PlayStation 2 marks Sony's first entry into the home computer market, with the Japanese giant touting the device as a cut-down PC rather than a souped-up games console.
But a number of banks, retailers, information service providers and network operators that want to provide domestic internet access also see such multi-function machines as crucial to delivering business-to-consumer (B2C) services.
As a result, cable companies such as NTL and Telewest have already launched interactive and internet services, including commerce, banking and interactive information, into the UK home market. Consumers simply pick the services up using a digital cable receiver and view them on a conventional television.
The most high-profile player in this space, however, is Open, the digital satellite service operated by BSkyB. Consumers can access email, shop online, bank, and access interactive information and advertising links on other channels using BSkyB's digital satellite receiver, which is essentially a stripped down computer.
Sony rival Sega, on the other hand, made the first move into the market at the beginning of the year with its Dreamcast device. The CDRom-based machine includes a built-in modem and basic internet applications suite, which includes a web browser, email client and access to online gaming support services.
It enables users to surf the web using a conventional TV, but the browser compensates for poor screen resolution by enlarging fonts and graphics, albeit with unpredictable results on layout and presentation.
Custom-made operating system
Dreamcast, unlike PlayStation 2, is based on Microsoft's Windows CE operating system (OS), which means that developers can use existing Microsoft tools to build applications for it. PlayStation 2, however, runs on a custom-made OS that is optimised for gaming and interactive capabilities.
But it also includes a standard PC-style universal serial bus (USB) and Firewire expansion sockets, enabling users to connect modems, digital subscriber line (DSL) adapters, cable modems, printers, storage devices, digital cameras and Ethernet cards easily.
Add to this a USB keyboard and mouse, and you effectively have a full PC at your disposal, even though the basic appliance is non-threatening enough and of the right design to be used at home.
Sony is developing its own approved modem and DSL adapters for its machine, but because it has standardised ports, customers only need to have PlayStation 2 drivers to enable existing PC USB devices to be used with it.
Hooking up PlayStation 2 to a broadband connection also has its benefits. The device now incorporates Sony's proprietary MagicGate encryption and digital rights management software, which means that users can download and purchase games and entertainment on demand, and securely.
- PlayStation 2 represents a major shift in console design, blurring the line between consoles and PCs and creating a conduit for consumer services.
- The device, like Sega's Dreamcast, provides users with access to the internet.
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