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Hey Sony, How Exactly Does The PS5 Work?

With PlayStation 5’s launch about a month away, you might expect to have a firmer grasp on what the console is all about by now. Yes, you’ll be able to play most PS4 games on it, and you can expect Sony’s strong first-party lineup to be available in the coming years. We know how to take it apart, install an extra SSD, and switch from horizontal to vertical orientation. Oh, and it’s got Bugsnax. But there are a ton of questions that still remain, including some critical ones that are made all the weirder when you consider that you may have already spent money on a PS5 preorder.

There’s the immediately obvious stuff: What the heck does the PS5’s UI look like? Is this a carryover of the PS4’s menu setup? Will I finally be able to pin things so that Rez Infinite is only ever a button press or two away? Do PS4 themes carry over–or are themes even available on PS5?

For something so core to the experience of using a console, it’s strange to not have even seen a single screenshot of the menus. Why is Sony being so cagey? I’m personally eager to get a peek because I find it a real thrill to behold a next-gen console interface for the first time (the lack of an overhaul on the Xbox side is a little disappointing to me for this reason). But this isn’t the sort of thing that’s necessarily going to play a huge role in deciding whether or not to preorder a PS5.

The answers to other questions, however, will have a more meaningful impact on your experience of playing games on PS5. Will the party system work across generations so you can chat with friends who don’t make the leap? Sony says most PS4 games are backwards compatible on PS5, but depending on how cross-gen multiplayer works, you might not want to trade in your PS4 toward the new console. This is a concern for Xbox Series X/Series S as well, and one that I found it hard to wrap my head around when a friend recently asked me to explain it to him. If he upgrades to next gen but his partner stays on Xbox One, will they be able to play every game together? Will the next-gen version of GTA Online separate them from one another? Who knows!

At least in Xbox’s case, we have a decent understanding of how backwards compatibility works, and the types of enhancements that it will potentially allow for. On the PS5 side, Sony has said very little–just that most PS4 games will work. But which games won’t work? Is there a chance it will allow for a 60fps version of Bloodborne? Has Sony come up with anything like Microsoft’s auto-HDR feature that introduces HDR in games that didn’t previously support it? Why are some PS5 games not supporting cross-gen saves like their Xbox equivalents?

It’s great that backwards compatibility is more of the norm going into this new generation, but the lack of communication from Sony is concerning. It’s unclear if this is due to difficulties related to COVID-19, Sony trying not to advertise the fact that Microsoft’s backwards compatibility is more fully-featured, or something else, but for those who might be trying to decide which next-gen console to buy, this is important information to have.

There’s plenty else that remains unanswered. Are external hard drives supported for backwards-compatible games? Will Trophies and cloud saves sync more seamlessly than on PS4? Will downloads on PSN finally be faster?

Sony is still drip-feeding new information out, and I’m sure some of these topics will be covered in the few weeks left before launch. The company recently revealed that PS5’s virtual surround sound won’t be available for your TV speakers at launch, though 3D Audio will work with headsets starting on Day One. The PS5 teardown video showcased the process for expanding the system’s storage and revealed a clever means for allowing you to vacuum dust out of your console. We’re learning little bits about the console all the time, but not in the same way we are with Xbox Series X, which is already in the hands of media outlets and allowing Microsoft to dominate the conversation.

There remain so many unanswered questions–including some that feel like they should have been addressed before preorders opened–that it’s difficult not to feel a little uneasy about the impending next-gen console launches. Maybe launch day will come and all of these concerns will be rendered moot. But in the meantime, it’s discomforting to have so many questions about whether that $500 purchase was a wise one.

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