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Old June 26th, 2003, 02:26 PM   #1
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PS3 -- The New Computer Platform of 21st Century -- Part 1

PlayStation: Evolve, Multiply, Conquer

Anyone who has been watching Sony's ambitions in the games market, since the death of its SNES CD drive collaboration with Nintendo spawned the PlayStation project, will know one thing - this is no idle dabbling in a new marketplace for the Japanese giant, and never was. Sony clearly sees the games market as a stepping stone to dominance of the home entertainment sector, and in keeping with the approach of many Japanese companies, it has a long-term gameplan for its PlayStation brand and technology.

Another Japanese corporate trait which Sony displays very clearly - and frustratingly for commentators - is that of playing its cards close to its chest, and peering into the company's future plans is a task that involves a lot of educated guessing (and judging from some of the commentary on the web, uneducated guessing) and, where that fails, simple speculation.

This week, however, Sony chose to show us a few of its cards at a press conference in Tokyo, where the company announced a new consumer product - the PSX - and gave us further insight into plans for its upcoming handheld platform, the PlayStation Portable. The recently promoted SCE boss, Ken Kutaragi, unveiled the most solid indicator yet of where Sony's business as a whole is going over the next decade, as the company's plans gradually focus in on the PlayStation brand, and various technology strands - ranging from minidisks, PDAs and microprocessors to Blu-Ray media technology and Memory Stick solid state storage - converge.

It says a lot about Sony that Ken Kutaragi is considered by many to be an obvious future candidate for the top job at the company. Sony's ambitious vision of the future is all about electronic entertainment and gaming is the core part of that vision - and, ironically enough, may be the catalyst which drives Sony to become the Microsoft of the early 21st century.

PSX - Sony's Stealth Console

"The 'X' in PSX refers to the 'crossover' of games and electronics," explained Kutaragi at this week's unveiling of the new device, "but it also stands for 'extraordinary'". The man certainly has a flair for hyperbole (remember when playing on a PS2 was going to be just like jacking into the Matrix?), but considering what he was announcing, we're actually in agreement. PSX is extraordinary, not because of the hardware itself, but because of its importance to the PlayStation "roadmap" and because of the ambition it reveals.

It's tempting, though, to write PSX off as being not a lot more than the PlayStation 2 equivalent of Panasonic's Q - a games console in a shiny silver box with some added media functionality. After all, there's nothing in this device which isn't available on the shelves of electronics retailers in Akihabara already - TiVo style hard drive video recorders are hardly rare, standalone DVD burners are gradually dropping in price and becoming more widely available, and the PlayStation 2 is practically ubiquitous.

However, the integration of all of those devices into a single box is an important step for Sony, and the fact that the company has chosen to stick with a variation of the PlayStation brand for the product is a clear indication of where the brand is being led. Over a quarter of a century ago, Bill Gates stated that Microsoft's aim was to put "a PC on every desktop and in every home"; Sony's aim now is to put a PlayStation at the heart of every living room and in every pocket.

A key element of that aim is making PlayStation more acceptable to the world at large. The PlayStation 2 is hardly a thing of beauty ("Darth Vader's toaster" remains our favourite description of the hardware) but it's fine in the context of a bachelor pad, a teenager's bedroom or hidden away in a cupboard under the television of a family living room. In order to achieve mass market acceptance, though, that's not enough. The design conscious must be on board - and crucially, that includes the female sector.

You can be sure that that's a core part of the reasoning behind PSX - and it's why it's already been dubbed as a "stealth console" in gaming circles. With an understated silver finish, a sleek front panel, a slot loading mechanism and all the ugly ports hidden away around the back (including even the joypad ports), it doesn't look like a console - it looks like the best looking DVD player that money can buy.

PSX will bring the PlayStation out of the bedroom or the den, and into the living room - right where Sony wants it. With the installed base of the PlayStation 2 hovering in the 50 million range at the moment, the "serious" gaming credentials of the platform are firmly established; Sony is free to start bringing the words "PlayStation" to the lips of the vital mass market sector that PSX aims squarely for, secure in the knowledge that its reputation among the core gaming demographic is unassailable.

