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PlayStation 2 Signals New Video-Game Era

December 3, 1999

Sony will up the ante in March 2000 with its new PlayStation. (Sony Computer Entertainment Inc.)

The Tokyo Game Show, a festival of video-game mania, is held every spring and fall. Attracted by the launch of revolutionary new game consoles, a record 160,000 people flocked to the fall 1999 show, held at Makuhari Messe in the city of Chiba from September 17.

Game consoles are no longer considered toys; they are now classed as "home information technology devices." Although the show gave every manufacturer a chance to show off their latest models, garnering particular attention was Sony Computer Entertainment's PlayStation 2, hailed as the next generation in game machines.

Those who were lucky enough to try out PS2, which will go on sale in March 2000, were unanimous in their verdict: This is no ordinary game console. PS2 is destined to tear down in one fell swoop the barrier between video games and other home entertainment products, such as stereos and TVs.

Home Entertainment Revolution?
The extent of PS2's capabilities and just how different it is become apparent when it is compared to current game consoles. The heart of any game machine is its CPU. The current PlayStation has a 32-bit CPU; PS2's is 128-bit, similar to some supercomputers. On top of faster data processing, PS2 also boasts high-resolution graphics on a par with those seen in the latest arcade video games. It supports both CD-ROMs and DVDs. In other words, it is not just for games--you can watch movies and other DVDs, too. What is more, with a PC card slot, you are not restricted to buying software sold in boxes--you will eventually be able to download games and movies through a telephone line. In fact, Sony says that from 2001 it plans to distribute game software through cable TV wires, and after that to extend this system to movies and music.

To help break down the wall between game machines and home electronics, the development of new software will also be speeded up. Not many people would see the value in using PS2 as a DVD player, for example, if there were few DVD titles available. Indeed the DVD player itself, touted as the next big thing in home entertainment when it was launched four years ago, has suffered from just such a lack of software, and sales figures remain stuck below 600,000 units. In the game market, too, unless there is good software available speed and high-resolution graphics cannot guarantee success. Competition among software makers will therefore also become increasingly fierce. A price tag of 39,000 yen (390 dollars at 100 yen to the dollar), while the same as PlayStation when it first came out, makes PS2 a little on the expensive side for today's game consoles. If Sony wants to sell PS2s sold, then good software is a must.

Sony's Sequel Faces Stiff Competition
The release of PS2 will take what is known as the Game Wars to a new level. At the moment it is a three-way battle between Sony, Nintendo, and Sega (with its Dreamcast), with PlayStation currently on top. Some 60 million PlayStations have been sold worldwide, 16 million in Japan alone. Dreamcast was the first of the next-generation consoles, but even with a modem that enables users to browse the Web and exchange e-mail, it has not really taken off, and Sega will want to use forthcoming big-name software releases to boost sales. Nintendo, in partnership with Matsushita Electric Industrial, also plans to launch a new game console with DVD capability next year.

Competition between these companies to create the best, most versatile machine is inevitable. Software giant Microsoft is, moreover, rumored to be preparing to enter the Game Wars, which until now have been the exclusive realm of the three big Japanese manufacturers. For game fans the task of picking the right machine may be tough, but it can also be fun. For the makers, however, now also facing competition from manufacturers of audiovisual equipment, there is no doubt that the going is about to get a lot tougher.

Trends in JapanEdited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.