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European PS3 Hardware Altered; Backwards Compatibility Hit

Sony Europe has announced that the hardware configuration of the PlayStation 3 will be altered in PAL territories, removing the 'Emotion Engine' PlayStation 2 chip and significantly reducing the number of PS2 titles that will be backwards compatible with
Officials from Sony Computer Entertainment Europe (SCEE) have made a surprise announcement that the version of the PlayStation 3 sold in PAL territories (Europe, Middle East, Africa and Australasia) will be significantly different to that available in Japan and North America. An official SCEE press release describes a “new combination of hardware and software emulation” which will enable the PlayStation 3 to be compatible with a “broad” range of original PlayStation titles but only a “limited” range of PlayStation 2 titles. Approximately 98 percent of PlayStation and PlayStation 2 titles are backwards compatible with the U.S. and Japanese consoles, but no percentage was suggested for the PAL hardware and a list of compatible titles is not due to be released until the launch date of March 23rd. SCEE has indicated that additional titles will become compatible via downloadable firmware updates, suggesting a scenario similar to the backwards compatibility between the Xbox and Xbox 360. SCEE also indicates that a device compatible with Linear PCM 7.1 Channel is required to output 7.1 channel audio, supported by Dolby TrueHD or a similar format, from the PAL PlayStation 3's HDMI OUT connector. The PAL PlayStation 3 will also not support output from the DTS-HD 7.1 channel, instead outputting it from a 5.1 or lower channel. Finally, SCEE indicates that “usability of all storage media types is not guaranteed” – presumably referring to PlayStation and PlayStation 2 memory cards. “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, in the press release. “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. 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.” The news is unlikely to be received well by those in PAL territories, who have already complained of the PlayStation 3’s delayed launch and proportionally higher prices. A restated version of the European hardware specification for the PlayStation 3 seems to show that the original PlayStation 2 “Emotion Engine” is no longer included, presumably necessitating the new reliance on software emulation for older titles. [UPDATE: Interestingly, initial reaction to the move from Alex Kwiatkowski, Lead Analyst with Datamonitor’s Technology research unit, has been positive. Kwiatkowski commented: "The issues related to the backwards compatibility of existing games will no doubt be viewed in some quarters as disappointing. Where the PS and PS3 are concerned, the backward compatibility with PS titles will be identical to the level found in the Japanese and North America launch models of the PS3." He continued: "When it comes to the relationship between the PS2 and the PS3, the situation is slightly different. The PS2 emulation – which removes the Emotion Engine chip and replaces it with software – is the issue that has the greatest impact on backwards compatibility. However, the technological advances and game-play improvements delivered by the PS3 should temper this." The analyst concluded: "While it’s easy to be overcome by a wave of nostalgia for older titles, Sony’s new console – and the games that have been specifically developed to take advantage of the increased processing power – will be hard to resist for even the most misty-eyed gamer. Sony has sensibly taken the approach to manage the expectations of purchasers from Day 1, and this issue should not detract from the advance in gaming that the PS3 represents."]

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