On a crisp Saturday morning in early December 1994, few predicted how much of an impact the release of the PlayStation console would have on the home entertainment landscape. In hindsight, the rise of the PlayStation as a stalwart of the gaming world seems evident, but how did it attain such ubiquity? In this article, we take a look at how the console etched itself into the history of videogames from its humble status as a newcomer to household name.
The first eponymous PlayStation games console, abbreviated to PS1, released in Japan on December 3rd 1994 to high acclaim. It shipped to the rest of the world by the end of the year. The PS1 is by no means the first system to make use of the CD-ROM format. It is, however, arguably responsible for the obsolescence of consoles using proprietary limited-storage cartridges such as the Sega Saturn and Nintendo 64.
The optical disc format offered more storage space and allowed systems to interlace graphics, audio, and data simultaneously. This meant full motion video, high-quality audio, and the rendering of 3D polygon graphics. The fifth generation of video game consoles was in full swing. Conversely, cartridge manufacturing costs were high. Finding a way to incorporate 3D assets would have reduced their profitability even more.
Ironically, back in the late 80s, Nintendo enlisted Sony to develop an optical disc hardware expansion for the Super Nintendo system, known as PlayStation. Previously, Sony involved itself in the creation of the CD-ROM format, hence the interest from Nintendo. Due to a corporate dispute surrounding contractual obligations, Nintendo pulled out of the deal. Sony, wary not to waste their considerable investment, opted to develop their own gaming console.
In parallel, Nintendo agreed to a new deal with a rival competitor to manufacture a similar add-on. This fell through soon afterward. A tense legal battle ensued between Sony and Nintendo with the latter disgruntled by the use of a technology they had failed to successfully commercialize. Sony came out on top and was allowed to continue development.
Technically speaking, the PlayStation sported a 32-bit 33 Mhz CPU, 2 MB of Ram, dual-speed CD-ROM drive, 16.7 million colors, a GPU and GTE with 1 MB of dedicated RAM capable of rendering up to 360,000 polygons per second, and resolutions up to 480i. Now relics from the past, 128KB memory cards were used for storing game saves and other data.
The PlayStation games console went on to sell over 100 million copies and was unquestionably the most popular system of that era. Thanks in part to the release of timeless classics such as Metal Gear Solid, PaRappa the Rapper, Driver, and Final Fantasy VII.
In what would become a future trend for all subsequent Sony consoles, the PSOne – a streamlined and compact version of the PlayStation games console – released on July 7th 2000. It included a rounded case, incorporation of the controller and card ports into the main chipset, and the removal of the reset button among other minor alterations. The PSOne represented the definitive revision for the console. Manufacturing ended on March 23rd 2006, bringing to a close an era that is looked back on with much nostalgia.
On March 4th 2000 the PlayStation 2 launched in Japan. As part of the sixth generation of consoles, it rivaled Microsoft’s Xbox, Nintendo’s GameCube, and to a lesser extent Sega’s Dreamcast.
Arguably one of the most successful systems ever, the PlayStation 2 sold over 150 million units worldwide with a production cycle that lasted over 12-years. Certain publishers even released games specifically for the PS2 as late as 2013, emphasizing how popular the console truly was.
Equipped with Sony’s Emotion Engine CPU, clocked at 300 MHz, and 32 MB of ram, the PS2 was the first console to make use of DVD technology. This allowed developers to use significantly more data to craft games. The custom-designed GPU unit was known as the Graphic Synthesizer. It rendered up to 16 million polygons per second, running at a resolution of 480p. The PS2’s ability to play the majority of PlayStation games made it the first console to support backwards compatibility. The PlayStation 2 also introduced a rudimentary operating system used to navigate between media and an array of settings.
In addition, the incorporation of USB ports and an expansion bay compatible with both a hard drive and network adapter set the tone for future iterations of the PlayStation games console. Similarly to the PlayStation games, memory cards were once again the main storage solution, though the capacity was beefed to 8MBs to compensate for the growing space requirements of this generation’s games.
Speaking of games, the PS2 saw the release of seminal titles such as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and a succession of titles from the Metal Gear Solid and Call of Duty franchises. Though online functionality was part of the features on offer, responsibility for servers and network connectivity fell to developers. Though by no means comparable to today’s standards, console multiplayer began to gather steam and lay the foundations for what the PlayStation 3 would offer.
The PS2 Slimline launched in late 2004. The revision offered a sleeker and smaller case that was much quieter than previous models, as well as the inclusion of an Ethernet port, though the hard drive bay was removed.
After initial delays due to production issues, Sony made its entrance into the era of high definition gaming with the launch of the third installment of its PlayStation games console on November 11th 2006. The PS3 adopted the Blu-ray disc format, further increasing the storage capacity available for games. In line with the tentative first steps of the extension bay found in the PS2, the console integrated a 20GB, or optional 60GB hard drive, though as manufacturing progressed it was possible to obtain models with up to 500GB. In addition, the console included WiFi connectivity as well as a host of USB, flash card, and Bluetooth 2.0 options.
