|Sony Playstation 2|
|Home Theater Accessories Game Systems|
|Written by Bryan Dailey|
|Sunday, 01 April 2001|
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Fueled by a strategic game of supply and demand, Sony’s eagerly anticipated Playstation 2 became the latest "must have" item for consumers this past holiday season. Sony smashed sales records, rapidly selling their first batch of systems in a matter of days. Store shelves have remained essentially void of Playstation 2’s through March 2001. Sony claimed that they could not keep up with the demand for the system, but many people in the gaming industry feel that this was not really the case. By releasing only a relatively small number of the machines, Sony pulled a PR stunt that was more powerful than any ad campaign could have ever been. Holiday shoppers who had to have the hottest gaming system on the market were paying as much as $2,000 for the Playstation 2 on eBay.com. This astronomical figure is nearly seven times the $299 that the system currently sells for in stores. Now that the hype has died down and it is possible for most consumers to pick up one of these units, it’s time to find out if the Playstation 2 really lives up to all of the hype that has preceded it.
Sony entered the video game world in September of 1994 with the first-generation Playstation at a time when its major competition was Nintendo’s N64 and Sega’s Saturn. The initial knock against Sony’s machine was the fact that the game system was CD-ROM-based. This meant that there was a substantial delay when beginning games because the system had to load the game information into its memory. Nintendo’s N64 was cartridge-based and therefore its load time was virtually zero, because information was being read directly off the chips in the cartridge. The downside of a cartridge-based machine was that the cartridges averaged $15 to $20 more per game, based on the need for raw materials such as circuit boards, microchips and plastic casings. This fact alone gave Sony an advantage over Nintendo and helped convert more gamers to Sony’s machine. At the same time, Sega was having its own problems with slow sales of the now defunct 32-bit Saturn system. This gave Sony the opportunity to move into the top slot in the video game world. Video game system and software sales are reportedly over 40 percent of Sony’s yearly revenue and they are betting on the Playstation 2 in a big way.
The Playstation 2 is a small, black, rectangular box that can either be laid flat on the rubber feet built onto the bottom of the machine or set into a triangular blue base (sold separately) that allows the user to stand it up on its side. A blue horizontal stand is available as well. The disc loading mechanism is built so that the disc will not be able to fall out when the Playstation is in the vertical position, but it’s important to be sure that the disc is properly situated before closing the tray. Unfortunately, the power switch for the machine is in an inconvenient place, just above the power cord on the back, so you will need to keep the unit in a place where you will have access to the back panel. This makes rackmounting the Playstation 2 on a shelf a bit awkward.
The Playstation 2 is much more retro-looking then what I would have expected from something that is being heralded by Sony as the latest and greatest video game machine ever. For those of you hardcore video game fans out there, the look and shape is a bit reminiscent of a black Intellivsion 2. The top is perfectly flat, with a large PS2 logo in purple and blue, and the edges of the unit have ridges with little vents that look like heat sinks. The machine never becomes hot to the touch, so this design serves the Playstation 2 well.
Like almost all video game systems, the Playstation 2 comes with only one game controller, Sony’s Dualshock 2, which features more buttons than you’ll know what to do with and an internal motor that vibrates during game play to correspond with the onscreen action. When playing Madden 2001 football (EA Sports), big tackles result in big vibes from the controller. It’s a bit cheesy, but other systems require the addition of "rumble packs" that are sold separately to get the same result. At least with the Dualshock 2 controller, you don’t have to go out of your way to pay extra for this tactile experience. Of course, if you have friends or relatives who want to join in the fun, it will cost you around $35 for an extra controller. Most of the sports games on the Playstation 2 are muilti-tap compatible, meaning you can buy one or two mulit-tap units for about $35 each and can add as many as seven additional controllers to have a huge eight-player orgy of gaming fun. Doing some quick math, you are looking at $315 plus tax, not including the system and the game itself, to get an eight-player game going on the Playstation 2. The important thing to remember is that the fun you can have with a four-on-four game of NHL 2001 (EA Sports) hockey really is, as the Mastercard commercial says, "priceless."
The system also comes with an AC power cord, a Euro-AV connector plug (in case you get a hankering to play your Playstation 2 in Paris), an integrated AC cable, the instruction manual and a disc with various game demos. Other accessories like memory cards for saving games and an S-video adapter can be purchased separately. Does the system come with any games? Nope, there’s no free equivalent Duck Hunt or Super Mario Brothers, the games Nintendo used to hook gamers up. Profit margins are so low on these systems that they are forcing people to have to buy games along with the system from the get-go or suffer the pain of opening up the box and having nothing to play on it.
Playstation 2 versus Sega’s Dreamcast
The Playstation 2 is a little larger and less modern-looking that its main competitor, Sega’s Dreamcast ($119), but inside where it counts, the Playstation is quite a bit more advanced. Until Microsoft releases its controversial X Box game machine and Nintendo brings out its Game Cube system, the Dreamcast is the benchmark that the Playstation 2 is being measured against. Both machines feature 128-bit processors, but the Playstation 2 runs at a higher system clock frequency. The Playstation 2 hums along at 294.912 MHz, with a 128-bit Emotion Engine created by Sony and Toshiba, while the slightly slower Dreamcast features a 128-bit Hitachi-built SH-4 engine that runs at 200 MHz. What does this mean to gamers in real terms? The Playstation 2 is capable of calculating 500 million instructions per second, whereas the Dreamcast can only handle 360 million calculations per second. Both are light-years ahead of Pac Man on the Atari 2600, but when it comes down to sheer gaming power, the Playstation 2 simply has more horsepower under the hood. It also has a significant edge over the Dreamcast in terms of memory. The Playstation 2 has 32 megabytes of RD-RAM, compared to 16 megabytes for the Dreamcast. The Playstation 2 also features two megabytes of memory for sound handling capability and four megabytes of video memory. The only area where the Dreamcast is beefier is in video memory, where it has twice as much as the Playstation 2. In a side by side comparison of similar games, the Playstation 2 seemed to feature more complex and detailed textures in the game’s characters and backgrounds, but the Dreamcast featured video sequences and moving camera sequences that were a bit smoother. Surely the extra video memory gives the Dreamcast the edge here.
The Playstation 2 features USB and I-link inputs on the front panel and an expansion bay to accommodate future expansion modules and/or computer devices that Sony has in the works for the system. One item that it does lack that I would have liked to seen is an internal modem. Sega’s Dreamcast features a 56k modem that allows users to dial into Sega’s game network and play against players from all over the world. I have tried the modem on my Dreamcast using my own personal Internet service provider and found that using the game network was simple to do and added a layer of depth to the system that the Playstation 2 just does not have at this point.