PS2 refresh hits Japan in May

Missed opportunity? logo Sony has announced details of the first major hardware overhaul to the PlayStation 2 since its release, which will add new functionality to the DVD playback element of the console and remove the iLink port.

The revised console, which will bear the part number SCPH-50000 and will arrive in Japan on May 15th, will be exactly the same as the current PS2 from a gaming and development perspective; aside from the removal of the internal Firewire (iLink) port, no changes have been made to the aspects of the console involved in playing games.

However, the system will now be a much more effective DVD player than previously - supporting progressive scan output on DVDs for higher quality visuals (some PS2 games already support this feature, but until now it has not been available for DVD playback), and sporting the ability to play back recordable DVD media, as might be used in now commercially available DVD recorders. Or in pirate DVDs created in PC DVD writers, but we're sure nobody is dishonest enough to try that.

The new system also has an IR port built in, negating the need for a separate IR adapter in order to use a remote control; and it will launch alongside a new PS2 remote control which will carry such mind boggling new features as the ability to, er, turn the PS2 on and off, or open and close the disc tray. Pretty earth-shattering stuff.

The loss of the iLink port is unlikely to be lamented by many gamers, since the only game of any note which used the port for multiplayer was Gran Turismo 3, and it's not like there aren't 50 million iLink-enabled PS2s out there if you really feel the itch to play that across multiple consoles. The only other people who use iLink are developers utilising the ProView system, but since the game-related internals of the PS2 aren't changing, they'll be able to carry on using their existing devkits and TestStations anyway.

This isn't the first time that Sony has changed the PS2 hardware, but it's the first overhaul to add any new features - aside from the functional change to how the expansion bay for the ill-fated hard drive add-on works early in the lifespan of the console, all the updates to the hardware have been internal changes to reduce the cost of manufacture.

As such, it's easy to see this new hardware as a missed opportunity for Sony. If it's overhauling PS2 hardware, there are plenty of things it could logically do to improve the system without breaking compatibility. How about building in the network adapter, for a start; and reducing the size of the console by removing the large and now defunct expansion bay? These are changes most gamers would welcome - although the promise to reduce system noise by changing how the cooling fans operate is a start, we suppose.

That said, it's likely that we'll see a further revision to the PS2 within the next couple of years - putting the console into a smaller box, and perhaps adding that network adapter as standard. It worked for the PlayStation, and provided a nice boost in sales late in the life of the system; so it's not hard to guess at the emergence of a PStwo at some point in the future.

No information is available as yet regarding when we'll see the SCPH-50000 hardware filtering into Europe, but we'd imagine that it'll be a while before existing stocks of PS2 hardware are sold out. Once the current inventory of PAL PS2s is gone, though, expect to see the new units replacing them at retail. ©

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