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
“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
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
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,"
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.