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PlayStation 2

Biography

by Dave Beuscher

On March 24, 2000 in Japan, Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) released its long-awaited follow-up to the successful PlayStation console. At the time of its release, Sony's next-generation PlayStation 2 (or "PS2") was the most technologically advanced console system to hit the market. Its performance specifications compared favorably to most available computer hardware at the time, and the system represented a step forward in the evolution of home entertainment by combining a state-of-the-art game console and a DVD/CD player in a single box.

Sony released the PlayStation 2 console in Japan on March 4, 2000. Within two days of its debut, sales for the PlayStation 2 had reached 980,000 -- ten times the number of original PlayStation units sold during its initial three-day release period in 1994. Upon its first day of introduction in Japan, a catalog of ten new titles were introduced specifically for the PlayStation 2. Software shipments exceeded 1.3 million units during the console's first weekend of release, while DVD software sales in Japan increased between two to four times. On August 1, 2000, five months after the system's release in Japan, Sony announced it had shipped over 3 million units.

On October 26, 2000, the PlayStation 2 was released in North America at a suggested retail price of $299 U.S. and $449 CDN. Sony initially shipped 500,000 units of the PlayStation 2 to North American retailers with plans to ship approximately 100,000 additional units per week. Sony estimated that it will have shipped a total of 1.3 million market after only two months of release.

One month prior to its North American release, Sony Computer Entertainment America slashed its PlayStation 2 shipment plans from a million units to 500,000 because of reported component supply shortages. Sony disclosed that one of the problems causing these shortages for the PlayStation 2 was the result of process-migration troubles of the "Graphics Synthesizer" chip at its Nagasaki fabrication facility.

On the October 26 date of its U.S. release, 26 titles were available to consumers and an estimated 50 titles were scheduled for release by the end of 2000. At the time of its U.S. debut, 301 publishers/developers were licensed to produce PlayStation 2 software and more than 270 software titles were in development worldwide.

The PlayStation 2 launched on November 24, 2000 in Europe, at a retail price of 299 British Pounds, 2,990 French Francs and 859 German Marks. There were six PlayStation 2 titles that shipped in the U.K. for the system's European launch date. Sony predicted that by March 31, 2001, it will have shipped 3 million units in the U.S. and produced ten million units for the worldwide market.

The PlayStation 2 usually comes packed with a single game controller. Additional controllers may be purchased separately. Other PlayStation 2-branded peripherals sold separately are an 8MB memory card and the Multi Tap Adaptor. The 8MB memory card has a transfer rate up to 250 times faster than an original PlayStation memory card and incorporates the "MagicGate" authentication and encryption security system in the interest of data security for potential future network applications.

The Multi Tap Adaptor is used to increase the number of controllers and memory cards that can be connected to the PlayStation 2 console. With a single Multi-Tap, up to four players can compete against each other, while two Multi-Taps allow up to eight players to play. The Multi Tap Adaptor was available for a retail price of $34.99 during the system's launch. Sony announced that a Hard Disc Drive (HDD) will be released at some point and will attach to a port on the rear of the PlayStation 2 console. The HDD will allow people to download not only games but also music and movies from the Internet.

With the PlayStation 2, Sony Computer Entertainment introduced a new concept called "Emotion Synthesis." According to SCE, Emotion Synthesis, "allows the system to simulate not just how the images look, but how the characters and objects in a game think, act and behave." Characters that are placed an Emotion Synthesis-generated environment can be effected by such things as a digital wind, gravity, mass or friction.

SCE and Toshiba have co-developed a 128-bit RISC processor called the "Emotion Engine." SCE claims that its new CPU is the world's first fully 128-bit processor. The Emotion Engine incorporates two 64-bit integer units with a 128 SIMD multimedia command unit, two independent floating point vector calculation units, an MPEG2 decoder circuit, and high performance DMA controllers onto one silicon chip.

