Convergence: It's no longer a nebulous industry buzzwordat least not if the DVD-, Universal Serial Bus- and IEEE 1394-equipped sequel to the PlayStation turns out to be half as good as Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. is promising.
During a standing-room-only keynote address Thursday, March 18 at the 1999 Game Developers Conference in San Jose, Calif., Sony demonstrated the future of its immensely popular PlayStation gaming console, euphemistically referred to as the "next-generation PlayStation system" or PSX2.
At the core of the new console is a super-high-performance media-processing subsystem called the Emotion Engine. According to Sony, the Emotion Engine can generate graphics, sound and character behavior so realistic that it will trump anything currently available on any computer system. For example, the Emotion Engine will support a peak drawing rate of 75 million polygons and 150 million particles per second and will pack a 48-channel sound chip capable of handling both AC-3 and DTS. According to Sony, this heavyweight multimedia technology will help "accelerate the convergence of movies, music and computer technology into a new form of digital entertainment."
It's pretty obvious that Sony is gunning for the PC with the PSX2, and not just in interactive media performance: The PSX2 will offer both i.Link (Sony's brand name for IEEE 1394 or FireWire) and USB connections. According to Sony, FireWire devices will be physically compatible with i.Link and vice versa, although specific software drivers will be required to get devices working with the other platform. The new console will also offer a PC Card slot.
"Given that [the PSX2] will support 1394, it could significantly improve the case for vendors to support FireWire," said Greg Galanos, president and chief technical officer of Metrowerks Corp. of Cupertino, Calif., which offers development tools for both the Mac and PlayStation. If the PSX2 does as well as its predecessors, it could add millions of potential buyers of 1394 devices when it ships, he said.
Sony said the PSX2 console will debut in Japan by March 2000. The U.S. and European release won't happen until the following fall. While it was unwilling to comment on the price of the new system, Sony pointed out that it was investing more than $1 billion in new silicon chip development, an expense it wouldn't undertake unless the PSX2 was going to be a volume platform. Sony was also evasive about support for DVD movie playback. While the PSX2 will come equipped with a DVD drive and MPEG-2 decoder, the company has not yet stated whether it will enable users to play DVD movies on the console.
The PSX2 will be able to play current PlayStation titles, although after seeing the graphics capabilities of the new Emotion Engine several developers commented that the life expectancy of current PlayStation gamesand even many PC gameswould be short.
"The architecture is breakthrough in terms of performance and should enable new forms of entertainment" Metrowerks' Galanos said. Those "new forms" will likely include Internet-based games, although Sony wouldn't comment on any specific PSX2 add-on products for connecting to the Internet.