From the moment I turned on the Playstation 5, which was provided to me courtesy of Playstation for review, and heard the brand new music that accompanied that event, I believed I was in for something special, but even then I wasn’t quite ready. I had been given a simple instruction. “Do nothing,” I was told, “on that first screen.” So I complied, waiting for about a minute or so, and then it happened. The PS5’s screen reader, (no longer just called TTS), kicked in, asking me to connect my controller. Yet this alone was not quite enough to confirm my initial feelings. In fact, when the screen reader first started up, I experienced a small sense of dread.
You see, when I first heard it begin to speak, it spoke in the same voice used on the PS4. “Oh no,” I thought. “It’s exactly the same! They didn’t modify it, only a few things will work, this is awful!” All these thoughts happened very quickly, and were just as quickly dashed, as the screen reader then began to offer the same request to plug in my controller… in 2 other languages. “Well,,” I thought. “This is new. This might mean the screen reader has gone global!” I didn’t know then that that was indeed the case.
Controller connected, (done by plugging it in via USB and pressing the PS button to pair it), I began the initial setup process, and all of my fears began to melt away as the screen reader guided me through the whole thing. Keep in mind, of course, that the TTS on PS4 cannot even be used during initial setup, even in the US. Yet here, I was guided through every single screen, every single prompt. Still, there were 2 spots in which screen reader support was not available. However, I couldn’t ask for a better way of handling this.
There are parts of initial setup that ask you if you would like to activate 2-factor authentication, and add a phone number to your Playstation account. These are separate screens, and both of them let you know that if you say yes right now, screen reader support will be unavailable. It doesn’t end there, though. Rather than just leaving it at that, you are then given the web addresses to go to in order to add those things via another browser if indeed you want them, and told to choose the “do this later” option for now. This is absolutely a screen reader specific message, and I applaud Sony for putting considerations like this in.
So now, setup is complete, and I am signed in. The home screen is finally up. I look it over using the left and right arrows, and it is reminiscent of the PS4’s home screen in that your recent games, and some other things, are readily available. I was quick to notice that, when highlighting Astro’s Playroom, (which comes preinstalled on PS5), the music shifts from the PS5’s own home screen music to that of the game itself. Later experiences confirmed this is always the case for games that play their own music, even PS4 games, yet this only used to happen in the dynamic menu of games on PS4. Now it happens as soon as you move onto that game.
Speaking of the dynamic menus, though, one could assume that, since this layout is quite similar to that of PS4, those menus exist. This is where the last gasping, terrified fleck of my apprehension lay. What would happen if I pressed the down arrow? I knew that I had to try. So I highlighted Astro’s playroom, paused for a breath, and did it. I swear I let out an audible sigh of both relief and genuine happiness when first I heard the dynamic play button, which comes with a slogan for the game on PS5 games. Pressing down again, I was greeted with the activities menu, which to my astonishment and glee also is read by the screen reader. One of the coolest features of PS5 in my opinion, activities allows developers to suggest things for you to do in the game, and they can be as dynamic as the devs want them to be. And yes, we get to partake in this feature. In particular on Astro’s playroom, I was encouraged to go after my first trophy, since I hadn’t yet played the game. Activities are laid out from left to right, as are all dynamic menus. You descend to the row you want, then move through it by pressing left or right. The screen reader just kept pouring it on as I moved down again, and saw that I could read the news about a game, or watch a video posted by Playstation. And again as I moved down to the row showing featured broadcasts! (This I tried after installing Mortal Kombat 11).
So yes, to break open the piñata at last, yes. Basically everything on Playstation 5 is read to you by the screen reader. All those Text to Speech unavailable here messages are gone, because it’s available everywhere. Yes, even Playstation Now. I’m not kidding. Playstation Now is now fully accessible to the blind via the PS5. Stream all the games you want, download the ones that can be downloaded, it’s all there for you. Every section of the settings menu reads. Configuring remote play manually reads. Everything reads. Believe it. It is real, and it is here. You can go into your profile, look at all your trophies without having to have each specific game open, and even compare them against your friends, all accessibly. I can’t stress it enough. Whatever you want to do, you can do it on PS5. Finally, Playstation is the way we always wanted it.
Well… mostly. It is worth noting that Share Factory Studio, which can be used to edit your clips and such, is still a separate app, and as of this writing does not support the Playstation 5’s screen reader. I can’t speak for all blind folks of course, but I will say that, for me, this is likely to be the least-requested feature anyway, as I don’t often share zillions of clips. Still, I do support the idea that accessibility should be everywhere, and so I hope Sony expands its screen reader functionality to, at the very least, its own apps. Who knows? Maybe I would like to check out Share Factory someday.