These features combine to allow the CPU to perform complicated physical calculation NURBS (Non-Uniform Rational B-Spline) - which is a mathematical representation of a 3D object, curved surface generation and 3D geometric transformations. The main memory that supports the high speed CPU uses DRAM (Dynamic Random Access Memory) in two channels to achieve a 3.2 GB/second bus bandwidth. The PlayStation 2's Emotion Engine is capable of performing 6.2 billion floating point operations (GFLOPS). The Emotion Engine CPU takes care of the math that is required for 3D geometry and complex physical simulations.

With a clock speed of 300MHz, the PlayStation 2's CPU surpasses the original's 33.86MHz as well as Dreamcast's SH4 processor which has a clock speed of 200MHz. SCE claims that at 300MHz, the Emotion Engine is three times more powerful than an Intel Pentium III chip because it has been built from scratch with the purpose of providing optimized performance specifically for gameplay.

SCE also developed a "Graphics Synthesizer" for the PlayStation 2. The Graphics Synthesizer is a parallel rendering engine containing a 2,560-bit wide data bus that is 20 times the size of the leading PC-based accelerators. The Graphics Synthesizer is able to achieve a high level of performance through the use of embedded DRAM (Direct Rambus) process technology. The Graphics Synthesizer also features a 48-gigabyte memory access bandwidth. This was created through the integration of the pixel logic and video memory on a single chip.

The PlayStation 2's Graphics Synthesizer is capable of processing 75 million polygons per second. Even with the use of more complex graphics features like Z buffering, textures, lighting and alpha blending (or transparency), the Graphics Synthesizer is still capable of outputtng a sustained rate of 20 million polygons per second. Sega's Dreamcast console is only capable of producing around 6 million polygons per second and the original PlayStation is capable of producing 300,000. The PlayStation 2 features 32MB of main memory as well as 4MB of embedded VRAM for graphics.

While the original PlayStation has a pixel fill-rate of 66 MegaPixels per second, the PlayStation 2 has a rate of 2,400 MegaPixels per second. According to SCE, this equals about three times the performance of the top-of-the-line Silicon Graphics Infinite Reality Engine 2. According to Phil Harrison, Vice President of Third Party Relations and Research and Development for Sony Computer Entertainment America, this is close to 20 times the performance of the Power VR (the technology that is the basis for the Dreamcast).

The PlayStation 2 system is backward compatible the more than 3,000 original PlayStation games available worldwide. The new system's I/O (Input/Output) Processor (which is manufactured by LSI Logic) uses a 32-bit core that is nearly identical to the original's. LSI Logic's I/O Processor contains a greater cache memory and a new memory architecture that results in an increase in the speed data is transferred by nearly four times over the original PlayStation console. Next-generation software, however, is not compatible with the original PlayStation system. Peripherals that were manufactured for the original PlayStation are also backward compatible on PlayStation 2.

Sony has incorporated DVD-ROM technology into the PlayStation 2 so that the system can run significantly larger game programs. A single DVD can hold more than 15 times the amount of information as a CD-ROM. SCE says that the storage potential that DVD-ROMs offer will be more fully utilized later in the system's life, however, and that CD-ROMs are appropriate for most current applications. The PlayStation 2's DVD drive additionally has the capability to play DVD movies, audio CDs and CD-ROM formatted discs.

The sound chip for the PlayStation 2 is a 48-channel synthesizer that possesses DAT quality variable playback up to 48KHz. The sound processor accommodates multi-channel 3D digital sound technologies such as Dolby Digital (AC-3) and DTS.

The PlayStation 2 contains several features that can be found on current home computer systems like a Universal Serial Bus interface, a PCMCIA port and an IEEE 1394 link (also called FireWire) to communicate with controllers. The inclusion of these interfaces means that the PlayStation 2 will be able to connect to a wide variety of peripherals like keyboards and even digital cameras. Sony decided against equipping the PlayStation with an on-board modem as Sega did with the Dreamcast, and the company planned on revealing its online plans in 2001.

Sony released the PlayStation 2 at a crucial time, beating other highly anticipated next-generation systems from Nintendo (Gamecube) and Microsoft (Xbox) to store shelves. Though Sony has equipped its next generation console with an impressive set of technical specifications, game quality and selection will ultimately decide the fate of PlayStation 2.