Computer game developers crowded into the San Jose Civic Auditorium on Thursday to see the first demonstration of Sony?s next generation games console outside of Japan, where it was first shown two weeks ago.
Phil Harrison, vice president of third party and research and development at Sony Computer Entertainment America, said the Playstation 2 would introduce an era of "emotion synthesis " to games, where lifelike environments could be created with characters that behaved in an intelligent manner.
At the heart of Playstation 2 is a custom designed 300 MHz 128bit processor, dubbed the ?Emotion Engine?. It was jointly developed by Sony and Toshiba, and has an onchip floating point unit and two vector units, bringing combined performance to 6.2 gigaflops or floating point operations per second.
According to Harrison, the processor outperforms a 500 MHz Intel Pentium III in floating point performance by about three to one, although it is significantly slower than a Pentium III for integer calculations.
And, he claimed, when the new console ships, before March 2000 in Japan and in the autumn of 2000 elsewhere, it will beat any available PC in graphics performance.
"I don?t see anybody come close," he said.
The Playstation 2 will support games originally developed for the now five year old first Sony Playstation, and come with a DVD Rom drive and industry standard IEEE 1394, PC Card and Universal Serial Bus interfaces.
And to demonstrate its capabilities, Sony used an elaborate set up that involved a table full of hardware ? all of which should be shrunk to the size of a game console by the time the device ships in a year?s time.
The Playstation 2 created lifelike, high resolution three dimensional (3D) images, and in one demonstration showed the rippling of water in a bathtub, with realistic reflections. Another showed five American football players who looked and moved more realistically than those in existing 3D games.
According to Harrison, each of the football players consists of 10,000 polygons compared to only a few hundred for characters appearing in even the most advanced games that are currently on the market. The new device can draw up to 75 million polygons per second.
David Feldman, director of technology at the entertainment division of Mindscape Entertainment, said: "This was incredibly impressive. Sony?s description of this as an ?emotion synthesizer? appears to be accurate."
One developer who preferred not to be named said the device?s extremely high performance would make it much easier to port games developed for PCs over to the console. "Even if you don?t optimise for the hardware, it won?t matter because it?s so fast anyway," he said.
While pricing for the Playstation 2 has not yet been announced, it is expected to be in line with current game consoles, which cost about $200.
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