First Look: Sony's PlayStation 2

Sparks fly when a car's undercarriage scrapes the concrete. Strands of a character's hair blow in the wind. Sun reflects off glass. Water ripples. Shadows fall. A train passes over the bridge ahead. And a picture of Mr. T hangs in a hallway (really).

There's plenty of talk, but very few details, about what the PlayStation 2 could become: an Internet appliance, a broadband entertainment center, maybe even a hot plate if the processor runs as warm as rumored (our unit seemed to stay relatively cool).

But with the Japanese release just over a week old, and the United States debut still months away, PC replacement talk (for a machine that lacks a basic modem) is premature.

Here's what the PlayStation 2 is today: an incredible game console that also plays DVD-Video discs and audio CDs.

Breaking the Seal

We get pretty blasé about computers here at PC World, but the PlayStation 2 drew onlookers like free food. We spent about $800 (U.S.) to have an associate in Japan pick up, via auction, the main system (which includes one Dual Shock 2 controller and one 8MB memory card), an additional Dual Shock 2 controller, two games (Ridge Racer V and Street Fighter EX3), and a Japanese DVD version of the movie Armageddon.

We grabbed a television and proceeded quickly with the setup, plugging in the power cord and running a cable from the unit to the television's video/audio inputs--that was it. The unit is smaller than I imagined: It's about the size of a two-slice toaster flipped on its side, and it fit nicely in my in-box. It looks pretty sleek. It sits horizontally or vertically, although the vertical position might not be stable enough for homes with small children or overexcited gamers. A ridge along the bottom of the drive drawer accommodates vertical loading of discs.

Cool hardware details include two USB ports and an I.Link (IEEE 1394) port up front, along with the memory card slots and the reset and eject buttons. In back is a PC Card slot (for a future hard drive, and maybe more), a power switch, and a big, quiet fan to keep that high-revving Emotion Engine CPU cool. The Dual Shock 2 controllers offer pressure-sensitive control, force-feedback, and nice long cords.

Unfortunately, the PlayStation 2 has only two controller ports; to add more you'll need to buy an accessory or sacrifice USB ports. If Sony's plan to link the PlayStation 2 to the Internet comes to pass, a keyboard and mouse may occupy those USB ports. USB lets you daisy-chain devices, but why make playing a four-player game so complicated?

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