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The entire PlayStation 2 Emotion Engine and Graphics Synthesizer as found on the current North American PS3 motherboard
European PS3 to have inferior backwards compatibility compared to North American and Japanese models

Sony Computer Entertainment Europe (SCEE) announced that the PlayStation 3 to be launched in Europe, Middle East, Africa and Australasia on March 23, 2007 will utilize a “new hardware specification.” Presumably, the new specification will differ from all the currently released PlayStation 3 consoles launched in Japan and North America.

In a press release issued by SCEE, the company describes the main features of the system that are common knowledge, and adds that the Euro-spec machine “also embodies a new combination of hardware and software emulation which will enable PS3 to be compatible with a broad range of original PlayStation titles and a limited range of PlayStation 2 titles.”

The European PS3 will lack the Emotion Engine and Graphics Synthesizer (EE+GS) chip necessary to provide hardware-based backwards compatibility for previous-generation titles. Instead, Sony plans to accomplish compatibility with older games through software emulation—a trickier and more fickle feat than simply including and utilizing PS2 processors.

“The Emotion Engine has been removed and that function has been replaced with software,” said Nick Sharples, a spokesman for Sony in London. That has a “slightly detrimental effect” on compatibility, he said to the IDG News Service.

“The backwards compatibility is not going to be as good as the U.S. and Japan models,” another Sony spokesman said to Reuters.

Microsoft’s Xbox 360 has been using a software emulation scheme since inception to make its system backwards compatible with original Xbox games. While Microsoft has promised that it will continue working on improving backwards compatibility through system updates, the Xbox 360 is only able to play from a limited list of older games.

Gamers keen on exploring PlayStation’s extensive back catalog will be disappointed to find that their upcoming European PS3s will only be able to play a limited selection of previous generation games. Sony isn’t viewing backwards compatibility on the PS3 as a priority, and says that new generation games should be the system’s main focus.

“PS3 is first and foremost a system that excels in playing games specifically designed to exploit the power and potential of the PS3 system,” said David Reeves, President of SCEE. “Games designed for PS3 offer incredible graphics quality, stunning gameplay and massively improved audio and video fidelity that is simply not achievable with PS and PS2 games.”

Sony Europe defends its decision by saying that the costs savings of backwards compatibility will be put back into other company investments.

“Rather than concentrate on PS2 backwards compatibility, in the future, company resources will be increasingly focused on developing new games and entertainment features exclusively for PS3, truly taking advantage of this exciting technology,” stated Reeves.

Analysts have estimated that Sony loses $241 on every 60GB PS3—the only version available for the March 23 launch. Word of a cost-cutting strategy came from Japan earlier this month, which points to Sony’s strong desire to improve its bottom line.

The hardware changes to the European PS3 represent the first step taken to reduce costs. “If we are able to reduce the production cost, it has a follow-on effect” on the selling price, Sharples said. But the new, less costly PS3 aimed at Europe carries one of the priciest stickers for the system, revealing a contradiction in the Sony representative’s statement. In Europe, the lone 60GB PS3 is priced €599 (US$786) or £425 (US$830), and for Australia $999 (US$791)—more expensive than the North American and Japanese PS3 consoles equipped with the EE+GS chip.

Sony Computer Entertainment America executives have gone on record to say the PS3 will be “difficult to cost reduce,” and that any reductions that do occur will not immediately translate to lower prices. Furthermore, iSuppli estimates that the EE+GS chip carries a material cost of $27, leaving some to question the cost/benefit of the chip’s removal.

While SCEE preaches the cost-savings advantage of the new hardware specification, it now must divert resources to individually tweak and perform QA for each PlayStation 2 game to be emulated by the PS3 hardware. Sony would not comment on which games will be compatible with PS3’s new software emulation, but did say that gamers will be able to check whether their titles are compatible with PS3 at a special European backwards compatibility site starting March 23.

Sony Europe also said that previous-generation games not initially playable on the European PS3 might eventually be emulated as the company releases firmware updates. "It would be reasonable to assume that the better-selling games are the ones we will be putting effort into," Sharples said.

The creation of a differing hardware specification for Europe and other territories splits the PlayStation 3 manufacturing into another separate line. There are currently two variations of the PS3, differing in hard drive size, memory card reader and wireless connectivity. The European spec would add a third, unless Sony has plans to do away with the EE+GS chips in all PS3s worldwide.

SCEA remains mum on whether or not the hardware revision will apply in its own market. When contacted by DailyTech for comment on the future plans for North American PS3s, a representative stated, “We have no announcement regarding any hardware specification changes for PS3 in North America at this time.”

Regardless of what future hardware revisions may come, Sony of America and Japan are expected to continue support for over 1.48 million EE+GS-included PlayStation 3 consoles currently in the hands of North American and Japanese gamers.

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RE: Immoral
By BCanR2D2 on 2/26/2007 5:09:59 AM , Rating: 2
Meh - Considering it would be NTSC, I think not, we run PAL over here and don't mind the extra resolution!!!

