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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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Ok, someone has to say this…
By ATC on 2/26/2007 7:12:58 PM , Rating: 1
I think some people here are counting their chicken before they hatch. The PS3’s primary existence isn’t to play PS One or PS2 games; it was merely a nice addition to be able to.

For those here squawking about the PS3 while admitting to still playing PS One games on their PS2…are you kidding me? That’s like someone complaining about Vista when they’ve just now upgraded to 95. I can’t fathom why anyone still plays PS One games, not because there’s anything inherently wrong with it but it’s mouldy; I can’t even look at PS2 games anymore now that I’ve played PS3 games in 1080i/p or 720p. Not unlike when I got my HD cable service and DVD player now I can’t be bothered with analogue channels or VHS. It’s called moving on…

And as mentioned already…why complain about the PS3 games line up…it makes no sense comparing a console that was just made available in N. America and Japan since late November to another that’s been out worldwide since 2005. And actually it speaks volume of the PS3’s potential comparing fist-generation half assed games on it to second/third-generation top sellers on other consoles.

I have no qualm that taking out the emotions engine was going to happen at some point. And if it can be done successfully using software, why not?

You cannot judge its success by how badly MSFT screwed their version up. If anything, hardware-wise Sony seems to have learnt from issues/mistakes made by MS.

You won’t find a loud PS3 around, or one that constantly overheats. You won’t see a large power brick attached to it that needs its own ventilation scheme and fan. You won’t hear about the BD Drive in it scratching disks. Why? Because they saw MSFT struggle with all that and learned from it.

Are there concrete indications that make anyone think that Sony’s software implementation will fail?

Also, there’s already talk of a chip shrink for the Cell in the PS3, I can already see the writing on the wall; a revised PS3 for N. America and Japan that’s smaller and cheaper. What’s wrong with that?

Hey, I’m not blindly defending Sony. It’s not like they’ve been fault-free either. I cannot forgive them for not supporting 1080i from 720p content on the PS3 nor can I think of any good reason for only being able to charge the sixaxis while the console is ON or for the numerous other oversights in the design, but I can certainly be honest enough to admit that the PS3 overall has met my expectations and exceeded them in many areas.

All this talk of boycotting Sony and all the negatives surrounding the word ‘Sony’ seems to me to be a little overblown.

Remember; this is a console. Not a be-all and end-all of your life. After all, this is only supposed to help you pass some free time.

By peternelson on 2/26/2007 8:28:17 PM , Rating: 2
"Are there concrete indications that make anyone think that Sony’s software implementation will fail?"

I base it on this:

The existing EE versions don't support all games, merely about 98% and that's on the hardware based solution. It will take a lot of effort if the extra 2% are every supported without issues like audio.

Why? Because in order to do clever high performance games on PS2 developers did not necessarily stick to the neat official Sony library calls to access the hardware, they accessed the hardware directly in ways that Sony did not intend, but worked and was fast.

Moving PS3 emulation of PS2 from hardware into software makes it worse. Sony know their library calls that their emulation software will be written to support. Unfortunately without running titles, they don't know which ones are trying to talk to hardware directly or link to non-sony library calls and proprietary code modules.

I think we can safely assume that since Sony have not yet improved on the 98%, the Euro version without EE will based on the above have LESS support than 98% of PS2 titles, perhaps MUCH less.

There is also the category of those that don't work initially but Sony prioritise for patching the emulator. Just I don't see them making that customised effort to support most "old" PS2 games on PS3, particularly those from 3rd party developers. Perhaps only the really popular ones.

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