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Coming Out to Play

The PlayStation2 promises to solidify Sonny's hold on the $70 billion video game industry. Will it also be the centerpiece for the compan's foray into the Internet

The PlayStation 2 promises to solidify Sony’s hold on the $70 billion video game industry. Will it also be the centerpiece for the company’s foray into the Internet?

The PlayStation 2. It is arguably the most eagerly anticipated consumer product ever. Just ask any ardent videogamer—with thumbs twitching and eyes glazed over—who has been counting down the days until the video game console will be unveiled in the United States. For the record, the PlayStation 2, priced just under $400, will go on sale nationwide on October 26th, a day that you may want to avoid the mall or neighborhood electronics store.

The numbers on the PlayStation 2 are already part of electronic legend. While the original PlayStation moved 360,000 animation polygons per second, the 128-bit PlayStation 2 will be able to process them at a dizzying rate of 6 million a second. The end result is a machine that produces graphics that are faster and more detailed than ever before. In addition to the light-speed animation, PlayStation 2 will also be able to play DVD and CD discs.

Console general: Ryozo Sakai, president of Sony Hawaii, is poised for an electronic entertainment revolution.

On the first weekend that the PlayStation 2 was on the market in Japan last March, Sony sold 1 million consoles, 10 times the number sold of the original PlayStation in 1994. In fact, sales have been so brisk in Japan that the company had to delay the launch of PlayStation 2 in Europe by one month. (Originally the console was also scheduled for release on October 26th.)

If production can keep pace, by the end of its fiscal year on March 31, 2001, Sony hopes to sell 10 million units worldwide.

But, according to Karl Okemura, vice president of sales for Sony Hawaii, there’s a little more to this PlayStation than just how realistic your Final Fantasy adventure is rendered. With the PlayStation 2, Sony is thinking out of the box, taking people into forays on the Internet.

“Sony is positioning itself as a digital broadband entertainment company and the PlayStation 2 is the centerpiece of that strategy,” says Okemura. “Unlike the Japanese version, the American PlayStation 2 will have expansion bays for a 3 1/2-inch hard disk and a modem or broadband Internet access device. We are preparing ourselves for whatever shape or form that the online world will take.”

According to Okemura, while online gaming is important to the PlayStation 2 future, the possibility of adding a modem and hard disk gives the game console the capability to be used as a browser for the Web or as a TiVo-like device (a random access video recorder that digitizes and stores video programming onto a built-in hard disk). It is a combination that is particularly important in light of America Online’s acquisition of Time Warner and the myriad possibilities of programming. And with the enigma over online music slowly being sorted out, Sony, one of the largest record labels in the music business, will have an important distribution tool in the PlayStation 2.

“A lot of companies are preparing for a post-PC era,” says Okemura. “And I think with all the capabilities that the PlayStation 2 has, we’ll be in a good position.”

But is your television set really the new frontier for the Internet and is Sony venturing where niche player WebTV has gone before?

“I think the PlayStation 2 will be a good avenue for the average consumer to get onto the Web,” says Keith Ito, CEO of RevaComm, a local Web consulting and service company. “You would be surprised at how many people are still reluctant to go online. Access through something that doubles as a game console is a good idea.”

Ito believes that the development of devices like the PlayStation 2 is all part of the diversification of the Web. Soon people will be surfing the Internet without even knowing it. Yuka Nagashima, president of LavaNet Inc., agrees that the more online venues available to consumers the better, although she is not about to give up her computer and her monitor. “I don’t think that PC makers are worried that they’ll be making less computers now that the PlayStation 2 is coming out,” says Nagashima. “I don’t see people buying it just for Internet access. Personally, I can’t see myself reading text-heavy Web sites on my TV screen. But maybe television screens will get better in the future.”

But before he starts dreaming online dreams, Okemura has other things on his mind—making sure that he can satisfy Hawaii’s voracious appetite for his video game console, for instance. As of early September, he still didn’t know what would be Hawaii’s allotment of PlayStations.

“First and foremost the PlayStation 2 is intended to be a video game machine and it is one that is going to change the industry,” says Okemura. “But it’s exciting that it has so many different features and so many different potential uses. It’s just kinda neat.”

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