Well, what was once vaporware is now upon us. And it is quite beautiful.

Playstation 2 Specs CPU: 128 Bit "Emotion Engine"

  • System Clock: 300 MHz
  • System Memory: 32 MB Direct Rambus
  • Memory Bus Bandwidth: 3.2 GB per second
  • Co-Processor: FPU (Floating Point Multiply Accumulator x 1, Floating Point Divider x 1)
  • Vector Units: VU0 and VU1 (Floating Point Multiply Accumulator x 9, Floating Point Divider x 1)
  • Floating Point Performance: 6.2 GFLOPS
  • 3D CG Geometric Transformation: 66 million Polygons Per Second
  • Compressed Image Decoder: MPEG2

    Graphics: "Graphics Synthesizer"

  • Clock Frequency: 150MHz
  • DRAM Bus bandwidth: 48 GB Per Second
  • DRAM Bus width: 256 bits
  • Pixel Configuration: RGB:Alpha:Z Buffer (24:8:32)
  • Maximum Polygon Rate: 75 Million Polygons Per Second

    Sound: "SPU2+CPU"

  • Number of voices: ADPCM: 48 channel on SPU2 plus definable by software
  • Sampling Frequency: 44.1 KHz or 48 KHz (selectable)

    I/O Processor

  • CPU Core: Current PlayStation CPU
  • Clock Frequency: 33.8 MHz or 37.5 MHz (selectable)
  • Sub Bus: 32 Bit
  • Interface Types: IEEE1394, Universal Serial Bus (USB)
  • Communication via PC-Card PCMCIA

    Disc Media: DVD-ROM (CDROM compatible)

Sony's new games console - although don't let them hear you call it that. The Playstation 2 is their main contender for the upcoming battle to win consumer's living rooms, which they hope will give them a stranglehold over the services people use with broadband internet access, and DVD. Some have described it as a "Trojan Horse" because of Sony's lofty rumoured plans for it. It was originally unveiled (after a fashion) last year with excessive fanfare and hype. Sony's main selling point is that the machine has a significantly faster CPU. They couched this in risible marketing speak, dubbing the chip an "Emotion Engine" while neatly ignoring the fact that the PS2 lacks many graphical features that PC games take for granted.

In the machine's favour, it is very fast, and Sony hope that the ridiculous fill-rate will help developers prop up its weak feature set with clever software routines. Whether developers will invest the time and money to do this, especially in the light of horror stories about the somewhat lacking development environment, is another matter. It also includes hardware DVD playback. There is room for expansion with networking and storage components as well.

There are many beefs that I have with this machine. Bear in mind that they are in some cases rather subjective, and there are very few that would actually prevent the enjoyment of a good, well-written game on the platform (should any appear).

First up is the ugly design. I don't know if it's a deliberate reaction against Apple's crazy idea of making consumer electronics aesthetically pleasing, but there are three things I do know : It's very big, It's very (Amstrad) ugly, and it's very cheaply made (the CD tray in particular being worryingly flimsy). Time will tell if the hardware limitations described above cripple the machine, but the games I have seen so far have all used a hideously low resolution mode with massive jaggies. Metal Gear Solid 2, while it looks like a very nicely designed game, is already buckling to these limitations - low-poly models, sparse textures and jaggies everyewhere. How can Sony describe this machine as even technically competent, let alone revolutionary?

The European launch of the machine has been widely criticised as being something of a dog's dinner, with Sony's pre-order scheme (devised solely for the purposes of hype) backfiring spectacularly, with the machine being repeatedly delayed, and numbers slashed to under 200,000 for the whole continent. Sony tried to dictate their terms to retailers (for instance an almost non-existent profit margin forcing many stores to bundle 3 or more games with the machine just to break even), while further damaging relations with them by setting up an online retail channel.

To prove that they really know about industrial-strength greed, they even bundled a version of BASIC with the machine to have it classified as a computer rather than a console, and reduce their import duty.

By way of comparison, Sega offer their Dreamcast console (which is technically slightly inferior, but has more texture memory to spruce up games - allowing, for instance, a full-detail version of Quake 3 Arena) along with a bunch of titles and a seperate, non-regioned DVD player for the same price as the gameless, regioned PS2. However, marketing will still likely win the day for the Sony camp, at least for now.

Basically, this episode has indicated that Sony Computer Entertainment have adopted Atari's attitude from the early 80's along with their business practices. Arrogance and complacency will likely prevent the machine from dominating in the same way as its largely competition-less predecessor. I for one will be sticking with my PC as the primary games platform, and waiting to see what Nintendo have to offer next year. If Sony's total lack of commitment to software quality control continues, they're long overdue for a bit of a backlash.

Update, Feb 2002

OK, the Playstation 2 is not as evil as I originally made out. Although it is definitely lacking some technical refinement (the resolution and lack of texture memory being most apparent, but Sony argue that the memory is set up to act as a streaming buffer rather than a conventional static repository of textures), and Sony were very slow to lower the price to a reasonable level, it has sold like hot cakes and now has a few excellent titles in its library.