If you’re blind, I hope you used the last paragraph as a calming agent. The “Holy crap it’s accessible” feeling is very strong, and I do want you to be able to absorb the rest of this review. It is indeed worthy of that reaction, however what I’d like to do now is provide an overall system review, accessibility aside.
The PS5 is, I believe, a truly next generation system. The benefits brought on by the activities feature, coupled with super short load times create a wonderful arrangement where I believe gamers will feel comfortable just diving into a game for a bit to get something done, but will also feel comfortable during long gaming sessions. Nearly no loading means less waiting around, which means more time spent actually enjoying your game.
The thing is, the whole set of features feels connected. I’ve seen lots of people talk about how the Dual Sense features work together to keep you more immersed, and I agree, but I think that if you add in the other console features too, the whole thing comes together in an immersive, user-friendly, comfortable gaming experience. This tech is all stunning, but I don’t think it’ll be long before we just relax right into all of it.
And speaking of stunning tech, the 3D audio really works. I will elaborate more on this in my reviews of games, but yes, it absolutely does work. The 3D audio configuration, accessed in settings, is a little confusing to me, as it claims that a sound will be played from 5 different heights, but really it just sounds like it’s either very close to you, or far away. My personal suggestion, then, is to pick one of the 5 selectable profiles, see how you like it in an actual game, then pick another and see which one fits you best. As the 3D audio profile setting says, each person hears 3D audio differently. It’s based on head shape, ear shape, and lots and lots of math. So do the work to find out which choice is the best for you.
And we can’t forget that hardware. The PS5’s cooling system is no joke. Seriously, it’s something I can personally speak to. I checked the exhaust fan while the PS5 was in rest mode, and I swear to you, cool air was coming out. Like, slightly cooler than room temperature air. Then, after an approximately 3 hour gaming session, I checked again, and the back of the PS5 was warm, but definitely not hot. And it wasn’t even really that warm. It went from slightly cooler than room temperature to slightly warmer, and didn’t seem to change the temperature of the room I was in either. And quiet? You’d better believe it. I think I’ve only actually heard the PS5’s fan once, during startup, and that’s all. I once mistook its fan for our DVR’s fan, then realized I was wrong. yes, our DVR cable box is louder than the PS5. Make of that what you will.
Now, though, I have to address a couple negatives. First, 3D audio does not appear to automatically virtualize surround sound in PS4 games. The original presentation on 3D audio did say this should be possible, but it appears it did not make launch. I installed Resident Evil 6, as it has particularly good surround sound, and was met with only stereo sound no matter what I did. It is fortunate that many of the games I currently play are getting PS5 upgrades, but still this is definitely a negative. The PS5 has no optical port, leaving us no method of connecting a separate surround sound system, or surround sound headphones. We’ll just have to hope that virtualization comes eventually.
Now, a really unfortunate negative. Certainly not enough to sway me from absolutely loving the system, but still unfortunate nonetheless. Just like with the PS4, the PS5 only accepts one audio source at a time. This means that, if we have a headset plugged into either the console, or the controller, so we can experience 3D audio while playing, then no audio will be sent out via the HDMI port, making streaming with a capture card much more difficult. It’s still very possible, but every method by which you can still achieve it means that you lose out on 3D audio entirely, and are bumped back to stereo. This strikes me as a tremendous oversight. Sure, you can stream from the console itself, and I guess it’s fair to say that’s probably what Sony wants, but streamers value their setups, with their follower bars, subscriber bars, goals, all that stuff, showing on screen. Streamers want to have the option of streaming with a capture card while also experiencing the full auditory power of the console. This was a concern I had even before I got the PS5, as I definitely remembered how the PS4 does the same thing with its audio sources, and I’m sad to have to confirm that it was a valid concern indeed. TO be absolutely clear, it literally does not matter what type of headset you use. Even when using the Pulse 3D Wireless headset, this problem still exists. Now, I know that it is technically possible to route audio to 2 places at once. The xbox One will still route audio to a TV even if you plug a headset into its controller. This is absolutely something I hope Sony considers adding if it’s possible in their architecture.
But seriously though, those are the only 2 negatives I have. The PS5 is a beautiful system. Every feature feels connected to every other feature to create the whole that is the OS. The screen reader is just phenomenal. In terms of hardware, it runs as cool and as quiet as advertised. Despite its few negatives, I maintain the impression that I gave during my UI video, which I recorded early, and which you can find imbedded below. The Playstation 5 is the Playstation console the blind have always wanted. Thanks for reading, and if you haven’t yet, check out the video to hear the PS5 screen reader in action!