Let me start by saying that the PlayStation 2 is nothing like its flimsy greyware predecessor, but has taken on a rather solid demeanour reminiscent of good hi-fi equipment. In addition to its 128-bit, 300MHz Emotion Engine central processor with 32MB of expensive RDRAM, the PS2 includes a 4MB 150MHz graphics processor and a 2MB sound device. The drive itself incorporates 4x DVD-ROM player with hardware decoding, which also acts as a 24x CD-ROM drive, and boasts optical-digital output, which means you can hook it up to AC3 and DTS-ready sound systems. The result is that it plays DVD movies with full multi-channel surround sound as well as adding a new aural dimension to the gaming experience.
In addition to the new features, there is one engineering improvement which seasoned PlayStation users will welcome. Most notably, the crappy lid system has been ditched in favour of a more sensible PC-style tray loading drive. There is no longer any lid to knock out of alignment.
Sony sent an evaluation copy of one of its most popular fighting games, Tekken Tag Tournament, designed for the PlayStation 2. After spending an entire weekend bashing the badasses in this game, I can report that PlayStation graphics have gone up another notch in quality and are easily comparable to PC gaming displays. The sound effects are vastly superior to original PlayStation games, especially with the PlayStation 2 hooked up to an external sound system via the optical-digital output. Backward compatibility with older games is not a concern, as the PlayStation2 happily plays games intended for the original, although you shouldn't expect to get full digital sound from these games.
Several manufacturers produce accessories to enhance gameplay, and I tried out a couple. The $129 Thrustmaster Freestyler is an electronic skateboard for the PlayStation, designed to take the weight of large adults (see December's issue, Gadgets, page 172). It has step-on buttons at the front and back of the board, a handheld controller and a piggyback port for an extra standard controller. It is solidly built, smoothly responsive and over the weekend did not groan once under the weight of the stout 130kg skater using it at the time.
As well as an electronic skateboard to ride, it was an added bonus to exercise the PS2 with a purpose-built digital sound system, in the form of the $489 PlayWorks PS2000 Digital. This optically-connected virtual Dolby Digital speaker system is capable of servicing a variety of devices, not least the PlayStation 2.
The two-piece system comprises an unusual-looking dipole design speaker and a monolithic black powered subwoofer. The DiMAGIC VX Virtual Sound Imaging Technology results in a home-theatre audio experience. The sound system ships with its own remote control that, apart from adjusting volume, allows you to switch between different digital effects and sound sources.
The PlayStation 2 tempts with a game console, DVD player and more, for only $749 - a real bargain.
Sony PlayStation 2
Phone: 1800 226 429
Phone: (02) 8303 1818
PlayWorks PS2000 Digital
Supplier: Creative Labs
Phone: (02) 9666 6100