Sony unleashes PlayStation 2

Today, Sony will finally unveil its long-awaited PlayStation 2 (PS2) video game console in the United States, although component-supply problems threaten to undercut the hype generated in the weeks leading up to today's release. The PS2 features a 300MHz 128-bit microprocessor, 32MB RAM, and 4MB of video RAM, along with several other PC-like features and a DVD drive. Marketed as a versatile and expandable consumer electronics device as well as a video game, the PS2 follows on the heels of the original PlayStation, which in the late 1990s quickly overtook industry titans Sega and Nintendo. All in all, it's hard to judge whether the PS2 will make a huge splash or barely a ripple this holiday season, although it's clear that Sony will probably sell every unit it can make.

Sony's problems began in late September, when the company announced that component shortages had forced it to scale back its initial US shipment from 1 million units to 500,000 units. And although the company says that it will ship 100,000 PS2s every week between now and the end of the year, gamers have already started to reevaluate their plans for this holiday season, leaving Sega's Dreamcast as the obvious benefactor. The Dreamcast, which Sega released late last year, features powerful 3-D graphics (like the PS2), and its Internet play features are already in place and working (unlike the PS2). Sega says it's happy to meet the demand created by disappointed Sony customers, and the company has already cut the Dreamcast's price to $150--half the cost of a PS2.

Sony also has the X factor to worry about: Microsoft's Xbox. Seemingly designed to outclass the PS2 in virtually every category, the Xbox features a PC-like design and a much simpler programming environment, according to developers. Sony's yearlong headstart over the Xbox would usually be good news, but the console's rough start in the United States might cause some gamers to put off any major purchases until fall 2001. If that happens, Xbox might be able to pull ahead.

In the meantime, Sony is moving forward with a variety of hardware add-ons and third-party entertainment titles. In addition to playing older PlayStation titles, new PS2 games, and DVD movies, the PS2 is expandable via its USB and IEEE-1394 (iLink/FireWire) ports, and the company will eventually release hard disks and broadband Internet access connections for the system. In this way, Sony has created a new type of consumer electronics product that melds the PC world with home entertainment. In the end, the PS2's success might very well rest in its ability to straddle these two worlds, as the historically fickle hardcore gaming audience will likely move on to the next big thing--the Xbox, in this case, or even Nintendo's next-generation cube console

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