The Xbox Series X is a monstrously powerful machine, and has the PlayStation 5 firmly beat in raw specs. Of course, specs alone aren't the full story, and the ultimate proof will be in how games actually perform once these consoles ship later in 2020. Regardless if innovations when it comes to internals, Sony's ambitious controller design for the PlayStation 5 is turning heads already, with the broadest revamp to its controller's designs since the inclusion of dual joysticks.
The PlayStation 5 DualSense controller marks a total revamp for the controller's design, moving far beyond what we're getting with the Xbox Series X, which is iterative at best. In some ways, Sony has played catch up to the ergonomics present in Microsoft's leading controller designs, while Microsoft has been playing catch up with the inclusion of a share button, finally, on the Xbox Series X controller.
There are a couple of things on the PlayStation 5 DualSense controller that Microsoft should've sought for its own controllers years ago, and it's something we've actually argued for in the past. USB-C, Adaptive Triggers, and an onboard microphone, which brings some huge potential to the PS5 in ways Xbox Series X may miss out on.
DualSense vs. Xbox Series X controller features
We have to be a bit careful here, since Sony has provided a lot of marketing terms and not a whole lot of demonstration as to how some of the DualSense's new features work. The share button is now a "Create" button, which Sony says expands on the functionality found on the current DualShock's share button. What that means in practice is anyone's guess, but to speculate, it probably means more control and creativity over how clips present before you share them. Both companies arguably have been pretty lackluster when it comes to innovation in this area, especially if you compare the meme-able features you find in apps like Instagram, Tiktok, and Snapchat. There's no reason Microsoft can't rapidly copy Sony on this one either, although Microsoft's own Upload Studio is practically a zombie app, having not received an update for years.
Additionally, Sony is claiming that its controller's triggers are adaptive, creating a sense of resistance in different contexts. For example, when pulling the string on a bow in a fantasy RPG, the DualSense controller's triggers should induce a stronger sense of tactile resistance. This goes further than the trigger haptics you get in the current-gen Xbox controllers. At least in theory, as we still don't necessarily know the details in how this sense of resistance is induced.
Microsoft has claimed similar feats are possible with its haptic triggers, and indeed, games like Forza Horizon, among the few titles that use Xbox controller haptics properly, do create a sense of granular resistance. Therein lies the kicker, though — not very many games are actually using this feature. Perhaps with Sony getting onboard with controller haptics too, we'll see it in more multiplatform games outside of the titles Microsoft has explicit marketing deals with.
The DualSense has internal onboard batteries too, unlike the Xbox Series X controllers (and indeed, all of them), which give you the option of separate rechargeables or AA cells. The debate over the better solution rages on, but surely the choice to have high-capacity rechargeable Eneloop AA batteries is generally favorable. The PlayStation 4 controller batteries are disappointing at bests, and high-quality cells come at a premium, hence why the Xbox Elite Controller Series 2 internal battery, at a whopping 40 hours, is also part of a $180 dollar product.
Cutting through the vagueries is tough until we get more detailed information on what some of the branded DualSense features mean for the PlayStation 5, but for me, the crown jewel is that onboard microphone, which is something Microsoft should've done years ago.
How a microphone could be a game-changer
It's perhaps something of a cruel irony that Kinect was slammed for being a potential privacy nightmare in 2013, while many of us now merrily use Amazon Echo speakers and have laptops and other devices with integrated microphones at our beck and call 24/7.
Kinect's microphone array remains an incredibly impressive piece of tech, with far-field capabilities enabling futuristic user interface scenarios that anyone with an Amazon Echo-connected smart home hub now likely takes for granted. While it seemed like Microsoft was serious about voice-activated smart assistance at the time, we all know what's happened to both Kinect and Cortana — stripped out of the Xbox platform entirely.
Having an onboard microphone in either the controller or in the Xbox Media Remote (something we argued for back in 2017) would've gone a long way to making Cortana voice assistance on Xbox make more sense.
PlayStation 5 could potentially integrate Alexa, Google Assistant, and other similar features now without users having to purchase additional hardware, which could give PS5 points in the smart-home hub arena, allowing you to control your setup without leaving your game. It's a soft point since there's no hard confirmation Sony has intentions to do this, but with every PS5 owner confirmed to have a microphone, it could be a nifty extra feature to integrate into its platform. And that's really the central point here.
The fact every PS5 owner is confirmed to have a microphone may enable gameplay creativity that you simply wouldn't be worth exploring, without knowing for a fact every potential user has the feature. That's one reason Microsoft bundled Kinect with the original Xbox One in the first place, to give developers the guarantee it would be present. Ultimately, inflating the price of the Xbox One by $100 simply wasn't a viable strategy. A simple controller microphone would have trivial impact on the overall price of the PS5, but granting developers a potential additional input for interactivity is a creativity boost that Xbox Series X won't have.
It all depends if people actually use it, though
Of course, there's that big issue of if. Will Sony enable developer scenarios to use the mic in gaming? Will gamers even use it if it's there? I remember being able to yell "FUS ROH DAH" at my Kinect while playing Skyrim, to hilarious effect, and although it wasn't the most reactive experience, it clearly marked some potential worth exploring.
I've seen people say that the microphone will be terrible for chat, since you'll be able to hear clicking on the controller and that sort of thing. Post-processing techniques should eliminate a lot of that, though (do you really think Sony wouldn't have thought of that?) and there are some older patents to suggest that the PS5's solution is made up of three microphones to enable greater positional awareness and processing.
I don't think for a second that Sony built a microphone into the controller simply so more people could yell at each other while playing Fortnite. This will very likely move beyond simple voice comms. DualSense could have a big impact that leaves Microsoft's Xbox Series X controller feeling "last-gen" in the process.
What do you think of the DualSense? Let us know, down below.
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Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!