This past week Sony let the proverbial cat out of the bag with the announcement of the completion of its research and development for their follow-up to the Playstation. Currently being called the "Next Generation Playstation", its specs have left industry insiders, as well as fans, with their jaws on the floor. At a developers conference in Tokyo on Tuesday, Sony revealed the specs for the system as well as some impressive technical demos from top developers including Squaresoft and Namco. The demos included an impressive Tekken sequence, a demo of the Ridge Racer girl with incredible facial muscualture and hair, and a re-creation of an FMV sequence from Final Fantasy VIII, done in real time.
Sony stated that the system will cost no more than 50,000 yen, or approximately $400 US dollars. The specs for the system are as follows, courtesy of Next Generation Online:
- CPU: 128 Bit "Emotion Engine"
- System Clock Frequency: 300 MHz
- Cache Memory
- Instruction: 16KB
- Data: 8KB + 16KB (ScrP)
- Main Memory
- Direct Rambus (Direct RDRAM)
- Memory Size: 32MB
- Memory Bus Bandwidth: 3.2GB per Second
- FPU (Floating Point Unit)
- Floating Point Multiply Accumulator x 1
- Floating Point Divider x 1
- Vector Units: VU0 and VU1
- Floating Point Multiply Accumulator x 9
- Floating Point Divider x 3
- Floating Point Performance: 6.2 GFLOPS
- 3D CG Geometric Transformation: 66 Million Polygons per second
- Compressed Image Decoder: MPEG2
- Graphics: "Graphics Synthesizer"
- Clock Frequency: 150MHz
- DRAM Bus bandwidth: 48GB per Second
- DRAM Bus width: 2560bits [This is not a typo]
- Pixel Configuration RGB:Alpha:Z Buffer (24-bit:8-bit:32-bit)
- Maximum Polygon Rate: 75 Million Polygons per Second
- Sound: "SPU2+CPU"
- Number of Voices ADPCM: 48ch on SPU2 plus definable, software programmable voices
- Sampling Frequency: 44.1 KHz or 48 KHz (selectable)
- IOP I/O Processor
- CPU: Core PlayStation (current) CPU
- Clock Frequency: 33.8MHz or 37.5MHz (Selectable)
- Sub Bus: 32-Bit
- Interface Types: IEEE1394, Universal Serial Bus (USB)
- Communication via PC-Card (PCMCIA)
- Disc Device: CD-ROM and DVD-ROM
Sony claims that the system will increase graphics performance and technology to the limits of what can be enjoyed on a television set. Sony plans to have the system on the market in Japan before the end of the fiscal year, March 2000. It is expected that the launch outside of Japan will take place in the fall of the year 2000.
The system will be 100% backwards compatible. Contrary to most of the information floating around the net, older Playstation games will not receive a graphical improvement. Sony wanted to be sure that the compatibility was 100%, so no enhanced emulation will be involved. Besides the Playstation games being compatible with the system, all of the Playstation peripherals will work with the system as well. Memory cards, controllers, pocketstations, dex drives, etc. will work with the new system. Whether they will work with the new games, or only the older PSX titles, has not been announced. The only confirmed news on that matter is that Sony will be developing new controllers for the next generation system.
Many are skeptical of the March 2000 release date. First of all, the CPU is so cutting edge in its technology (it is vastly superior to the new Pentium 3 chips) that it seems impossible to meet the sub $400 price with this chip involved. Secondly, Sony has not even sent out development kits yet. A few companies were able to use the technology to create the demos shown at the conference, but no real development kits have been made. Even if they get them out as I'm typing this, it will be difficult for developers to have finished games by that date, especially when you consider the complexity of the graphics processor.
The system is capable of pushing 75 million polygons a second with no effects turned on. This far outperforms the Sega Dreamcast and Pentium 3 PC with Voodoo 3 in terms of computational power. The graphics processor takes advantage of a number of effects including "bezier curves" which create incredibly realistic flesh and musculature. With all effects turned on, Sony expects to be able to churn 13 million polygons per second.
The system will be fully upgradeable to take advantage of high-definition televisions and computer monitors. It will be DVD based as a storage medium and will use MPEG 2 decoding and compression for high quality textures. These textures can be streamed off of the DVD ROM allowing for greater speed as the textures don't have to be loaded into the system RAM first. Sony has not announced whether the system will play DVD movies. It's not really a matter of cost, but more a risk of undercutting themselves in the DVD market. It would be a nice feature, but don't be surprised if it isn't included.
As for my own predictions, I expect the system to be released in Japan in the fall of 2000 with the US release a year later. I expect the system to be under $300 at launch and probably lower than that. The Playstation makes up 40% of Sony's profits. They will be more than willing to lose money to ensure the franchise's continued success. The system will likely not have strong third party support initially as the technology is so far ahead. Many smaller developers will not have the knowledge to take advantage of it. A Square spokesperson said that only about 5 developers in the world have the computer graphics knowledge to utilize the system to its fullest. While this system's power is undeniable, it certainly isn't the knockout punch many have claimed it to be. Sega has a strong headstart as well as some killer software. We know what they are capable of and the third party support they're receiving. Only time will tell how impressive this Playstation 2 will be where it counts; in the software.
Source: Next Generation Online
March 5th, 1999