Both Xbox and PlayStation have actually launched two versions of their consoles this time around. The PlayStation 5 has an all-digital version which comes without a disc drive (and will cost £100 less at £349.99), so that you'll have to download all of your games, and one with the usual disc drive.
The differences betwen the Xbox Series X and Series S are more significant: the S is a little smaller, but with less power, so that some games will run with slightly less performance.
Both consoles offer a host of improvements on their predecessors: new designs, vastly improved performance, and some though not many new games.
But what’s less clear is which console is the best one to buy.
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Backwards compatibility? Can play all Xbox One games and many from previous generations, and can use old accessories such as controllers
Resolution: Up to 8K
Frame rate: Up to 120fps
Storage: 1TB SSD
CPU: 8-core, 3.8GHz AMD Zen 2
GPU: 12.0 teraflop AMD RDNA 2
RAM: 16 GB GDDR6
Backwards compatibility? All PS4 games but nothing before that
Resolution: Up to 8K
Frame rate: Up to 120fps
Storage: 825GB SSD
CPU: 8-core, 3.5GHz AMD Zen 2
GPU: 10.3 teraflop AMD RDNA 2
RAM: 16 GB GDDR6
PS5 vs Xbox Series X: Design
Nothing is more clearly different about the two consoles than the way they look – and that difference signifies plenty about what the consoles are aiming to do generally. Both versions of the Xbox are rectangular slabs, designed to feat neatly under your TV and go unnoticed; the PlayStation is a huge, curvy, impossible-not-to-notice slab.
You will probably know by now whether or not you like the PS5's design. It looks in pictures like it does in person, except all of those controversial features are exaggerated: somehow it's even more curvy. The little bat's ears at the top protrude even more, and the fact that it's such a glaring, shiny white catches your eye whenever you see it.
But what you can't fully appreciate until you're up close and personal with the PlayStation is its size. It has been much discussed, and PlayStation has not been shy about communicating it, but the real immensity of the console does not hit you until you see it.
The size isn't just an aesthetic point but a practical one: you might not be able to fit the console where you want it to go. It's worth measuring up your space before you buy one, and being aware that, if it doesn't fit, then that controversial design may – like it not – be more on show than you had expected.
The Xbox, on the other hand, seems designed to disappear. While the white Xbox Series S is a little more interesting than the matte black Xbox Series X, both are ultimately just boxes that do a good job of hiding away.
Ultimately this one comes down to personal preference. Both the Xbox Series X and Series S probably aren't going to upset you, but they're not likely to excite you either; the PlayStation is likely to do both, at the same time.
PS5 vs Xbox Series X: Peformance
Both the Xbox and the PlayStation are stunning improvements on their previous generation. Games load in a snap; the graphics, resolution and framerates are beautiful; the worlds look set to be more expansive and detailed than ever.
But we’re not really at the point yet where any of the games have made the most of the power of the two consoles, and so it’s hard to compare which will make for the most exciting and attractive games.
You can compare specs all you like – on the pure numbers such as the speed of their processors and the amount of memory, the Xbox Series X wins, but only just. Ultimately what matters is how that hardware is used to power games. And we haven’t really seen that yet.
They’re both very, very good, and both much better than the previous generation, but we’re not yet at the point where we can say which is best. Call it a draw.
PS5 vs Xbox Series X: Games
There is no question that PlayStation has won this one at the moment.
The Xbox simply doesn't have any exclusive games: anything you can play on it, you can also play on the PS5 or the previous Xbox, and usually both. The PlayStation, on the other hand, has plenty of exclusive games: some, like Spider-Man: Miles Morales are on the PS4 too, but others such as Demon's Souls and the built-in Astro's Playroom game are only available on the PS5.
But this may change in the future. Xbox has two great cards up its sleeve: Game Pass (it’s monthly subscription) and its very recent acquisition of ZeniMax, the parent company of huge developers Bethesda.
Microsoft is very committed to Game Pass – which gives you a large set of games you can play for a monthly price – and appears to see it as a big part of its future. So there's no doubt that many more titles are on its way for that, and it's unlikely that PlayStation's equivalent PlayStation Now’s offering will be quite so fulsome, since Sony hasn't shown quite the same commitment to adding titles to its library.
And the acquisition of Bethesda does suggest that Xbox has big plans for its games, even if they're not here yet. It didn't say that it will definitely force Xbox exclusivity on its upcoming titles – which could include new games in series such as The Elder Scrolls, Doom and Dishonored – but it didn't say it wouldn't, either, and there's also a very good chance they'll come to Game Pass, too.
Ultimately, though, it’s probably older games that matter more for now. And while the Xbox does a much better job of being backwards compatible – it can play games going back all the way to the original Xbox, which came out 20 years ago – you’ll be able to get all the games you’ve enjoyed on the current generation on whichever next-generation console you buy, without having to buy them again. So there’s a very good argument to say the company with the best games is the one you already have, at least at launch.
As with much of the competition between these two consoles, the PlayStation is winning, for now. But the battle is far from over, and there's plenty of reasons to believe it could change in future.
PS5 vs Xbox Series X: Controllers
The same opposing philosophies that underpin the design of the consoles themselves carries through to their controllers. The Xbox's is all but identical to the previous generation; the PlayStation's is a major departure, with both a design overhaul and a suite of clever (if sometimes gimmicky) features.
At a glance, you can hardly tell the new Xbox controller from the old one, and the only things that really mark it out are a new "share" button and a slightly redesigned D-pad. Even when you start using it, the changes are fairly minor, with slightly more sophisticated vibrations, a different texture on some parts of the body, minor ergonomic tweaks.
It all boils down to the same thing that can be said about the new Xboxes in general: if you like your current Xbox, then you'll love this. But if you like your current Xbox, there's not necessarily anything that will make it urgent to upgrade.
The PlayStation’s controller, however, is re-imagined with a host of alterations and new features – and all of them are very good.
It’s much bigger now, so that like the Xbox controller it nestles in the hand rather than perches on the edge of it. Features that seem like silly novelties – such as haptic feedback for ultra-precise vibrations, and adaptable triggers that can actually make it harder or easier to press the buttons on the controller’s shoulders – actually offer genuinely interesting improvements, and make the controller seem truly next-generation.
With previous consoles, it was obvious that Xbox was the winner in this respect, but the new controller lets PlayStation catch up with its rival – and improve on it a host of ways. Once again, the PlayStation is probably the winner on the merits, but whichever you’re used to will probably suit you best.
The verdict: Which console should you buy?
Overall, it seems clear that the PS5 is the winner, for now: it has the games and the gimmicks. Altogether, it definitely offers the more compelling argument if you're upgrading today, and have no history with either console.
But few people are upgrading today. And even fewer of them don't have any attachment or baggage from previous generations.
It’s almost impossible to buy a console at the moment as pre-orders sold out – but the current state of play suggests there’s little reason to necessarily rush out and do so. Both consoles are at the beginning of their process, and there may be no answer to which is truly the best until the coming months and even years have passed as more games become available.
If you don’t wait, then the obvious and boring way to pick is to choose whichever you already have. This is no longer just about familiarity, but because both consoles have good back compatibility, it becomes a question of whether or not you want to keep the games and accessories that you’ve already bought.
So, the PS5 is the best console of the two on launch day. But there’ll be many more days after that.