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|Author: BK Toh|
Date of review: 14-June-2000
Type Of Review: Miscellaneous
When the specifications of the Playstation 2 were first revealed to the public, there was almost a sense of disbelief. 3D graphics for PCs had improved tremendously since the first real 3D accelerator - the venerable Voodoo 1, was announced, but the specifications of the PS2 left even the GeForce DDR (then king of the hill) in the dust. One of the reasons was because the PC had remnants of legacy architecture when we were still running a 8/16 bit processor with black and white graphics that was not fully optimised for graphics. The PS2, in comparison, was built from ground up to accelerate 3D graphics. Even the CPU (or Emotion Engine) and the vector processors were designed with that one task in mind.
Here in Hardware One, we are always on the lookout for new technology. While we are predominantly PC based, we do venture into the realms of consoles, in the interest of scientific discovery, of course. At least, that’s the excuse I am giving my wife for splurging on the Playstation 2.
Here's what the PS2 looks like, but you probably would have seen it before
When the launch of the PS2 finally came to pass, I was stuck in the UK and the import shop I frequented just had too much of a premium on the console (£800 with 2 games but eventually dropped to £500 for the console alone).
I already had both a PAL and an Asian Dreamcast, so I didn’t think it was prudent to plonk down 800 quid or so for a new PS2. I also have a Saturn and a Playstation tucked away in a storage room waiting for the day when I feel like a game of Virtua Fighter 2 or Gun Bullet!
Still, as many of our readers know, I had spent a few lunchtimes at the import shop pining for the PS2. Officially, of course, I was merely examining the graphics capabilities of the PS2. *grin*
1.1 First Impressions
My first impressions of the PS2 were not exactly great. I was told that the shop had managed to get the console in and rushed there to see it in action. I noticed as I neared the shop that in the front window was a TV showing Ridge Racer. It was only when I entered the shop that I realised it was Ridge Racer V running on a PS2.
The game looked like it was running in low resolution and the details in the backgrounds were nothing to shout about. I picked up the controller and gave it a go. Again, it played and looked a lot like the original Playstation game.
My first thoughts were “Wait a minute! Nothing’s changed from the last Ridge Racer!”
However, when I completed the track, I was treated to an amazing replay that hinted at the depth of power that the PS2 had at its disposal. There was just so much activity in the background that you just don’t really observe whilst driving. As the replay camera swooped in and out of the action, for instance, you can see trucks driving past another part of the tunnel (which does not normally interact with the race). The buildings at the side of the road were also not just flat polygons (as they were in Rage Racer – I recall trying to drive through one of the sidewalk cafes in Rage Racer only to find it was merely a texture map!) but had depth and detail to it as well. You still can’t drive through parts of the building in RR V because of the barriers next to the road but in the replay angles, you can see that they are not flat. In the windows of buildings, you could see reflections.
Just two quick screens showing the detail of the city
And perhaps the one detail that truly wowed me was that the trees looked like real trees. I have been playing a lot of racing games on the PC and trees tend to resemble bitmaps pasted on flat polygons that formed a “fence” around the tracks (look at the forest in Rally Championship 2000 for the PC), or at best, a 2D sprite that looked really awful when you get close.
See those trees!
More importantly, while the replay was pushing through this detailed landscape on RR V, there was virtually no pop-up and the scene was moving at a constant smooth 60fps!
Enough of the good, now on with the bad. The game, as I remarked earlier, looked very pixellated. This was why I had first thought it was running in low resolution. As every console aficionado knows by now, the first generation of the PS2 games seem to suffer quite badly from the lack of anti-aliasing. I am not talking about full screen anti-aliasing (FSAA), but just the most basic form of filtering.
The other problem was that the textures used on the backgrounds and cars seemed extremely bland. This can be attributed to the lack of video RAM (only 4MB) on the console.
Both these flaws do detract a little from the PS2 and stops it from completely stomping over the Dreamcast as THE console to own at the moment. These are things that may be corrected once programmers come to grips with the hardware and can optimise the code around it.
Despite these flaws, I was determined to get myself one. It was only when I managed to get back to Singapore that the prices reached a respectable level. In the end, I paid about S$1,500 (around £550) for the following:
- PS2 box which included
- AV cable (composite video and stereo RCA)
- Power cable
- Dual Shock 2 controller
- Manuals and documentation
- System Disk v1.01
- 8MB memory cart with DVD v1.0 drivers preloaded
- 200W step-down transformer (for use in Singapore and the UK)
- Third party s-video cable (because of backward compatibility, you could use ones designed for the original Playstation)
- Ridge Racer V
- Tekken Tag Tournament
- Street Fighter EX3
- Dead or Alive 2
Just a picture of the games I got with the PS2
The Japanese PS2 comes with a free 8MB memory cart (needed to store the Japanese DVD driver). Sadly. It will be an optional item from the US package
My pride and joy... The Dreamcast sitting alongside the PS2
The Japanese PS2 has a PCMCIA slot which will be used to connect to a hard disk and broadband interface for future Internet access in Japan. The US version will have a small bay in its place, but functionality remains the same
The PS2 only has two controller ports, vs 4 on the Dreamcast, but it does have 2 USB sockets. Hopefully, we will see software that can interface properly with PC USB devices such as keyboards and mouse for say, Unreal Tournament. There is also an i.Link (or DV) port.
I had asked my friend who was working in Japan to check out the prices there and that came up to around S$1300 inclusive of taxes. A step-down transformer for the PS2 would have set me back around S$100 anyway so the price was actually quite reasonable. It was also reassuring to know that the shop allowed replacement of any faulty items.