Should You Buy a Disc Drive or Digital Console?

The newest consoles on the block come in two flavours: with a disc drive, and without - this will help you decide which one is right for you. Playing games from a disc may be a format almost as old as video games itself, but should you buy your next PS5 or Xbox Series X just because that’s what you always do? We’ll look at the difference, the pros and the cons, so you can make an informed decision to go all digital, or back the disc drive.

Should You Buy A Disc Drive or Digital Console Cover

The rising tide of digital-only games can be seen back on the original Xbox with Xbox Live Arcade in 2004. After Microsoft broke ground in online gaming, it only took two short years for the next generation of consoles to all come with their own digital shopfronts (Xbox Live Marketplace, PlayStation Store & Wii Shop Channel), ready for players to buy, download and play a library of games without a disc in sight. And seeing as we have entire consoles built for that purpose, the wave shows no signs of slowing. You only need to look at how Steam and MMOs like Warcraft made PC digital gaming such a smooth process, that buying a hard copy of a PC game feels slightly ridiculous in this day and age.

But what exactly are the benefits and drawbacks of a disc drive console to a digital one, and how will either impact your gaming lifestyle directly? Subjective opinions like “I like seeing the box art on my shelf” have been steered away from, and “physical games save space because it’s all on the disc” has been thrown out since all next gen consoles download and install a game’s data, even in the case of physical games (the presence of the disc is effectively just verification of ownership). Here’s a handy table summarising the key differences between the latest PS5 and Xbox Series X|S, but keep reading for a fuller understanding of the reality behind the numbers.

 

Disc Drive

Digital

PlayStation

PlayStation 5
RRP: $499.99 / €499.99 / £449.99 / ¥49,980

PlayStation 5 Digital Edition
RRP: $399.99 / €399.99 / £349.99 / ¥39,980

Xbox

Xbox Series X
Price: $499 / €499 / £449 / ¥49,980
Display Resolution: 4K
Storage: 1Tb
RAM Memory: 16Gb
Processing Power: 12.15 TFLOPS

Xbox Series S
Price: $299 / €299 / £249 / ¥29,980
Display Resolution: 1440p
Storage: 512Gb
RAM Memory: 10Gb
Processing Power: 4TFLOPS

*RRP = Recommended Retail Price

PS5 Teardown: An up-close and personal look at the console hardware

Disc Drive Console: PS5 & Xbox Series X

Perks with the PS5 and Xbox Series X include their backwards compatibility with their predecessors games, meaning they’ll be able to accept and play most of your PS4 and Xbox One discs. And not only are your old games playable, but the next gen console disc drives can read your Blu-rays, DVDs and audio CDs, keeping those TV boxsets relevant for years to come. Also, crucially, should you own a console that is able to play physical discs, doesn’t mean you can’t buy digital games too. All options are available with a disc drive console – the best of both worlds.

However, the added privilege comes with a higher price tag, with a one or two hundred dollar price gap between disc drive and digital variants – the difference between a couple extra games or controllers. Also, though build quality is sure to be impeccable, it’s not impossible for a disc drive to malfunction making your discs useless (which wouldn’t be an issue if it wasn’t there altogether). And, despite the additional bonus of Blu-ray playback, if you already own Blu-ray films then chances are you already have some way of playing them. What are the chances you should sell off your current Blu-ray player because you might buy an Xbox Series X?

Disc drive or digital, you'll still need a controller

Disc drive or digital, you’ll still need a controller

Digital Console: PS5 Digital Edition & Xbox Series S

Similar to other forms of media like home video and photo albums that freed themselves from the constraints of physical media to live in the cloud in the form an old dropbox folder with your holiday pictures, a digital-only console means games stop taking physical storage space in your home. Likewise, the digital console itself generally has a smaller/sleeker shape compared to the disc drive variation, allowing it to more tidily fit into a smaller space in your TV unit. In my personal opinion, the thin PS5 Digital Edition feels like the first-thought-of, better design… while the disc drive has been gracelessly wedged in on the side, like slapping a lump onto Marge Simpson to get Patty or Selma. Lastly, purchasing more games digitally will sooner make you eligible for bonuses. PlayStation and Xbox have Sony Rewards and Microsoft Rewards schemes respectively, giving points for spending digital cash that can be redeemed for discounts and other benefits.

But there are counterarguments to whether you should buy a digital console. Downloading all your games means foregoing the ability to sell those games on when you’re done, and refunding becomes a lot more difficult. Also, while both PS5 editions have 825GB internal storage, the Xbox Series X has 1TB, while Xbox Series S has 512GB. The average size for a current gen game is around 40GB, with the next gen bound to increase on that. An Xbox Series X could theoretically fit 25 current gen titles while a Series S could only fit 12, meaning going digital on Xbox would more than likely incur the extra cost of expandable storage. The only official supplier is the Seagate Expansion Card which is priced around $220, almost as much as the console itself, and very reminiscent of PS2 era memory cards. Maybe new technology can learn from the old after all.

Xbox Series X|S – Official Next-Gen Walkthrough – Full Demo [4K]

Final Verdict

Whether you buy either a disc drive or digital console should depend on your current habits and current bank statement. A console with a disc drive allows you to dabble in both physical and digital, with more confidence if a game that you bought but deleted for space were to be removed from the online store, you can still play the disc version. An all digital console is a tidier, sleeker device with all your games, Netflix, Spotify, Disney+ etc., accounts just a few clicks away from each other. The digital consoles are immediately cheaper that disc drives, but the cost of games should factor in too. Depending on country, there can be a difference in the way digital and physical goods are taxed, leading to one being less expensive than the other. Also where do you typically see more sales, in a retail shop or the PlayStation Store?

So should you buy a disc drive console holding onto the value of discs? Or do you want to sail into the future with a digital edition? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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Cathal

Digital games are generally a rip off.

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