhere near as many as the PS4 currently has.

There’s no dedicated app for 4K Blu-ray playback, but that starts automatically as soon as you pop a disc in the drive. Naturally, the cheaper PS5 Digital Edition console, which is identical in every other way, doesn’t have a drive and cannot play physical media.

Apps and games

Returning to the media apps for a moment, UK users get Netflix, Now TV, Disney+ and YouTube preinstalled, with Apple TV (for TV+), Amazon Prime Video, Plex, Spotify and the WWE Network among a smattering of others available to download.

As we write this, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All4 and My5 are all conspicuous by their absence. BT Sport is another we use regularly on PS4 that’s not available yet here.

This could be simply because, while the console launches first in the US, it will take a further week to reach the UK. By then, the terrestrial broadcasters might submit new versions of their apps for inclusion. Until then though, it’s not exactly a Roku replacement.

Sony PlayStation 5

Another weird thing we’ve experienced is that, as the PlayStation 5 instantly switches a display to HDR mode when it boots up (on both our LG and Philips OLED TVs) each of the video apps remain in HDR mode too, even when playing non-HDR content. This was, and still is, an issue with the Netflix app on PS4 Pro but seems to be more universal here as it happened in Disney+ too.

The one thing we will say though is that the telltale signs of “fake” HDR on standard content aren’t as apparent. Watching Sons of Anarchy on Netflix, for example, a 1080p non-HDR show, looked very reasonable. It’s not ideal though. Again, this might change in the next few weeks – we’ll keep an eye on it.

It’s worth noting that the PlayStation 5 is not compatible with Dolby Vision nor Dolby Atmos – you get HDR10 and an audio choice of Linear PCM or bitstream (Dolby Digital or DTS). That is applicable on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, media apps and games.

Of course, the games themselves are where the PS5 (and any PlayStation console) typically shines. It has more launch exclusives than its Xbox rivals, with such wonderments as Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales and the free game that comes preinstalled, Astro’s Playroom.

 

It’s worth noting that the PlayStation 5 is not compatible with Dolby Vision nor Dolby Atmos

This latter title is a joy. It’s a platformer that is designed to demonstrate every piece of tech wizardry the console is capable of, not least the DualSense controller, and serves as a 25th anniversary celebration of the PlayStation generally.

In addition, should you subscribe to PlayStation Plus – which is mandatory if you want to play online games – you also get access to the PlayStation Plus Collection. This is comprised of 20 classic PS4 games that run even better on PS5 hardware. Among those are God of War, The Last of Us Remastered, Batman: Arkham Knight and open-world zombie thriller, Days Gone, which gets a bump in frame rate and graphics to 4K 60fps.

It’s not quite Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, but it does present some of the best last-gen games to give you an instant library, even if you don’t already have a decent hoard of PS4 titles.

Sony PlayStation 5
PS5 - Astro’s Playroom

If you do, you will be able to play a vast majority of those too, installed on the internal hard drive or on an external USB HDD. You can even unplug a drive plugged into a PS4 and plug it straight into your new console – it’ll be read instantly.

There are cautionary notes around this, however. You cannot play PS5 games stored on an external hard drive (in fact, you can’t even store them on one currently), nor will PS4 games run from a USB HDD benefit from improved loading times and any extras afforded by the console’s hardware. We recommend you do keep PS4 games on one though, as the internal storage isn’t exactly the biggest in the world, while the expansion slot hidden under the blades is not yet active.

How we tested the PS5

For transparency, we tested the PlayStation 5 with a few bits of kit, including two OLED TVs – an LG 65OLEDE6V and Philips OLED 754 – plus a Denon AVR-X2700H and, separately, Sonos Arc soundbar. None of which presented many issues, except the LG TV is not capable of 120Hz at all, while the Philips would only run 120Hz in 1080p.

As it happens, that’s what’s expected of the PS5 when running games in 120fps most of the time. It is capable of 4K 120fps theoretically, but we didn’t have any games to hand to test that (and likely won’t for a while).

In terms of the games themselves, we played Spider-Man: Miles Morales (in both 4K 30fps with visual enhancements and ray tracing on, and “temporal” 4K 60fps with enhancements off), Astro’s Playroom, Days Gone (with patched enhancements) and FIFA 21. We also loaded a fair few other PS4 titles to check they work, and more recently received PS5 versions of Sackboy, Spider-Man Remastered and WRC9, but didn’t have time to play them in any significant fashion before this review.

