May 24, 2020 | In four months, Sony's long-anticipated
gaming supercomputer/DVD and CD player (and eventually Internet
gateway) will burst onto the scene in North America. Sony Computer
Entertainment America will launch Playstation2 here Oct. 26 with
an initial shipment of 1 million units, followed by an additional
2 million through March 2001. The consoles will have a suggested
retail price of $299; a controller, multiport and 8MB memory card
will be sold for $34 extra, and software titles will be $49 each.
Since its release in 1994, the original Playstation has sold
more than 70 million units. As a result, Sony controls more than
half of the world's video game market, worth about $13 billion
in the United States and Japan alone. In 1998, Playstation sales
consisted of 40 percent of Sony's profits. Sony is depending on
the success of Playstation's sequel to remain a dominant force.
The console already has made a huge splash in Japan. In the first
two months of after its March 4 release there, Sony sold 1.8 million
units--just shy of the computer giant's goal of 2 million.
The console's 16-inch-tall black and blue tower houses the "Emotion
Engine," a chip that generates the polygons used to build 3-D
graphics. The original Playstation could generate 360,000 polygons
per second; its successor can produce more than 20 million.
Despite its triumphant debut in Japan, there have been several
problems. First, customers began complaining that when they saved
Ridge Racer V game files, they wiped out the consoles' DVD drivers.
The drivers could be replaced by using the Utilities disk, and
the company sent out upgraded Utility disk software a week and
a half later to correct the glitch, says Molly Smith, Sony Computer
Entertainment public relations director. Then came reports that
some Japanese consumers found a way to watch North American DVDs
using Playstation2. Sony had agreed to manufacture consoles that
only could play DVDs sold with regional code for Japan -- one
of six codes created to appease Hollywood film makers who feared
losing money if foreign audiences bought DVDs when they were released
in the United States instead of going to the theater.
Sony's agreement is made even more important to movie studios
in light of the lack of DVD penetration in the Japanese market.
Because so few homes own DVD players, many consumers are utilizing
Playstation 2's DVD capability. A survey by Nikkei Online conducted
a month after its release showed that 74 percent of consumers
bought the console for both games and DVD movies and that 53 percent
bought DVDs to watch using the system. The code flaw was present
in just the first million consoles shipped and the problem no
longer exists, says Smith, adding that "None of these problems
will affect the U.S. launch."
The U.S. market is a lot different from the Japanese one, she
says. For example, DVD players are far more common in the States,
so the ability to play DVDs may be a less important feature. However,
it may still be considered competition to DVD player manufacturers.
Smith doesn't consider Playstation2 a threat to the DVD player
market. "I would hope that (DVD player manufacturers) would be
looking at this as a potential way to broaden the market," she
It's the game selection and the audiovisual capabilities of
the console that will make or break its success in the U.S. "I
think it's going to come down to what sort of compelling entertainment
we can offer," Smith says. According to Sony, more than 200 developers
have signed license agreements with Sony and close to 300 titles
are in development so far. In addition, Playstation2 supports
the more than 800 original Playstation games already on the market.
Rumor had it that Sony would include a hard disk drive and a
modem in the U.S. Playstation2s to pre-empt the challenge from
Microsoft's X-Box game console, which will hit markets in the
second half of 2001 complete with an 8GB hard disk drive. Microsoft
claims the X-Box will boast graphics chips three times the speed
of Playstation2's. Another major competitor, Sega Enterprise,
already has sold more than 4 million Dreamcast consoles, a gaming
unit with a built-in 56k modem, but no hard drive. Sega announced
plans to give away the console to consumers who sign up for its
$22-per-month Internet service for two years.
Sony's Smith denies that the company has ever considered installing
a modem or drive in its initial shipment of U.S. consoles. Sony
does plan to sell a hard disk soon, but will not say when or for
how much. As for a modem, Smith says, the company wants to wait
for broadband to become more widespread, and that may or may not
be before the X-Box premieres. "We need to have a pretty proven
installed base out there to log on to our network," she adds.
If Sony succeeds in building that user base, expect to see Playstation3