PlayStation Console


Game Format: The Sony PlayStation uses CD-ROM for its game medium.
Main Processor: Sony has gone for the gusto by using the faster 32-bit RISC main processor available on a 32-bit console; an R3000A at 33 MHz. Instruction cache 4KB. Data cache 1KB. Clearing capacity 30 MIPS.
Co-Processors: Just to give it an edge, the Sony PlayStation uses a 62.5MHz, 66 MIPS GTE (Geometry Transfer Engine), Direct Memory Acess (DMA) controller and an MDEC (Video JPEG Decompressor) for better video capabilities.
Sound Processor: This is Sony we're talking about here. Ya know, the music giant. Yes, it's got a custom DSP ADCPM 16-bit co-processor with 24 channels at 44.1 KHz. It's the best console chip.
Maximum Colors: 16.7 Millions of colors give the Sony PlayStation photo quality.
Maximum Resolution: Like the rest of the 32-bit consoles, it uses 256x224 up to 640х480 pixel resolution, which fits on a 14-inch monitor.
Maximum Sprite Size/Second: There is no maximum size to sprites on the Sony PlayStation, and it can display 360,000 at one time.
Polygons/Second: PiayStation kicks polygon butt, showing 360,000 flat-shaded polygons per second and 180,000 texture-mapped, Gourand shaded polygons per second.
Memory: Main RAM - 16 Mbit. VRAM - 8 Mbit. Sound RAM - 4 Mbit. CD-ROM buffer: 256K. Operating System ROM - 4 Mbit. RAM Cards for Data Saving (128K; 15 slots card).

Official PlayStation Peripheral Devices

Memory Card Mouse RFU Adaptor  
Multi Tap Dual Shock Controller Link Cable

SONY PlayStation: The People's Choice

Inside PlayStation

Under the Hood

1. CPU, hosting four components: the 33MHz R3000A, the 66MIPS geometry transfer engine (GTE) which takes care of polygon manipulation, the Direct Memory Access (DMA) controller and the MDEC hardware.
2. Operating System ROM: initiates the boot-up procedure when the machine is switched on.
3. The much-vaunted Reality Engine co-processor is a re-engineered version of the multimedia engine designed for high-end SGI workstations. Running at 62.5 MHz, it's divided into two parts: the Reality Engine Signal processor (which calculates all the geometry) and the Reality Display processor (which draws everything to the screen).
4. Graphics Processing Unit (GPU): handles everything that is drawn onscreen. It takes data from the CPU and passes the results on to VRAM and Sound RAM.
5. 1MB Video RAM (VRAM): stores the current frame buffer and enables a picture to be displayed onscreen.
6. 16-bit sound processing unit delivering 24 channels of APDPCM at 44.1KHz. Digital effects include looping, enveloping and digital reverb.
7. 512K of sound RAM: games load sampled waveforms into here and the sound system can access them at any point in a game.
8. CD Controller: contains a CD ROM-XA converter (allowing up to eight simultaneous streams of mixed audio and CD data) and buffer RAM.
9. DSP (Digital Signal Processor) for CD drive: reads incoming information from the CD and sends it almost instantly to the main RAM.
10. 16-bit digital audio converter: converts digital sound data into analog so that it can be played through speakers.
11. Video decoder and encoder: NTSC or PAL signal decoder which sends the signal to the television.

Video Playback

     One of PlayStation's strongest features is its proprietary video compression hardware, MDEC.The unit, which is integrated directly into the machine's R3000A CPU, gives high-quality full-screen playback (or letter-boxed playback at 30 fps), meaning prerendered and FMV footage is smooth, crisp and well-defined.
     Those who are taking full advantage of MDEC are reaping some visually stunning rewards — Namco, for example, has used the technology to great effect in its legendary Tekken 2 and Rage Racer intros.The problem is, many other developers are not exploiting the full potential of the unit. Instead, they are importing rendered footage straight from the PC to PlayStation, resulting in jerky playback.
     There is no doubt that pre-game presentation and in-game cutaways have become a vital part of software development, just as there is no doubt Sony will have to emphasize every unique trick PlayStation has if new punters are to be enticed away from Nintendo 64. Consequently, it can only a matter of time before other developers are forced to catch on to the prospects offered by this hardware.

The standard grey model
The White Asia-only model
The programmable Yaroze
The Development blue machine
    Sony has so far released four different versions of the PlayStation (from top): the standard grey model, the white Asia-only model ( with enhanced MPEG layback ), the programmable Yaroze, and the development blue machine.

It is difficult to believe that, merely three years ago, Sony's role in the videogame industry amounted to little of significance. Sega and Nintendo were still dominating the home videogame industry, and rumors of the PlayStation's development were met with cautious optimism rather than outright excitement. As CDi from Philips has proved, the game industry can be very unkind to inexperienced companies looking to breeze in with new machines.

Nevertheless, thanks to some effective marketing, well-designed system architecture, and several killer apps, PlayStation is now the most successful next-generation console in existence; according to figures released by Sony two months ago the machine has an installed U.S. base of close to 4 million, while in Japan it has reached 5 million. In Europe the figure is 2.2 million, 700,000 of which is represented by the U.K. market.