We also tested the 3D Audio output using a pair of Philips Fidelio X3 headphones.

Performance

In terms of gaming, the PlayStation 5 is extremely capable and some of the results we’ve seen so far are staggering.

With its eight-core Zen 2 processor it effectively matches its biggest rival, the Xbox Series X. And even though its GPU with 10.3 TFLOPS of power is a little less specified, it has more than enough under the hood to provide some stunning visuals.

Spider-Man: Miles Morales, for example, is a feast for the eyes. Reflections and lighting everywhere benefits from hardware ray tracing, while the clarity of its resolution is stellar. This is a machine designed to play games and play them exceptionally.

Sony PlayStation 5
PS5 - Spider-Man: Miles Morales

Audio too, in gaming, is superb – nicely spaced out for a 5.1 system (through Dolby Digital bitstream especially) and enough oomph to immerse you in any experience. Even if you need to rely on headphones, there is 3D Audio to give you a better virtual surround effect than we’ve had before.

We’re a little less enthusiastic about media playback though, for reasons we’ve detailed above. We’re not quite sure yet why HDR stays permanently on for streaming apps (unless you manually turn it off in the settings). Nor can we see video purists accepting the complete lack of Dolby Vision on 4K Blu-ray playback.

If you’re not so fussed about the tech, the actual pictures are very decent indeed – rich in colours, with great black level response. Admittedly, we used two OLEDs for our test, so this might be a bit different on another TV platform, but it works perfectly well as a disc spinner if you are more casual viewer. Just don’t chuck out your dedicated player just yet.

 

This is a machine designed to play games and play them exceptionally.

Another caveat that’s most certainly worth mentioning is storage space and the lack thereof. The advertised 825GB of SSD storage gives the user just 667GB after system software and the like, and that’s particularly low when you consider games like Call of Duty Warzone can take up north of 130GB each. Plus, with no way of extending that space at present (until the ability to add SSD cards is unlocked) you’re stuck with how many actual PS5 games you can fit on it. And remember, you can’t run a PS5 game from an external drive.

It’s a shame, as the SSD storage implemented by PlayStation is exceptional. Loading time for Miles Morales, for example, can be rated in just a few seconds. It loads into the huge open world version of New York City from the menu by the count of four. Even PS4 games that traditionally take minutes to load are halved at the very least, when installed on the SSD. But considering the measly space available to you, you probably never would.

Verdict

The Good

  • Powerful yet silent in operation
  • 4K 60fps gaming – with potential of up to 120fps
  • The DualSense is the best controller on the planet
  • Great line-up of games
  • PS4 backward compatibility

The Bad

  • Media apps seem to be locked to HDR no matter the content
  • Lack of terrestrial catch-up apps (at launch)
  • No Dolby Vision nor Dolby Atmos
  • Try fitting it in an AV cabinet

Sony PlayStation 5 Review

Should I buy the PS5?

In a nutshell, the PS5 is an essential purchase for a games fan. However, if you were looking for something to replace several bits of entertainment kit, this isn’t it. Currently, at least.

It has the best launch games – which each look as impressive as the last – and, in the DualSense, a controller that offers it all and then some. But its limited media playback talents (in both number of apps and picture/sound formats supported) will no doubt irk AV purists.

That might not bother everyone though and, let’s face it, a PlayStation is exactly that – designed for play. Yes, the PS2 helped the DVD format expand around the world but there were very few that bought it to play movies primarily, it was an added bonus.

And such is the case with the PlayStation 5. Its media talents are a bonus. Considering Sony didn’t even put a 4K Blu-ray player in the PS4 Pro and the console was still a massive success is testament to that. We’d all love to trim our AV stack down a bit and replace them with just one machine – especially if it’s twice the size of many – but we’d also love a games console to fulfil its primary purpose with aplomb.

The PS5 certainly does that already. And it has scope and room to breathe. Media aside, this is a heck of a talented beast and we’ve only just scratched the surface.

Highly Recommended

Scores

Styling and design

.
.
.
7

Build quality

.
.
8

Connections

.
.
8

Networking

.
9

Controller

10

Gaming Performance

10

AV Performance

.
.
.
.
.
5

Value for money

.
.
8

Overall

.
9
9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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