Controllers can make or break your console experience. It's by far the most important accessory, and the one you'll spend the most time with. A controller needs to feel good to hold while offering near-instant response times. Controllers are the perfect example of form meeting function. That's why Microsoft and Sony both tweak their controller designs with each new generation of consoles.
We don't know what the PlayStation 5 looks like just yet, but its controller certainly offers up a unique aesthetic that breaks from the traditional look of older DualShock controllers. On the other side, Microsoft finely tuned its already-proven formula to give the Xbox Series X some minor, but no less important, tweaks over the Xbox One controller while retaining its well-known form factor.
PlayStation went for revolution while Xbox went for evolution
Upon first glance, the Xbox Series X controller isn't a huge departure from that of the Xbox One. This is in stark contrast to Sony's DualSense design, which overhauled the DualShock lineup to give it a modernized look and feel. The Series X controller seems to be a small step forward in Microsoft's case, though that just shows how well Microsoft crafted the Xbox One controller initially.
Sony decided to take a big leap. The DualSense now features haptic feedback and adaptive triggers — which were already present on the Xbox One controller to an extent — and it added some much-needed textures to the thumbsticks, triggers, and grips, along with face buttons and a D-pad that actually look tactile as opposed to the squishy buttons on the DualShock 4.
|PS5 DualSense controller||Xbox Series X controller|
|Buttons||PS button, touchpad, four face buttons (X, O, Triangle, Square), two triggers, two bumpers, Create, Options, D-pad, two thumbsticks||Xbox home button, Menu, View, four face buttons (A,B,X,Y), two triggers, two bumpers, Share, D-pad, two thumbsticks|
|Share button||Yes (Create)||Yes|
|Trigger layout||Symmetrical (inline)||Asymmetrical (offset)|
|Trigger type||Adaptive triggers||Impulse triggers|
|Battery||Internal||2x AA batteries|
|Compatibility||PS5/Unknown||Xbox Series X, Xbox One, PC|
|Release date||Holiday 2020||Holiday 2020|
Doubling down on content creation and sharing
Content creation will be more important than ever in the coming years. Last generation saw the explosion of online streaming through websites Twitch and YouTube, and it's never been easier to share gameplay clips or screenshots to social media. Sony pioneered this with the Share button on the DualShock 4, and it looks to do the same with the Create button on the DualSense. The company declined to detail how exactly the Create button will differ from the Share button.
With Create, we're once again pioneering new ways for players to create epic gameplay content to share with the world, or just to enjoy for themselves. We'll have more details on this feature as we get closer to launch.
From what Microsoft has said about the Share button on the Xbox Series X controller, it will allow you to easily access and share content on social media or with your friends. You'll no longer need to go through several menus to capture a screenshot or record gameplay. Instead, it's all done with the touch of a button.
The difference between Impulse and Adaptive triggers
Sony and Microsoft are implementing ways to make gaming more immersive through the use of adaptive and impulse triggers. These allow for a greater sense of depth with motors that can convey what you're experiencing in-game through rumble or tension. They do work a bit differently from one another, though.
Adaptive triggers used on the DualSense are more advanced than the technology that Microsoft uses with its impulse triggers. They allow for players to feel the tension in their actions, like drawing a bowstring. The different variations of tension working in tandem with haptic feedback create a level of immersion that was otherwise impossible.
Xbox's impulse triggers have rumble motors that can emit distinct vibrations depending on what you are doing in-game, even going so far as to give players a sense of directionality through the feedback. Combining this with the rumble motors in the chassis of the controller itself heightens the experience.
Of course, we still need to see how both controllers take advantage of these features and how developers choose to use them.
How haptic feedback improves immersion
PlayStation 5's DualSense and the Xbox Series X controller will make use of haptic feedback, a more advanced type of rumble technology. This is separate from the adaptive and impulse triggers on either controller, but it does work together with that technology to create deeper sense of touch and more realistic simulation. As Sony puts it, haptic feedback can add "a variety of powerful sensations you'll feel when you play, such as the slow grittiness of driving a car through mud."
With haptics, you truly feel a broader range of feedback, so crashing into a wall in a race car feels much different than making a tackle on the football field. You can even get a sense for a variety of textures when running through fields of grass or plodding through mud.
USB-C vs AA batteries
Though Microsoft and Sony both decided to use USB-C ports on their controllers, Microsoft made the odd decision to retain the AA batteries. While you can still buy rechargable batteries for the Xbox Series X controller separately, many people will be stuck replacing the AA batteries every so often just like with the company's previous controllers.
Like before, the DualSense uses an internal battery that will be charged via USB-C this time, theoretically ramping up the connection speed and taking less time to fully charge. USB-C is the new norm, so there were really no surprises here. Keeping the AA batteries is even more surprising.
What we'll need wait and see is if the internal battery on the DualSense still takes a hit from the light bar, which has been repositioned around the touchpad. The light bar on the DualShock 4 could quickly drain the battery, and it was impossible to turn it off completely, though you could dim it in the system settings.
The PS5 DualSense features a more radical departure from its predecessor. The entire chassis is reshaped for better ergonomics, with new textured grips and thumbsticks as well. The angles of the triggers were slightly changed, though they still don't appear to be angled like those of the Xbox Series X, which follow the natural resting position of your finger better. The bumpers also appear to be larger, giving players a bigger surface to use.
Even the buttons themselves are different. On the DualShock 4, the buttons always felt squishy and less tactile. The buttons on the DualSense look like they'll provide better feedback, but we won't be able to know for sure until we get out hands on one to test it out.
Over on the Xbox Series X controller, the textures were changed up a bit to provide a better grip no matter what you are.
We added a tactile dot pattern on the triggers and bumpers, which provides grip to improve feel and performance during gameplay. That's something we've had on special edition controllers and fans love it. Now it's the new standard. A similar, yet more subtle pattern is on the grips. The D-pad, bumpers, and triggers now have a matte finish to maintain a smooth consistent feel, whether your hands are wet or dry.
As for the new D-pad, it now features an 8-directional faceted dish as opposed to the 4-directional D-pad on the Xbox One controller. This makes it more similar to that of the D-pad on the Xbox 360 controller, but hopefully with added precision. This design is a hybrid of the one used on the Xbox One Elite controller.
Without being able to get out hands on both controllers, it's impossible to say which is better at this point. Sony is offering up a lot of new features, but Microsoft finely tuned a formula that was near-perfect to begin with. Whatever the case, both seem like they'll feel right at home next-generation.
A sense of touch
A strong upgrade
If the DualSense represents the type of console the PlayStation 5 will be, I'm incredibly excited. Sony added important features to make gaming more immersive than ever while retaining the bright spots of the DualShock 4.
Minor revisions for a better feel
Microsoft took the opposite approach to Sony and only delivered some minor design tweaks on the Xbox Series X controller, but that's only because its predecessor was so good to begin with.
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