Of course, having three main consoles to choose from means that it isn't going to be the natural choice for everyone, but Sony were quite canny picking the right time for once to bring the machine out. (Timing can make or break a machine.) In effect, the machine is a continuation of the PSX, catering for the wider market by cutting some corners. I never bought a PSX because it established itself as the 'only' choice but didn't cater for all genres. (Plus it was graphically shite.) The PS2 might have the same problem, but at least now there are viable alternatives with decent third party support.

This write-up is a serious warning about Playstation 2.

There's a major PS2 defect absent from nuage's specs and fondue's marketing history:

Your Playstation 2 has a serious chance of dying in 6-12 months.

Mine did. So I went to several different electronics stores and spoke with several different employees, and the word was unanimous:

Playstation 2 is a highly degenerative piece of shit.

This is how it goes:

You want a Playstation 2. Maybe you owned an original Playstation and liked both its games and durability1. Maybe it’s the allure of PS2 games, like the online-playable Madden 2003, or the PS2-only Grand Theft Auto III (and Vice City). Maybe you like the idea of having a single machine that plays DVDs, CDs, and kick-ass video games. Or maybe it's because Xbox's controllers fit the human hand like a black iron chastity belt. Whatever your flavor, you want a Playstation 2.

So you buy one, and this is what happens:

You take it home, hook it up and play some Madden. Cool. It works. Then you get really ambitious. You dim the lights, pull down the shades, and grab the hand lotion and your favorite Tera Patrick DVD and get ready to take the term PLAYSTATION to a whole new level. But something happens.

Disk Read Error

Eh? So it doesn't read every single DVD. Whatever, nothing's perfect. So you pop in a Jenna Jameson favorite instead.

Disk Read Error

Ok. The porn industry isn't exactly known for its technical quality, so you pop in a high quality studio release. Let's say a remastered version of Cinderella.

Disk Read Error

What the fuck? After going through your entire DVD collection, you discover your PS2 only reads around 33% of your movies, and half of those freeze while playing.

Ok, so it's not the most reliable DVD player. Haha Sony! You pulled one on me. It still plays great games, and that's what you bought it for, right?

Three to six months pass, and more importantly SONY'S 90-DAY WARRANTY EXPIRES. During that time your beloved PS2 starts having troubles recognizing certain games, displaying the dreaded

Disk Read Error

several times before it finally recognizes a disk. But once it recognizes it, the game plays without error. And besides, it only happens with certain games. No big problem, right? It's probably dust. So you buy a dust-cleaning kit and that seems to help for a month or two. But then it still has problems reading games on the first or second try.

Then another month passes, and it only gets worse. Now,

  • No CDs run.

  • No DVDs run.

  • And 90% of your games don't run either.
You get the feeling you've been screwed, and you have. SONY's brief 90-Day warranty is long gone, and they'll charge you over $100 with shipping and handling to fix your PS2, which they'll adamantly claim is broken due to ill care on your part.

The REAL reason it breaks, according to the above mentioned electronics employees, is that the laser-reading devices inside the machine (there's several of them, one for each color/type of disk it reads) are pieces of filth swaddled pigeon shit. They only work for six to twelve months, then slowly degenerate into uselessness.

Now I'm not saying SONY knew this. Who knows, but as fondue mentions above, the PS2 was rushed through development, and I wouldn't be surprised if they overlooked this problem knowing full well that that thing would work perfectly for 90 days. And after that, what do they care?

My advice:


And if you already own one, go to your local electronics depot and find out if they offer some type of in-store warranty. My local store actually lets you trade in your defective PS2 and $120 for a new one with a 1-year in-store warranty. So when the new machine inevitably breaks down, you can bring it in for a brand new one ad infinitum and thereby always have a working PS2 for your already extensive video game library. Look for a deal like this. If you can't find one, buy an Xbox and play Grand Theft Auto on your PC.

1Someone once kicked my Playstation across the room into a wall. The top casing flew off and the disk popped out and shattered into several pieces. But, amazingly, I hooked the Playstation back up and the system continued working without flaw. Those things were tough as nails.

UPDATE 1-8-2003:: From a few scattered msgs and the WU by Monkey Butler, it seems several people think I've taken one isolated, personal account of a faulty PS2 and passed it off as a general problem. That's not the case. There are numerous accounts of this same problem - A steady flow of PS2s get returned to stores and sent to SONY every day. Are all PS2s defective? Obviously not. But I'd be willing to wagar that something like 50% of them break down within a year. So please heed my advice, and buy one with an extended in-store warranty.

A very nice computer, when combined with Linux. Its MIPS CPU may be programmed for using assembly language, or you can use the GCC Sony gives you with the Linux kit.

Incorporates two vector units, one of which is a coprocessor of the main CPU (which is known as the Emotion Engine Core) and the other independent.

Also includes a graphics synthesizer and some very nice buses to tie all the parts together. Also (when the Linux kit is purchased), has an Ethernet card and can thus act as a server.

Sony also provides complete documentation, so if you like to hack, the PS2 is for you!

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