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PlayStation 3: The industry's best-kept secret?

With only hours to go before Sony's next-generation home console's expected unveiling in Los Angeles, few details of the system are widely known - but what we do know points to an intriguing piece of hardware.

With only hours to go before Sony's next-generation home console's expected unveiling in Los Angeles, few details of the system are widely known - but what we do know points to an intriguing piece of hardware.

The level of secrecy surrounding PS3 is in stark contrast to the situation with Xbox 360, where everything up to and including the final specification and pictures of the hardware had been leaked to the internet by the time the machine was officially announced.

However, a number of key details about PS3 are already known, and should be confirmed by the conference later today - such as the key role which Sony's Cell microprocessor will play in the architecture of the machine.

Cell, a co-development between Sony, Toshiba and IBM, is a new processor design based on IBM's Power series (which will also lie at the heart of Xbox 360 and Nintendo's Revolution), which features eight extremely fast vector units along with a Power core.

Although early reports suggested that PS3 would use four or even eight Cell CPUs, many developers now believe that the system may only have one - but rumours from those working on early development kits, which shipped to some of Sony's closest partners earlier this year, suggest that the system will still match or even outperform the multi-processor design being used by Microsoft for Xbox 360.

The graphics chip, meanwhile, is being created by NVIDIA, which means that PS3 will fully support pixel and vertex shaders - making life a lot easier for graphics programmers - and will do more of the hard work on the GPU, freeing up the CPU's vector units to do tasks like physics and AI.

Other rumours about the hardware strongly point to the existence of two different models, one a standard console system, and the other a high-end "media server" in the mould of the somewhat ill-fated PSX.

However, Sony has yet to even confirm that the system is called "PlayStation 3" - although the presence of hoardings around Los Angeles this weekend inviting us to "Welcome Chang3" tend to suggest that the firm is indeed sticking with the sequential numbering system.

Still one of the best indicators of Sony's intentions regarding the new machine is an interview from just over a year ago with Sony Computer Entertainment Europe president David Reeves, where he made a number of specific comments about PlayStation 3.

The following is a reprint of key parts of that article from our report at the time - although just how much the company's strategy for PS3 will have changed in the intervening year is not known, so it's impossible to tell how well these statements will tally with what's actually revealed in Los Angeles today.

On the topic of the PlayStation 3, [SCEE president David] Reeves revealed that the company is considering launching multiple versions of the next-generation console, catering for a variety of different requirements and price points.

A version of the console described as the "home server" version would follow in the footsteps of the PSX media system, with "all-singing, all dancing features with maybe a hard disk drive" and a retail price take of "whatever it might be, ââ¬600 or ââ¬700."

However, for those just seeking a new games machine rather than a fully fledged home media server, the company could offer a stripped down system catering to the needs of those who "just [want] to pay 200 Euros for a new generation games machine," Reeves said.

Reeves also confirmed that the company is investigating the possibility of electronic distribution of content over broadband for its next generation system - describing the pursuit of this as the "ultimate goal" for the PlayStation 3, and stating that Sony hopes to see always-on network access and viable broadband distribution in place when the PS3 becomes available in 2006.

"It's going to have to be 2 or 3MB, something like that," he said, speaking about connection sizes - which are currently generally at 512k (0.5MB) in most UK broadband-enabled homes. "Ken [Kutaragi]'s even talking about 30MB! And when it gets to that, then it is broadband distribution, and people then can just download whatever game they want. But it's got to be secure, and that's where DNAS [Sony's online security protocol] comes in."

Expect to see the first reports from Sony's conference appearing at around 11pm BST tonight.

Author
Rob Fahey avatar

Rob Fahey

Contributing Editor

Rob Fahey is a former editor of GamesIndustry.biz who spent several years living in Japan and probably still has a mint condition Dreamcast Samba de Amigo set.