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With the huge success of the original Playstation console, it was inevitable that Sony would capitalise on its success and produce a successor to take the gaming community into the next generation of consoles. The likes of Sega pulling out of the race, with their failed Dreamcast machine, and with Nintendo's 64 console restricting their market to a cartridge based box meant that the Playstation 2 and it's DVD based setup looked to be a certain hit from the outset. All this may be well and good but it can only become a reality to the bean counters when the product is actually out on the market and selling well. The PS2 has now entrenched itself as 'the' console of choice for 2001. It's newly developed emotion chip engine provides developers with the freedom to really let their imagination run wild in their games and produce the most stunning imagery seen on a console to date. Also adding to its appeal is the DVD transport, not yet found on any other console, that allows developers to utilise the increased storage capacity of DVD to produce film-like cut-scenes, store acres of gaming information and allow playback of movies on DVD.
Cosmetics & Features
If you're going to sit at the front of the class then you need all the right credentials. The PS2 sports all the main interfaces that the geeks of the Earth crave for. The standard AV connection port can be used to produce your standard stereo soundtrack as well as provide a composite, s-video and component connection to the display device of your choice. Added to this is an optical digital audio output for connection directly to a decoder/receiver to decode your Dolby Digital, DTS, Linear PCM or MPEG bit stream. On the front, the PS2 now provides 2 USB ports for connecting the latest generation of peripherals.
The design of the box allows it to be positioned horizontally or vertically with the PS logo on the drive bay moving accordingly. The black box design with the grooved lines on the front seem like something out of Aliens and the respective simple LED lighting on power/reset & eject buttons provide an ever so subtle enhancement to its look. The DVD tray has a few catches so when it is in its vertical position, the disc won't fall out. The use of a fan to cool the innards down seems to work well as hours of constant use reveal a box that is still as cool as the room its in.
In terms of its software capabilities, the PS2 now has support for true 16:9 anamorphic gaming. Those games that support this feature will provide a much more pleasing and detailed image on the respective widescreen display. This is most likely a by-product of what is needed for DVD compatibility and must-have feature at that.
Performance & DVD Playback
The original Playstation boasted 3D graphics to revolutionise the console industry. Back then, the graphics were a sight to behold; today, they look pretty ordinary. The Playstation 2 takes graphics to a new level this time around. A new onboard RISC processor, emotion engine and graphic synthesizer processor means that this little machine outperforms some of the most powerful graphics computers out there and it is doing so in realtime.
Games such as the recently released Gran Turismo 3 are the perfect example of just how good the machine can be in producing truly lifelike imagery within a game. The fluid motion of the gameplay is like nothing seen before on a home console and with the ability to add a USB based steering wheel to the arsenal of controllers, the game play improves even further. Also look out for Time Crisis II with the new USB light gun to also help your controller collection grow.
Those of you thinking that you'll have to offload your old Playstation games in favor of the newer ones can think again. The PS2 will happily play your old 'original' games with some ever so slightly improved graphics and rendering.
With the release of the new Playstation 2 remote, watching movies has become even easier. Included in the pack is the remote, an infrared receiver that plugs into either of the controller ports on the PS2 and a CD with the latest 2.10 firmware. This firmware requires a memory card as it stores some 2.5MB of information directly onto the memory card. Removing the card will make the PS2 revert to its old onboard firmware revision. With the price of 8MB memory cards these days, 2.5MB is a big chunk of much needed save-game space.
The remote itself is a slim line little model with a nice light feel to it. There is not much in the way of ergonomic layout with the buttons with the top half being more DVD oriented with the standard numbered keypad and your audio/subtitle/angle buttons and the bottom half built up of the buttons found on the dual shock controller itself, down to the L1/R1 to L3/R3 buttons and your select and start. What is missing though is a power button and an eject button as is now common on other remotes.
The playback quality of the PS2 is pretty exceptional given that this is an added feature of the machine and not it's primary focus. Watching a DVD with the Playstation, you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching a very good DVD player doing all the work for you and the added control of the remote also lends itself toward the impression of a proper stand-alone system. Everything about the setup is what you would expect from a DVD player. The only gripe here is that when setting the PS2 to down-convert an anamorphic image to letterbox for a standard 4:3 television, the down-conversion introduces some stair stepping and jaggies known as aliasing. With most other Sony DVD players, this 'characteristic' is not present. This is yet another excuse for you to buy that widescreen TV you have always wanted.
At its release, the PS2 had a hefty £300 price point attached to it (I paid that much!!), putting it into the reach of only the true die-hard gaming junkies. When Christmas approached fast and the GT3 phenomenon driving sales through the roof, it was inevitable for the price to drop and now to an all time low of £149. I wouldn't be surprised if it dropped any further and with the capabilities of this system, a bargain can be had at any of these price points.