Parents' Guide To Next-Gen Consoles: PS5 And Xbox Series X/S Explained

Buying a new console can be hard, especially if you're not a gamer yourself. Here's everything you need to know about the next-gen consoles, whether you're buying for yourself or someone else.


A new console generation is upon us. Both the PS5 and the Xbox Series X are available now. If you don't play video games (or even if you do), navigating the tech and gaming landscapes can feel intimidating, even without the additional questions and confusion prompted by new PlayStation and Xbox systems hitting the market soon. If you're a prospective buyer, like a parent doing some early holiday shopping, and find yourself in this camp--confused by all the different brands, naming conventions, accessories, and technical details--don't worry! In this guide, we'll walk you through what's currently on the market, break down the key differences between the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X and Series S, and try to ease some of that gift-buying pressure.

Explaining Next Gen: The PS5 and Xbox Series X

Because of innovations in hardware and other trends and advancements in the game industry, new game consoles often launch around the same time. These periods are referred to as a "console generation." The current generation of consoles includes Sony's PlayStation 4 and Microsoft's Xbox One, which were both released in 2013, and the Nintendo Switch, which was released in 2017. When people refer to "next gen," they are talking about the upcoming generation of new consoles.

In this case, the next generation of consoles includes the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X/S, which both launched in November 2020. Despite already being out, these consoles will likely still be called "next-gen" for up to a year as supply becomes more widely available and developers stop supporting the older systems. For a clearer look at some recent console generations from the past few decades, check out the table below.

Console GenerationPlayStationXbox
Fifth generationPlayStation (1995)
Sixth generationPlayStation 2 (2000)Xbox (2001)
PlayStation 2 Slim (2004)
Seventh generationPlayStation 3 (2006)Xbox 360 (2005)
PlayStation 3 Slim (2009)Xbox 360 S (2010)
PlayStation 3 Super Slim (2012)Xbox 360 E (2013)
Eighth generationPlayStation 4 (2013)Xbox One (2013)
PlayStation 4 Slim (2016)Xbox One S (2016)
PlayStation 4 Pro (2016)Xbox One X (2017)
Xbox One S All-Digital (2019)
Ninth generationPlayStation 5 (2020)Xbox Series X (2020)
PlayStation 5 Digital (2020)Xbox Series S (2020)

If that's all too confusing, no worries. The main thing to know is if you're buying for someone who is interested in one of the new, next-gen consoles (or if that person is you), then you're going to be choosing between either the PlayStation 5 (or PS5) or the Xbox Series X/S.

This is where things get a little more complicated.

PS5/Xbox Naming Conventions and Versions

Console naming conventions are getting more and more confusing, and not just for people who don't follow games news. While PlayStation is relatively straightforward with its linear numbering system, Xbox is a bit unconventional. This gets even more confusing when you introduce version types. Yes, both the new PlayStation and the new Xbox have two different versions on sale.

For the Sony PlayStation, there's the PlayStation 5 and the PlayStation 5 Digital.

For the Microsoft Xbox, there's the Xbox Series X and the Xbox Series S.

Use the slider to compare the Xbox Series X and Series S with the PlayStation 5 and PlayStation 5 Digital.

Both the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X are the "base" versions of each console. Think of them like the default. They are full-priced, high-powered, and come with all the features of a next-gen console. They also both have disc drives.

Meanwhile, the PlayStation 5 Digital Edition and the Xbox Series S are slightly different. The hardware is mostly the same, give or take a couple technical trade-offs. They can both play the same games as their base counterparts. The biggest differences here are the price and the "digital" aspect--that means neither of these consoles come with a physical disc drive, so you can't insert a game disc inside them. You can only purchase games from their online stores digitally. If you buy either the PS5 Digital Edition or the Xbox Series S, don't buy any physical games for those consoles--they won't be able to play them from the disc.

Xbox Series X/S or Xbox One X/S?

A major thing to note here is to not confuse the Xbox Series X with the Xbox One X. The Xbox One is the current generation of Xbox console on the market. It was released in 2013 and will reach the end of its console "lifespan" shortly after the Xbox Series X becomes more widely available. (That just means there's a newer system around to replace it and new games will primarily target the Xbox Series X/S.) A smaller version of the Xbox One called the Xbox One S was released in 2016, and a high-end version called the Xbox One X was released in 2017.

Basically, to Microsoft, the X naming convention seems to indicate superiority, while the S naming conventions seems to indicate the slightly smaller budget option. Remember that when deciding between the Series X and Series S, but don't confuse the new Xbox Series X/S (2020) consoles with the soon-to-be-outdated Xbox One X/S (2016-2017) consoles.

This also applies to games in some cases, as an Xbox One game may work on Xbox Series X, but it may not be the best version for that system. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, for instance, only features the Xbox Series X version in the cross-gen bundle, which is $70. The $60 Xbox One version also mentions Xbox Series X on the box, but it doesn't actually contain this version. Thus far, most games don't work this way. You will see "Smart Delivery" on the Xbox game cases when it's supported.

PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S Differences

If you're buying a console for someone else, they've probably specified which one they want. If not (or if you're a first-time console buyer looking to purchase one for yourself), here's a quick breakdown of the technical specifications of both the PS5 and the Xbox Series X/S and what each console has to offer.

Technical Differences

We have a much more detailed comparison of the next-gen console specs if you're interested, but if you just want a quick summary, these are the primary differences, not taking into account technical performance.

PlayStation 5 / DigitalXbox Series X / Series S
Storage825 GB SSD1 TB SSD / 512 GB SSD
DisplayHDMI 2.1HDMI 2.1
Resolution4K (Up to 8K)4K (Up to 8K) / Target 1440p
Max Refresh Rate120 Hz120 Hz
Backwards CompatibilityYes (can play PS4 games)Yes (can play Xbox, Xbox 360, and Xbox One games)
Size15.4 in × 10.2 in × 4.1 in (Base) / 15.4 in × 10.2 in × 3.6 in (Digital)5.9 in × 5.9 in × 11.9 in (Series X) / 5.9 in × 2.6 in × 11 in (Series S)

Both base consoles support 4K resolution and up to 120 Hz. If you want to get the most out of this, making sure you have the right TV is essential--odds are, what someone already owns won't make the most of these new consoles (but that's not necessarily a big deal). We have a guide to the best 4K TVs for PS5 and Xbox Series X, which explains HDMI 2.1, the expectations around both consoles' claims of 8K capability, and some specific options depending on your budget. The main thing to know about TV-related specs is that the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 are specifically targeting 4K while the smaller Xbox Series S is targeting a 1440p experience.

If you need a more specific breakdown, we have an explainer on the major differences between the PS5 and Series X/S that can walk you through some other key things to remember, including disparities in storage space and external storage solutions, processing power, the new size and shape of both consoles, and more.

Exclusives and Launch Games

On a less technical level, the biggest difference between the consoles is its exclusives--basically, the games you can only play on one console vs. the other. Sony has a number of games that are exclusive to its PlayStation family of consoles, such as The Last of Us 2 and Bloodborne. Xbox consoles have their own exclusives, too, such as Halo Infinite and Forza Horizon 4. Sometimes these games can also be played on PC.

In the case of Forza Horizon 4 and the upcoming Halo Infinite, both are Xbox console exclusives, so you can play them on Xbox One, the upcoming Xbox Series X/S, and PC--just not on a PlayStation. (If you're buying for a big Halo fan, an Xbox Series X is probably the way to go.) The Last of Us 2, on the other hand, is a PlayStation 4 exclusive, so it can only be played on PlayStation 4--not on Xbox or on PC. (But it will be supported by the PS5's backwards compatibility that allows it to play most PS4 games.)

Exclusives aren't the only games to consider. Many games will be available on both consoles, plus you have to consider the existing library of older generation games and whether or not they're playable on the new systems. This is called backwards compatibility, referring to a new console's ability to play games made for older consoles. In this upcoming generation, the PlayStation 5 is only backwards compatible with PlayStation 4 games, while the Xbox Series X and Series S are backwards compatible with all previous generation Xbox games, including Xbox, Xbox 360, and Xbox One. Your Kinect games will not work, but any other titles that were playable on Xbox One will work on Xbox Series X and S. A full list of all backwards compatible games is available on the Xbox website.

For a library of games that are available to play on both consoles on or around launch day, consult our guides below. These do not encompass the consoles' full libraries, but just exclusives and cross-platform games (which can be playable on both consoles) that are available to play now.

Don't forget to consult our next-gen console specs comparison for a breakdown on the online services both consoles offer as well, including PlayStation Plus and the streaming service PlayStation Now, and Xbox Game Pass and the streaming service xCloud. Xbox Game Pass should be of particular interest for anyone trying to decide between the two consoles. It's a subscription service that works like a Netflix for Xbox games, where players can pay a monthly fee of $10 (or $15 for the upgraded Ultimate membership) to gain access to a library of games, which--like TV streaming services--is constantly being updated, with new titles added and removed on a regular basis. PlayStation Plus, on the other hand, is also a paid subscription service that offers members two free games every month. The Plus Collection, a next-gen upgrade to this service, will give PS5 users access to a list of popular games from the PS4 era.

Price and Release Date

If you're ready to make a decision between the two consoles, the last things you need to know are the release date and price. Both consoles are available now, and the prices are below.

PlayStation 5 / DigitalXbox Series X / Series S
Release DateNovember 12, 2020 (NA)November 10, 2020 (NA)
Price$499 (Base) / $399 (Digital)$499 (Series X) / $299 (Series S)

The base versions of both consoles, the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X, are $500. The digital-only editions, the PS5 Digital and the Xbox Series S, vary in price. The PS5 Digital is $400 and the Xbox Series S is $300.

If you see a console being sold for more than this, it is almost certainly through a reseller. If you can wait, watch out for sales, particularly during periods like Black Friday, when retailers are likely to get more units in stock for MSRP.

Where to order

We have full lists of where you can order both consoles as well as accessories, like additional controllers, in our guides below.

The products discussed here were independently chosen by our editors. GameSpot may get a share of the revenue if you buy anything featured on our site.

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