The biggest loser this holiday season will be my wallet.
Sony finally released its pricing for the PlayStation 5. The regular version with an Ultra HD Blu-ray drive will cost $499 and the digital version without one will weigh in at $399. They will be released in the U.S., Japan, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea on Nov. 12. It will go out worldwide Nov. 19. That news comes after Microsoft unveiled its pricing plan for Xbox Series S and Xbox Series X. The budget-friendly Series S, which isn't as powerful as its big brother, is priced at $299 and the high-end Xbox Series X will cost $499. Both of Microsoft's consoles come out Nov. 10.
A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD
That puts Microsoft and Sony on equal footing this holiday season when it comes to the high-end consoles. The systems appear comparable in terms of power and features. They both will have ray tracing, which is the most obvious selling point between the upcoming generation of games and the previous one. Ray tracing enables developers to re-create accurate lighting. It's one of those techniques that enables Pixar movies to look a step above what video games currently output. For the casual gamer, the graphics will pop more with fire accurately reflecting off water and the light bouncing off glass. The more subtle changes will come through game design as super fast SSDs will make transitioning from action scenes to cut scenes more seamless. That could be seen in the "Spider-Man: Miles Morales" trailer at the PlayStation 5 Showcase. It's remarkable.
The biggest separation from the two consoles will be content. Sony already has established franchises and heralded studios, and the company put them to work showing off what the PlayStation 5 can do at its showcase. Sony brought out the big guns with the reveal of Square Enix's "Final Fantasy XVI" and Sony's "God of War Ragnarok." Microsoft is no slouch with the "Halo Infinite" reveal but more importantly a buying-spree of studios that include Obsidian Entertainment, inXile Entertainment, Ninja Theory and Double Fine shores up its roster of first-party developers. What separates the two at this moment is that Sony's teams have had more experience working under the company and the demos they've shown have been more impressive. Microsoft's recent acquisition haven't shown much in terms of gameplay but they do have a strong track record, especially with Obsidian. That's a top-tier studio on par with Bethesda or BioWare.
THE AFFORDABLE END
On the more affordable end, Microsoft beats Sony in terms of price with its $299 Xbox Series S compared to the digital version of the PS5 at $399. The big caveat is that the Series S isn't as powerful as the Xbox Series X or the PlayStation 5 digital, which has the same specs as the regular one minus the optical drive. All of this means is that the PlayStation 5 Digital Version could be the best value overall, and the one consumers should target. It offers the same hardware specs as the upper tier version for a cheaper price. Ideally, consumers would pair that with a 4K television, preferably with an HDMI 2.1 connection. That output will let players experience games at 4K 120Hz.
If you don't have a 4K TV or if you're a desktop gamer, the Xbox Series S could be the perfect solution. It supports 1440p with games running up to 120fps. That's frames per second and not Hertz. The hertz is in regard to fresh rate which can give players a smoother picture that's advantageous in competitive online gaming. It's a super high-end feature available only on a few TVs and monitors at the moment.
COST OF GAMES A BIG FACTOR
The other factor in all this is the price of games. They are going to get expensive. Sony announced the prices for next-gen titles, and it's going to be up to $69.99. That's going to hurt for many consumers, but it also makes services such as Xbox Game Pass Ultimate even more attractive. If prices keep going up the way they are now, it could make the Netflix-style service the best value overall. Xbox Game Pass Ultimate lets players download more than 100 games with a library that's always expanding. The titles include classics, recent releases and exclusives that come out on the service first. If players want to play the latest "Gears of War," the first-party Microsoft game will likely launch on the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate and subscribing to the monthly service may be a better value for gamers than a $69.99 price.
Sony appeared to counter the service with the PlayStation Plus Collection, a new feature that will let players download some of the top PS4 titles for the PS5 at launch. It's a great library with "God of War," "Until Dawn" and "Resident Evil: Biohazard" but not much is known beyond that. No one knows the pricing or even if it's included with a PlayStation Plus subscription.
In this upcoming generation, two ideas will be important. The first is that content will be king. It's no longer going to be about which console has the better specs. It's about which system has the better games. The second is that it appears there'll be more of a push to make games a service. It's the idea of living projects like "Fortnite" and the concept of getting players hooked onto services so that they pay monthly payments for a collection of new games. Gaming in the future could look a lot like streaming services today with platforms fighting over the best content. It looks like Sony and Microsoft have different ideas on that end, and it will be up to consumers to figure out which is the better deal.
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