PlayStation 2 (PS2) is Sony's second video game
console, after the PlayStation. Its development
was announced in April 1999, and it was first
released in Japan on March 4th 2000. The US version
was released in the United States on October 26th
2000. Following a slow first year, the PlayStation
2 has grown to become the most popular gaming
console of the sixth generation era, with over
89 million units sold.
The PlayStation brand's strength
has lead to strong third-party support for the
system. Among the perceived killer apps on the
machine are the Grand Theft Auto and Final Fantasy
series, the latest two Metal Gear titles, all
three Devil May Cry titles, lastest two Ace Combat
titles, and first-party Sony Computer Entertainment
brands such as the Gran Turismo, SOCOM, Ratchet
& Clank and Jak and Daxter series, Ico and
God of War.
The PS2 can read and play both
compact discs and DVDs, making it backwards compatible
with older PlayStation (PS1) games and allowing
for playback of DVD Video and the more technically
advanced PS2 games on either cheaper, smaller
CD-ROM format or the larger, more expensive DVD-ROM
format. The ability to play DVD movies allowed
consumers to more easily justify the PS2's relatively
high price tag (in October 2000, the MSRP was
$300) as it removed the need to buy an external
DVD player. The PS2 also supports PS1 memory cards
(for PS1 game saves only) and joypads (the PS2's
Dual Shock 2 controller is essentially a slightly
upgraded PS1 Dual Shock).
When it was released, the PS2
had many advanced features that were not present
in other contemporary video game consoles, including
its DVD capabilities and USB and IEEE 1394 expansion
ports. It was not until late 2001 that the Microsoft
Xbox became the second console with (non-standard)
USB and DVD support (this is assuming the Nuon,
an advanced DVD player graphics coprocessor, is
not considered a console).
Support for original PlayStation
games was also an important selling point for
the PS2, letting owners of an older system upgrade
to the PlayStation 2 and keep their old software,
and giving new users access to older games until
a larger library was developed for the new system.
As an added bonus, the PS2 had the ability to
enhance PlayStation games by speeding up disc
read time and/or adding texture smoothing to improve
graphics. While the texture smoothing was universally
effective (albeit with odd effects where transparent
textures are used), faster disk reading could
cause some games to fail to load or play correctly.
A handful of PlayStation titles
(notably Metal Gear Solid: Special Missions) fail
to run on the PS2 at all (Special Missions fails
to recognise Metal Gear Solid at the disk swap
screen, for example). It is a common misconception
that disk swapping in a game (for example, for
multi-disk games or expansion packs) is not possible
on the PS2. The anomalous failure of the above
title at its disk swap screen may have given birth
to this rumor.
Software for all PlayStation
consoles contains one of three region codes: for
Japan, North and South America, or Europe.
With the purchase of a separate
unit called the Network Adaptor (which is built
into the newest system revision), some PS2 games
support online multiplayer. Instead of having
a unified, subscription-based online service like
Xbox Live, online multiplayer on the PS2 is free,
but split between publishers. All of Sony's games
use a free service called PS2Online (that name
is the common use, as its official name, PS2 Network
Gaming, is a hassle to say), but independent developers/publishers
use their own servers to run their online hosting.
Sony released a version of the
Linux operating system for the PS2 in a package
that also includes a keyboard, mouse, Ethernet
adapter and hard disk drive. Currently, Sony's
online store states that the Linux kit is no longer
for sale in North America. However as of November
2004, the European version was still available.
(The kit boots by installing a proprietary interface,
the RTE (run time environment) which is on a region-coded
DVD, so the European and USA kits each only work
with a PS2 from that region).
In Europe and Australia, the PlayStation 2 comes with a free Yabasic interpreter on the bundled demo disk. This allows simple programs to be created for the PlayStation 2 by the end-user. This was included in a failed attempt to circumvent a UK tax by defining the console as a "computer" if it contained certain software.
For the first year, slow production and shipping problems limited PS2 sales. Only a few hundred thousand users had obtained consoles by the end of 2000. Developers also complained about the system being difficult to develop for, with little in the way of reference material from Sony for its exotic architecture. Later Sony gained steam with new development kits for game developers and more PlayStations for consumers.
Sony had stopped making the older PS2 model sometime during the summer of 2004 to let the distribution channel empty out stock of the units. After an apparent manufacturing issue caused some initial slowdown in producing the new unit, Sony reportedly underestimated demand, caused in part by shortages between the time the old units were cleared out and the new units were ready. This led to further shortages, and the issue was compounded in Britain when a Russian oil tanker became stuck in the Suez Canal, blocking a ship from China carrying PS2s bound for the UK. During one week in November, sales in the entire country of Britain totalled 6,000 units - compared to 70,000 a few weeks prior. Shortages in the US were also extremely severe; one retail chain in the US, GameStop, had just 186 PS2 and Xbox units on hand across more than 1700 stores on the day before Christmas.
The PlayStation 2 has undergone many revisions, some only of internal construction and others with substantial external changes. These are colloquially known amongst PlayStation 2 hardware hackers as V0, V1, V2, etc., up to V12 (as of November 25, 2004).
V0 was a Japanese model and were never sold in Europe or the US. These included a PCMCIA slot instead of the Expansion Bay (DEV9) port of newer models. V0 did not have a built-in DVD player and instead relied on an encrypted player that was copied to a memory card from an included CD-ROM (normally, the PS2 will only execute encrypted software from its memory card, but see PS2 Independence Exploit). V3 has a substantially different internal structure from the subsequent revisions, featuring several interconnected printed circuit boards. As of V4 everything was unified into one board, except the power supply. V5 introduces minor internal changes and the only difference between V6 (sometimes called V5.1) and V5 is the orientation of the Power/Reset switch board connector, which was reversed to prevent the use of no-solder modchips. V7 and V8 are also similar, and V9 (model number SCPH-50000/SCPH-50001) added the Infrared port for the optional DVD Remote Control, removed the widely unused IEEE 1394 port, added the capability to read DVD-RW discs, and a quieter fan. V10 and V11 have minor changes.
The successor to the PS2 is currently being developed, and is known as the PlayStation 3. Sony released some technical specifications on in the spring of 2005, at the E3 trade show, and announced that the console would ship in the spring of 2006. What is known is that PlayStation 3 will be backwards compatible, use Blu Ray Technology, support HDTV outputs and Ethernet, and its CPU will be a Cell microprocessor using technology codeveloped by Sony, Toshiba, and IBM.