Sony’s proprietary OS took a leap forward with the XrossMediaBar navigator. Via a set of categories, users could stream video via now established apps such as Netflix, browse the internet, listen to music, and view high-quality images, as well as interact with friends. The ability to create profiles for a more personalized experience was also introduced and connectivity between handheld devices, such as the PSP and PS Vita, which could remotely control the console.
Sony’s social gaming service PlayStation Network, PlayStation Store, and the PlayStation Plus subscription service were also launched. These services allowed players to purchase and download games, take part in multiplayer games, as well as receive exclusive beta access to upcoming titles and special discounts.
Under the hood, a microprocessor known as Cell, jointly designed by IBM, Toshiba and Sony, offered up to 3.2 GHz coupled with 256 MB of Ram. The GPU was an NVIDIA RSX Reality Synthesizer with 256 MB of GDDR3 memory allowing resolutions up to 1080p. The first PS3 models were also backward compatible with PS2 games.
The PS3 didn’t sell as well as previous iterations. It struggled to compete with the Nintendo Wii’s era-defining gameplay. The fact that Microsoft’s Xbox 360 launched earlier proved problematic. It effectively meant the poaching of a number of PlayStation-exclusive games. An initial high market price irked many players. Developers shied away due to the inherent programming challenges befalling the console’s architecture. In addition, we still do see infamous bugs and PS3 Error Codes taking place. The most famous being the greatly feared yellow light of death.
Beyond the many issues, the PS3 selection of games was systematically impressive. Releases included Red Dead Redemption, The Last of Us, The Uncharted series, and a selection of titles from the Call of Duty Franchise.
In an effort to cut costs to finally make the PS3 profitable and fix a number of performance issues, Sony released the PS3 slim on August 18th 2009. Beyond the slimmer design, the unit required less power to function. It was also significantly quieter due to manufacturing changes of the Cell microprocessor. In addition, the PS3 branding was updated and PS2 game compatibility was removed. The Slim was generally well-received notably due to the lower price and the inclusion of a 120GB hard drive.
PS3 Super Slim
Six years after the initial release of the console, a redesigned PS3 Super Slim launched on September 25th 2012. The Super Slim was smaller and lighter than the Slim, incorporating a sliding top disc insertion mechanism. It was available as a 250gb and a 500GB version. Production ended in May 2017.
Released on November 15th 2013, the PlayStation 4 represented Sony’s foray into the 8th generation of video game consoles. It incorporates an array of era relevant features such as VR compatibility, HDR, and 4K. The system is based on an accelerated processing unit developed in conjunction with AMD. It combined a CPU, APU, and GPU into one chip. This x86 8 core Jaguar APU serves Sony’s aim to replicate the hardware found in personal computers. By doing so game design is greatly simplified for developers.
Clocked at 1.6GHz and coupled with an integrated 8GB GDDR5 AMD GCN Radeon, the APU is able to handle resolutions up to 1080p for games and 4K for video playback. A Blu-Ray drive allows read speed up to three times faster than its predecessor. The PS4 is also fully WiFi compatible and features two USB 3.0 ports and Bluetooth. It includes a 500GB internal hard drive. An auxiliary ARM processor handled background tasks independently of the hardware rendering games. These include social features and updates. Rest Mode also introduced downloads while the console is in low consumption mode.
The PS4 has an emphasis on sharing and social interaction. Highlighted by the inclusion of a ‘Share’ button on the controller and remote play (PS Vita, Smartphone, etc.). The OrbisOS proprietary software is notably revolutionary in that it allows players to clip or screenshot in game. Players can then share with each other and on social media platforms. In addition, live streaming is possible on dedicated stream platforms or through PlayStation’s own in-house feature.
The PS4 isn’t intrinsically backward compatible. Sony’s PlayStation Now distribution service does, however, allows the streaming of PS3 games via the cloud. Certain PS2 titles are playable as emulated versions with HD capabilities.
In contrast to the PS3, PS4 launched with great fanfare and sold very well. Many praised the system for the quality of the hardware and performance, notably compared to the competing Xbox One. Sony has sold over 70 million units worldwide. Spurred on by PS4 exclusives such as Horizon Zero Dawn, No Man’s Sky, and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.
PlayStation 4 Slim
Staying true to form, Sony released the PlayStation 4 Slim on September 2016. As has become the norm, the revised model is significantly smaller than the original. It ships with a 500GB hard drive, and later on 1TB. The only other notable difference is the removal of the optical audio port and added spacing between the USB ports.
PlayStation 4 Pro
Announced in parallel to the Slim version, Sony released the PlayStation Pro on November 10th 2016. Much more than a revision, the Pro is essentially an upgraded PS4. It includes an improved AMD Polaris GPU capable of rendering games in 4K with HDR support. As well as a better CPU clocked at 2.13 GHz. All PS4 games are compatible. The Pro unit displays better performance in comparison to the original.
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