By Victor Godinez / The Dallas Morning News
Sony has steadily built consumer anticipation for its PlayStation 2 video game console for the last year and a half, with marketing techniques that have succeeded to the point where widespread shortages up to and beyond the Christmas season are expected.
There are the dazzling screen shots printed in magazines and posted online. And giddy reports of frenzied Japanese buyers storming the stores as the system was first released in Asia in March. And an ever-accelerating marketing and media whirlwind.
It's enough to have you spending hour upon anxious hour in line or paying hugely inflated prices just to get a unit the day it's released.
Before you stomp off in a rage at not finding the $300 PlayStation 2 in stores or shell out $700 for that PS2 you saw on eBay, find out what exactly you're investing in.
What you get
The PlayStation 2, released Thursday, comes in a simple blue cardboard box.
What's inside the box is a small black console with minimal decoration, two controller ports, two memory card ports, one controller, and power and television jacks.
The machine itself is markedly different in appearance from the original PlayStation, but the controllers, memory cards and cables look the same except that everything is black.
You can either stand the PS2 on its side or lay it flat during operation. If you plan on standing it up to save space, consider investing in the $15 vertical stand because the console by itself is not stable.
Once you have the machine plugged in and turned on, the first thing you'll notice is a revamped start-up screen.
Instead of launching straight into the game, a screen will pop up allowing you to change settings such as the date and time.
While you're at the main screen, you can switch out CDs or DVDs because the unit doubles as a DVD player.
Interestingly, the on/off button is on the back of the unit, while the drive bay's open/close button and the restart button are on the front.
Sony assumes that you'll leave the unit on all the time because you don't have to turn the PlayStation 2 off to insert a new CD.
When it comes to the controllers, you may want to save one of your old PlayStation controllers because sometimes they work properly on the PS2 and sometimes they don't.
For example, the games Ridge Racer V and SSX had no problem recognizing my old PlayStation Dual Shock controller, but Tekken Tag Tournament locked up as soon as I plugged in my old controller.
If your PlayStation 2 games won't recognize your old controllers, or if you don't have any of the old controllers, a fully compatible PS2 controller costs $34.
If you want to save your games, you'll need Sony's PS2 8-megabyte memory card for $34. If you're a social gamer who wants to play with more than one other person at a time, you'll need to invest in the $34 PS2 multitap.
There's a port on the back where you can plug in the broadband modem adapter and hard drive that Sony plans to release next year. There are also USB and FireWire ports that will be used for mice and keyboards for Internet access and games such as Unreal Tournament that were originally designed for personal computers.
The PS2 will play all your old PlayStation games, so you can sell your old console but keep your favorite games.
Sony says that the PS2 improves the resolution of PlayStation games, but I found the results to be middling at best.
I plugged the original Gran Turismo into the PS2, and the opening animation was alternately blurry, chunky or jagged. Overall, the picture quality of PlayStation games played on the PlayStation 2 didn't appear any sharper than when they were played on the original PlayStation.
Perhaps other games take better advantage of this feature, but it was a disappointment nonetheless.
As for DVD movies, playback was excellent, although a small white line occasionally faded in and out at the bottom of the screen.
The picture looked laser sharp, though, and won't disappoint anybody curious about what DVD has to offer.
Controlling DVD playback is clumsy with a game controller, so you may want to invest in one of the third-party remote controls for PS2 that make stopping, pausing and rewinding much simpler.
If you're going to watch a lot of DVD movies, the $15 PS2 DVD remote control by Interact is highly recommended.
Down the road, Sony plans to sell a separate broadband hook-up that will allow you to use a cable modem or digital subscriber line to access the Internet through your PS2, turning your television into your default Web browser as well as enabling online gaming.
Load times for PS2 games are no better or worse than with the original PlayStation, although some games, Ridge Racer V being the most egregious offender, take longer than others to boot up.
But for $300, you're getting the best game machine on the market, a more than serviceable DVD movie player and a future Internet device.
Best of all, if you've ever spent more than five minutes with the original PlayStation, you'll be completely at ease with the PS2.