Sony gives PlayStation 2 its first major update

Sony will put an upgraded version of its PlayStation 2 video game on sale in Japan in mid May, the company said Monday. The new machine will be the first major upgrade Sony has made to its hit gaming platform since it first went on sale just over three years ago.

The SCPH-50000 doesn't add much to the gaming experience but it does improve on the unit's ability to work as a DVD player. Whereas the current machine accepts only DVD-Video discs, at least officially, the new console adds support for the DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+R and DVD+RW recordable and rewritable formats. It doesn't support DVD-RAM.

"The current player can read some of those discs but it's not stable," said Yoshiko Furusawa, a spokeswoman for the Tokyo-based company. "We never officially supported them but now we do."

The new console can also output a progressive-scan video image, which should mean a better picture for users with a compatible television. The console is also quieter and the remote controller has been improved with the addition of a power on/off button and eject button -- functions that require a trip from the couch to the console on the current model.

It's not just new features that make the SCH-50000 different from its predecessor. Sony has removed the iLink (also called IEEE1394 or Firewire) connector from the console.

"We took if off," said Furusawa. "The broadband environment has become popular and we think the capabilities that we wanted to use iLink for can be realized for users through the network."

The console will retail for around ¥25,000 (US $207) which is just a little more than the current PlayStation 2 sells for in Japan at present. Furusawa said the company would announce plans for overseas sales as soon as plans had been determined.

Sony's move to add features to the PlayStation 2 comes at a time when Microsoft, one of its two major competitors, is cutting the price of its Xbox console to better compete. Microsoft last week cut its European retail price for the Xbox console by 20 percent.

For its part, Sony has been trying to pump hardware sales through promotions and special edition machines, such as in February this year when it put on sale five versions of the standard console with colored cases rather than a plain black case.

In January the company said production of the PlayStation 2 had hit the 50 million unit mark.

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Martyn Williams

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