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PS5 Digital: Is It Worth It?

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Sony's digital-only PS5 model is $100 cheaper, but there are a few things to consider before making the purchase.

In a big shift for Sony, the company released two next-generation PlayStation models this year--the PS5 ($500) and the PS5 Digital Edition ($400). Both systems have the same power and performance, but the digital model does not have a disc drive, and as such, it certainly looks more attractive on the surface with its lower price point. There are certainly a number of pros and cons to owning a digital-only console, however--some less obvious than others. Read on for a breakdown on some of the key considerations to make before deciding on the PS5 Digital. Don't forget to also read our review of the PS5 for a more in-depth analysis at the console itself. You can also read our PS5 order guide to try to find one. As of now, that's easier said than done.

Hidden Costs

Getting a PS5 for $400 is a very exciting proposition. For comparison, the PS4--with a disc drive--also launched at $400 USD, but with inflation factored in, that would be closer to $550. However, there are some hidden costs included with the digital console that are worth examining as you consider your next-gen purchase plans.

The first thing to know about buying a wholly digital console is that, obviously, there is no disc drive. Simply put, you cannot play game discs or any DVDs or Blu-rays you might have collected over the years, and buying games specifically might get more expensive depending on how you shop and what your preferences are. Also of note is that the disc-based PS5 represents the first time Sony has equipped one of its consoles with a 4K Blu-ray player, but again, that might not be an issue if you don't prefer discs anyway.

Media consumption is no doubt skewing more and more toward digital and away from physical. In 2020, this has been even more pronounced for gaming, specifically due to COVID-19, as people are staying home more than usual. Even if you currently purchase many or most of your games digitally, having the option to buy and play games or watch movies on a disc is a factor that may have real value to you. As such, it's something you'll want to consider when thinking about buying into the digital PS5. For example, I decided to watch the Buffy spin-off Angel during quarantine, and because I live in Australia, I couldn't find it streaming anywhere. However, a friend lent me the discs and I was able to watch it that way. This is no doubt an edge case--no one is buying an expensive new game console for the express intention of watching decades-old TV shows--but committing myself to a digital-only PlayStation ensures that I wouldn't have that option on the next-gen console.

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Discs hold real-world value. You can trade them in at GameStop or other stores for cash or credit that you can apply toward the purchase of a new game or system. The ability to sell or trade physical games is part of the perceived value of them, and the digital gaming landscape has no secondhand market. The $60 (or more, as is increasingly the case) you pay for new PS5 games hold no further value. And because the digital PS5 has no drive, you can forget about saving money by purchasing used games. Beyond that, owning a disc is something that people enjoy as a means of decoration for their TV unit and bookshelf, or more simply as receiving a physical item in exchange for money. Research shows that people value things more when they can hold them.

The backwards compatibility situation on PS5 may also be an important element for some. The PS5 plays PS4 discs, but if you go with the digital PS5, your disc-based investment does not move with you.

Disc Space Concerns

Something else that is worth examining when considering the overall value proposition of the digital PS5 is disk space. The console has an 825 GB SSD, and it's not a stretch that this will fill up very quickly in a digital landscape. We recently learned that the Xbox Series X actually only has around 800 GB of free space on its 1 TB after the OS and system files are factored in. Presumably, the situation will be similar on PS5, meaning 825 GB may not be the SSD's true size. This is no surprise (for PS5 or Xbox Series X), as the listed storage capacity is rarely its true size.

On current-gen, titles like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare/Warzone, Red Dead Redemption 2, Destiny 2, and others have file sizes that are north of 100 GB. One can only imagine the file size of the upcoming PS5 port of Grand Theft Auto V. Install a few of those, in addition to everything else--and you'll get lots more games, for sure, with the PS Plus Collection--and you'll no doubt run up against the storage limit in short order. Downloading games again is always an option, but with some file sizes ballooning to well over 130GB at next-gen's launch, it won't be quick to get your games back on your system later.

Unlike the Xbox Series X--with its albeit costly expandable storage solution--the PS5 does not have official proprietary expandable storage. It is expected that users will, however, be able to install a third-party drive through a workaround, but this is not an ideal solution or something that the average person may feel comfortable or willing to do. It also might not be a good idea, anyway, as third-party NVMe SSDs may not even be fast enough. What this boils down to is that, in a digital-only environment, disk space is critical, and ~825 GB might not be enough for some people. That being said, while having discs with the data on them could save some space, but there is also the chance that data is loaded onto the hard drive and the disc is simply used to verify the purchase, especially if there isn't enough room for the full game on the disc. Whatever the case, when it comes to disk space concerns, many have already been conditioned to deleting games to make space, thanks to this previous generation.

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Another element to consider is that, with no disc drive, you have no choice but to purchase games from the PlayStation Store. You won't have the option to shop around and price-match. This may not be of much significance to you because if Sony carries forward the PS4's traditions, you can expect regular sale periods on the PS5. The annual PS4 Summer Sale is usually very good, while other sales are peppered throughout the year offering nice discounts on a wide variety of games. That being said, a lack of competition generally speaking translates to higher aggregate prices. In the physical retail world, the likes of Amazon, Target, Best Buy, and other stores are constantly battling for your money, which leads to aggressive tactics like Amazon offering new games for $10 less when you pre-order in some cases. In a digital-only environment where Sony alone calls the shots, prices may stay higher than normal for a longer period of time. But you may be willing to stomach slightly higher prices in exchange for being able to do all of your shopping from the comfort of your couch when games can be delivered to you with little-to-no hassle.

Internet Speeds And Data Caps

Something else to consider in the overall value proposition of the PS5 Digital Edition is that, when you're exclusively downloading games and other content, in addition to streaming the stuff you like to watch on Netflix, this could make your internet bill more expensive in some cases. Even though many ISPs offer unlimited plans these days, people using a metered or capped internet plan need to factor this in. There is also the matter of internet speeds. If you're downloading everything, you'll want a faster internet connection, which may result in an increase over what you pay normally in the longrun.

Is The Digital PS5 Worth It?

Getting a PS5 for $400 USD is a wildly attractive proposition. It may be $100 more expensive than the Xbox Series S--which also does not have a disc drive--but the digital PS5 is more powerful than that console, offering a 4K and 120Hz experience over the Series S' 1440p and 120Hz. In the end, whether or not the digital PS5 is worth it comes down to how much you rely on physical media and if you have enough space in your budget for an internet plan that can support the strain of downloading and streaming everything you want to play and watch. The video game industry--like film, music, and TV before it--is headed toward a more digitally focused future, but whether that future is now or later for you is a cost that you'll need to consider.

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Eddie Makuch

Eddie Makuch mainly writes news.

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