One Month of PlayStation 5: Hardware & Design
Having finally acquired a PlayStation 5, I have had about a month to fully immerse myself in the new generation of video games. After almost daily usage of the console, I naturally have a lot of thoughts regarding the new machine. To best maintain brevity for this article, I’ve decided to split my impressions into three parts. The first part will focus on the hardware itself and how it is designed, the second will discuss the system software and user interface, and the third will be dedicated on the most crucial aspect of them all: the games.
Perhaps the most controversial element of the PlayStation 5 is the physical appearance of the unit itself. I have the version that comes with the Ultra-HD Blu-ray drive so I could take advantage of the benefit of occasionally paying less for physical games from retailers. To many, the disc drive version’s asymmetrical design coupled with the gaudy white plastic shell that sandwiches the glossy black interior makes the console look hideous compared to other consoles. Personally, I admire the unusually large console design that snugly nestles in my entertainment center. It’s big, it’s visually loud, it’s as quiet as a whisper, and it’s undeniably a PlayStation 5. Historically, Sony has always made PlayStation hardware appear as though they are premium hardware. The first PlayStation looks like a professional CD player, the original PS2 looks like a mid-1990’s desktop computer (and the slim variant looks like a modern DVD player), the original PS3 looks like a high-end multimedia player, the PS4 looks like an average video game console, and the PS5 looks like…well, it’s a PS5.
The appearance of a PS5 bucks the longstanding tradition that video game hardware is supposed to blend in the entertainment center. The white plastic shells do make the system resemble that of an inverted Oreo, but it does deliver the statement that you have a PS5. Given that the hardware itself is hard to obtain due to the pandemic, the lack of subtlety could also be seen as a flaunting gesture to those who don’t have it yet. While the console design is aesthetically loud, the console itself is practically silent during even the most demanding games. There are reports of PS5’s experiencing audible coil whine, which is a phenomenon shared with desktop computers where a buzzing sound radiates from the internal power supply, but during gaming sessions, I couldn’t hear any sort of buzzing other than a soft whirring from the fan.
One of the major issues I’ve had with my PlayStation 4 was the system eventually slowing down the more you use it, similar to how a cell phone gets more sluggish with age. Anything you did became more susceptible to lag, be it navigating the menu, booting up a game, opening an app, closing a game or app, even updating the system took longer. For the PS5, virtually all slow down has been removed, save for some loading for games booting up on disc. The system boot up takes a little less time than the PS4, but after that, using the system is a surprisingly lag-free. I will get more into the system software itself in the next part, but for now I must divulge into the DualSense experience.
While the appearance of the console will spark a debate, many seem to be in agreement that the DualSense looks and feels comfortable and high-quality. The weight is heavier than that of the DualShock 4, but to compensate for the increased heftiness, the DualSense feels durable and refined and lacks the cheap plastic feeling of the DualShock 4. Attempting to bend the DualSense is a futile task as the controller refuses to make any contortion whatsoever. A point of contention against the DualSense would be a number of reports of stick drift occurring after several hundred hours of usage. While I have not used the DualSense long enough to experience this defect, it could become problematic for future buyers unless Sony fixes the issue, even if it does occur before the warranty expires. Currently my own DualSense is fully operational and it plays beautifully with games like Returnal or Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart that are designed to fully leverage the haptic feedback and adaptive trigger functionality. Despite my own experiences having no problems so far, others may encounter them later down the road.
Aside from the potential risk of a faulty controller, the DualSense itself is a masterfully designed controller. With the haptic feedback providing enhanced and more accurate vibrations to accompany the action on screen and the adaptive triggers literally pushing against your fingers to further amplify the immersion, the entire DualSense package is a wonderful display of innovation from Sony. I do believe haptic feedback functionality will be the method of vibration moving forward, especially with both Nintendo and Sony manufacturing controllers that feature that technology. Without getting too scientific, haptic feedback utilizes similar rumble motors used in smartphones, except the DualSense has much larger and sophisticated motors, which explains the noticeable heaviness of the gamepad. Adaptive triggers integrate a motor to achieve this unique resistive sensation, making something like firing a gun feel like you’re pushing down a physical trigger rather than pressing on a traditional analog input. You can read more on how the adaptive triggers work here.
While the features of the DualSense are incredibly cool, first-party studios are predictably the only developers that fully take advantage of this technology, which sometimes encourages third-party developers to update their games to improve the integration of DualSense’s unique capabilities. When the bells and whistles are firing on all cylinders in games like Ratchet and Clank, the battery life also shrinks from 8 hours of playtime to about two-to-three hours of playtime. Fortunately, the charging cord provided by Sony is moderately lengthier than the DualShock 4, so having it plugged in while playing is bearable if you play within six feet of the PS5. Due to the fancy features on offer, Sony also has software updates for the controller during some system software updates, which is a first for PlayStation gamers. The updates are quick and painless, but controllers needing updates is a novel concept to me. (NB: The controller can get a little noisy with the adaptive trigger motors constantly engaging during a shooter action game like Ratchet and Clank. Almost as noisy as a Gamecube controller during an intense Smash Bros. match.)
During late gaming sessions, I like to plug in a pair of headphones in the controller to play the game without disturbing the nightly peace. On PS5, developers can take advantage of another cool feature called 3D Audio, which makes standard stereo speakers sound like a surround sound home theater setup. While this effect can currently be used only for any stereo headphones, not just Sony’s own Pulse headset, the action for some games literally wraps around your head. It’s especially impressive for Returnal when bullets and projectiles often fly around the environment. I’m curious to see how Sony implements this technology through television speakers, which they claimed could be achieved in the future.
After one month of frequent playtime, I can safely say the PlayStation 5 hardware has a ton of potential. While some of the features may not be enjoyed by everyone, the PS5 hardware is well-built and certainly feels worth the relatively high asking price. While the DualSense drift issues does slightly concern me, the quality of the controller is impossible to ignore. The immense comfort, improved ergonomics, Speaking of which, the console design is difficult to avoid with the shining white exterior and the massive size (be sure to measure your entertainment center prior to getting a PS5). Aside from some minor quirks, the PS5 offers a substantial upgrade from the PS4 in almost every meaningful way from a hardware standpoint. From the superior performance, quieter fan noise, improved build quality, and controller that defines the next-generation of gaming, the PS5 hardware makes a strong argument for itself right out of the gate.
That concludes the first part of my PS5 impressions. Stay tuned, I will share my thoughts on the PS5’s user interface later this week. My impressions on the games will soon follow after the second part of this trilogy series.