Of course, that's not all there is to PSX. "The PSX will be more than just a PS2 compatible," Kutaragi told the audience in Tokyo earlier this week. "I think it has the power to change the way you see all digital appliances."

Hyperbole at work again, naturally, but there's no doubt that the media centre capabilities of the system easily match any other selection of devices you might care to wire up under your television. It's a world-class product which will be high on many wishlists both in Japan and overseas this Christmas, and it's a clever move to associate the PlayStation name with it.

It's also a step in the direction of making PlayStation into more than just a gaming device. The SCPH-50000 revision of the PS2, announced earlier this month, added more advanced DVD playback to the console, but the PSX elevates this approach to a whole new level, confirming completely the conclusions of commentators who have seen the PlayStation as a pitch into the general home entertainment market from the outset.

With a PSX under your television, the PlayStation isn't just something you turn on to play a game any more; it's what you turn on to watch TV or look at TV listings, to record your favourite programmes, to watch movies, to listen to music or - potentially - to download new media over a broadband connection. That's a compelling proposition, and a vision of exactly where Sony plans to go with the PS3 - or at least, with PS3 compatible devices, if not with the core console itself.

Microsoft, of course, has the same plan - and it could be argued that Microsoft was only spurred into entering the console market in the first place because it realised where Sony's gameplan was leading, and recognised the threat posed to its own plans to dominate the home media space. However, the PSX completely leapfrogs the media capabilities of the Xbox, even if it is a device aimed at quite a different market - and more importantly, it shows just how good Sony are at that particular part of the game, sending a clear shot over Microsoft's bows ahead of the inevitable showdown between Xbox 2 and PS3.

Sony is reminding us that it was making incredibly desirable pieces of consumer electronics which people paid through the nose to put into their living rooms when Bill Gates was still thinking it might not be a bad idea to learn how to program computers. The game isn't quite that simple, but it's a powerful message nonetheless.

PlayStation Portable - The New Walkman?

The PlayStation Portable is gradually being revealed as a far more complex and interesting beast than the handheld console we all took it for at E3. If the PSX is a stealth device designed to bring the PlayStation brand into living rooms it has previously been unable to penetrate, the PSP is no less a stealth console - designed to sit neatly in the pockets of people who wouldn't even consider carrying a GBA SP or an N-Gage.

Originally introduced by Ken Kutaragi as the "Walkman for the 21st century", the PSP appears to be exactly that - not so much a portable games console, as a media centre in your pocket, and perhaps more importantly, a satellite of the main PlayStation media centre which resides in your living room.

Like the PSX, the PSP integrates a selection of technologies drawn from across Sony's consumer electronics division into a single device. Technology, and experience developed over years of working on portable music players, solid state memory, miniature optical media, PDA devices and secure digital distribution systems, are being combined in a single product which, if not exactly a culmination of those efforts, is certainly a major milestone on the roadmap.

The PSP is a music player, a movie player and a game player - with Sony seemingly keen to emphasise that it's all three of those things simultaneously, rather than a games console that happens to play back music and video files. Once again, we see the same approach being adopted here as with the PSX - your PlayStation Portable isn't just the system you turn on to play a videogame on the move, it's what you carry around to listen to music or watch video on the train, and possibly even to perform basic PDA functions. PlayStation becomes synonymous with all kinds of electronic media, rather than just games - exactly where Sony wants to position the name.
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Old July 6th, 2004, 08:30 PM   #2
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Can you find out if the psp will be able to be used as an external monitor? I think everyone in this forum would be all over it!
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Old July 6th, 2004, 09:32 PM   #3
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His post is over a year old, don't expect a response.
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Old July 27th, 2004, 04:39 PM   #4
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Sony's only bad decision is making the PSP a media player using only their own proprietary discs. How many of you have an MD player and bought pre-recorded MiniDiscs? Unless you can use the PSP to burn media you already own onto Sony's propreitary discs (UMD?), or they become the industry norm for music, movies, and video games, it will not be the next gen walkman. (and if they did let you burn media to the discs, their whole game library will be pirated very quickly)...sounds lose/lose to me. Of course I'm sure they'll say you could put media on a Sony MediastickPro, or whatever new non-compatible flash iteration they're up to when the PSP comes out.
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