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PlayStation2: This sequel could be a blockbuster
(CNN) -- The usual criticism of movie sequels is that they never quite live up to the original films. That may apply to Hollywood, but when it comes to home video game consoles, each sequel is always better than its predecessor.
PlayStation2 by Sony is no exception. Building on the phenomenal success of the original 64-bit PlayStation (now five years old and showing its age), the new 128-bit PS2 reaches the United States Thursday -- just in time for the holiday season.
But this particular sequel could be one very tough ticket. Sony has had trouble building enough PS2s to satisfy the anticipated demand. The industry scuttlebutt is that the company is having quality-control problems building its cutting-edge Emotion Engine chip, the powerplant that drives the PS2. A very sophisticated chip, the Emotion Engine has more than 10 million transistors and an MPEG-2 video decoder right on board.
The stand-out specs
I won't bombard you with all the technical stuff here, but I do want to mention two specs that really stand out. First, the PS2's sheer number-crunching power. The Emotion Engine can perform 6.2 gigaflops (6.2 billion operations) per second, which is about twice as many as a state-of-the-art personal computer like Apple's top-of-the line G4.
Then there's the PS2's huge memory bus bandwidth, which is more than 3 GB per second. (To put that in context, consider this: To push full-motion, full-screen digital video through a computer only requires about 3 to 4 MB of bandwidth per second. Sony's throughput is nearly 1,000 times that fast.)
You'd expect such a powerful machine to deliver spectacular images rivaling the very best film clips or 3-D animations you've ever seen, and it does. (Video game images are made up of lots of little polygons, and the PS2 can draw 75 million polygons per second). But PlayStation2 is not content to be just a gaming machine. It also wants to be your DVD player, and in the near future, your favorite little home computer.
And why not? The PS2 has built-in USB and FireWire ports, a 24x CD-ROM drive and space for a standard 3.5-inch hard disk (which can be added later). It has a fast Ethernet port that can connect to the Internet through a cable modem or DSL line.
I think it's safe to say that the PS2 is the most powerful computing package ever offered for $299.
It won't run Windows or Mac OS. You'll have to wait for software and "firmware" upgrades before the PS2 can reach its full potential. But when those upgrades come along, you'll have made yourself a pretty sweet deal. For families that have not yet purchased a home PC, or are looking to buy a second PC for the kids, the PS2 seems like a reasonable choice.
How can Sony sell the PS2 so cheap? The company doesn't mind losing money on the consoles if it can make it back -- and then some -- on game sales and extras.
The last PS2 feature I want to mention is that it's backward compatibility. You'll be able to play the 800 or so original PlayStation games on this machine, although they'll look pretty lame next to the new ones. But hey, you spent a lot on those old games -- you don't want to see them become glorified coasters. So hang onto them. Your kids will remember them with great nostalgia 30 years -- and a few more sequels -- from now.
Good luck getting it
So now that your appetite is whetted, you're wondering, "How do I get my hands on one?"
The answer is, by either (a) getting very lucky, (b) standing in a LONG line, or (c) hoping Santa Claus is very good to you this year, because he might be the only guy you know who can get his hands on one before 2001.
Instead of having a million or so units available for Thursday's launch date (even that many would probably have been far too few), Sony has reduced its promised allotment to 500,000 units. Most of those, if not nearly all of them, will go to people who have already pre-ordered and pre-paid for them. In fact, a number of retailers have even stopped taking orders because they're not sure when they'll be able to deliver.
Sony says it will ship an additional 100,000 units a week to U.S. retailers from Thursday through Christmas week, but that still won't be close to an adequate supply.
Some conspiracy-buff types have been trying to sell me on the idea that since a shortage will only increase the "gotta have it" buzz surrounding the PS2 (and therefore increase demand), Sony is holding back on purpose. I don't buy it. Sony doesn't need to hype this product. The demand is already there. You could see that in Japan on March 4, when TV newscasts all over the country led with stories of the tens of thousands of people who stood in line to try to get their hands on a PlayStation2 (and it cost $100 more there than it will here).
For those of you who are wondering about those games, Sony promises to have 33 titles available by Thursday's PS2 release date, and another 63 by March 1, 2001. That's a lot more than were available at the launch of Sega Dreamcast, which is the only other 128-bit console on the market and PS2's main competitor right now. Nintendo and Microsoft plan to offer up more competition in a year or so, when they roll out their 128-bit consoles.
Sony's PS One powers up
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