The company's first push into the videogame hardware market appears to have been embraced both by children and the new and highly lucrative twenty-something sector — a market almost single-handedly nurtured by Sony through its involvement with the clubbing scene and the lifestyle press. In response, developers have been quick to embrace the machine and consequently nearly 800 games have now become available.

The question is, of course, can PlayStation survive in the face of competition from 64-bit machines, both in the form of existing hardware from Nintendo, and the much-vaunted Matsushita technology waiting in the wings?

Inevitably, Sony is optimistic. "The growth in the sales of PlayStation and the arrival of more and better games are making PlayStation the brand for gaming," says Juan Montes, SCEE's general manager of software development. "I foresee that in 1997 and future years we'll enter a much faster growth than we've seen so far based on the price and acceptance of PlayStation and its games. Playing games — at least PlayStation ones — has now gone beyond the traditional children's and teenager's market. PlayStations are being acquired even by people who had never considered playing games before. Obviously, there'll be an evolution of the platform based on the success of the machine, but it's too early to talk about it while there's still more juice left in the current platform."

This level of confidence is certainly backed up by the amount of software the machine is attracting. Most major publishers have pledged their support for the format indefinitely and a forthcoming batch of triple-A titles, including Resident Evil 2 and Tomb Raider 2 will do much to retain consumer interest. Plus, PlayStation has the backing of one of the game industry's hottest tickets — the Final Fantasy brand, delivered by Square. The seventh installment, which has recently stormed the Japanese market, is not only the most ambitious project yet attempted on the machine (consisting of three CDs stuffed with rendered graphics), but it is also a figurative victory over great rival Nintendo — such a project would have been impossible on Nintendo 64.

PlayStation's huge user base is another reason to be optimistic about its future. The console has repeatedly sold out in Japan, confirming its continued popularity, and while people are still buying both hardware and software en masse, support from major software development resources is guaranteed. The young adult market that the PlayStation is targeted at might not be quite so capricious as the children who have previously been the focus of hardware manufacturers.

However, given its two-and-a-half-year-old technology, the future is not exclusively bright for the PlayStation: it is no longer the most powerful machine on the block. Its 33MHz CPU, for example, was cutting-edge three years ago but is eclipsed entirely by the 93.75MHz offered by Nintendo 64 and the even more convincing twin 66MHz set-up powering the M2.

In effect, PlayStation just doesn't have the capacity to deal with complex math as quickly as the 64-bit consoles and modern-day PC hardware. When it comes to converting PC games (some which rely heavily on complex game logic and heaps of RAM, such as Bullfrog's long-awaited Dungeon Keeper, for example), Sony's console could be at a severe disadvantage.

In terms of graphics processing, however, developers are finding their way around such limitations. According to Derek Leigh-Gilchrist at Core Design, "PlayStation developers are overcoming the lack of processing power by specifically optimizing their game engine code into R3000 assembler. I'm currently converting Ninja from Saturn to Playstation with [Core coder] Dan Scott, which has involved taking a lot of С code across from Saturn and modifying the 3D-specific bits to use the GTE [Geometry Transfer Engine]. This all worked fine, but it still wasn't quite fast enough to run the game at 30 frames per second, so I then converted the С code into optimized R3000 assembler with inline GTE code, which halved the processing time. Ninja now easily runs in 30fps and has enabled us to start adding more detail to the game environment."

PlayStation's lack of onboard memory may also prove problematic, though. While the machine's GTE is a marvelous piece of hardware, and has arguably been the driving force behind the massive uptake of 3D game development, its ability to throw textured polys around the screen is severely hampered by the measly 1MB video RAM allocated to it.

Once again, though, Leigh-Gilchrist believes the problems can be compensated for with inventive coding: "Lack of memory is an issue, but with clever use of hierarchy animation systems and mip-mapping, it shouldn't cause too much of a problem in the coming year."

Importantly, there is a pervading belief among developers that PlayStation still has a few undiscovered tricks up its sleeve. As Tim Heaton, software manger at Gremlin, says, "There's a huge amount of untapped potential in PlayStation. It does take at least two generations of software before people get to grips with the hardware, the classic case being the Super NES. Donkey Kong Country came out, four years after the Super NES first appeared, and nobody expected it."

"Equally, Sony keeps telling the development community little hidden secrets about the hardware to keep us innovating, and we're learning all the time." Leigh-Gilchrist agrees, but is more guarded on the issue: "There is a fair amount of untapped potential, but using the extra potential often involves limiting your engine in some way — limiting camera angles, positions, and so on. I think we'll see a lot of really cool games with engines "tuned" for maximum PlayStation performance."

With worldwide support for PlayStation still strong, it is hard to imagine the machine losing its position of prominence this year. Beyond 1997, the picture becomes more hazy. Hundreds of PlayStation games are currently in production which probably won't see the light of day until mid-1998, guaranteeing the machine a healthy life for at least another two years. However, the technical shortcomings of the machine in comparison to weighty 64-bit competitors are bound to revealed in the near future. Leigh-Gilchrist, for example, points toward the machine's lack of Z-buffering and perspective-correct texture-mapping as factors which will count against the machine in terms of visual finesse.

But, as Leigh-Gilchrist puts it, "An important thing to remember is that technical details are much less important than gameplay. All that PlayStation needs is someone to concentrate on gameplay rather than graphics for a change..."

/ NEXT GENERATION #30, June 1997 /

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