Most people would still use a standard TV, so this seems to be that any PAL territories will get the software emulation...

Hmmmmm, seems a tad extreme to say that extra chips go into a NTSC machine (standard 640 x 480 res) and the PAL machines (720 x 480) seems to upset the apple cart.

Is it a scaling issue with the Emotion chips??? Are they only NTSC TV output versions????!!!!

RE: Immoral
By Spoelie on 2/26/2007 7:23:20 AM , Rating: 4
Horizontal resolutions aren't that well defined on a TV, the scanlines just adhere to the given aspect ratio ("length"). Remember that we are sending stuff in analog form, not digitally.

NTSC is 525 scanlines with ~40 of them controlling vertical positioning, while PAL is 625 lines with a similar amount controlling positioning. This leaves respectively about 480 and 576 lines. So converted to PC-like resolutions it would read something like 640x480 and 720x576 instead.

On a real TV, the amount of information you actually see is even less, due to fitting of the scanlines. You can lose as much as 50% of the information...

The emotion chips are independent of the tv-out chips. It's purely a business decision, not a technical barrier.

RE: Immoral
By BirdDad on 2/26/2007 8:04:23 AM , Rating: 2
PAL is 704 x 576

RE: Immoral
By BirdDad on 2/26/2007 8:06:54 AM , Rating: 2
PAL is also 352 x 576

RE: Immoral
By TheDoc9 on 2/26/2007 10:59:42 AM , Rating: 2
PAL- 720 x 576i
NTSC- 720 x 480i

RE: Immoral
By Justin Case on 2/26/2007 11:42:43 PM , Rating: 2
Actually, it's a bit more complicated than that, as the multiple replies suggest. :)

There are no "pixels" as such in analog, so the number of pixels per line is a very vague concept, there (that didn't stop the people who wrote the ITU/CCIR601 spec, though). The number of lines is a more well-defined quantity, and that is 576 (visibile) lines for PAL and 480 (visible) lines for NTSC.

Here "visible" means "that are supposed to contain image information", they're not necessarily visible (see below).

In a few high-end formats (ex., Beta Digital), NTSC uses 486 "visible" lines, instead of 480.

The number of "pixels" per line for digital formats is defined as 720, with 704 (or, in some documents, 702) of those being visible. This (704x576 for PAL and 704x480 for NTSC) is the area officially taken into account when calculating the correct pixel aspect ratio to get a 4:3 (or 16:9) image.

However, a lot of modern video formats assume that the whole 720x576 (or 720x480) is supposed to be counted. This has a minimal impact on the image's aspect ratio, so it's no big deal, just one of those examples of how video "standards" manage to be messier than computer standards, sometimes. Anyway, the lines should always have 720 pixels, the issue here is only if they are all considered "visible", and counted towards establishing the aspect ratio. Formats that store only 704 pixels per line should technically add 8 pixels at the start and end of each line, when sending it to a screen.

In practical terms, the real "visible" area is not 704x576 (or 704x580), though, because all consumer TV sets "eat" a few pixels on each edge (typically around 5%). So anything that's less than 50 pixels from the edge risks being out of the frame on some TV sets.

Note that neither PAL nor NTSC (both 4:3 and 16:9) use perfectly square pixels. For this reason, the resolutions are often approximated (ex., to 768x576 and 640x480), and the image is scaled when it's converted to analog. The vertical resolution is kept because vertical resizing of an interlaced signal is what video engineers refer to as "a bitch".

RE: Immoral
By kilkennycat on 2/27/2007 1:41:31 AM , Rating: 1
The vertical resolution is kept because vertical resizing of an interlaced signal is what video engineers refer to as "a bitch".

Which is exactly where Sony fell down in the US market with the large number of 1080i TVs already out there. 720p to 1080i upscaling with a software hack just does not fly. The Xbox360 got it right and of course Sony was too arrogant to study all aspects of the Xbox360 design in sufficient detail to latch on to this gross hardware-design oversight of theirs.

RE: Immoral
By Justin Case on 2/26/2007 11:58:38 PM , Rating: 2
Just because you can capture video at "Something x Something" pixels, that doesn't mean that's part of the actual format specifications.

Analog PAL doesn't have "pixels" per line as such, but if you capture it at 352x576 and later try to transfer it over a digital video connection (ex., SDI), the video needs to be scaled back to the "official" size, which is 720x576. Presumably, the 352x576 video threw away the edges, so it actually needs to be resized to 704x576 first, and then have 8 pixels added to the start and end of each line, before it counts as "proper" PAL.

PAL normally uses 4:2:2 sampling, so its horizontal chroma resolution is only half the pixel resolution, but if you capture the video to 352x576 and then encode it in a format with 4:2:2 or 4:2:0 sampling (ex., DVD MPEG-2, or MJPEG), you are downsampling the chroma channels again, so you end up losing luma and chroma resolution. Not good.

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