PlayStation 2's Dazzling Graphics Steal Show
A million units sold in a single weekend. Long lines. Government warnings about illegal exports. Sony's hugely hyped PlayStation 2 launched in Japan in March and should arrive stateside this fall. It joins Sega's Dreamcast in the vanguard of new Internet-ready game consoles powerful enough to perform traditional PC functions, including Web browsing. Microsoft plans to join the fray next fall.
The Japanese launch of PlayStation 2 had problems--a bug in some memory cards, another bug that illegally allowed users to play DVDs from other countries. Neither problem is expected to affect the product's U.S. release.
PlayStation 2's slick black exterior looks sharp, but what sets gamers aquiver is the PS2's CPU--the 300-MHz Emotion. With twice the floating-point performance (a type of calculation used heavily in 3D graphics) of a Pentium III-700, the PlayStation can drive 3D games with graphics power unheard of on today's computers--at a fraction of the price. Polygons are the building blocks of 3D games, and the PlayStation 2 pushes them around faster than anything else can (see "Consoles Scream Past PCs").
The early PS2 games--Street Fighter Ex and Ridge Racer V--that we tested on a Japanese unit ran impressively, but not far beyond the level of Sega's Dreamcast. Though PlayStation 2 games far surpass PC games in graphics quality, the actual game play is nothing special. This limitation should change as developers gain familiarity with the system.
DVD playback was on a par with that of a stand-alone DVD player. The PS2 even includes an optical digital connector so you can hook the console up to your stereo for a full DVD audio experience.
Perhaps the most tantalizing aspect of the PlayStation 2 is its potential
for expansion via its USB and high-speed I.Link (Sony's name for IEEE 1394)
ports. No specific products have been announced, but likely additions include
a keyboard, a mouse, a hard drive, and broadband Internet access. Still,
Sega recently announced a $200 rebate for its Dreamcast (PS2's main competitor) for those who sign up for two years of Internet access at $22 a month. Though less powerful than the PS2, the Dreamcast ships with Web browsing software and a built-in 56-kbps modem.
Microsoft's first gaming console, the X-Box, will be based on a modified Windows NT kernel and will ship with PC-like hardware such as a Pentium III-600. The X-Box will also support Internet access and DVD-movie playback. Details are hazier about Nintendo's Dolphin console, also due next fall. If you love games and need only basic Internet tools, your next PC may be a game console.