While the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X are the two disc-supporting, super-powerful next-gen consoles we keep comparing, their digital-only variants will play an even more important role in shaping the next console generation.
At a (presumably) cheaper price, the already announced PS5 Digital Edition and heavily rumored Xbox Series S might wind up being the most immediately appealing options to more casual gamers, though each could come with a major caveat everyone should consider.
Why digital-only consoles are important — The appeal of digital-only consoles will come down to one key aspect: price. Both the regular PS5 and Xbox Series X are expected to be fairly expensive when they are released during the 2020 holiday season. There are no confirmed prices yet, but versions with disc drives could peak at around $499.99.
The consoles will also be arriving in the middle of a recession triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, a cheaper next-gen alternative will seem that much more appealing for all but the most hardcore gamers out there who want as many teraflops as possible.
The PS5 Digital Edition doesn't appear to take any hits in terms of overall power, but the lack of a disc drive will definitely make it at least somewhat cheaper to produce. Meanwhile, the latest Xbox Series S rumors suggest that the console will have specs that are more powerful than the Xbox One but far weaker than the Xbox Series X in order to bring that price down.
Depending on how far both Sony and Microsoft can bring the prices of their digital consoles down, the Xbox Series S may become the best next-gen entry point for many. It's also worth noting that having a digital console means you won't even have to go into a store like GameStop to buy games — in fact, you can't — which is even more appealing during a pandemic where multiple people touching the same game boxes in a store is a risk.
By all accounts, it does seem like the standard PS5 might be the most expensive next-gen console with the rumored Xbox Series S as the cheapest. For Sony, it might all depend if it can sell the PS5 Digital Edition for cheaper than the full Xbox Series X.
Storage Wars — One major problem with digital-only consoles is the storage space. While Sony hasn't specifically revealed the PS5 Digital Edition's storage space yet, we know that the regular PS5 will have 825 GBs. The Digital Edition probably won't be much different. The Xbox Series S is even more of a mystery considering it hasn't even been officially confirmed. We know the standard Xbox Series X will have 1 TB of storage.
While these numbers seem adequate by modern standards, this could become a greater issue as next-gen games use higher-quality assets that lead to increases in overall file size. Games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare already take up well over 100 GB on current-gen platforms, and that trend doesn't seem like it will change with next-gen. Digital-only consoles offer no alternative to directly installing it, so memory could quickly become an issue with these platforms as more games are released.
To be fair, both Sony and Microsoft are looking at ways to circumvent this issue. Mark Cerny mentioned in March's PS5 presentation that other third-party hard drives and SSDs will be supported. Meanwhile, Microsoft has confirmed that Xbox Series X will support proprietary storage add-on modules. Presumably, the Xbox Series S would also support these, though pricey PS Vita memory cards show that this approach can get pretty expensive for the consumer.
It's also theoretically possible that the digital-only consoles will have more onboard storage than their counterparts that have disc drives. We really won't know until more information is confirmed in the coming weeks and months leading up to November.
Both Xbox Series X and PS5 will be released later this year.