Design by Collin Oguro
While Sony's new slimmed-down PlayStation 2 isn't officially hitting retail outlets until next month--a recent press release stated that the system would reach North America by November 1--some units are trickling out to stores already. A modest shipment hit stores in the Bay Area late last week, a full two weeks before the official release date. We plucked one right off the shelf at a local retail store and spent some time with the new system.
The early release of this PlayStation 2 redesign has been a bit of a surprise, when you consider the timing of the release of its cousin, the PSOne, a miniature version of the original PlayStation. That system hit in conjunction with the launch of the PlayStation 2 in October 2000. Many had speculated that Sony would follow the same plan by tying the redesigned PlayStation 2 to the PlayStation 3 launch. However, the early PS2 redesign launch will allow Sony to capitalize on one final holiday season before the PlayStation 2 platform gives way to the next-generation PlayStation 3 and Xbox 2 console systems.
Sony has indicated that the redesigned console will still be called the PlayStation 2 (70000 Series), not the PStwo, as previously speculated, but the box art for the new retail package does feature a clearly visible lower-case "PStwo" in the bottom right-hand corner of the front panel.
The most striking aspect of the new system is, of course, its remarkably small size. The new PS2 is roughly a quarter of the size of its predecessor, coming in at 9 inches by 6 inches, with a miniscule depth of 1.1 inches. We were able to slip the entire system into the dust jacket of a hardcover book. By comparison, the older PS2 measures 11.9 inches by 7.2 inches, with a depth of 3.1 inches. Total weight has dropped from 4.9 pounds to just under 2 pounds. Sony has replaced the media tray loader with a flip-top lid reminiscent of the original PlayStation. The system supports progressive scan (480p) DVD playback, and can play DVD-R/W and DVD+R/W discs in video mode.
Sony incorporated several design changes to reduce the size of the system. The most drastic change is the removal of the rear expansion bay. The loss of the expansion bay eliminates support for the 40GB internal hard disk drive and the PlayStation 2 Network Adaptor. Networking functionality will still be available because Sony has integrated the Ethernet and modem network adapter into the new system, but Final Fantasy XI fans and other HDD users will need to stick with the older, Vana'diel-friendly PS2 system. Taking a page out of the notebook-design playbook, the new PS2 unit now has an external AC power adaptor. The change moves a decent amount of volume from the system into an external power brick. Sony has also removed the rear system exhaust fan. The new system uses a small, internal cooling fan for airflow.
The shipping package includes the PS2 console, one Dual Shock 2 controller, an instruction manual, an online startup disc, an AV cable (RCA), and an AC adaptor with a power cord. The system stand is now sold separately, but there's less incentive to position the system vertically now that it's a top-loader.
The front of the console has two memory-card slots, two controller ports, two USB ports, the flip-top open button, the reset/on switch, and the IR receiver window. The new unit supports both of the PS2 DVD remote controls, and it doesn't need the IR dongle for the older remote, since it already has a built-in IR receiver. Also, the disc-eject button on the new DVD remote won't work with the system, since the flip-top lid uses a physical opening mechanism. Unfortunately, older (SCPH-10090) Multitap adapters are not compatible with the new PS2 because the memory-card and controller-port placements don't match the port layouts on the older system. Sony has released a new Multitap model (SCPH-70120) to address the problem. The rear of the console has a modem port, an Ethernet port, a digital-optical out jack, an AV-multi out connector, and a power-input connector. The unit no longer has the main power switch in the back.
As far as how the system handles, the unit functions just like a normal PS2, but it's much quieter without the loud exhaust fan. You'll still be able to play PlayStation games on it and toggle options like "fast loading" and "smooth textures," although we expect you'll have trouble with the same set of old games that the original PlayStation 2 has trouble with. When playing DVDs or CDs, you'll notice the menu you call up using the controller has been tweaked a bit and has newly designed buttons for the shuffle and playlist functions. Lastly, the current PS2 memory cards work just fine in the new console.
So, at a suggested retail price of $149, is the new PS2 worth it? It depends. If you're big on the PlayStation 2 hard drive, then probably not, as the unit doesn't support it. If you're not sold on the drive, then there's a lot to like here. The slim design helps save space, and the built-in Ethernet and modem ports reduce clutter. The only bit of lameness to the deal is the separate vertical stand, which will likely retail for 20 dollars, and the expense of a new Multitap, if you're so inclined. If Sony does end up releasing a screen for the system, we can only hope the designers take a cue from the design of the upcoming PSP and create a large widescreen display that runs the length of the unit. At any rate, as it stands, the new design for the PlayStation 2 has an undeniable charm.