In context: Wednesday's look at Unreal Engine 5 running on a PlayStation 5 devkit certainly raised many eyebrows. It also fired up a round of "Whose Console is Better" among the Xbox and PlayStation communities. You know it's getting close to release time when debate, hype, and controversy starts heating up. Both makers will now start vying for your attention.
Earlier this week, Epic gave us a beautiful dive into the technology of the next iteration of Unreal Engine. In case you missed it, we reposted it below—it's really worth a look. It showcased two new core technologies used for virtualized geometry and dynamic global illumination. Even more intriguing was that the tech demo was running on a PlayStation 5 development kit.
While Unreal Engine has always been platform agnostic, the choice of demonstrating UE5's newest capabilities on PS5 hardware raised some controversy in the community. Why not show it off on the Xbox Series X, or better yet, high-end PC hardware?
When asked this question, Epic said that the PS5 just happened to be the hardware targeted for this specific demo.
"The demo we revealed is running on PS5 because that's been our target platform for this particular experience," an Epic spokesperson told Kotaku.
To quell criticisms of favoritism, Epic added that Unreal Engine 5 will remain platform agnostic and that the new Nanite and Lumen core technologies will also work on Xbox Series X.
"UE5, with core technologies like Niagara VFX and Chaos physics and destruction—and the newly revealed Nanite virtualized geometry and Lumen dynamic global illumination—is also targeting Xbox Series X," the spokesperson said.
When explicitly asked if Wednesday's "Lumin in the Land of Nanite" demo could run on a Series X, the only reply was, "We aren't running it on XBSX."
Of course, just because Epic is not running the demo on Microsoft's console does not mean that it can't run on it. Any number of reasons could have prompted the decision, but all are speculation. Maybe the demo is an early build of a game planned as a PlayStation exclusive. It is also possible the devs just chose the PS5 hardware at random. But maybe it's because they needed the fastest storage system out there for the demo to run at its best, and the PS5 has it.
That's right. According to Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney, the PlayStation 5's storage system outclasses anything available on PC or even HEDT systems.
"[The PS5] has an immense amount of GPU power, but also multi-order bandwidth increase in storage management," said Sweeney in a press briefing. "We've been working super close with Sony for quite a long time on storage. The storage architecture on the PS5 is far ahead of anything you can buy on the PC for any amount of money right now. It's going to help drive future PCs."
While Sweeney's comment is likely to rile up the PC Master Race and create even more controversy, the leapfrogging of consoles over PC rigs makes sense.
"Sony has shown more information on this point than Microsoft, but both companies have emphasized custom silicon baked into their upcoming consoles, specifically intended to allow the CPU to be fully devoted to gaming," says ExtremeTech. "From an architectural perspective—if you can't deliver more performance through higher and higher clock speeds, deliver higher performance by making more efficient use of the CPU. PC's don't have an analogous function block."
Regardless of whether Sweeney's statement is valid, or not, it would not be the first time consoles have outclassed PCs with newer gaming devoted tech. The Xbox 360 was the first hardware to have a programmable GPU. This jump was good for the gaming PC market because Nvidia soon followed with the programable G80. Sony's new storage architecture should be no different. PC and consoles have always had a symbiotic relationship despite all the oneupmanship.
Of course, Microsoft was quick to downplay the demo while still claiming to have the most powerful hardware.
"The fidelity seen in the Unreal Engine 5 tech demo is something that people can expect for next-gen gaming across devices," said a Microsoft spokesperson. "Developers around the world, including the majority of our 15 Xbox Game Studios teams, are using Unreal Engine to build their future projects. We look forward to partnering with Epic and working closely with Unreal 5 across our development teams when it releases in 2021."
Head of Xbox Marketing Aaron Greenberg added on Twitter, "[The UE5 demo was] super impressive and [I] can only imagine what the new Unreal 5 Engine will look like on the world's most powerful console."
Barbs back and forth are par for the course as console wars heat up, both between the companies and the fans. But it's still too early to be making fair assessments. Until consumers and reviewers have the new hardware in hand, saying one is significantly better than the other at this point is either marketing hype or fanaticism.
Rest assured that the back and forth will continue up to and through the launch of the next-gen systems this winter. You can also bet that Microsoft is undoubtedly planning a similar jaw-dropping XBSX reel to build up hype and take back the sudden attention Sony's PS5 console has received.